Interview: Zoe Strimpel
The author of a new book on modern love explains why promiscuity and the internet has ruined romance.
Strimpel: in singles culture, women are the losers, she says
Like many people at the start of the year, Zoe Strimpel is on a diet. However, for her it is not the cakes and pastries which are being rationed but rather men.
In her new book, The Man Diet, Strimpel relates how, when she became single in 2010, she gorged unhealthily on male attention. This, to use her dieting analogy, is what she refers to as "junk food love", and is, she maintains, just as unhealthy as pie and chips. However, like junk food itself, the habit of casual sex, doomed romantic adventures and the demeaning pursuit of men is addictive and hard to wean yourself off, particularly as she feels there is pressure on young women (Strimpel is 29) to "live the life".
She recalls: "When I broke up with my ex-boyfriend, it was like I had a duty to myself, my friends and society to live this life - to be single and loving it. That involved having wild stories to tell people. I found that I had developed a slightly mercenary, quantitive attitude towards men and dating. It started with the desire to distract myself from an unpleasant break-up and it quickly led to a type of mania."
American-raised, Cambridge-educated Strimpel, a long-time fan of Sex and the City, viewed as her role-model the character of Samantha, a predatory seeker of men. After a spell attempting to live up to this "ideal", Strimpel realised the wild, single life was not working for her. "I realised that I couldn't and didn't want to be like Samantha any more. I think a lot of women feel pressure to see sex in the disconnected way that men do, but I don't think women can do it. The hook-up culture definitely seems to cater more for men - women are the losers.
"I wasn't feeling grounded. I was giving up a lot of energy to men and dating, and my self-esteem was eroding. And all for what? Then a friend said to me, 'why don't you go on a man diet -– just step away from it all'. I'd been in high gear for a few months by this time and I thought to myself, that feels so good right now."
The diet, as followed by Strimpel, does not, as the term implies, mean starvation, but rather a set of rules with which to guide your activity. First among these is to give up what she describes as no-strings-attached sex. She also recommends that those on the "diet" should not pursue men, should not stalk them on Facebook, should not talk about men with their friends and should cut back on internet dating.
Strimpel had a bad experience on the Jewish dating site, JDate, which she thinks was mostly to do with the abject quality of the men she encountered on the site. "To be frank I found the quality of the communication from the men was just atrocious. Few of them could spell or string together a grammatical sentence, the ones who could be fully grammatical didn't have any flair, and those who were grammatical and had some flair were completely self-absorbed. A lot of junk comes your way. I'd be sitting on my sofa constantly being instant-messaged by these chancers. It seemed like there was such a lack of worthwhile interaction."
There is a pulsating sexuality to Judaism. Israel is a very sexual country
However, she also thinks her own attitude might have been a contributory factor to her failure. "I do know people who have met their partner on JDate. I think the profiles that work are the ones that aren't cynical or tricky. I couldn't quite get over my spiky, sarcastic 'I'm on here but I'm not really on here' thing."
She has a problem with the internet as a forum for meeting potential life partners. "It can make you act like a shopper. I like the notion of having this amazing chemistry with someone that you can tell the grandkids about and I don't think you can get that online."
She may be down on JDate but has a more positive attitude on the Jewish attitude toward sex. "Judaism is interesting because I think there is a pulsating sexuality to it. Israel is a very sexual country and I think it's no coincidence that authors like Philip Roth are Jewish. The religion is far less punishing of sexuality than Catholicism and Islam. Relationships between men and women in Judaism seem to be about forming deep partnerships and it is reverent about sex - it doesn't pretend it's not there."
Her own view on sex is that women are hardwired to be more cautious about it and are more sensitive to rejection than are men. She feels that the frenetic pursuit of men and obsessive use of digital media like Facebook and dating sites can chip away at a woman's self-worth. She says: "Just because it's online, doesn't mean it's any less of a rejection. Taking a break from it is all a part of rebuilding yourself and your self-esteem."
Strimpel also believes that women should feel less pressurised about having to meet a partner. Indeed, there is a section in the book in which she gives the example of female high-achievers, from Florence Nightingale to Condoleeza Rice, who never married. "I used to beat myself up over having a night in. I thought I'm not going to be young forever. I need to act now. Well, I now know that's a false way of thinking. It's all about quality not quantity."
However, logging off Facebook, cutting out the booze and not talking obsessively about men is likely to leave a hole in your life - particularly if you have been doing little else. To fill that hole Strimpel suggests you do something lofty. In her case that meant reading War and Peace while her girlfriends were out at the pub on a Saturday night, but it could also mean volunteering for charity, learning to play a musical instrument or mastering a foreign language. "After four hours reading War and Peace in the afternoon I would actually have a glow when I went out in the evening that people would comment on. After an hour on Facebook I'd just feel grubby."
Despite falling off the wagon a couple of times along her journey, Strimpel feels the diet has been worthwhile. "It has put me back in touch with the better side of myself and has given me the space to work out what makes me feel good and what doesn't. I've changed my definition of fun."
'The Man Diet' is published by Avon at £7.99