Once upon a time, I was a 19-year-old going through one of my first major breakups.
It sucked, as breakups often do, especially if you aren’t the one initiating it. This one was pretty mutual, but it still went down in flames. Naturally, I wanted to rise from the fire a better and more together person, so I read a book a friend suggested: It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken, by Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt.
Behrendt was known for his 2004 book, the now-famous He’s Just Not That Into You, co-authored with Liz Tuccillo, with whom he worked as a writer on HBO's Sex and the City. A conversation between Behrendt and a group of female writers led to the iconic moment in the show when Carrie’s boyfriend Berger (of post-it note breakup fame) tells Miranda very bluntly “He’s just not that into you” when she’s questioning a man’s mixed signals. The other SATC ladies find it rude, but Miranda finds the straight-talk liberating. Instead of wondering why he’s behaving the way he is, she can just move on and know that because he isn’t that into her, this worrying isn’t worth her time. And neither is the dude.
This idea blossomed into the book we know today (and later the just-OK movie of the same name), which is characterized by this same straightforward, no-nonsense advice that Greg brought to the SATC writers’ table. One year later, It’s Called a Breakup Because It’s Broken did the same thing, except instead of focusing on dating, it’s about what happens when dating, relationships, and even marriages end.
The book really helped 19-year-old Susan put the breakup into perspective. Because let’s face it, sometimes breakups are world-consuming, even when we know the relationship wasn’t right for us. Greg and his wife Amiira helped me recognize the obvious shortcomings of this relationship while reminding me that I am, in fact, pretty damn awesome and don’t need to waste time in something that isn’t adding joy to my life. Self-help books sometimes get a bad rap, but I stood by this one for a long time, recommending it to friends going through breakups over the next several years. And when I had other breakups down the road, including a really tough one where I moved out of a shared space in one day, I referenced the book again for reminders on why this latest breakup could actually be a good thing for my life.
In my late twenties, something I didn’t think would happen started happening. My marriage really started to suffer. I won’t get into much detail here out of respect for my ex-spouse and the relationship we had, but what I will say is that we tried for a long time, and in the end, we made the decision that it was in both of our best interests to end the marriage. The conclusion that we each had a better shot at long-term happiness apart from one another was not a simple one to come to, but we both knew it was the right one. It was the cleanest and most amicable breakup I’ve ever had, and I didn’t feel the need to turn to the book again. I knew how to handle the split.
What I did not know how to do was date. My ex-husband and I were together for almost ten years. The only time I went on a date in that period was during a brief separation in 2011. On that first date, I drank three (maybe four, honestly) glasses of wine at dinner and was totally tanked by the time dessert arrived. So basically, it wasn’t an awesome performance on my part. PSA: Do not do this.
So there I was in 2018, 30 years old, freshly divorced, and ready to see what the dating world had to offer. I wanted to be wined and dined, taken to concerts, cuddled with during movies, and all that warm fuzzy stuff. I didn’t really know how to go about it though. I got onto Audible to see what my old buddy Greg Behrendt had been up to since he helped me “turn my breakups into break-overs” in years past. Turns out, he and Amiira had collaborated again on another straight-talking dating book called It’s Just a F***ing Date: Some Sort of Book About Dating. If you know how I talk, you know this is my type of title. *Downloads immediately.*
It’s Just a F***ing Date is my favorite type of audiobook: a relatively quick listen that’s narrated by the authors and peppered with humor. The goal of the book is to put dating into perspective for single women. This doesn’t necessarily mean women who just got out of a relationship. It’s for a broader audience of women looking for companionship from dating.
Greg and Amiira want to put the more formal practice of dating back into action and move away from the nebulous, confusing realm of “is this even a date?” that we often find ourselves in today. They’re advocates for a man pursuing a woman and asking her out on a “real date” with the intention of getting to know her romantically. Dinner qualifies as a real date. Asking a woman to show up and have a beer with a dude’s group of friends (who are all already three beers in) does not. They outline the difference between “just hanging out” and actually going on a date. To them, hanging out is the lazy man’s version of getting to know a woman. A way of dipping in a toe before seeing if you want to actually bother with a real date. They’re over this. They want to bring the intention back. They see formal dating as the way to truly get to know a person and do things in an order that makes sense for building a connection that lasts beyond a quick and confusing hookup.
As a millennial, I’ve basically been of “dating” age in a world where the more casual version has been the norm. I think a lot of people my age think of Greg and Amiira’s definition of dating as something our parents might have done in a world before Tinder, Bumble, and social media. But it turns out, those tools don’t mean you have to be so casual about it that you settle for laziness. But it also doesn’t mean jumping to exclusivity right away. Formal does not mean “OK now you’re my boyfriend because you took me to dinner twice.” Formal means structured, in their eyes. Greg recalls the beauty of old-fashioned dating in the story of his parents’ dating life. While his mom was dating his dad, she was also seeing other men and letting them take her on dates. She was getting to know more than one person at a time before deciding who she was most compatible with and whose company she enjoyed the most. His father knew this and said it was a normal part of dating, so it wasn’t a big deal. Of course, she eventually narrowed things down and chose Greg’s dad.
It kind of hit me at this point that I’d never really formally dated in this fashion. I met my ex-husband at college orientation. We ran into each other at parties a lot after that. And about a year and a half after we met, we played tennis together one day and then started hanging out more frequently – at parties. Because that’s college dating. The atmosphere is set up this way. We were living in this situation and sleeping over at one another’s places for several months before we really started our relationship. And I remember that time being confusing. Would a more structured approach to dating have made it less so?
