Last night I had dinner with my friend Cecilia*, and, as you might expect, our conversation turned to dating. We’re around the same age, and many of her friends are married and having kids. As is the plight of many a single woman with friends who have settled down, Cecilia has been getting plenty of unsolicited advice about how she can meet Mr. Right. One of the most common pieces of advice? “Put yourself out there!” Cecilia and I share a mutual loathing for this particular phrase.For starters, what does it even mean? Cecilia and I aren’t shut-ins. We don’t have bed sores from sitting on our couches eating cheese doodles for weekends on end. We shower; we dress nicely and look presentable, even when running errands in the rain. (You never know when someone awesome like Ryan Gosling — who lives in my neighborhood supposedly, OMG — might be out running errands too). We leave our apartments to go to work, dinners, parties, and bars — you know, the places where 90 percent of our partnered-up friends met their significant others. Typically, however, this is not what these friends mean when they say “put yourself out there.” I suspect because they know that that kind of “out there” is no longer working for many women living in cosmopolitan cities.
Cecilia and I compared notes — when we do go to dinners, parties, and bars, we don’t get approached by men. We’re not exuding an eau de desperation, because the only people who are really desperate for us to settle down are our friends. Are we sending out waves of ambivalence, causing men to be afraid to approach? I suppose that’s possible, maybe, but then again, haven’t we also been told that men enjoy a challenge? Besides, Cecilia and I have been known to do our own approaching, with mixed results, though nothing long-lasting.
No, the kind of “out there” that these friends mean goes beyond just being out in a public space. Putting yourself out there these days means online dating, speed dating, taking a class because someone like-minded and good-looking might also share your interest in learning Finnish, and asking everyone you know to set you up with anyone else they know who is single. “Putting yourself out there” no longer means being open to meeting someone awesome in the normal ways — the ways, again, that 90 percent of these couples met — it means putting “FIND MATE” at the top of your list of priorities and participating in every stunt imaginable to find him or her.
The thing is, both Cecilia and I aren’t opposed to these stunts, necessarily. I’ve online dated. I ask dudes out instead of waiting for them to ask me. I’ve been set up. Hell, I once went to a meeting of the Surfrider Foundation because I thought I might meet a dude with a tan who could teach me to shred (didn’t happen and I’m kind of embarrassed about that now). At some point, it feels like maybe these things won’t be enough anymore — that “putting yourself out there” will mean doing even more, and the thought of that is, frankly, exhausting.
Ultimately, I think it’s really nice to have friends who care enough about you that they want to see you enjoy the same happiness they have with their spouse/significant other/whatever. But seriously, advising the single to “put yourself out there” is not the way to accomplish that.
*Name has been changed