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The Absolute Worst Advice I Found in Dating Books

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Isabelle Popp

Senior Contributor

Isabelle Popp has written all sorts of things, ranging from astrophysics research articles and math tests to crossword puzzles and poetry. These days she's writing romance. When she's not reading or writing, she's probably knitting or scouring used book stores for vintage gothic romance paperbacks. Originally from New York, she's as surprised as anyone that she lives in Bloomington, Indiana.

I’ll admit I’m feeling pretty smug from where I’m sitting. I met my long-term partner before dating apps took over the scene, and I couldn’t be more thankful. So I don’t blame anyone looking to dating advice books for wisdom and guidance. It’s a nightmare out there. Unfortunately, it’s a nightmare inside a lot of these books as well.

Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement. I went looking for bad advice in dating books, and I was taken aback at how often the advice was generally good. Don’t play games, approach dating with an open mind, look out for obvious red flags, try to have fun with it, all that good stuff. And then there’s the not-so-good stuff. I found advice I believe is just plain bad, advice that’s more bizarre than bad, and plenty of contradicting advice across books.

So, how’d I dig all this up? I looked at the top-selling dating books on Amazon and checked Goodreads for which quotes people have highlighted. But I also went to my local public library and looked up dating advice books. That led me to a few different sections of the nonfiction collection where they were shelved. Then it was like I was on the most pathetic episode of Supermarket Sweep you’ve ever seen. I sat down with my huge stack of books and started panning for fool’s gold. Whoever’s job it was to reshelve the books after I put them on the cart for materials not being checked out probably wondered if I was okay.

Am I okay? More or less. Are the authors of these dating books okay? I’m not so sure. Are straight people okay? Clearly not. All these books are about straight people and assume everyone is cisgender. So here’s what I found.

Bad Advice, Regular Edition

“No matter if a man is a CEO, a CON, or both, everything he does is filtered through his title (who he is), how he gets that title (what he does), and the reward he gets for the effort (how much he makes). These three things make up the basic DNA of manhood—the three accomplishments every man must achieve before he feels like he’s truly fulfilled his destiny as a man. And until he’s achieved his goal in those three areas, the man you’re dating, committed to, or married to will be too busy to focus on you.”

― Steve Harvey, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man

This kind of gender essentialism and capitalism worship makes me sad. On top of that, I think it’s genuinely bad advice. If you try to approach this advice with any good faith, not dating someone until they’ve reached their career aspirations is silly. Aspirations can change! People often need support while pursuing their dreams! And ignoring relationships while pursuing career aspirations is sure to leave people emotionally stunted.

“If you wouldn’t marry the person, don’t go out with him.”

― Michael Todd, Relationship Goals: How to Win at Dating, Marriage, and Sex

HOW ARE YOU SUPPOSED TO KNOW?!

“A popular argument circling today is, ‘Shouldn’t we explore whether or not we are sexually compatible before we get married?’ This, to me, is one of the most asinine arguments I have ever heard. ‘We have to fool around. How are we going to figure out if we are sexually compatible?’ Are you a guy? Is she a girl? Then your parts are going to fit! Much research has been done on this topic.”

― Ben Stuart, Single Dating Engaged

Truly spoken like someone who has never brought another person to orgasm. Apart from the gross ignorance on display, the research backs me up on this: see the orgasm gap.

“But this advice holds true for all daters: Stop talking to your ex.”

― Logan Ury, How to Not Die Alone

I get that the point of these dating advice books is to provide one-size-fits-all advice. Readers can follow it by the letter and avoid thinking for themselves. It can be painful figuring things out and sometimes you just want to be told what to do. But blanket advice like this is bad! Are there cases when it’s bad to talk to an ex? Sure. But I think someone who has maintained cordial-to-friendly relationships with an ex or two is a much better prospect than someone who has gone scorched earth on all of them. It demonstrates an ability to resolve conflict without going nuclear, which is actually a necessary trait for a long-term partner.

“Ghostbusters pledge: don’t you dare ghost!”

― Logan Ury, How to Not Die Alone

Again, blanket advice is bad. I personally would rather be considered rude than have to endure a fruitless conversation in which someone demands a reason why I don’t want to see them anymore. Nothing I could say is likely to satisfy or provide the mythical “closure” they’re seeking from someone they met once or twice. Not to mention, if someone creeps you out, ghosting is a perfectly appropriate way to go.

“We look to ‘get’ from relationships when in fact that’s the completely wrong approach. There’s nothing to get! There’s only the opportunity for you to think and behave in a way that’s consistent with your values! That’s the biggest thing you’ll have to let go of—that you’ll every get anything in return.”

― Gary John Bishop, Love Unf*cked

I’m going to be real with you. This book read like a whole lotta word salad to me. Of course I get something from my relationship? If I didn’t think relationships were mutually beneficial, I wouldn’t want to be in one?? Like, what???

“You can no longer buy yourself off with ‘We just don’t get along,’ as if there’s no choice for either party in the matter. Another common sentiment is something like ‘They’re always getting on my last nerve.’ In other words, it’s entirely the other person’s fault that the relationship isn’t working.”

― Gary John Bishop, Love Unf*cked

Is it just me, or does this really feel like projection? I feel like saying that someone gets on my nerves both acknowledges their actions AND my particular nerves and the way they are not compatible. Of course, you have control over how you react, but there’s only so much work that’s reasonable to expect if someone is always getting on your nerves? To quote The Eagles of all people, you deserve a peaceful, easy feeling in your relationship.

