I met Jon Birger seven years ago, over lunch in Palo Alto.
A Fortune Magazine writer working on his first book Date-onomics, Jon wanted to talk about Bay Area dating — specifically how the region’s rather unique oversupply of educated men impacted people’s love lives.
Published in 2015, Date-onomics argued that shifting sex ratios among the college educated are behind the rise of the hookup culture and the decline in marriage rates. In nearly every other part of the country, it’s the college-educated women who are in oversupply. Nationally, one-third more women than men have graduated college since 2000.
This might not matter so much if we were more open-minded about whom we date and marry. Thing is, college grads still like to date other college grads, and this preference leads to lopsided sex ratios in the dating pool. And lopsided sex ratios give the scarcer sex the upper hand.
For Jon, San Francisco and Santa Clara County were the exceptions that proved the rule. The Bay Area is the one well-populated region of the country where educated men outnumber educated women. Yes, we’ve still got our share of playboys. But generally speaking, the Bay Area boasts some of the highest marriage rates and lowest divorce rates in the country for college-educated women.
As you can imagine, Date-onomics generated a ton of buzz when it was published. Glamour, Time, Good Morning America, The Washington Post, National Public Radio and countless other media outlets all produced stories or segments about Jon’s first book.
Now he has a new dating book coming out in February — MAKE YOUR MOVE: The New Science of Dating and Why Women Are in Charge. I read an advance review copy of Make Your Move, and it’s terrific. So terrific that I asked Jon if he’d answer a few questions about it for the Linx blog. He obliged.
AMY ANDERSEN: Jon, what inspired you to write another dating book?
JON BIRGER: It had a lot to do with being on book tour with Date-onomics.
The first book was more pop science than self help. Yeah, there was a little bit of advice tucked into the final chapter, but it was only there because my editor demanded it.
My primary goal with Date-onomics was simply to explain why dating had become so hard for young, successful, college-educated women. I wanted to shed light on this strange phenomenon so many of us are familiar with — this plethora of fabulous women in their thirties and forties who cannot seem to find a decent guy.
When the first book came out, I had it in my head that women would be relieved to hear that their dating woes were not their fault. I thought the knowledge-is-power thing would be enough.
Well, you can probably guess what happened when I got out on book tour and started taking questions.
Women still wanted you to tell them how to find a husband.
I’d give speeches to mostly female audiences or go on radio shows with mostly female callers, and they wanted advice on their love lives. They wanted me to explain why other women whom they considered no more attractive or successful didn’t have the same problems they did.
I didn’t have great answers, and that’s what prompted me to write Make Your Move. Backed by the latest research on dating, Make Your Move is all about solutions and strategies for hetero, marriage-minded women who are navigating an unfair dating market. There’s a lot of fun storytelling too. I interviewed all these amazing women with romantic stories about how they found their partners by ignoring the traditional dating rules and norms that had been holding them back.
A lot of your advice in Make Your Move involves encouraging women to make the first move, right?
That’s definitely part of it.
I don’t want to give away too much, but I do believe our culture is at an inflection point. Young women are kicking ass in education, sports, business, media, politics and so much else. So why the heck would anyone tell these women that they’ve got to wait for a man to ask them out?
Do you think men are changing too?
I do. I think the whole culture is changing — which is why this new generation of singles needs a new dating bible!
If you think about it, nearly every best-selling dating guide written over the past forty years — from The Rules to Ignore the Guy, Get the Guy — has told women that in order to bag a man, they must commit to a very complicated game of playing hard to get. The message these books ask women to send to men boils down to “not interested means keep trying.”
I don’t think this was ever a helpful message, but in the post-#MeToo world, it’s really, really unhelpful.
Men have learned important lessons from #MeToo. Maybe we’re not learning as fast as we should, but we are learning. Nowadays if a woman indicates she’s not interested, most men will just take her at her word and move on.
Do men actually want women to make the first move?
Most do. A woman who makes the first move takes away a man’s fear of rejection. She makes it easier for him to be himself around her. There’s less peacocking. More conversation.
I’ll give you an example from the book. It involves a 29-year-old named Becca — someone I know pretty well because she was our Saturday-night babysitter years ago. Becca is attractive, but key thing to understand about Becca is she has a huge personality. She’s a real cut-up. My kids loved her.
Of course, some men find the extrovert thing intimidating. When I mentioned the new book to her, she started telling me the story of how she and her boyfriend first got together. They met at a party. They were talking, having a good time, but it was apparent he was too nervous to do anything about it. So Becca just blurted out, “Hey, are you going to ask for my number?”
That’s how it started for them.
I know there are women out there who will never believe this, but the whole key to understanding men is that men like women who like them. Too many women have been raised on the notion that men love the chase and that a man will become less interested in her the moment she’s too interested in him.
Perhaps that was true once upon a time, but I’ve yet to meet the man who broke up with a woman he liked simply because she was too enthusiastic about him. I’ve also yet to meet a guy who enjoyed guessing which women are playing a game and which just want to be left alone. This is why assertive women willing to make a first move have such an advantage over women who sideline themselves by waiting to be courted.
