Single women of Britain, if you didn’t already feel snowed under with advice to cut out carbs, drink less booze and deny yourselves most other treats this January, you might be interested to know that there’s one more area in which you should be reining in your appetites: your relationships with men. Happy 2012!
Zoe Strimpel, the former dating columnist, current lifestyle editor of City A.M. and author of What the Hell Is He Thinking? All the Questions You’ve Ever Asked About Men Answered, isn’t suggesting you give up on the opposite sex entirely and invest in a nice wimple. Instead, she advocates a short-term “detox” from today’s hookup-heavy dating scene, which she paints as being fuelled by booze and social networking, and full of women working hard to appear ecstatic with no-strings-attached sex, while secretly feeling disappointed, unsatisfied, and longing for something more meaningful.
This picture is augmented by anecdotes and studies showing women masochistically stalking exes on Facebook and “self-selling” online, feeling pushy if they initiate contact with men rather than waiting to be approached, and getting caught up in competitions over who can appear to care less, like waiting a day to reply to a text. Some of these ideas are borrowed from the books Strimpel cites, such as Female Chauvinist Pigs and Living Dolls; much is based on the author’s own experiences and those of her friends, which are turned into gossipy case studies that kick off each chapter.
Strimpel’s style is breezy and intimate, and she’s not afraid of making jokes at her own expense. She’s also sharp enough to realise that the advice she gives – cut out anything that smacks of “junk-food love” – can come across as punishing, so she recasts it as a pro-feminist exercise in independence. Gender pigeonholing is snappily analysed; Germaine Greer, Naomi Wolf and Simone de Beauvoir are among those saluted in an appended reading list; and the diet’s stated aims are “being – and feeling – awesome” and “to feel whole… entirely separately from men”. Then Chapter 7: Do Not Pursue looms into view.
Here, we are told that the Man Diet puts the kibosh on, among nine bullet-pointed items, “going over and striking up a conversation with an attractive man,” because “men can woo women but we can’t woo men”. Yikes. Is the ability to reverse-park a turn-off too? Strimpel admits that the reason for this rule is sexist social norms, but advises going along with it anyway, to avoid the “stress fest” that comes with transgressing. “Being assertive with men is a wounding, courageous path,” she says. “In order to build up your strength, you need to limit the knocks.”
If you’re still following, this wonky piece of logic actually helps clear things up. It makes a lot of sense that Strimpel’s interviewees are feeling alienated and frustrated with hookup culture if they are willingly giving up the driving seat in the earliest stages of a date. Could there be worse advice for women who report regularly crying during sex and “praying” for it to end (as two of her case studies do) than the idea that assertiveness is unsexy?
Taking a break from dating altogether, as Strimpel recommends, may be one way to break an unhealthy, obsessive cycle of “bad romance”, but it doesn’t show how it can be replaced with something else. For that, it’s probably a better idea to focus less on single women restricting their unruly behaviour and more on them figuring out and asking for what they want, stress fest or not.