Need a romantic wake-up call? Jessica Massa, who created the WTF Is Up With My Love Life?! website with best friend Rebecca Wiegand, says you do and the answer is understanding the Gaggle…
Why do you believe it is a post-dating world?
Becky and I believe that we are living in a post-dating world because traditional dating is no longer the most common path that people are following to romantically connect and fall in love. Of course, no one has really said this, or defined how people are falling in love instead – so unfortunately, almost every woman we have met has told us that she’s not “dating” as much as she wants to, or as much as she always expected that she would. When I traveled the country interviewing young people about their love lives for The Gaggle, the number one answer I heard from women was, “My love life? I don’t have a love life! It’s non-existent.” And the number two answer? “Well…it’s complicated.” How terrible and disempowering, right? And the reason that women think their loves lives are non-existent and/or “complicated,” is that they are judging themselves and their relationships by traditional dating standards that actually no longer exist.
In traditional dating lore, romance and courtship isn’t that complicated. You meet a guy, exchange phone numbers, go on a few dates and eventually enter into a relationship (or not). But you just don’t ever hear that story from women anymore! Instead you hear about a guy she’s been texting a lot … or a co-worker who she’s gotten close to over late-night work sessions and happy hours … or a soccer teammate who she flirts with at the after-game bar … or the ex-boyfriend who she’s still Skyping with … the path to love has become much more ambiguous these days.
So we’re living in a post-dating world, where women need to open their eyes to all the romantic possibilities and opportunities around them that might not look like dinner and a movie. Because as it turns out, out of every single happy, in-love couple who I interviewed, not one of them met and connected via traditional dating! All of their stories were more unique and tinged with ambiguity. So why should we be so worried about “dating” anyway?
Will women be better or worse off in this romantic revolution?
Better off! Absolutely, 100% better off. This is what we want women to understand – that if they can just learn to embrace the post-dating world and feel empowered by it, instead of mourning the death of formal dating and letting themselves get so confused and frustrated by all the ambiguity (aka “what does this text message meeeeeann???”), then their love lives will be SO MUCH richer and more fulfilling. And ultimately, their connections with men – and eventually with the right guy – will be all the stronger and more genuine for it.
In the world of The Rules and He’s Just Not That Into You, as women, we had very few options for feeling empowered about our love lives. All you could really do was put on your little black dress, adopt an air of mystery and aloofness, and hope that some guy ended up being “just that into you”. There was no way to approach men, or pursue promising connections with guys, or put yourself and your desires and needs at the center of your own love life. Your only option was to wait around, try to remember a bunch of tricks, and cross your fingers that love would emerge from that.
But in the post-dating world, that’s no longer true! All the ambiguity surrounding guy/girl interactions has created a million opportunities for women to take control of their love lives. No one is saying that women need to run around asking guys out on dates or trying to initiate relationships (or even hookup). But now, if you feel a potential spark with a guy, then you can take any number of smaller steps to explore that connection. You can friend request him on Facebook, or run into him at your mutual friend’s party and spend some time in the corner getting to know each other, or email him a YouTube video that you think he’d enjoy, or grab a drink after a long office meeting and see where the conversation leads.
Whereas once upon a time, your love life only consisted of guys who you were dating and guys who you weren’t, now you have a whole gaggle full of intriguing, enriching, meaningful and fun connections to explore. That’s so much more exciting and empowering than waiting by the phone for some guy to ask you out on Friday for dinner-and-a-movie.
Explain the Gaggle.
The gaggle is the way to start making sense of this whole post-dating world – it’s basically an entirely new way to think about your love life. Your gaggle is the group of guys in your life with whom you are connecting in all these ambiguous ways. In other words, they are the guys in your life – who you are probably not “dating” – who play different roles, fulfill different needs, and help you to figure out who you are and what kind of guy and relationship you ultimately want. The gaggle is the core of your love life in the post-dating world.
Instead of meeting every guy – and looking at every guy you already know – and asking yourself “Is he The One? Is he just that into me??”, you should look at every guy and ask, “Is he in my gaggle?” And that’s it! If there’s any tiny spark of connection that you’re exploring with him, then he’s in your gaggle, and he is now officially part of your love life.
There are ten types of guys that can be in your gaggle – everyone from the Ex-Boyfriend Who’s Still Around to the Ego Booster to the Unavailable Guy to, of course, the Boyfriend Prospect – and the key is to figure out which role a guy is fulfilling at any given moment and then follow the book’s advice for cultivating that relationship. Once you start thinking of your love life in terms of the gaggle, you’ll realize that you’re learning, growing and having a ton of fun, in many different ways, with all of these guys in your life – and getting closer, every day, to finding the right guy for you and actually knowing how to build an amazing relationship out of that.
Which guy is the best to have in your Gaggle and which one should you steer clear of?
