The Sweet Spot: The Only Dating Advice You Need

Categories: Advice, Commentary

In my many, many, (ugh) many years as a bartender, I was called upon frequently to dispense dating advice. Considering all those films where the lonely heart anchors down on a bar stool and pours out his sorry tale to the whiskey dispenser who miraculously always seems to have no other customers, I felt it was my duty to honor the tradition. I always carefully considered the advice that I gave, and declined on numerous occasions to give any at all.

Ginger bar working.jpg

The act of careful consideration, however, is not the norm for most bloggers who often feel free to dispense hopelessly generic assertions. Oh, I know, blogs, blogs, and more blogs, there is all that damn space to fill. True. Also true is that most of those people I gave advice to probably didn't remember it the next morning. But that does not mean that we -- the advice givers -- don't have a responsibility.

Aye, an imperative to not confuse all those poor men out there. I am not being condescending. It is difficult these days for many a man to understand what is expected of him in the wild and often contradictory world of dating women. Especially when there are bloggers out there saying things like this: "Do: Move her to the inside of the sidewalk. Every woman likes to think that you'd rather she not be run over by an Escalade. Make this move and she'll know it's the truth. Plus, it's a perfect way to show her your protective side without coming off like a controlling jerk," says Robin Hilmantel in Modern Man.

Everyone enjoys simple instruction. It makes confusing situations seem clear and workable. But the truth, however annoying, is that there are no hard and fast rules. Hilmantel likes the inside of the street. I don't. I have even been known to end a date because the man in question pulled that move. I have been elegantly navigating the art of sidewalk walking for years now and have managed to not get run over by an Escalade. I am not interested in a man showing his interest through protective gestures. Simple respect will do. Hilmantel also says that the opening of doors is a chivalrous activity that is still appreciated. I agree. Of course, I think door opening is one of those marks of civilized behavior that everyone should do. Even the Pirate House punk kids I knew in high school opened doors for people. Sure, they also shit on cop cars, but that was a political statement.

After reading Hilmantel's advice, I am sure a number of men said, "Oh, that's what women want! Okay, I'll do that" and then subjected countless women to the inside sidewalk tactic only to discover that it is not successful. This makes me sad. They thought they were doing the right thing. Dating is hard enough without adding bad advice to the process.

Dating is also partly an act of evidence gathering. Through small gestures and acts, we can glean information about our date to see if they are interested and, more importantly, to discover if they are a good fit for us. It is not that I have a profound feminist issue with a man walking on the outside of the sidewalk, it is that this behavior conveys a certain traditionalist -- and to me, unappealing -- aspect to his character. Or at least it did before the advent of bloggers. Nowadays we are often not exploring the person but instead reacting to the words of some writer. This defeats the entire purpose.

As an anecdote, here is some good advice; there is no one thing that every woman wants. There is no surefire date practice. We are not robots, after all. We are an odd and heady concoction of complexity.


My boyfriend says that pursuing a woman is a process of creating an echo. A call and response. If your shouted "Hullooo" doesn't come back to you, you change your "Hullooo." An echo occurs through awareness and enjoying the experience of the moment. If you pay attention you can respond to the subtleties of the person and begin to form a connection that honors each other's individuality.

Well, it worked on me at least.

He also invoked Sartre.

In Being and Nothingness, Sartre writes, "Take the example of a woman who has consented to go out with a particular man for the first time. She knows very well the intentions which the man who is speaking to her cherishes regarding her." (By that he means sex.) "She knows also that it will be necessary sooner or later for her to make a decision. But she does not want to realize the urgency; she concerns herself only with what is respectful and discreet in the attitude of her companion .... She restricts this behavior to what is in the present; she does not wish to read in the phrases which he addresses to her anything other than their explicit meaning. If he says to her, "I find you so attractive!" she disarms this phrase of its sexual background; she attaches to the conversation and to the behavior of the speaker, the immediate meanings, which she imagines as objective qualities. The man who is speaking to her appears to her sincere and respectful as the table is round or square, as the wall coloring is blue or gray."

I have my issues with Sartre, but I quote him to point out that even one of the most famous philosophers of the 20th century threw in his two cents about the complicated issue of dating. Venturing into the world of erotic, romantic, and intimate exploration is one of the most profound things that we do as humans and it is insulting to reduce the process to absolutes.

So back to my bartending days. The most common advice that I gave to both men and women, either gay or straight or anything else, was to not have an agenda. Don't make every date about finding your potential marriage partner or about getting laid. Let it go. If you are not having a good time, make your excuses and beg off. But if you are, enjoy it, be aware and act with honesty. Honesty does not necessarily mean, however, to use the erstwhile phrase, "Nice shoes, want to fuck?" This does work for some, but a little finesse is usually appreciated. By honesty, I mean existing without agendas, manipulation, criticism, or goal-oriented behavior. Just be cool, man, and enjoy the riff.

That said, my favorite bit of advice I dispensed over the bar was to a young man who was obviously going to score with a sexy, 40-something woman. While she was in the bathroom, he turned to me with desperation on his face (I need to add here that they had both been at a circus party and so were not only wearing clown makeup, but that it had begun to drip and smear). He asked, "What do I do?" He confessed that he was intimidated, excited certainly, but also nervous. Bless him, He was giving me such a gift.

