Why Relationship Advice Is a Mixed Bag

Valentine’s Day is over — but February 15 doesn’t mark the end of experts and gurus dishing out the relationship advice. While the days leading up to Valentine’s Day are usually worse, it seems as if, year-round, there’s always some virtual Cupid handing you arrows and telling you how to shoot.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not fascinated by such experts. Take Nick Notas, a dating specialist in Boston who helps heterosexual guys to crack the dating scene. Notas suggests that if a man is sociable, laughing and chatting with a group of girls, that women will find him attractive because he looks like a good time. “A woman observes how social you are and how others appreciate your company,” Notas writes on his blog. The approval from other women works as a “screening process,” he says — after all, if others happily welcome a man, then, “she sees that you must be a guy with real value.”

Well, here’s what I appreciate: A woman who goes with her own gut, tastes, and judgments. Why should she want the person who pleases everyone else? And why should a “screening process” be based on what everyone else thinks?

Even for those who go beyond the dating scene and enter into marriage, the advice don’t stop. In a recent Washington Post article aptly titled “Five Myths About Cheating,” sociologist Eric Anderson reveals the results of his interview/study into cheating in monogamous marriages. His main finding? Infidelity is rife.

He cites Boston College economist Donald Cox, who has found that poorer partners are more likely to “cheat” than richer ones, and also suggests that romantic love is no assurance of fidelity. Anderson goes on to say that with today’s blurry boundaries, “cheating” is hard to define. “We may need to investigate other relationship models,” Anderson explains, listing open arrangements and “what sex columnist Dan Savage calls ‘monogamish‘ relationships, in which couples have flings, affairs or threesomes.” He adds, quite wisely, that these ways of loving, along with polyamorous relationships and “even singlehood” should be as equally valued in our culture as monogamy.

I don’t like the phrase “even singlehood,” but apart from that, he does have a point.

As Anderson touches on, we should be careful that we don’t only highlight relationship models, but also consider openness and flexibility. In post-Valentine’s Day reality, a relationship might be monogamous for a dozen years, and then, because the partners are honest with one another — not a la Newt Gingrich, but lovingly so — they might choose to have a month off … or entertain a threesome … or open right up … or all of the above.

Perhaps what we really need is more faith in love and (its powers of adaptation) rather than a bunch of advice.