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Dating Advice Books: The Truth About What Works

Popular dating advice might seem like a cure-all for your relationship woes, but does it really hold up to science? We separate the fact from the fiction, and tell you what works (for real).

August 19th, 2011

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Dating Advice Books

In college, Emma, a twenty-something communications manager from Seattle, fell in love with a commitment-phobic older guy. She adored him, cancelled plans to be with him and did everything on his terms. (Oh, how familiar that scenario sounds…)

When that guy broke her heart (as those types always do), her mom sent her a care package: running shoes, a Sephora gift card and “He’s Just Not That Into You,” a dating advice book based on the eponymous slogan that rose to fame on the hit HBO show, “Sex and the City,” and later turned into a megastar Hollywood film. Emma took the mantra to heart and when that guy came crawling back, she kicked him to the curb.

Shortly after, she met her husband. “He really is that into me,” she says. “And I can tell.”

Dating advice books might promise your very own Cinderella (or Emma) story, but they don’t always deliver. Using three popular dating advice books, we dish out the dirt on what works and what really, really doesn’t. 

The Four Man Plan

THE FOUR MAN PLAN

The mantra: “Play the field.”

The advice:The Four Man Plan,” written by actress Cindy Lu and endorsed by Amanda Bynes, is all about playing the field. According to the website, “the point of the plan is to give yourself the best chance of meeting Mr. Right,” a goal it accomplishes by encouraging you to date four men at a time. It uses graphs to map your dating Plan and brands itself as “a relationship science” (because, you know, it uses math). It’s about taking a proactive approach to dating—tackling the “problem” with a plan, as a true Type A love-seeker is wont to do.

The reality check: At first, dating around may up your game. “I do believe that the more game you have, the more people you’re going to attract,” says Rachel Sussman, LCSW, marriage and family therapist. “If you seem desperate in any way, that can come across.” In fact, speed-dating studies have shown that seeming desperate or unselective can turn off a potential partner. “Dating a few people casually may make you more likely to convey the idea that you’re not desperate,” says Paul Eastwick, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychology at Texas A&M University.

But beyond the first date, the Plan’s effectiveness depends on your relationship goals. “If you’re looking for short-term dating options, then the Four Man Plan might be quite effective,” says Tim Loving, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at University of Texas at Austin and co-founder of ScienceOfRelationships.com. But if you’re looking for long-term love, stay away. “The more alternatives you perceive, the less committed you feel, so maintaining more relationships means you’re more likely to pass up Mr. Right.” In fact, a 2010 study found that having more options actually lowers your chances of choosing Prince Charming. Larger dating pools caused information overload, leading study participants to choose less compatible mates based on more superficial traits.  

THE STUDY, EXPLAINED: Fewer Options, Better Mate Choice

Experts question whether you can really assess your options when you’re juggling too many balls (har har). “Being in a romantic relationship with many people will work against intimate self-disclosure since there’s an element of competition,” says Eastwick. In other words, you need to create a safe space—where he knows he’s your one and only—if you want him to reveal all the fuzzy stuff (like his hopes, fears and dreams) that can tell you if he’s “the one.”

The love lesson: Keep your options open in the beginning when you’re just getting to know someone, but after a few dates, take a chance on the guy you like best.

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