Obviously most women are ultimately on the lookout for a Boyfriend Prospect – and that’s great! He’s the guy who you really like, who is also treating you well and seems ready to potentially enter into a real relationship. You might meet a guy and he might automatically turn into your Boyfriend Prospect. Or, what I’ve heard happen just as often, you might have a guy floating around some other part of your gaggle (a helpful and supportive Career Booster? A Hot Sex Prospect who ends up being really funny and smart and sweet, once you get to know him?) who ends up evolving into a Boyfriend Prospect. It’s all about being open to every guy you know and every guy you’re meeting, and seeing how that connection evolves without putting too much pressure or labels on it.
I wouldn’t say that there’s one specific guy you need to steer clear of – of course, no one wants a Guy Who Just Blew You Off, but unfortunately, that’s an inevitable part of putting yourself out there and opening yourself up to real connection. As for the other guys, the book does go into how to make sure that you’re being honest with yourself about some of these relationships so that they’re helping and not hurting you on your journey towards love. For example, you shouldn’t have an Ex-Boyfriend Who’s Still Around who you’re still in love with – that will keep you from genuinely connecting with other guys in your gaggle and will hold you back from finding a better relationship for you. You also shouldn’t have a Hot Sex Prospect who you are secretly hoping will turn into more – if you really like a guy and you are hooking up, then he is your Boyfriend Prospect, end of story. You should never kid yourself about being fine with a casual sexual relationship if there are genuine feelings involved.
But if you are being honest with yourself about how these guys are fitting into your life, then you shouldn’t need to steer clear of any of the gaggle guys!
How has social networking changed the dating scene?
Social networking has provided us with a fantastic new opportunity to pursue new connections with guys and get to know the guys who are already in our lives even better. Of course, it has also made it much easier for us to stalk, obsess, and struggle to get over the men in our lives. As with so much of technology, the positive or negative effect that social media can have on your love life depends entirely on how you choose to use it.
Social media is probably the best way for us to now explore connections with guys in a casual, no-pressure way. If you meet a guy who intrigues you, you don’t have to ask him on a date. Instead, you can get on his radar by liking his Facebook statuses, or responding to his tweets. If you meet a guy at a conference and want to push that connection along, you can contact him on LinkedIn. If you haven’t heard from a guy in a while, but all of a sudden he is commenting on all your Instagram photos, then you should see that as an opportunity to take the reins, reach out and explore that connection. Social media allows us all to dip our toes in the water of connection in a way that can eventually lead to more full-blown, in-person relationships.
That is the best way to use social media! On the flip side, if you’re obsessing over a guy’s new female Facebook friends or checking his Tumblr page five times a day, then you need to be the one to stop yourself and dial it back before you turn into The Crazy Girl in his gaggle. Or, if you’ve been tweeting at each other for months but haven’t actually hung out, then you should feel empowered to suggest an “in real life” hangout so that your connection doesn’t get contained to simply your phone and laptop.
If social media is driving you crazy, then, start using it differently. It’s all up to you!
This is the When Harry Met Sally question: can men and women have platonic relationships?
Ah, the magic question! This came up in almost all of my interviews with both men and women, and of course, everyone has a slightly different opinion.
The short answer is, yes – and there’s also a spot in the gaggle for that. He’s called your Accessory. Your Accessory is sort of like your male best friend, and as I saw in my interviews, many, many women have a guy like this in their lives. He’s the guy you bring as a +1 to a wedding, see movies with, accompany to the Farmer’s Market, etc. – many of the activities that you might traditionally do with a boyfriend. I met many women who had an Accessory, and as they explained, what kept it from turning romantic was that there just wasn’t that electric spark of true love between them. They could always acknowledge that their Accessory was attractive and that any other girl would be lucky to end up in a relationship with them – but for some reason, their own mutual vibe had just never moved past the platonic stage. I even met some of these male Accessories, and they agreed with the girls. They truly valued their friendships but didn’t see them turning into relationships because of that lack of an epic spark.
That said, I also met former Accessories who spent years being “platonic friends” and then eventually fell in love. So! I think that we all need to remain open to the relationships in our lives evolving and changing as we evolve and change. Is that guy your platonic friend for now? Okay, sure. I guess you can say that. But I’d throw away the “friends” label and say that you should consider him as a member of your gaggle instead.
How did two girls from Yale and Harvard end up creating a love advice website?
Yale and Harvard were really awesome and, ummm, educational stops along the journey for me and Jess. But we have actually been best friends since we were 12 years old. And a few years after college, we came up with the idea of the gaggle one fateful night on our couch in Brooklyn – here’s that story.
We were roommates at the time and both working media jobs in Manhattan, doing the whole entry-level-career-gal in the city thing. I had been out at a cocktail party, and I came home (as Jess reports) and threw myself onto the futon and unleashed a barrage of insecurities about my love life. I remember leading with, “Jess, why don’t boys like me??? What the fuck is wrong with me???” and following that up with questions like, “Why is no one asking me out? Why am I not dating anyone? What does this text message mean??” Etc.
