Ding, dong, dating is dead!” proclaims the latest how-to-bag-a-man manual to hit the bookshop shelves. The Gaggle, written by Harvard graduate Jessica Massa in a style that single-handedly devalues an Ivy League education, was only published in the US last month and yet — in the latest sign of Hollywood’s insatiable appetite for self-help guides — it has already been optioned for a film.
The Gaggle is (of course!) based on a blog, the neatly named WTF Is Up With My Love Life?! which Massa, a 29-year-old New Yorker, wrote with her friend Rebecca Wiegand. Their aim? To try to understand what’s going on between men and women (she admits it is terribly hetero-centric) in the brave new post-dating world.
The first tenet of the book is that the days of dinner and drinks are over. But, Massa adds, women (especially, I’m guessing, those with a dating-related book to flog) need not despair. For such formalities have been usurped by the “non-date”: “an ambiguous interaction, sometimes face-to-face and sometimes involving technology, that is not explicitly romantic but does not feel entirely platonic either”.
Essentially, Massa seems to mean pretty much any interaction with someone you might fancy after a few pints. Chitchat at a party. The silly emails that get you through a dull day at the office (okay, every day at the office). The net-working coffee with an attractive contact. You get the drift.
Well, duh. If I’d known it was that easy to say something book-worthy about finding a partner, I’d have got scribbling years ago. It’s not as though single women who want to be otherwise are all sitting at home thinking the only option left to them is to sign up to Channel 5’s The Bachelor. Many of them have been “non-dating” for years.
But I have a bigger complaint here. Ninety-nine per cent of the time a silly email (and God, I send a few) or a bit of drunken party chat is just badinage — a welcome distraction from penning a piece about a poorly written dating book, say. Now Massa has ruined it by suggesting it might really mean “I’m getting a tattoo of our entwined initials on my bikini line”.
So on, grudgingly, to the book’s second great claim — and where the title comes in. Rather than women fretting about whether every man they meet is The One, Massa says, they should embrace their “Gaggle”: the group of men “many of whom you are not explicitly romantically involved with — who play different roles, fulfil different needs, and help you to figure out who you are, what you want, and what kind of relationship you ultimately desire”.
Massa seems to love a generalisation, so men in the Gaggle are put in 10 boxes. (In the name of equality, she makes rash generalisations about women too: apparently we sit around with our female friends “wild-eyed, phone in hand, crazily begging each and every one of them to explain ‘What does this text message meeean???’ which, just for the sake of female dignity, I would like to stress that we don’t.)
Her male archetypes include the ex-boyfriend who’s still around, the hot sex prospect, the accessory, the guy who just blew you off and the ego-booster (the poor sod who “you know will text you back after that other guy blows you off”). The idea is that your Gaggle will help you find “the boyfriend prospect” by showing you that while the other men in your life may have roles to play, they’re not quite the person you are going to merge tax files with.
As it is written by a single woman in her late twenties, I suppose that I (a single woman in my twenties) am the target audience. But it all feels a little too complicated, frankly. I don’t really understand why men need to be divided up into so many categories when “friends” and “boyfriends” would suffice.
I also don’t buy her line that “we all want to find incredible love”, when it’s perfectly clear that many folk are happy on their own. Although what they’d be doing reading a dating guide, I don’t know.
Still, it’s interesting that Massa partially contradicts that other relationship bible, He’s Just Not That Into You, which suggests that every half-hearted reaction from a man (an email rather than a call, say) means he’s not keen enough and so not worth the time. In Massa-world, that may simply mean he’s a romantic work in progress. Or that he’s indulging in some “techno-romance” (how she loves a new phrase!) — the “rampant use of technologies to cultivate and explore romantic, sexual and flirtatious interactions and even relationships”.
The Gaggle is packed with silly expressions, generalisations and clichés about the sexes. I’m sure it will sell brilliantly. But you could probably do worse than follow Massa's advice; I hear the Bachelor is auditioning for a third series.