“We must find lessons and weave meaning out of the sorrows we’ve had to bear.”

― Katherine Woodward Thomas, Calling in the One

 If your religion/spirituality requires you to make meaning out of every horrible thing that happens, go right ahead. Otherwise, I’m going to free you from this responsibility. It can be an exhausting task, sometimes asking you to approach things with toxic levels of positivity and possibly implicate yourself in things beyond your control. Bad things can just be bad things.

Bad Advice, Scary Edition

“A seduction should never settle into a comfortable routine. The middle and later chapters will instruct you in the art of alternating hope and despair, pleasure and pain, until your victims weaken and succumb.”

― Robert Greene, The Art of Seduction

This is outright horrifying. The fact the author refers to women as victims tells you everything you need to know about what he’s up to, and it sure isn’t dating!

“Communicate with your behavior. Never overtly tell a woman anything. Allow her to come to the conclusions you intend. Her imagination is the best tool in your Game toolbox. Learn how to use it.”

― Rollo Tomassi, The Rational Male

Another truly scary one. If you come across someone with one of these gaslighting manuals in their home, GET OUT.

Weird Advice, General Category

“Offer incentives! This might sound ridiculous, but it works. A former coworker told me she was offering a big chunk of change to anyone who introduced her to the man she’d marry.”

― Logan Ury, How to Not Die Alone

This is hilarious, and I’m ready to turn this concept into a multi-level marketing scheme. Who wants to get in on the ground floor?

“Conjure an image of something vile and disgusting—maggots, vomit, festering wounds, etc. Then, every time you think of him or feel attracted to him, call upon that image. Do it over and over for it to be effective.”

― Caroline Presno, Profiling Your Date

This is about getting over an ex. I can really see this going awry, but if you want to become both Pavlov and his dog, I’m not about to stop you!

“The stress of deception can set a liar all aflutter—his lids, that is. As the burden of a lie weighs upon its perpetrator, his blink rate may go up.”

― Caroline Presno, Profiling Your Date

This book is about using FBI-style profiling techniques to see what your date is really about. The book, on the whole, strikes me as a great pick for someone who’s made true crime their whole personality. I don’t know that I could hold up a natural conversation while counting someone’s blink rate, but maybe I’m just bad at multitasking.

“Remember: It’s only your job to want it, it’s not your job to figure out how you’ll get it.”

― Amy Spencer, Meeting Your Half-Orange

I get it that this is manifesting with a philosophy similar to The Secret. And yeah, I think that’s silly too. This kind of philosophy ignores real obstacles people face and is also real hand-wavy about what happens when you want something, and it never comes. (By the way, Oprah Winfrey has a lot to answer for: Dr. Oz, The Secret, and so much more. Listen to Maintenance Phase.)

Weird Advice, First Date Edition

“Do karaoke.”

― Logan Ury, How to Not Die Alone

There are two kinds of people I will do karaoke with: my nearest and dearest, and sloppy drunk strangers I plan to never see again in my life. There is no middle ground.

“Commit to complimenting your date on three things.”

― Amy Spencer, Meeting Your Half Orange

You know that third one is going to be, like, “What fun shoelaces,” and now they think you’re a weirdo.

“Buy a lottery ticket together.”

― Amy Spencer, Meeting Your Half Orange

This seems like a drawn-out lawsuit waiting to happen. I don’t recommend mingling finances until you’re legally married.

“Remember: The worse the date, the funnier the story.”

― Amy Spencer, Meeting Your Half Orange

No, Amy! Not to go FBI profiler on you, but on the worst dates, people die!

Contradicting Advice: Should relationships be work or not?

“Talking about feelings to a man will feel like work. When he’s with a woman, he wants it to feel like fun.”

― Sherry Argov, Why Men Love Bitches

“If you’re working hard at your relationship, that’s a good sign, not a bad one!”

― Logan Ury, How to Not Die Alone

Work is bad? Work is good? Or work is only good for women, bad for men? While I’m throwing in my own two cents, I feel like people glorify working hard in relationships the same way they glorify working hard in careers. And I’m here to tell you that relationships don’t actually have to feel like work, and working hard is no guarantee of success at a job. Do with that information what you will.

Contradicting Advice: Who’s paying?

“It is your right to expect that a man will pay for your dinner, your movie ticket, your club entry fee, or whatever else he has to pay for in exchange for your time.”

― Steve Harvey, Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man

“In general, men should only be doing dinner dates once she proves herself worthwhile after some coffee or cocktail dates. Under no circumstances should a man pay for a woman’s debt, be that credit cards or student loans. Under no circumstances should a man help with a woman’s rent or car payment. And you absolutely never donate money to an e-thot for any reason. But if there’s a nice girl you’ve met for coffee before, and she is sincere, paying for dinner and a movie isn’t bad.”

― Myron Gaines, Why Women Deserve Less

Ladies, would you rather be patronized or outright hated? My advice: I think this is a great place to make expectations clear —  whatever they are — because questions of money only become more entrenched as relationships deepen. And this is probably not a great area to bend in when it comes to compatibility, given how much strain money puts on relationships.


Whew. I did all that for you, dear readers. Hope you got a chuckle or two when you weren’t wincing in pain. Instead of reading dating advice books, I’ll suggest looking into self-care books and some self-help books that have proven themselves helpful. Be brave, take breaks from dating when you need to, and stay safe out there.