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Bad Dating Advice

Thursday, January 30, 2014
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Dear Miriam,

I recently saw some really, REALLY bad dating advice on aish.com. It was totally sexist, completely old-fashioned and weirdly out of touch with real people who are currently single. Some people wrote comments that argued with the author, but I'm guessing a lot of others, like me, were upset with it but stayed silent. The post has since been mocked on a lot of other sites like this one and Aish even took it down. But the whole episode raises two questions for me: 1) Without turning into an angry mob, what's the right way to refute something you see online? And 2) Why are people still offering singles such terrible advice?

Signed,
Bad Dating Advice


Dear Dating Advice,

Bad dating advice and bad Internet content are plentiful because there's no accountability for either one and there are eager audiences for both. The best way to refute both offenses is through good one-on-one communication. Regardless of how you choose to handle your online dealings, other people will still choose to rant and rave. So whatever you're thinking, someone else has probably already said it, but louder, ruder and more likely to mention Hitler.

What this means for your first question is that there are no great ways to provide constructive feedback online. I have occasionally seen articles where commenters provide real insight and approach each other with respect, but those posts are few and far between compared to the name-calling and flagrant use of incorrect information that plagues comments sections. Furthermore, comments sections take arguments to an extreme that would be much less likely to occur in a face-to-face discussion. So even if one rational person wants to have an honest discussion, the noise of other commenters likely makes that impossible. (The blog on Kveller.com is one notable exception in my experience. The authors and commenters are typically all Jewish mothers, and the comments tend to be supportive and empathetic. Incidentally, or not, in her own blog on Kveller, Mayim Bialik writes about not reading comments anymore, particularly on Facebook, because of the intensity of criticism she has received.) 

Before you despair, just remember the medium we're talking about. Saying that the Internet has changed the nature of public discourse is such an obvious understatement that it's barely worth mentioning except for the fact that you can make the personal decision to step back from it. If you see something online that really rattles you, you can take the discussion offline and bring some friends together to talk about it. (That is, if we're talking about something that rattles you in an intellectual rather than a safety sort of way. If you see something crossing the line into physical threats/cyber bullying, you should tell the appropriate authority, whether a site administrator or actual law enforcement.) 

You can also email the author directly. Even though you might not get a response, you might feel better. You can also remind yourself that the Internet is really, really big, just like the world, and, for better or worse, both are full of plenty of people and arguments out of step with your own beliefs. 

In terms of bad dating advice specifically, you have to consider the source. Dating advice coming from your mom will differ from advice from your best friend will differ from advice from your ex will differ from advice from a religious organization with a particular take on men's and women's roles such as Aish, an outreach organization rooted in Orthodox Judaism. Ultimately, everyone giving advice has an agenda (yes, even me!), so before you get the urge to rant and rave online, figure out if anything else about the source impacts your life. If you disagree with your mom, that can have other implications. Bad advice from your ex could be disconcerting, but maybe that's why you broke up in the first place. Bad advice from a religious organization, like the Aish post you asked about? If you don't ascribe to the other philosophies of the group, then it doesn't much matter if you agree with them about dating, either. 

For what it's worth, while I found the Aish advice simplistic and condescending, much of it also sounded familiar. Ideas about women dressing to impress and not "over-sharing" are pretty prevelant. I think, ultimately, it's less about what was said than the tone in which it was written. Patti Stanger, of Millionaire Matchmaker fame, has listed "11 Commandments of Dating for Women," and what she says is startling similar to Aish's post. However, Patti peppers her list with references to sex and body parts and lots and lots of swearing, so the overall effect is different even if the message is the same.

Whether you're considering how to respond to a new love interest or an online foe, remember that it's often more about how you say it than what you say. If we all keep that message in mind a little more often, maybe the bad Internet content and dating advice will both fade into the background.

Be well,
Miriam

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