Fair warning: if you’ve come here in search of some profound insight into the matters of the heart, I apologise. I’m just an 18-year-old girl with uncommendable dating experience, who is also severely prone to falling into a pit of crippling anxiety at the mere sight of a text from a guy (it takes me five hours and a solid brainstorming session with three other friends to respond to a simple “Hey” followed by a series of sleepless nights). So, for the sake of honesty, I’ll admit I don’t know shit.
Perhaps now you can also see how a ‘self-help’ book called How To Date Men When You Hate Men would entice someone like me. To be clear, neither I nor the author hate men, we just hate the troubles we’ve to endure to date them and the patriarchal bit of it all.
For a long time, it was a running joke in my friend group that this book held the key to fixing our love lives. Armed with foolproof strategies to sail through the treacherous waters of dating a guy, we’d be unstoppable! So here I was, embarking on this transcendental journey, flipping through the pages of the book like a madwoman and hoping to finally learn the art of dating men just in time for Valentine’s Day. No more being lonely and miserable, I had declared!
By the first chapter, bitter disappointment had settled in. I had fallen prey to clickbait. The book was (unfortunately) neither misandrist propaganda nor, as the author herself admits, a proper “how to” book.
It hypes you up in the beginning, and you, naïve little you, are convinced that you’re about to read something so earth-shatteringly revolutionary that you will single-handedly end patriarchy and the systemic sexism prevalent in our society. But you’ll soon realise this is just a patronising version of your girls’ group chat.
‘It’s not that there are “good men” versus “bad men” (though there are some obvious monsters): all men have received this coding. They aren’t born evil, they’re born into an evil system! It just didn’t sound as catchy to name the book How to Date Men When They Are Born into and Brainwashed by an Evil System That Mightily Oppresses Women.’
The author, Blythe Roberson, is an American comedian and humour writer, who has previously written for publications like The New Yorker and The Onion. As expected, you can sense the immaculate sarcasm and wit right off the bat. Unexpectedly, though, it quickly falls flat.
Throughout the book, Roberson makes various attempts to put modern dating problems in a comedic and engaging light. Sadly she misses the mark almost every single time. Roberson fills the book with quirky little displays of her hilarity, but because the book is so inconclusive everything she writes becomes almost irrelevant due to the lack of direction. The snarky comments that probably would’ve gotten her a good laugh in a different format soon turn annoying (looking at the 125, 689, 871 Trump jokes).
This humour severely lacks purpose. Roberson describes the book as ‘made up of so many opinions all clumped together that they just might have congealed into some sort of worldview’, taking a step further to boldly call it a ‘comedy philosophy book’. I like to call it the ‘Roberson’s Attempt at Turning Her Journal Therapy Journey Commercial’ book. It truly does seem like she was advised by her therapist to try to pen down her feelings, and she thought, well, why not turn this into a book and make some money out of it?
Her personal reflections and all the bottled-up frustration she harbours towards dating finally find the light of day in these pages. She talks so extensively about patriarchy and its impact on modern dating that you wonder if you really are about to read a social philosophy book, but she doesn’t explore this problem with any depth or nuance and you’re just left pondering. The book ends up being a collection of Roberson’s dating expeditions. So, while I yearn to learn more about the nitty gritties of Roberson’s ‘intersectional-socialist-matriarchal revolution’, I find myself learning the superficialities of Roberson’s date with some film student named Luke instead.
While the first half of the book might irk you, to give Roberson due credit, the second half does get better.
‘And so: you, right now, are a full tree. You don’t need to be in love to count as a human. Look—you already ARE a human, existing!’
Even though it’s cliché big sister advice and I know at this point we’re all tired of listening to the ‘you can only be loved if you love yourself first’ crap, it is undeniably true, and Roberson’s take on it is, dare I say, quite refreshing! She preaches against overthinking by emphasising that ultimately people will always do what their heart desires and so, if they are talking to you, it is because they want to! Probably nothing you haven’t heard before, but it’s the unwavering conviction with which Roberson almost commands the reader to stop over-analysing every little thing that almost has me convinced every guy is in love with me.
Okay, I don’t actually hate How To Date Men When You Hate Men. I know by now I might’ve convinced you otherwise, but genuinely, my only qualm with this book is that it shouldn’t have been a book. The way Roberson describes her dating mishaps and all the valuable lessons she’s gleaned from dating guys all these years make for solid entertainment. Not for a book. But, perhaps, as the set for her Netflix special. Oh, what wasted potential the book has. It’s relatable and charming, with seamlessly woven humour, while also targeting the idiosyncrasies of modern society. It could have been a 10/10 comedy show.
For me, the true measure of a book lies in the emotion it evokes. Often, over time, plots and character arcs get buried and decay with memory, but the emotions etched in the heart stand the test of time. The brain forgets, but the heart remembers. And while this book did have moments of Roberson’s glittering wit, it failed to leave an imprint. All I’d remember five years later would be the riveting title.
So, final remarks. Firstly, nobody really knows what love is. Some days it’s peeling an orange, while other days even taking a bullet might not be enough. All we know is that love is cataclysmic in the most beautiful ways and sadly, no book will ever have the answer to all your questions. You just have to wing it, as frightening as that might be.
Secondly, don’t read this book. You probably won’t read it til the end (unless you’ve thought it’d be cool to review it for Valentine’s). I recommend spending that time hating some other aspect of your life.
Lastly, if you do plan on spending Valentine’s alone, all sad and pathetic (like me), remember that it’s just a day. A Wednesday too, literally nothing special. The human experience will have us all being melancholic the rest of the year, even those cringy people in love (I’m just jealous). Go get yourself an ice cream and be a hater for a day.