It should come as no surprise that the dating landscape has changed significantly over the years. Just as quickly as technology advances, the speed and structure of romantic relationships appear to have done the same. While I have had a vague idea that the times have changed, it wasn’t until earlier last week when I was in a male colleague’s office discussing heterosexual relationships that I came to a startling realization. Apparently, I’m living in an alternate reality.

You see, many of us were brought up by a generation of parents who came to be married in times of more traditional dating and courtship. In a previous post I discussed the times when people would “go steady,” and so forth. While each generation certainly does things a little differently, it turns out I may have been under a seriously flawed impression.

I thought that while every so often a strong, intelligent, independent woman would approach a man herself, that this was the outlier and not the norm. A handful of my good female friends have found themselves in happy satisfying relationships in this manner. But I had not realized how common this has become.

And yet, there have also been those who warned of the hazards of this approach, “you’ll always wonder if he would have chosen you himself, and if you just did a really good job of convincing him.” There are those who suggest the “gentle nudge” approach, a halfway point between asking a guy out and letting him do all of the work. And then there are the tradionalists, the ones who pass around such email chain passages with the words of Shuna Holmes:

"Women are like apples on trees. The best ones are at the top of the tree. Most men don't want to reach for the good ones because they are afraid of falling and getting hurt. Instead, they sometimes take the apples from the ground that aren't as good, but easy. The apples at the top think something is wrong with them, when in reality, they're amazing. They just have to wait for the right man to come along, the one who is brave enough to climb all the way to the top of the tree.”

There are theories and rules: the more assertive a woman the better, too assertive and she’s desperate. Become a friend, but don’t land yourself in the “friend zone.” Remember, East Coast men are more aggressive, West Coast men more laid back. (Does this mean those from the Midwest are the best mid-point?) Of course you should be simultaneously dating and texting as many people at the same time as possible, how else would you maximize efficiency?

With so many “obvious” rules, it comes as no surprise that companies have now started classes teaching individuals to date. These include in-vivo exposure elements. An eye-opening article appeared in an Australian newspaper column discussing such dating “boot camps.”

Many times my therapy clients ask me quite earnestly what they should do, and my thoughts on their situations. Too often has a female client tearfully recounted tales of trying to message a guy, make things work, and do much of the legwork only to be brushed off or entirely ignored. It’s disheartening to hear this and their justifications for their intended’s behavior. “He’s just so shy. Maybe he’s aloof. Perhaps I didn’t try hard enough.” My secret hope is that they simply aren’t engaging with anyone who ascribes to games of cat and mouse. And then I hope they find someone better and more deserving of their affections. Open dialogue and honest communication seem to be the exception and not the norm too many times in their encounters with the opposite sex.

So what’s a girl to do? Is it like the book and film said, “he’s just not that into you”? Should women put aside the few brush-offs they’ve received and forge full-force ahead? Or should they sit not so patiently for the hypothetical “one” to come along?  Or better yet, ascribe to the principles of Taoists who say that in doing nothing, all things get done.  Readers, what do you think?

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