At that time, I had been “single” for just over a year after having been in a series of relationships since I was 16, including a three-and-a-half year relationship with a boyfriend from college whom I lived with post-graduation and assumed I would marry. When we broke up, I embraced my newfound freedom and psyched myself up for putting myself “out there” and finding a new man. But a year later, clearly, I was an insecure mess when it came to my love life, even though I was excelling professionally and had an active social life.
Now, Jess was a psychology major at Harvard and in addition to knowing me really well as my best friend, she is extremely analytical – having conducted research in social psychology with hundreds of participants and done all kinds of data analysis. I studied medieval art & philosophy as a humanities major at Yale, so in retrospect I was well prepped to ask the deep questions and Jessica well-trained to find the answers
Anyway, Jess pointed out to me that even though I wasn’t “dating” anyone, there were still lots of guys I was interacting with every day in ambiguous but potentially romantic ways. There was a guy from work who I Gchatted with ALL day; my ex-boyfriend was still in my life as a close friend; there was a college buddy I was exchanging long, deep emails with; there was that random make out session on the dance floor at that party (who knew what that guys name was – but he was cute!)… In other words, I had a gaggle of guys around, I just wasn’t looking at my love life that way.
I LOVED the word gaggle and immediately turned it back around on Jess because as her best friend, I could point out that these same kind of ambiguous interactions and connections were filling HER life as well. What’s more, we realized that you could identify types that existed for both of us (eg – The Ex Who’s Still Around, The Career Booster, The Hot Sex Prospect). We spent all night talking about our friends and their gaggles and saw that our friends in relationships had ALL met through these ambiguous non-relationships, NOT via traditional dating. It was a seismic shift in how we saw our love lives and even our potential as women in the world.
As we shared this idea with the women in our lives and saw how true and empowering it was for them as well, we knew that we had found a concept that could shape and improve women’s perception of themselves AND help them find love and a good relationship without all the stress and judgment we had all been feeling. Jess and I had a mission! And we took it upon ourselves to try and get the gaggle into public awareness via every kind of media we could think of, including our website.
As for our educational backgrounds, to the extent that the field of “love advice” (and, similarly, chick lit, I would say) is minimized in our cultural discourse as trivial or indulgent or relatively unimportant, I think it is a major and debilitating disservice to women. Our love loves are – and should be – fundamental to who we are and who we are becoming. The gaggle is a way to be on a journey towards love while learning about yourself and building the life you want at the same time. As a student of philosophy, I know that this personal journey towards the self has been a worthy pursuit of many a dead white male. Let’s not minimize it now for the modern woman. We think it’s vital that our rising generation of women NOT ever have to feel the despair we felt at first on the couch that night. So…from Yale and Harvard to the gaggle!
Is the Gaggle only a Gen Y thing – or can it be applied to much older women?
Back to Jess!
Becky and I believe that the gaggle originated out of the Millennial generation, as a result of our attachment to technology, our shifting gender norms, and our widespread belief that we want and deserve more than many of the relationships we’ve seen between those in older generations (in my interviews, people loved to use the word “epic” to describe the love they wanted). But that said, older women who are living in or re-entering the romantic world are definitely experiencing the same shift from dating to post-dating!
We have heard from many older women who are coming out of a divorce or who just never found the right relationships for them, and they have typically expressed a lot of confusion about the new norms of romantic connection. Why did that guy ask me to play Scrabble instead of taking me out to dinner?? What does it mean that I keep chatting with that man in my volunteer group, but he has never asked for my number?? Why is this father of three texting me photos of his children??
But we have found that once these women understand the post-dating world and begin thinking in terms of the gaggle (and opening themselves up to non-dates and techno-romance, as Becky and I like to call them), then they find themselves enjoying a richer and more interesting love life. They see more possibilities than they did when they were just focusing on the men who they were or weren’t “dating.”
Therefore, yes – the gaggle can be applied to older women, and anyone of any age trying to find love in this post-dating world will benefit from getting a better understanding of how people are finding love these days!
Jessica Massa and her best-friend-turned-business-partner Rebecca Wiegand started the acclaimed site WTF Is Up With My Love Life?! They are on a mission to change the romantic perspectives of women everywhere.
THE GAGGLE: How the Guys You Know Will Help You Find the Love You Want by Jessica Massa (Simon & Schuster, 2012) is the new, groundbreaking guide to finding love in today’s “post-dating” world. Based on in-depth interviews with young women and men all over the country, THE GAGGLE explores the romantic revolution happening around us and explains why women need to STOP asking if he’s The One and worrying “Is he just not that into me?” – and instead START wondering, “Who is he in my gaggle?” (To see all ten types of gaggle guys, click here)
WIN! WIN! WIN!
Congratulations to Antoinette, of Mississippi, who has won a copy of The Gaggle by Jessica Massa.
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