(Originally published on GQ.com)
For an activity predicated on the desire to be in and around the softer parts of other people, dating is, ironically, super hard. While women have the luxury of simply showing up looking like a land mermaid with a mink slipper vagina, a man’s role in the online-stranger sex fiasco we insist upon calling “romance” is less clear-cut.
For men, who are given contradictory information about how in touch with their emotions they should be—like how it’s cool to care a lot about cute dogs but never to cry during Terms of Endearment—dating can be a minefield, littered with broken hearts, cast-aside dreams, and smashed VHS copies of Terms of Endearment. Being a good boyfriend is more than showing up. It’s a carefully choreographed ballet, full of sex, tears, and Edible Arrangements. Here’s how to do it:
Stop trying to make everyone like your stuff. There are people who think shiny shirts make them look professional, not like an Eastern European arms dealer, and there are people who put Coexist bumper stickers on their PT Cruisers. Point is, there’s always going to be something your significant other is into that doesn’t speak to you, but unless that thing is an affiliation with the Nazi party or a desire to binge watch Franklin & Bash, you should probably give them a pass. Anyway, liking all the same things, at least in most cases, only guarantees you’ll run out of stuff to talk about eventually. The occasional fight is good for the soul, anyway; there’s a reason nobody ever has “we continue to agree on this topic” sex.
Choose kindness over winning arguments. Being right is awesome, and I should know—I do it practically all the time. However, if winning every argument is your top priority, the only things keeping you warm at night will be the radiant glow of your rightness and the blankets you don’t have to share because you now sleep alone. No matter how intellectually superior or passionate about a particular subject you consider yourself to be, letting your love-person occasionally say “ex-presso” or misidentify a few Civil War generals will serve you better in the long run. Constantly starting—and insisting upon winning—your battles isn’t going to make anyone change their mind, it’s just going to make them hate you.
Listen. Cocking your head to the side and doing your best approximation of the RCA dog isn’t enough for the modern women out there, with their Diva Cups and 401Ks. These days, listening is equal parts having ears and actually caring about the person you’re lending them to. If you want to keep seeing someone naked, work hard at being a good listener. Actively, no matter how dull you might find it initially. (Hopefully you don’t!) Nobody ever wanted to keep watching Terrence Malick movies after “The Thin Red Line,” and yet, here we are.
Respect existing relationships. Your partner’s friends were there long before you, and probably aren’t going away anytime soon. Unless you’re just a walking tornado of a person, it’s even less likely that your partner’s friends are actively trying to break you up. (Nefariousness takes cunning, skill, and practice, and with so many channels on TV, who has the time? ) If they are not completely monopolizing your boo’s time, using them, or otherwise working to ruin your significant other’s life, you need to live and let live. In spite of all the serious pants-feelings you have for your lady or dude, most of their friends are unlikely to share the same taste—a billion people have married Larry King, but Tom Hiddleston is still single. A lid for every pot, as they say.
Being a good boyfriend starts with being a good friend. So work toward that end. Ask your friends what they hate about you. Let them color in your “needs work” areas with a Sharpie. Listen. Wait.