As a 1990s baby and a proud millennial, I often happily reflect on the early 2000s, as my adolescence was dependent on the unique culture of the early aughts: the music, fashion, and movies were futuristic, glittery, cyber-focused, and fresh, and perfect for any pre-teen like myself interested in changing the world, one book report at a time. Given that I was about 11 years old in 2003, I didn’t realize how toxic dating advice could have been back then. I mean, sure, we all knew of Steve Harvey’s problematic book turned movie series, Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man (in fact, my godmother gifted me the book before going away to college in 2010), but dating manuals like Men Are From Mars, He’s Just Not That Into You, Women From Venus or the 2002 controversial classic, Why Men Love Bitches, wasn’t on my radar – and I’m glad it wasn’t.
But now, TikTok is digging up our past as many Gen Zers are rediscovering outdated dating manuals and reciting them word for word, causing us to question how we were being guided romantically, why these dating manuals had a hold on our relationships in the first place, and of course cringing along the way. In a recent TikTok viral video that garnered 16,800 views in counting, filmed by Excel Rasanen, she shares dating advice (Attraction Principle #1) from the book, Why Men Love Bitches by Sherry Argov. “Anything you chase in life runs away,” she said. Rasanen explained this common dating trope to her 53,000 followers, “We’ve all heard ‘I don’t chase, I attract,’ and you repeat it to yourself, but are you actually? It’s not to say that you shouldn’t make the first move or reach out or initiate something, but when you put it out there, just let it be; if it doesn’t come back, don’t put more into it.”
Because of TikTok influencers like Rasanen, the dating self-help book, reentered The Sunday Times bestseller list 19 years later. You can also thank the app for helping to catapult other former dating holy grail manuals to the forefront, like Calling In The One, from viral videos. While it may surprise you, these books laid the groundwork for women’s empowerment in dating, as they focused on them taking their power back by not “chasing” or being less “clingy.” However, where most dating self-help books and dating “gurus’ went wrong was encouraging women to shift their behavior to find a romantic partner, not strengthening their self-esteem for only themselves. A lot of early 2000s books and media followed suit. Does anyone remember the iconic film Two Can Play That Game with Vivica A. Fox and Morris Chestnut? The early aughts seemed like a cesspool of dating games, emotional and mental manipulation, and glorifying the battle of the sexes, rooted in misogyny.
So why are these books resonating with new audiences? It’s simple: nostalgia and longing to date before apps like Hinge or Bumble even existed, as many hope to find love in more traditional and romantic ways. Also, despite its shortcomings, the early 2000s centered dating advice around women, which seems missing in today’s society. But even under the guise of centering women in the dating landscape back then, these dating self-help books put the onus on women to discover what may be “wrong” with them and are encouraged to “fix” their “issues” to find “the one,” which is dangerous and diving head first into patriarchal structures, that continue to harm today’s dating landscape. Shan Boodram, Bumble’s renowned sex and relationships expert, agrees. “Much of the dating advice making a comeback endorse a one-size-fits-all approach rooted in inflexible rules and expectations. Dictating specific gender roles and behaviors perpetuates harmful stereotypes and constrains individuals’ ability to authentically express themselves, ultimately impeding the natural growth of meaningful connections,” she says to ESSENCE.
She continues, “The reintroduction of trends from the early 2000s to the dating conversation is yet another example of what I like to call the ‘TikTokification’ of dating or the rapid rise in popularity of certain dating topics and trends that tend to have negative implications for those abiding by them. In this specific instance, the dating books that had resurfaced promote an outdated definition of ‘girl power,’ which emerged during a time when pop-culture feminism was largely seen as a rebuttal to the patriarchy rather than a holistic approach to life that seeks genuine equality, respect, opportunities, and empathy for everyone.”
Boodram believes that although authors of these books adopted this brand of feminism and championed women’s empowerment outwardly, there still wasn’t a lot of clarity on the true meaning of empowerment, and the movement fell back on an “if you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em” mindset. “We now know that an empowered woman does not co-opt toxic masculinity, so it’s disheartening to see the conversation leaning into philosophies from books that frequently portray women as excessively emotional and dependent. I’m wary of this trend continuing to gain popularity online and encouraging people, especially young women in the dating world, to lean further into tropes we have since grown from,” she adds.
The dating landscape has undergone a seismic shift over the last 20 years, and the dating advice that held precedent during that time needs to embrace the values of inclusivity, respect, and understanding we hold dear in today’s dating culture. However, according to Boodram, modern dating solutions like Bumble are uniquely designed to meet people wherever they may be on their dating journeys, fostering a genuine curiosity about others and embracing the diverse experiences that come with it. “By embracing the technology at their disposal, people can take control of their love lives, embrace their individuality, and build safe, healthy, and equitable connections at their own pace, free from set timelines or prescribed steps,” she shares.
Booram continues, “I’d also like to note that Bumble’s encouragement of women to make the first move stands in stark contrast to the dating advice from the Y2K era – and rightly so. In today’s dating landscape, a woman “making the first move” is a significant indicator of confidence, a departure from the societal norms of 20 years ago when such initiative was frowned upon and perceived as being too bold.”
So, should Gen-Z and millennials listen to these dating trends? Booram says, “Absolutely not,” as we need to acknowledge that dating in the digital age is a vastly different landscape compared to the early 2000s. “While there is still a way to go, over the past two decades, our society has undergone profound evolution, becoming more inclusive and accepting of diverse individuals, cultures, and dating norms, thanks, in no small part, to the proliferation of dating apps. Today, there is an unprecedented opportunity to connect with a wide range of potential partners, enabling women to break free from conventional, restrictive norms and discover partners who align with their unique preferences and desires. If Gen Z and millennials revert to the dating rules of the 2000s, they will be severely limiting themselves,” she states.