By Amy Alkon
Q: I’m a 39-year-old guy, and I just met the most amazing woman, but she’s going through a divorce. My best friend said to never date somebody while they’re divorcing, because they’re crazy and emotionally unavailable. He says you need to wait for two years afterward. Well, I really like this woman, and she likes me. If I dated her now, would I just be a rebound?—Bad Waiter
A: There are clues to where on the divorce spectrum someone falls, like whether she makes offhand remarks along the lines of, “I wish him well, but we weren’t a good match” or “I wish I could leave him tied up in a clearing so something would eat him.”
There is something to be said for waiting periods, whether you’re mentally ill and shopping for an Uzi or hoping to live happily ever after with someone who might not be entirely recovered from her previous attempt. But the blanket “wait two years!” advice is silly and probably comes out of a misconstruing of some research finding. (Also, as an epidemiologist friend frequently points out to me, these findings tell us how something seems to affect most people; however, there are important individual differences that get lost … like that tiny line about potential side effects: “Oh, by the way, 1 percent of the subjects ended up wearing all their teeth on a necklace.”)
Still, unless this woman and her not-quite-ex-husband got married a few months ago because they were super drunk and standing near each other in Vegas, there’s a chance that she’ll believe she’s ready to get involved before she actually is. Whether it makes sense to date her now becomes a question of risk analysis. Plug in the variables you know, like the ugliness level of her divorce, whether she starts every other sentence with, “My ex … ” and whether she seems to understand where she went wrong (and take responsibility for her part in it). Factor in her fabulousness and your level of risk tolerance—how willing and able you are to deal if, a year in, she apologizes after realizing that she just needed a nice man to put Band-Aids on her ouchies.
Even if it seems unwise to date her right now, you can keep a foot in the game by seeing her regularly—like once a month—while keeping the temperature on low. Stick to daytime dates—short, bright light, no alcohol—and use abstinence-only measures that have been found to be highly effective, such as wearing Green Lantern Underoos. (As a bonus, these would double as incentive to avoid texting while driving and ending up the talk of the ambulance bay for two weeks.)
Q: I’m a woman just out of a 13-year relationship, and dating isn’t going so well. My roommate says I need to stop blatantly pursuing men—texting first, initiating plans, etc.—and instead flirt, hang back and “seem busy.” That just seems so archaic—starting a relationship on the manipulative premise of feminine game-playing. It’s 2016. Why isn’t authenticity appreciated?—Forgive Me, I’m Real
A: Ideally, you’ll make a guy ache with longing—but more along the lines of, “I wish she’d text me back” than, “I wish she’d put down those binoculars and get out of my bushes.”
In other words, you might rethink “authenticity”—letting the true you (or rather, the truly impatient you) shine through. Consider acting like the more effective you, as you surely would for a job interview—rather than showing up in sweats and bragging that your character reference is actually your pot dealer and that “Mr. Bradley,” your “former employer,” is the neighbor’s Labradoodle.
Chances are you’ve been “blatantly pursuing” because, like many women, you confuse “equal” with “the same.” However, there’s substantial evidence from evolutionary psychology research that women evolved to be the choosier sex and that men co-evolved to expect this—and see female aloofness as a sign of value. So a more productive strategy for you would be what social psychologist Robert Cialdini calls “the scarcity principle.” Cialdini explains that the less available something is, the more we value and want it. Not because it’s better. Because FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) and the regret we’d feel if we let that happen, jack us into a motivational state—a panic to get whatever’s in short supply.
But don’t take my word for it. For three weeks, try something new: Flirting and waiting instead of chasing and pouncing. Ultimately, it’s best to start a relationship on the premise that actually allows it to start—coming off more like the appointment-only store with a single avant-garde dress than the kind with a big yellow sign in the window: “Everything in the store, $15, including the dog.”