The Five Big Dating Mistakes of College Men

Dear Dr. Binazir,

Hello! My name is Kevin and I am a senior in college. I have really enjoyed reading your Tao of Dating emails for the last few months. The advice and philosophy you offer is both constructive and life-affirming. Additionally, I am continually impressed by the respect, humility, and humor with which you communicate. In short, thank you!

Right now, I’m in the middle of a difficult situation and I trust that you more than anyone I know might be able to help.

Last spring, I met a girl who has changed my life. I noticed her immediately – she sat in front of me in the Gospel Choir and would frequently look back at me and smile/stare, never saying a word. I knew from her comportment (and the fact that she always brought her biology text to rehearsal) that she was someone with whom I could become close friends, and hopefully more. After weeks, I finally worked up the courage to introduce myself. We became fast friends. Even though we do not share mutual friends (she is a sophomore), we have gone on hikes, runs, and bike rides together. We have a meal together once every other week. This past summer, since she worked in a lab near my house, we had a wonderful picnic on the Charles River.

I am sure that this sounds very straightforward so far, but there is one major complication – she has a boyfriend. He is my age and goes to another school. They met in high school and started dating when he went to college. He and I have met and hung out together a few times, and while we are not going to become close friends, he’s definitely a decent guy. He is in love with her, but to be honest, she seems surprisingly ambivalent toward him. Even more inexplicably, she has never called him a “boyfriend” and never mentions him to me unless he is present. When she told me that he would be joining us one day over the summer, she called him “my apartmentmate.”

Over the spring and summer, things were moving on a very fast, positive trajectory. Now, with only six weeks to go before the end of the academic term, things have slowed – but not for any discernible reason. We had an hourlong breakfast two weeks ago and are planning to do a challenging dayhike with a small group next weekend. Her birthday was Tuesday, so I gave her a card. But it just seems like something is ‘off.’

Her behavior over the last week has been uncharacteristically fickle. One day she was enthusiastic and flirty and the next day she was uncommunicative and tense. In short, she seems conflicted – as if I may be both a source of happiness and confusion. (To think that I may be a cause of anxiety is a terribly frustrating thought!) If time were no object, I would take this as a signal to step back. Moreover, she will be in Spain next term and I will be in Greece for my final term in the spring. Even though we only live an hour apart (Massachusetts to New Hampshire), unless she were to break up with her boyfriend, we will likely not see each other much (if at all) after I graduate. I know that if I do not tell her how I feel soon, I will not have a second chance.

Basically, I am at a novel impasse. I have never attempted to date a girl who was in a relationship before and she is the only girl I have ever met that I would do anything to spend my life with. What should I do?

Thank you again for all your insights and in advance for your advice.

Sincerely, Kevin

First of all, thank you Kevin for your astute observations on the nature of my work.  Constructive! Life-affirming! With gobs of respect, humility, and humor!  I agree.  Especially the part about humility.

Tomfoolery aside — aww man.  Could I write a book on this one.

Oh wait, I did.  It’s called The Tao of Dating for Men.  And I wrote it specifically for the brainy, overthinking, underexperienced dudes who populate the Ivy-type schools that our good man Kevin attends (he’s at Dartmouth).

This letter touches upon many themes that are relevant to the love lives of college boys, so we’re going to blunt-dissect them one-by-one, because that’s the best way to see all the components of folly that’s going on here — and destroy them in the process :)

Why does all of this sound familiar to me? Because I was Kevin not too long ago, all through college and medical school. Man what I would give to have those 8 years of my life turn out differently.

But I digress. Let’s begin with Theme #1:

1. You must get out of the scarcity mentality

This is the big no-no when it comes to college romance.  Let me break it down for you: there will be a time in your life when you will be living alone in a big city, away from all of your friends.  The people you’ll see all day long will be your work colleagues, most of whom are not going to be your age and probably not all that interesting.  Also, people will be non-single.

Good news: college is not that time.  You are surrounded by cool people your own age all the time.  Nobody is married (unless you’re at BYU or something).  They live right next door, or at most a 5min walk across campus.  And you’re in constant casual contact with all of them – at meals, in classes, at campus events.

So when there are thousands of cute members of the opposite sex running around campus, do you set your heart on one of them and ignore the rest?  And then get massively depressed when that one says no?

Well, I did that.  And many of my friends and advisees did that.  But you’re smarter than us, so you shouldn’t do that.  You should rejoice in the fact that you are surrounded by babes, all of whom are single (college women who are reading this: that goes for you, too).  Life is good.

Granted, the odds may be good, but the goods are definitely odd.  Which brings us to

2. You need to appreciate the psychology of college-age women

Kevin says that “her behavior over the last week has been uncharacteristically fickle. One day she was enthusiastic and flirty and the next day she was uncommunicative and tense.”

Wow.  That’s really weird.  A 19yr old woman who’s fickle?  Ya don’t say.  Before I pour another inch-thick layer of jamoca almond sarcasm on this, lemme tell ya something: the whole fickleness thing is not a bug – it’s a feature.  The most likely thing a girl that age is going to do with her mind is to change it.

Kevin is sharp enough to notice this, too, about the putative ‘boyfriend’: “He is in love with her, but to be honest, she seems surprisingly ambivalent toward him.”

Well, guess what, Kevster: you’re right.  She’s not all that sure about him.  He may even just be a placeholder until something better comes along, since pretty girls are often terribly insecure about appearing alone (“Why doesn’t she have a boyfriend?  Is something wrong with her?”).

Girls her age simply have no idea what they want, and many end up as fully-grown women who don’t really know what they want.  Often it’s just the tick-tock of the biological clock that wakes them up in a cold sweat at dawn around age 36: “Holy shit!  If I don’t find a guy soon, I won’t be able to have kids, like, ever!”  That very real deadline of declining fertility has a powerfully mind-clearing effect on them.

