LIKE SO MANY OF MY PEERS, I was not lucky in love in my teens. At the time, I attributed it to just that: luck. But now, at the end of my 20s, I’m beginning to realize that the reason I wasn’t lucky was because I was operating off of terrible, skeezy, sometimes even misogynistic advice. Here’s what I’d tell teenage me about dating, if I could.
1. Find something you love and get competent at it.
I played sports through my junior year of high school, even though I kinda hated sports and wasn’t particularly good at them. But countless high school movies had told me that girls like jocks, so I kept it up until I realized I could work after school instead and use the money to go see more misleading high school movies.
Girls began consistently paying attention to me in my mid-20s, when I started coming into my own as a writer. I noticed a trend: a girl would find me mildly amusing, then would read my blogs or articles, and then would suddenly be much more interested in me than they were before. The reason? I was good at writing.
People find competence attractive. The reason I didn’t get any attention as a teenager, even though I was a “jock,” was because I sucked at being a jock. Because I hated it and didn’t want to work at it. If I’d focused on art and writing, I might’ve had a better chance.
2. Stop wasting your time on girls who aren’t into you.
I, like virtually everyone, had one girl who I really, really liked, and who liked to be around me, but who wasn’t particularly attracted to me. This, movies assured me, was surmountable. She needed demonstrations of my love. She needed to see how much I liked her. She needed to see how valuable I was as a potential boyfriend. So I did favors for her all the time. In my worst moment — and this is one of those humiliating teenage memories that is buried deep, deep, deep in my brain that occasionally pops up when I’m driving down the freeway to say, “REMEMBER WHEN YOU DID THIS FUCKING THING? MAYBE YOU SHOULD SWERVE INTO ONCOMING TRAFFIC!” — I took her to a high school dance at the request of her boyfriend, who couldn’t go with her because he was grounded. She moped about his absence the whole time, and I thought I was getting somewhere. Shudder.
The thing is, she’d said relatively early on that it wasn’t happening. But I believed I could change her mind. And then when she didn’t change her mind, I’d decided she was evil and was toying with me. But she wasn’t evil. She was just dealing with a lunatic who couldn’t take a hint.
Don’t waste time on people who aren’t into you. You’re embarrassing yourself and them.
3. Stop trying to “hack” women.
We had strategies for how we’d eventually get women to kiss us — and, holy shit, dare we even speak of it? sleep with us. Pick-up lines! Negging! Casual deception!
All of it revolved around the flimsy premise that women “had a type” and that they were basically computers that could be hacked. Say the right thing in the right way, and boom! You’re getting laid.
This, of course, was nonsense. Women are people, just like us men, and they have different tastes and preferences. Treating them like machines is crude and misogynistic. The fact that you’re trying to trick them into liking you kinda says a lot about why they really don’t like you.
4. ”Be yourself” is advice that might not get you laid, but it’s still good advice.
In high school, I was a strange one. I was goofy, I was sarcastic, I wore horrible clothes, I paid no attention to my hair or my hygiene, and I was overly obsessed with movies. It was not a winning formula for getting laid. But it eventually turned into one. Eventually, I paid more attention to my clothes, I hammered my goofiness into something mildly charming, I became more comfortable with myself, and my love of movies made it super easy to start and hold long conversations. You know, as long as they were about movies.
If I’d tried to be someone else, it would’ve backfired. It would be like wearing someone else’s clothes: they wouldn’t fit and people would notice. “Be yourself” might not get you anywhere in your teens. But it’ll make your 20s a lot more fun, and a lot more rewarding.
5. Getting laid isn’t everything.
We used to talk obsessively about what it was like: only one of our group of friends had sex in high school, and we’d practically beg him for information. He’d be super smug, not letting on that he was, in all likelihood, still very bad at it.
Sex is a way bigger deal to people who haven’t had it yet than it is to people who have. This isn’t to say it’s not a huge and important part of life. But it’s certainly not the end goal of a relationship. And a romantic life that revolves solely around sex is a pretty empty one. I know telling a teenager to have perspective is kind of a huge waste of time, but maybe if I was able to tell 15-year-old me, “Look, it’s going to be a few years. Just resign yourself to that and focus on other things,” I wouldn’t have been such a spaz.
6. The “Friend Zone” is nonsense.
If you’ve been “friend zoned” — i.e. if a girl has said to you, “Let’s just be friends,” — it’s not because you had a chance to be more than friends and blew it. It’s because there was never a chance and she was too nice to tell you that up front. And can you blame her? The world of a teenage girl must be terrifying: it’s full of people like you. That’s a minefield you would not want to walk.