"What do you do? Go enjoy yourself, try to give her an orgasm, and don't be a dick."

I had to explain of course. Not being a dick translates to not assuming that every woman is looking for a relationship. A 40-something woman in clown face taking home a 22 year old is most likely not. Respect her. Treat her like a person. Romp. The next morning, give her a nice hug and thank her for a good time. That is, of course, assuming that you had a good time and you weren't attacked by her pet iguana while she got into a brawl with her roommate. But barring any unusual craziness, the best approach is always one of simple appreciation.

In honor of this particular column, I would be more than happy over the next week to offer any advice to those who have specific dating questions.

The Sweet Spot is a blog column about alternative sexuality by Ginger Murray who is also the editor of Whore! magazine. Check back next week for more.

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andrew.o.dugas 1 Like

The best definition of honesty I have ever read, heard, or seen: "By honesty, I mean existing without agendas, manipulation, criticism, or goal-oriented behavior."


You say you're taking individual questions. How can people submit such questions?



Hola. You can submit them here if you like, without mentioning your name or you can send me a message via facebook. Best Wishes. 


 @gingerkitty28 One of the most common pieces of advice I always get about relationships is "be confident" (or "don't be desperate"). This seems like it might even be good advice, except I don't know how to actually follow it. How do I make myself confident in relationships, when I've had so little success in relationships? How do I avoid seeming desperate when deep down, I really am desperate?


 @pnrjulius Dear pnrjulius, first off, I must apologize. Advice is a tricky and uncertain thing, and anyone who dares to take it on risks their own conceit. That said, I have been thinking about your response, puzzling over it, wanting to come up with something that would actually help and then I went to see Dear Sugar. As a result, I have a better response for you, but due to inspiration and honoring I want to make it part of next week's column. Here is where I will also confess, that I googled you because I wanted to know more about you. Because I do profoundly believe that no one advice fits all, I wanted to better understand what you are facing. I would be happy to send you my response as a private communication. But I am also asking your permission to use my response to you as part of the column, I will not expose you and will only use those details that pertain to the response. By all means let me know what you think about that. 


Best wishes, Ginger


 @gingerkitty28 I am quite sure this will not help me, and here's how I know this: It's basically what I did through all of high school and significant parts of college, during which time I had hardly any romantic relationships at all. I made a lot of friends, I accomplished things, I found some meaning in my life, and these are of course good things. But I did not go on a single date throughout high school, becauseI believed in the romantic myths of our society and I thought that I could just fall into a relationship with the right person automatically like this. (I had one brief sort of fling while abroad one summer, and that was it.) Next thing I know, I'm 19 years old, still a virgin, unbearably lonely, and more desperate than ever. (Now at 24 I remain lonely and desperate, but at least no longer a virgin, so that's a sort of progress.) No, it was only when I actually started seeking out romantic relationships in themselves, and even being a little, well, goal-oriented, that I got any success at all.(which is not to say a lot). It was only when I started actively seeking people out as dating partners and making my intentions very clear early on, that anyone even seemed willing to approach me in that light. Before that, I didn't even get the "let's just be friends" speech most of the time, but rather no speech at all because just being friends was all anyone ever assumed I wanted. And maybe there were people who would have been interested if I had known to make the move, but I didn't, because I followed advice like yours: "Relax, let it happen naturally." What happened naturally? Nothing. That's what happened. Maybe this advice works for some people, but for me it is exactly wrong. I tried it for years, and it's one of the major reasons why I feel like I'm so far behind now, like I'm just now trying to ride the learning curve romantically and sexually that my peers ran four, six, even eight years ago. 


 @pnrjulius Dear pnrjulias, I know exactly what you mean. 'Be confident' or even, my most hated, 'just be yourself' are the worst pieces of advice. It's the catch 22 of dating, How do you not be desperate when you are desperate? I have different advice for you. Very different advice. Stop dating. Or more specifically, stop looking. Instead, get involved in something, or many things. 

Suggestions: Volunteer, help your friend carry instruments to a gig, become a Big Brother, work the door at a dance show, host couch surfers, do an SPCA drive-whatever. What are you interested in? What do you care about? Make being a part of that really important in your life for at least a month and I promise this - the Desperation will lessen. There is no greater feeling of satisfaction than knowing you are part of something greater than yourself. An extra added bonus to this is that it will bring you into contact with people in a completely different way. Conversations will be organic and not forced. And then if you do find yourself hanging out with someone you would like to impress you will have something to talk about-confidently. I too, was once very desperate. And the more desperate I became the more it unsuccessful I was at any chance of finding the one thing that I thought would heal that desperation - a person to like me. After a humbling and let's face it, shaming experience of being dumped by someone I didn't even really like all that much, I asked myself the question - what am I most afraid of? It was singing. I loved it. Sadly however, no one else did as what came out of me resembled more the cries of a wounded giraffe than Aretha Franklin. But 'fuck it', said I and signed up for voice lessons that afternoon. No one will be offering me a recording contract in this millennium but spending four years doing something that terrified me gave me a kind of strength I had never had before. And when the desperation would come and grab me by the gut, I suddenly had an antidote. I would just open up my mouth and let my voice come out, even if it was a little off key. 

 I wish you the best of luck. 






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