Jordan Peterson’s Bad Dating Advice
He’s right on health and home economics, but he’s wrong on dating.
Intellectual honesty doesn’t permit me to denounce Jordan Peterson or his ideas even though I’d make some new friends if I did. Peterson is right on the importance of keeping a clean house. He’s right on the importance of free speech and the importance of treating people as individuals rather than group members. And, despite the fact that he spent years painstakingly engineering a website to personally insult me, I consider the man a friend.
The trouble is, as with most interesting friends, Jordan’s got a few bad habits that occasionally call the utility of the relationship into question. By far, Jordan’s most annoying habit is his insistence on shooting his mouth of about “what women want”. When he gets on this subject, it is immediately apparent that he hasn’t given this important the careful thought and research it deserves. On this subject, his trademark confidence is singularly discordant with this competence. Given his audience, he could hardly pick a worse subject to be wrong about. He might as well be shouting “bitcoin will never be worth less than $11,000 !”
Bad advice on attracting heterosexual women, is every bit as dangerous as flawed financial advice. A lonely man’s desire to please can drive him to enormous excesses of risk taking, self degradation, and unethical behavior. A bad dating strategy is every bit as dangerous as a bad business plan or a terrible decision to “gain financial freedom through multilevel marketing”. It’s so disturbing to hear Jordan say things like “women outsource the complex task of mate selection to the societal dominance hierarchy”. Filling a young man’s head with these thoughts is almost as bad as telling him masturbation is draining his reserves of animal magnetism.
I’m open to clarifications about what Jordan actually means, but I can tell you what people hear when he talks about “mate selection”: His claim is that society as a whole assigns each man a particular worth, and then women just “go with it”. The corollary is: “The higher the value you can induce society to assign you, the more women will tell you yes.” I call this the “Great Gatsby” theory of human attraction, because it implies that the key to romantic success is to sneak off, make a bunch of money, and then come back to claim the woman’s affection as a natural consequence of your success. It’s a very tempting strategy because it avoids terrifying social interaction and forestalls rejection.
Before Gatsby, there was “The Count of Montecristo”, a much more entertaining book, which challenges Peterson’s view of human nature. Spoiler alert! At the end of book the protagonist is unable to win back his former love. It turned out she was the kind of woman who fell in love with idealistic young soldiers, not the kind of woman who liked fabulously wealthy aristocrats with vast wealth, superior intellect, and highly developed sword fighting skills. She loved him when he was the kind of “nice guy” who gets tricked into spending a decade in political prison, but she couldn’t love the man he became. The obviously cooler man who broke himself out of prison, became an international celebrity, avenged himself against his enemies, and offered to buy her a castle. (watch the movie.)
Jordan’s simplistic theory of Romance is a grave oversight for a student of archetypes and mythology. Princesses have been known to fall in love with stable boys. Mythic Kings are always abusing power to steal subordinates wives, but neither the wives nor the Gods consider this a salutary process of “trading up”. Sir Gawain once found himself wielding his sword to protect the right of conventionally attractive woman to marry the dwarf of her choosing, rather than a local aristocrat. Afterward, there was no talk of the woman transferring her affections from her dwarf to Sir Gawain based on his undeniable “Alpha Status”.
Far from being reducible to a blanket statement about mate selection, the female heart remains mysterious. Pretending to understand the mechanism by which a particular woman evaluates a suitor, will only lead to disappointment. A doctrine that produces resentful thoughts like“I did everything right, you’re being unreasonable.” is a misguided philosophy unworthy of Peterson’s psychological and mythological oeuvre. If there really was a correct formula for “what women want” it would be the equivalent of a magical love potion, the kind of thing which started the Trojan war, and which Aladdin’s Genie named next to murder as a forbidden use of his power. Much like a rock that turns lead into gold, the formula for love is an asset too dangerous for mortals, and a very naughty thing to claim actually exists.
A better myth for educating youth in the process of putting their rooms in order might be Rapunzel. Rapunzel didn’t know where her prince fit into a dominance hierarchy, she just knew there was a man at the bottom of her tower, and she wanted him “in her room.” Interestingly, after “falling in love at first sight”, neither Rapunzel nor her Prince seemed eager to move her out of the tower. Rapunzel was fine having the safety of her room augmented with companionship and sex. The Prince was equally relieved at finding a romantic partner who didn’t interfere with his daily activities or confer any responsibility on him.
Eventually, the witch notices the Rapunzel’s pregnancy and vengefully ambushes the Prince. She pushes him out of the window onto thorns that blind him during his fall. Having used her as bait, the witch vengefully kicks Rapunzel and her baby out of the tower. The Prince stumbles around blindly in the forest unable to find his way home until Rapunzel finds him and leads him back to his castle. At some point in this process his eyesight is magically restored, and we are lead to believe that the couple lives together happily form that point forward.
This pattern of casual sex, followed by disaster, and ending in maturity seems like a more realistic archetype for romance than “struggle within a dominance hierarchy.” Falling in love is highly personal and mostly random. In contrast, the initial reluctance of lovers to embrace the consequences of love is predictable. Rapunzel is one version of a universal story about the dangers of love, and the inability of naive young people to appreciate it’s value. The claim that only people who have truly suffered pain and loss are able to appreciate the value of commitment sounds very Petersonian. As his friend and well wisher, I can’t understand why he places so much emphasis on an flawed system getting women to sleep with you in the first place, on the laughable assumption that once they’ve “given it up” they’re biologically driven to seek monogamous commitment. People who fall in love haven’t chosen each other off a menu, they’ve stumbled across something very precious and fragile. The challenge is not finding love but finding the depth of character to honor a sacred commitment.