Of course, the adult dating world is a totally different atmosphere. I’m 30. I have a job. I would like the people I date to also have jobs. That means we will both be busy. That means now we have to make time to do this dating thing. We won’t just bump into each other every weekend until we start making out. But where do you meet people?
Greg and Amiira have always been advocates for being your best self in order to set yourself up for dating success (or any success in life, for that matter). So meet people at places where YOU like to go. If you like concerts, go there. You might meet someone who already has similar interests. Sports fan? Go to a game. Love beer? Hit up a local brewery. Do the things YOU like to do so you can meet people while you’re in your element and they can see more of who you are. (Or, why not use the social media tools given to you? Ladies, Bumble is actually pretty great for letting you take some control of the dating situation and find people who are already into the same things you are.)
Part of being your best self is having your own life. That sounds irritatingly obvious, but think about how long it probably took you to really have your own life. To choose how you spend your time and not break commitments to yourself or your friends for some boy. I'm going to say I was in my mid-to-late twenties by the time I really figured that part out for myself, and I couldn't agree with Greg and Amiira more about how important it is that you have your OWN life spending your time doing the things that are important to you and make you happy. After you've got that down, dating is much easier because it's just an add-on to what you've already got. But it doesn't and shouldn't define you.
When being your best self on dates, Greg and Amiira also encourage you to look your best, or as they call it, to be “sparkly.” Yeah, that sounds cheesy as hell, but actually, it’s a just nice way of saying do the things that make you feel attractive and confident to YOU. Think about how much you like it when a dude shows up for dinner and he’s clearly taken some time to put in effort to look nice for the occasion. There’s something to be said for dressing the part and giving the date the attention it deserves. Plus, who doesn’t like to feel good about themselves? (This is coming from someone who does not wear a ton of makeup. But damn, some mascara and good eyeliner really make me feel put together.)
Another thing that made me think: They encourage you to let go of silly deal breakers that could actually hinder you from meeting perfectly wonderful people. Deal breakers you should avoid include “he has to be at least 6 feet tall” or “he can’t wear cargo shorts” or “he has to be between 25 and 28.” Like, who cares? These are not personality traits, and they’re not a good reason to write someone off.
Greg and Amiira have a few rules that I’m not 100% sold on, however. For one, they’re insistent that the man should always, always pursue the woman. While I like to be pursued, I wonder how true this is for everyone. Greg argues that this is an evolutionary, ingrained thing in men where they are actually at their best when they’re doing the pursuing. Maybe so. But if a woman wants to ask a man out, why shouldn’t she be able to do it? It seems like there have to be exceptions to this rule. Especially when this book gives women ways of telling a man “Hey, you should ask me out.” (Also, this rule doesn’t acknowledge same-sex dating, so it’s inherently limiting.)
The authors are also really adamant about when two people should have sex for the first time. I think their suggestion was basically after about four weeks of "real" dating, it’s OK to get it on. This again doesn’t seem like it should be a hard and fast rule for every single new couple. Sex is such a personal choice that there aren’t really rules that can be put on it except for the rules those two people specifically impose. That being said, I’m not a first-date sex person myself, but I’m not here to judge anyone who is. I simply like the anticipation and find that it’s overall better and more enjoyable for me if there’s some connection established beforehand. To each her own, though! Doing it before the four-week mark doesn’t doom a couple. Waiting longer than four weeks doesn’t either. Y’all do y’all.
I did enjoy hearing the story of Greg and Amiira’s courtship, which was an important reminder that, as they tell the reader, everyone’s feelings grow at their own pace. Greg told Amiira he loved her with the caveat that it was totally fine if she wasn’t there yet. He just wanted her to know. She was surprised because no one had ever expressed this kind of thing to her without expecting something from her in return. And I’ve got to say, that’s pretty sweet.
I also appreciate their attitude toward just giving things a try and being present while doing so. One of their rules is “Carpe Datum – Sieze the Date.” Dates are supposed to be fun after all! When I started actually going on dates, this is what I remembered. Have fun. The whole point is to have fun and get to know this person. If you end up not liking each other, so what? It’s just a f***ing date. Slow down and enjoy it for what it is.
Greg and Amiira also give some good advice for how to handle those pesky awkward feelings between going on a few dates and wanting to take things to a more serious place. Again, slow down. Enjoy the dating part. They’re more detailed than that, and if you’ve ever gone on a good date, I guarantee you’ll relate to some of the anxieties they discuss.
This book didn’t have as big of an impact on my direct situation as It’s Called a Breakup did for 19-year-old Susan. But it did remind me that everything can be put into perspective. Greg and Amiira are encouraging and affirming, and that’s a nice reminder when you’re starting to feel like the phrase “30-year-old divorcee” doesn’t exactly have a nice ring to it. And because they are funny (Greg is a comedian), they also remind you through their writing that everything does not have to be so damn serious. Dating is weird and sometimes awkward, but it can also be a lot of fun if you approach it with an open mind.
Also, for the record (and this is me talking, not Greg and Amiira): Being divorced in no way makes you less desirable, less datable, or less badass. It only makes you not married. In fact, choosing divorce can be commendable. Taking charge of your life and your situation is not something to be ashamed of. Choosing happiness for you and someone you cared about is not less admirable than being married for 30 years and being miserable.
Even if you’re not in a place to date right this second, I recommend this audiobook as a good little encourager for when you are ready. At least it will get you in a healthy mindset to approach dating, but more importantly, it can remind you that YOU are your main priority. Without making yourself happy first, the dating thing won’t work anyway. So just start there. And hopefully have a few laughs along the way to becoming a more fabulous you. And let's be serious, who wouldn't want to date the best version of you?!