Jon Birger did not expect to be here. An award-winning business journalist and a former senior writer at Fortune, he admits to venturing into the self-help genre with a “snooty attitude” when he wrote his 2015 book Date-onomics, which analysed modern-day dating by crunching numbers. Having returned to the genre with his 2021 release Make Your Move, the author is not only more comfortable with advising single women worldwide, but also encouraging them to question the clichés that come with romance. Today, as the world marks the annual day of love, we share 10 takeaways from our conversation with this accidental dating guru.
Proceed with caution when online dating.
“The physical dangers associated with online dating are ruining romance. Every day, there’s some online dating horror story like this one. Science shows there is a profound connection between the stories of how we first meet and the stories of what we become as couples. What does that say, then, about relationships that begin not with magical moments, but with anxiety, fact-checking, and escape plans? It’s incredibly hard to fall in like or love if you’re spending the entire first date worried that Robert the handsome hedge fund manager might actually be Billy Bob the married ex-con.”
The so-called rules of dating are outdated.
“A big theme of Make Your Move is pushing back against the ‘play hard to get’ advice that has been the dominant message of most dating books written for women over the past 30 years. Of course, the bible of the play-hard-to-get crowd is The Rules, the success of which began a host of copycats like Why Men Love Bitches and Ignore the Guy, Get the Guy. Their underlying philosophy is that men will lose interest in you the moment you show interest in them. The problem is today’s men don’t actually think this way, which is why so many of the fabulous, 40-something women I’ve interviewed for my books can’t understand why they’re still single despite having followed all ‘the rules’.”
#MeToo has altered the dating landscape.
“Men like women who like them. Every time I use this line on the lecture circuit, men in the audience nod in unison, while the women look at me like I’m crazy. Too many women have been taught to believe that the way into a man’s heart is ignoring his messages and rebuffing his advances. Now, perhaps this was true 100 years ago, but I can tell you with great certainty that this is not true today.
The message that the rules-followers want young women to send to young men boils down to ‘not interested means keep trying’. Think about how this sort of messaging plays out in the post-#MeToo era. Men nowadays are afraid of doing or saying the wrong thing – as they should be! Now, very few men are going to assume that uninterested means keep trying. If a woman seems uninterested, men have learned that the proper response is not to assume she’s playing hard to get. The proper response is to leave her alone.”
Steer clear of dating apps.
“How many single women have ever said something along the lines of, ‘I love dating apps so much. All the men are so kind and honest, and it’s just so easy to find true love on a dating app!’ I’m guessing the answer is somewhere between zero and zero? Online dating is a cesspool. Everyone knows this. According to Pew Research, 57% of women report experiencing harassment on dating apps, 55% of women believe dating is harder now than it was 10 years ago, and 19% say they’ve been threatened with physical violence while using a dating app.
If there were a singles bar where one out of every five women were being threatened with violence, who would go back? To be clear, I’m not saying it’s impossible to find a life partner on a dating app. What I am saying is it’s hard. According to one study, young singles are now spending 20 hours a week on dating apps! And that doesn’t even include time spent on actual dates! The problem, as I see it, is the FOMO mindset when it comes to social media. As much as they dislike online dating, singles are more afraid of not being on dating apps.”
Get back out into the real world.
“I reject the idea that we need the apps and that it’s impossible to date people you know from the real world. I recently gave a Zoom talk to a group of students at Rollins College in Florida, where the Life Launch class covers everything from personal finance to relationships. Much of my discussion dealt with concerns about the safety and efficacy of online dating. A young woman told me she understood my arguments, but wanted to know how she was supposed to meet someone if not through the apps.
In response, I posed the following question to the entire class: ‘How many of you already know someone from the real world whom you like and have considered dating?’ There were 40 people in the class. 40 hands went up. My point was: why would you start from zero with a complete stranger on an app when there’s already someone you know and like from the real world whom you could ask out instead?”
The paradox of choice is real.
“The problem with modern dating is that every first date is a blind date with a stranger. Even after a third or fourth date, you still don’t really know the person – and this is where the paradox of choice kicks in. If he does or says something wrong, you are going to be much more likely to pull the plug simply because there are so many other fish in the sea. You have little way of judging whether his mess-up was a one-time goof or an indication of a deeper personality disorder. But if he had been a co-worker or part of your friend group – someone you actually know – it would be much easier to put the behaviour in context and determine whether or not he deserves a little slack.”
Classism will only work against you.
“Categorising a non-college-educated man as ‘settling’ or ‘compromising’ isn’t just rude. It’s classist. As a society, we are making such progress towards compassion and equity, so when it comes to dating, do we really want to send out the message that marrying the gentlemanly electrician is ‘settling’ – but marrying the insufferable banker is not ‘settling’? The bottom line is this: I do not believe that a college degree makes someone a better wife or a better husband. Lastly, if this really is purely about income, I’d be careful about buying into the stereotypes. I bet most Oxford-educated English majors earn less than their plumbers. For what it’s worth, my own plumber drives an Audi.”
Don’t rule out younger men.
“It’s all about women expanding their dating pools, much the same way men have done by dating younger women. For whatever reason, 30-year-old women have been socialised to believe that 26-year-old men would never be interested in them. Again, maybe this was true 100 years ago, but it’s definitely not true today. If you read Make Your Move, you’ll learn why. The other point I’d make deals with the downside of dating educated men who never married – because of the way dating math works, the dating market gets better for them as they age into their 30s and 40s.
For the record, I’m not assuming everyone should or wants to get married, but if I were a woman who was looking to get married, I would be very wary of such guys, especially the better-looking ones with good careers. Many of them are having way too much fun playing the field. It’s one reason why I encourage 30-something women to consider dipping down age-wise. It may sound counter-intuitive, but I actually think the younger guys are likely to be more commitment-minded than a lot of the older ones.”
You are not a failure.
“One of the reasons I wrote Make Your Move is because some Date-onomics readers found the message depressing. It was wrong of me to write a whole book all about why dating sucks for young, educated women without offering up real solutions to the problems these women were experiencing. This is why I wrote Make Your Move, which I believe offers solutions along with an uplifting message. I guess my words of wisdom would be: it’s still not your fault, but it is time to try something different.”
Make your move already!
“Stop worrying about ‘ruining the friendship’. I do not assume that everyone aspires to marriage or even monogamy. But if ‘happily ever after’ is indeed your goal, do not be shy about going after what and whom you want. If there’s a guy you know and like from the real world – a guy who gives you a happy feeling every time you’re around him – just ask him out. Stop waiting for him to realise you like him. He’s probably oblivious like most guys are! And if it blows up in your face? Feel free to blame me. But just remember what’s at stake. You’re not shopping for a used car here. You’re searching for a life partner, and anything that is important is worth taking some risks.”