Jessica Massa counsels on how to find love in the Internet age in her new book.
When Mark Zuckerberg started Facebook, he famously gave his fellow millennials a handful of ways to classify their love lives: single, in a relationship, and, an unorthodox invention, "It's complicated." While the last ended up being used more as a joke than an earnest declaration-e.g., I've been having regular sex with this guy for months, but he's not my boyfriend, though I'm his plus-one at weddings-Zuckerberg was onto something.
At least if you ask Jessica Massa, author of the new book The Gaggle: How the Guys You Know Will Help You Find the Love You Want. Thanks in no small part to our virtual social reality, Massa, who has a psych degree from Harvard, says that the norms for courtship have become more ambiguous: semi-flirtatious G-chats, for example, have replaced dinner and a movie. To find love in this new world, she counsels, the single gal should stop focusing on all the dates she's not going on and instead open her eyes to the men already in her orbit. "The gaggle is a select group of guys…who play different roles, fulfill different needs," Massa writes, citing archetypes such as "The Hot Sex Prospect" and "The Career Booster." In other words, maybe the guy who sends you sweet e-mails when he senses you've had a bad day could be your next boyfriend, or what about the colleague to whom you kvetch about the boss?
Jessica Massa's new book.
The Gaggle is based on an expressively titled blog, WTF Is Up With My Love Life?!, that Massa started with her best friend, Rebecca Wiegand, after the two moved to Brooklyn post graduation and found themselves dateless. "We were like, 'What's wrong with us?' " says Massa, now 29.
While some of the language in the book can be eye-rolling (one chapter is titled "Ding, Dong, Dating Is Dead"), the (non)-mating dance Massa describes is definitely one I recognize: A friend of mine is about to fly to Canada to visit a man she met once but has spent months conversing with on Words With Friends. Another was asked by someone she'd been saying "I love you" to for a year if they were boyfriend and girlfriend. And, if you've been reading your ELLE, you know that Blake Lively says she's never been on a date in her life. (Ryan Reynolds must be one spectacular G-chatter.)
Still, is "techno-romance" really a substitute for face-to-face interaction? I recently declined a dinner invitation because I didn't think I knew the guy well enough to be alone with him for two hours (I suggested we meet at a friend's party instead), but now I wonder at my readiness to fend off intimacy-and I'm not talking the sexual kind here. How well do you have to know someone to get to know him? Can the effort to avoid awkwardness become a kind of phobia of one-on-one contact? The most indelible scene in The Social Network was, after all, the last one, in which Aaron Sorkin's Zuckerberg is shown with nary a friend.
Massa, who says she's currently single but is eyeing a prospect in her gaggle, has no truck with such backward-looking arguments: "Who decided that the best way to connect on a romantic level has to involve candlelight and linen tablecloths?" she likes to say.
Interestingly, the last big how-to dating book seems almost in direct contradiction to Massa's. He's Just Not That Into You, by Greg Behrendt and Sex and the City series writer Liz Tuccillo, advised women to view any mixed signal-an e-mail instead of a call, an early exit after a fun night out together-as proof of lack of interest. (Incidentally, the same studio that optioned that book plans to make The Gaggle into a movie.) The phrase, delivered on the show to jolt Miranda out of her endless perseveration over potential suitors, had the appeal of ripping off a Band-Aid: It might sting at first, but you're better off in the end not wasting time on a dude who never dug you in the first place.
Massa doesn't entirely dismiss this approach. "We all have that friend who's still in love with that guy who clearly doesn't like her," she says. But in most cases, she argues, the concept isn't productive or even accurate. "With the gaggle, you validate these little connections, and you suddenly realize you have something. That's much better than thinking there's this wasteland of men who just aren't into you."
After all, hard-core Sex and the City fans know that the hesitation displayed by Miranda's romantic interest turned out to be the result of his intestinal issues, not his lack of attraction. And as many great thinkers have observed, tolerating ambiguity-not needing to know the answer, right now-is the hallmark of a creative, satisfying life. It also might be a decent strategy to find love, because if there's any meta-message in the glut of dating books, it's that there is no one right way.
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