When Melissa Pimentel moved to London to get her MA in 2004, the dating scene wasn't exactly what she expected. So the former editorial assistant turned to books for advice. Each month, she'd try a different strategy, ranging from The Rules to Belle du Jour, and blog about her experiences. The results were entertaining and the blog gained a wide readership—but the experiment ended early when Pimentel met her now-fiancé.
Now, Pimentel has written a fictional take on her experience: Love by the Book, a hilarious romp of a read that finds 20-something expat Lauren desperate enough to turn to the self-help shelf after a surprise breakup. We asked Pimentel a few questions about fact vs. fiction, the bright side of a bad date and more.
How is writing fiction different than blogging?
It’s more difficult in that you have to really put thought into a character’s thoughts, feelings and reactions (rather than just recounting my own), but it’s also a lot more fun because I could make Lauren do things that I would never, ever do myself! It gave me a lot of freedom and allowed me to push certain situations where, if it was me, I would have just cried uncle and got out of there.
Lauren’s dating pitfalls are myriad—and you’ve said many of them are based on stories from you or your friends. When it comes to dating, do you think truth is stranger than fiction?
Absolutely! Maybe it’s a searing indictment on my creativity, but every time I tried to make up a ridiculous dating scene, something from my own experience or that of a friend would top it. One of the best things about dating is that it forces you into situations you would never otherwise find yourself . . . and often those situations are completely absurd.
If you could make men understand just one dating-related thing about women, what would it be?
That we’re more like them than they might think! I think there’s a tendency among men—not all of them—to assume that all women (particularly women in their late 20s and above) are desperate to find a man and settle down and have babies. But that just isn’t the case. Sure, there are women who are looking for commitment—in the same way that there are men who are looking for commitment. There are also women who aren’t interested in having relationships, and who aren’t looking for marriage or children—maybe just not at the minute, and maybe never. We are a many-splendored rainbow!
"I think there’s a tendency among men to assume that all women are desperate to find a man and settle down and have babies. But that just isn’t the case."
How do you think technology has changed dating?
I think it’s changed it both for the better and for the worse. These days, single women have a plethora of attractive, allegedly available men literally at their fingertips, so meeting someone has never been so easy. It’s introduced people to a wider pool of potential mates, which is great, and brought together people who might otherwise never have swam in the same pool.
On the other hand, all of this choice can be a little daunting. In the same way that our attention spans have shortened in the Internet age, I think the myriad choices that online dating offers can make it a little hard to settle your attention on one person. It’s like we’re all kids in a candy store after eating too many Pixie Sticks—crazed on sugar and endless possibilities and feeling ever so slightly ill as a result.
Did you find any dating guides actually useful, and if so, which one(s)?
I found that there were little nuggets of wisdom tucked away in most of them, though often you had to dig beneath a lot of nonsense to find them. The Rules was right about playing hard to get (annoying to admit but it does work), The Technique of the Love Affair was right about the joy of flirting and not putting all your eggs in one dating basket, and Belle du Jour was right about being honest about your sexuality and not shying away from asking for what you want. All very good little pearls!
If you wrote your own dating advice book, what would you call it?
“Why the Hell Not?”
Stories of women looking for love are often dismissed as trivial, even though finding a partner is a big part of most people’s lives. Why do you think that is?
Honestly, I think part of this is a feminist issue: Female stories, particularly those involving love, are seen as trivial and less worthy of thought and attention. Which is a shame, because there’s so much richness and humor and humanity to be found in those stories when they’re done well. Think of Jane Austen! But there does seem to be a prevailing sentiment surrounding stories about women looking for love that they’re somehow not worthy of respect, and I think that’s something for us all to work on to change.
Any advice to those who are looking? (Please don’t say “it only takes one.”)
The “it only takes one” thing is very annoying and also complete nonsense. It doesn’t just take one—it takes lots! In order to know what you really want (and in order to be sure that it’s right when you find it), I think it’s important to get out there and experience as much as you can. I’m not saying you have to sleep with every guy who crosses your path or go on dates with men you find totally abhorrent, but I do think being open minded and saying yes to things you might normally try to swerve can be a really good thing.
Most importantly, though, don’t take it too seriously. Go out and have fun. Even if you go on the worst date ever, it will still end up being a funny story you can tell your friends.