Is there such a thing as too assertive?
I don’t think the first move has to be anything dramatic.
I know that the rule-followers always conjure up images of women throwing themselves at men any time someone suggests women making the first move. But that’s not at all what I’m talking about. Think about what Becca did. She didn’t grab the guy’s butt. All she did was open the door wide enough to make him feel confident about walking through.
In the book, you urge women to take a break from online dating. Why?
Just to be clear, I’m not opposed to all online dating. There are some niche dating apps that I like a lot, and I do write about them in the book. I also recognize that in COVID times, online dating may be only dating some people are comfortable with.
Still, I think many singles would be happier if they ditched the apps and tried asking out people they actually know instead. Over the past year, the dark side of online dating has really been coming into focus. According to Pew Research, 57% of women report experiencing harassment on dating apps, and 19% say they’ve been threatened with physical violence. Overall, 55% of women believe dating is harder now than it was 10 years ago.
So tell me about the “Make Your Move Offline Dating Challenge.”
It’s one chapter in the book. It’s essentially a step-by-step plan for dating in the real world instead of the digital one — for finding more meaningful connections.
The reason I created the offline dating challenge is there’s too much anxiety surrounding dating right now. Online daters don’t trust each other. The whole purpose of the offline dating challenge is to make people more comfortable about dating. Less jaded. Less fearful.
When I was in my 20s, blind dates with complete strangers were pretty rare. Nowadays, most online first dates are blind dates with complete strangers. What’s so difficult about this is you have no idea what kind of person will walk through the door. Everybody who knows your online first date knows him better than you do, so you really are flying blind.
Now compare the online first date with a stranger to going out on a first date with someone you already know and like — a co-worker or a neighbor or someone from church or maybe a friend of a friend. It’s a much different experience. It’s much easier to fall in like or in love when you share common experiences or common friends — and when you’re not worried the person across the table from you could be an axe murderer.
When I was dating up a storm from online sites in my 20’s, the biggest problem was lack of filtering. Lots of good guys but those guys were looking for only fun in the here and now. Their goal was getting laid over actually finding a compatible partner.
Hah. That’s obviously a familiar experience for lots of women, though I have seen research showing women use apps for sex as often as men do.
I think a fundamental problem with dating apps is the anonymity fosters miscommunication and mistruths — especially on that all-important question of whether the other person is looking for a hookup or a long-term relationship. It’s just easier to behave badly with strangers than with people connected to your daily life.
A woman I interviewed for the book described online dating to me as “a doubter’s game,” and this struck me as a really interesting turn of phrase. Based on past experiences, she just assumed most men on dating apps were lying to her. She’d spend first dates trying to poke holes in their stories.
Needless to say, that didn’t lead to a lot of second dates.
Well, this woman is now engaged to a man she met through a mutual friend. Before her first date with the now-fiancée, she didn’t even bother googling him. She told me she didn’t have to because she knew her friend would never set her up with a man who was unkind or untrustworthy.
“It’s more of a believer’s game,” she said about old-fashioned dating. “I was just more inclined to find the positive. It was actually the closest thing to love at first sight I’d ever experienced.”
In the book, you cite research showing that couples who meet at work, in college, through friends, in church, etc. stay together longer than those who meet on the apps. Why do you think that is?
Human beings evolved as social animals, and we bond through shared experiences. Those shared experiences — those fun stories we like to tell and re-tell — become building blocks for deeper connections. This is why couples who know each other tend to have lower breakup rates than couples who first meet online.
What’s your opinion of professional matchmaking?
I put matchmaking into the “met through friends” category.
I have no doubt that your best clients view you as confidante and friend more than as a paid advisor. The only difference between being set up by a close friend and being set up by a good matchmaker is the matchmaker has a much longer list of single men and women to choose from. (I’m always reminded of that scene from “When Harry Met Sally,” when Carrie Fisher pulls out her rolodex during lunch and tries unsuccessfully to come up with men she can set up Meg Ryan with.)
That being said, not everybody who’ll read Make Your Move can afford to spend five figures on a high-end matchmaker like Linx. Most can’t. But I still want them to know that there are other, better ways to date than swiping on Tinder.
2020 was a challenging year for everybody, but finding your dream partner can make even the darkest times seem brighter. Have you seen anything that should give people hope in 2021, at least when it comes to love and romance?
Absolutely. Maybe it’s all those “How it began … how it’s going” memes floating around social media, but I see plenty of reasons for optimism. I love all the videos of women proposing to their boyfriends, for instance. I love the then-and-now photos of couples who started out as friends — and not as Tinder matches! — and are now celebrating anniversaries.
Those are the kind of things that gives me hope.
When does Make Your Move go on sale? Where can people buy it?
Make Your Move comes out Feb. 2, but it’s available for pre-order now from all the major retailers and independent booksellers — Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, Books-a-Million, Indiebound, Indigo. There’s an audiobook version too.
FYI, I’m usually willing to meet virtually with book clubs that buy and read one of my books. For info on the book-club Q&A’s — or on anything else related to Make Your Move or Date-onomics — folks can reach out to me via my author website, jonbirger.com.