(To be fair, most guys that age also have no clue what they want, and they continue to remain adolescent way into their 40s and beyond, since they don’t have the same deadline.)

So if you want to succeed with a woman – however you define success for yourself, anywhere from getting a first date to getting some play to marrying her – you must take the lead.  You do not wait for the infinitesimal chance that the probability distribution function of her distracted mind will settle upon you as an object of desire.

Nosirreebob.  You make shit happen.  Which brings us to…

3.  You must set the frame correctly

Sun Tzu said in The Art of War: “The battle is won or lost before the first blow is struck.”  The way that plays out in the realm of love and dating is this: if you are chasing her, you have already lost.  There is no way you can win, even if you ‘succeed’ in getting her.  Because if you do, then she owns your ass.

Kevin, my man, and all my boys out there: you must control the frame.  And the frame is that you are the girl, not her.  To wit: you are the object of desire.  That’s right — she needs to be the one chasing you.  Exceptions exist, and they mostly prove the rule, and the rule is this: you can win only if she’s after you, not the other way around.  The prettier she is, the more this is true.

Do you think Elvis chased women?  How ‘bout Hugh Hefner, or any number of douchebag rock stars?  Exactly.  (As an aside, Hef did chase one woman, and she required that he marry her, and she did own his ass for a decade or so. Kimberley Conrad was her name, for the record.)

Actually, let me expand on that aside: even the guys who are exceptionally good with women don’t get to choose.  The women are almost always doing the choosing.  It’s just that those guys have so many offers coming at them that it looks like they can get any woman they want.  But they can’t.  If you talk to them, you’ll find out that there’s always that one girl they really really want that they can’t get.  Heck, even Hef had to go all-in to nab that one girl he wanted.

So instead of chasing and being the seller, be the buyer.  Adopt what I call the stance of the picky buyer.  Instead of asking what should I do to make her like me, ask: What has she done for me lately? (Now I’ve got that damn Janet Jackson song in my head – thanks a lot, buddy).

That one question changes everything.  If you want to get her, you must want her less than she wants you.  Pure and simple.

4. You must not mistake infatuation for love.

In his letter, Kevin says: “I have never attempted to date a girl who was in a relationship before and she is the only girl I have ever met that I would do anything to spend my life with.”

Whoa nelly.  Let’s slow down here.  Lemme get this straight: you haven’t started dating her yet.  Which means you’ve never made out with her, and obviously you’ve never had sex with her.  And never spent any significant stretch of time (say, 24 hours in a row) with her.

And you think you want to spend your life with her?  Hrm.

What if she’s a horrible terrible kisser who mauls you like a rabid jaguar when you make out?  Trust me – it ain’t as fun as it sounds.  What if she’s terrible in the sack?  What if you’re just sexually incompatible?  What if you find out she’s a lazy, selfish unreliable harridan who makes your life miserable?   (Good word, harridan – so very underutilized).

So instead of thinking you’re crazy in love with this girl whom you barely know, why not suspend judgment.  Indefinitely. Because you really have no idea what she’s like.  Heck, guys marry women and a year later find out they had no idea what she was like.  What, you think the 50% of couples who get divorced weren’t in love when they got married?

So go forth and meet some more girls, my man.  Preferably local ones, which leads to…

5. Know that a long-distance relationship is no relationship at all

Let me ask you this: it’s 11pm and you need toothpaste.  Do you go to the 7-11 across the street, or the one 5 miles away in the city?

Here’s the deal: in the early stages of your development as an adult, you’re mostly figuring out how to date, how to love, how to be a good companion. You’re going to break up with everyone you date except for that one person you marry.  And half the time in this country, you end up breaking up with her, too.  All is fleeting.

So basically, all of your early relationships are a practice of how to love and be loving.  For this purpose, I recommend the girl next door, not the one an hour away. If you’re serious about being fit, join a gym that’s close by, not across town. If she’s far enough to prevent spontaneity, then it’s a long-distance relationship.  And at your age when you’re just learning this stuff, that’s not a constraint you need.  Find someone local, buddy.  You’re in college, for godssakes, so there should be plenty of lovely, eligible ladies everywhere.

To recap: think abundance; be prepared for her to change her mind early and often; be the one chased, not the chaser; get your head on straight; go local; and be desireless.

All the best

Dr A.

4 Comments on “The Five Big Dating Mistakes of College Men”

  1. tom sulcer

    I’m wondering whether the excellent Dr. Ali might think Kevin was quicksanded in the dreaded “friend zone”? And if so, what is this dreaded zone? Can it be avoided?

    1. Ali Binazir MD MPhil Post author

      The best way to avoid getting stuck in the friend zone is to frame the interaction such that she is chasing you. If you’re doing the chasing, then she can exile you to Justfriendsistan at will.

  2. tom sulcer

    Has the most mindful Dr. Ali, in his personal experience with humans of the female persuasion, ever been exiled to Justfriendistan despite intelligent ju-jitsu reversa-visa framing?

    There was a turbaned woman on the outskirts of Medina with beauty to whip instant sandstorms with a lift of her eyebrow — hazel eyes simmering beneath her veil — and a rich man with many oil wells courted her using the official Dr. Ali (c) reversing-the-framing method. She ignored him. He’s quicksanded in Justfriendistan. Is there no hope? Is there no way out?

  3. A Willson

    Great post!

    Just a quick q:

    How can you reconcile ‘being the one chased’ with ‘taking the lead/making stuff happen’? It seems
    like they’re mutually exclusive perhaps?