"Fucking UP" – Should Dating Ever Be Strategic?

Illustration: Louisa Cannell
About three years ago, at Friday night drinks after a particularly stressful week, my rather drunk boss said something to me that I have never forgotten. After sounding off about the difficulty of balancing an active love life with a demanding job, my boss quipped, “You know what, you’ve got to fuck up and fuck rich.” Shocked, I laughed hesitantly and walked away but after a bit of thought, I couldn’t resist finding out what he meant so, a few gin and tonics later, I went back to find out. “Who you date is important, and who you sleep with is important,” he continued. “You haven’t got time to waste, there’s gotta be some thought put into it before.” I couldn’t figure out if this was the grimmest, most superficial thing I’d ever heard or if my boss was simply stating what might be languishing deep in my mind, and in the minds of a growing percentage of modern women; that from long-term relationships to casual sex, everything should have a strategy.
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Thinking about this piece, I rewound my last few relationships for some IRL examples. While I like to think I fit firmly into the box that heralds attraction based on personality and compatibility with a potential mate, I realised there was an undeniable pattern to the men I found attractive. Taking past relationships with two men nearly 10 years my senior, they both definitely provided the security and intelligence I had liked since I started dating aged 16, but they also mirrored each other in interests and tastes. Both respected in their particular fields (music and events), they shied away from social media – “It’s too obvious to be putting your life out there” – and spent their pretty healthy expendable incomes on well-thought-out trips to locations that would soon after become the places to go. Forgoing the high street or even luxury boutiques, they wore hard-to-track-down vintage Japanese denim, while their homes were in off-the-beaten-track locations with enough intrigue to always elicit the question, “Oh, so what makes you want to live there?” As contrived as it sounds, it was nothing I was going to beat myself up over because everyone has a type, right? And I guess mine was mid-30s hipsters who refused to grow old gracefully.
But alas, I was a sucker for what I call the "on-brand" man. This is my terminology for the partner you envisage alongside your own personal life, someone sat high up the social scale and in whom, until not long ago, I was a firm believer. I lamented to friends about just wanting to find someone nice and kind, yet quickly followed it up with, "You know, a creative director, stylish, well kept, and culturally in the know". And I was not alone; a paper by Carlin Flora in Psychology Today unpicks the dynamics at play in this narrative, stating, “While there's clearly no formula for how to meet The One, psychologists agree on beliefs and strategies that inadvertently hold people back. It's worth taking an inventory of your romantic life. The successful single will be willing to turn a non-defensive eye toward his or her own dating patterns.”
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I reluctantly looked inward, thinking about the guys who had shown interest and made advances, in whom I had been uninterested. Sure, there were some that were dull, unambitious (a pet peeve) or conversely, undeservedly arrogant about what they had achieved, but a good few were lovely – great, in fact – so what was it that kept my light off and made sure I wasn’t going to the isle of Fernando's? Then came the moment of truth... they just weren’t anything to aspire to. Nothing gave me that "Gosh I am so lucky, he’s too good for me" feeling. Because honestly, I didn’t think they were too good for me: I earned more, was more successful and had my life more together and, ultimately, as nice and attentive as they would have been, that wasn't enough for me to think it was worth pursuing. As a time-poor millennial woman, I’ve learnt to use my time efficiently, both professionally and personally, so shouldn’t that apply to romantic relationships, too?
Illustration: Louisa Cannell
We are undoubtedly impressed by success, to the extent that it can mask incompatibility in potential spouses. As much as we like to deny it, we want ambition from our other halves and it plays a huge part in who we choose to date. Kate A. Ratliff and Shigehiro Oishi’s 2013 study of heterosexual couples, entitled "Gender Differences in Implicit Self-Esteem Following a Romantic Partner’s Success or Failure" discusses how women feel “more satisfied with their relationship when they think about a partner’s success compared to when they think about a partner’s failure.” This result may explain the rise in exclusive dating apps such as Raya and The League.
While Raya masquerades as “an exclusive dating and networking platform for people in creative industries”, at its core it's an app for those who, yes, may have pretty lofty expectations of themselves but understand the benefits of dating someone like-for-like. Overt in its elitism, The League’s tagline is “Date. Intelligently.” and the app promises to do the “vetting so you can do the petting”, using your Facebook and LinkedIn information as part of the process of choosing potential suitors. While the jury is out on The League (it launches in the UK later this month, having launched in the US in 2014), a couple of months on Raya, with its cheesy Powerpoint-style profiles filled with Burning Man portraits set to obscure songs, was enough for me to log off for good – even if its global set-up meant I was one "chat" button away from talking to the most eligible singles from across the world. "Fucking up", "fucking down" – it was just fucking ugly, and a stark reminder of the egotistical, social media-obsessed times we are living in.
There’s nothing wrong with being independent, self-assured and strategic about who you choose to spend your time with; in a world where a woman’s wardrobe and lifestyle is carefully curated, is there anything wrong with setting the bar just as high when looking for a mate? I don’t think so. But despite my past dating patterns, I now know that exclusivity (or elitism), the "right" clothes and the "right" flat may be barometers of attractiveness but, in reality, searching for Mr. On-Brand is unlikely to lead to a successful relationship.
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