What It’s Like
What It’s Like … to Be a Dating Columnist
Betty’s own Judy McGuire (aka Dategirl) chats about love, sex and other fun bodily functions
Judy McGuire never planned on becoming a hilarious dating guru, but the relationship gods smiled on her anyway. She literally wrote the book on How Not to Date, and authors three very insightful, very irreverent dating columns for publications across the country: Dategirl for Seattle Weekly, Swapping Spit for Time Out New York and a weekly Dating Don’t column for TheFrisky.com. (Not to mention her stints writing for Mademoiselle, Men’s Fitness, High Times and oh-so-many others.)
Now Judy’s lending her sexpert skills to BettyConfidential as our brand spanking (pun mostly unintended) new Love+Sex editor.
As a fellow dating columnist, I was dying to ask Judy about life in the relationship trenches and how she’s managed to maintain a serious romance while writing about sex for a living.
I’m sure you get the “How did you ever become a dating columnist?” question a lot. (I like to answer that whenever the lord closes a door, he opens a festering window into hell.) So how did you end up with your dating column degree?
I had been a writer and editor for years when a cartoonist friend of mine – Richard Mather-asked me if I wanted to try and do something together. So we came up with this character named Dategirl. She lived in Williamsburg (like me!), was single (ditto!) and relied on a close network of friends (are you sensing a trend?).
We did some sample panels; and Richard was working at MTV, so he showed them to one of his bosses. They invited us in for a pitch. Before going in, I watched The Player and used every trick in their book. Much to our shock, awe and glee, they signed us up with a development deal.
Then the grim reality of TV set in. We went through nine months of development, got paid, got our hopes up, and then at the 11th hour the dweeb in charge of the project called and said he’d never really “gotten” the main character so they were going to pass.
I had already quit my job and was temping at Allure magazine as a fact checker when I got this call. I was there in the office, in a cubicle, and I burst into tears.
Anyway, another friend named Richard – last name Martin – had been following the show’s progress. He was an editor at the Seattle Weekly and suggested I just become my main character and start writing their sex column. Done!
And Dategirl was born! In your book, How Not To Date, you share a lot of personal dating dramas and then advise readers to do the exact opposite. Does that “do as I say, not as I do,” approach work?
I’ve always felt that bad date stories are far more entertaining – and informative! – than good date stories. Who wants to hear, “He showed up at the restaurant, and I instantly knew he was THE ONE! He had brought along a single white rose and told me I was the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen. By the time dessert came, we were picking out catering halls and names for our future babies.”
Barf. While I’m sure that there is a certain segment of society that enjoys hearing these hurlers (see Harlequin romances), I’ve always been way more interested in the myriad of ways people – myself included – can screw things up. I mean a guy who tells his date that he’s always found his mother super hot? Who does that? A guy I went out with, that’s who!
Eww…gross! (Trying not to judge, but c’mon … his mom?) After a particularly awful date, I usually find solace in the fact that it’s going to give me awesome writing material. Do you feel the same way after your crappy dates?
Well, speaking of “crappy dates,” my favorite story will always be the dude who crapped himself in my bed. It was unspeakably horrible at the time, but I have gotten a lot of mileage out of it. All our mutual friends – and we have many – refer to him as “poopypants.” I like to think I really made some lemonade out of that particular lemon.
Do you have any favorite success stories from your columns?
My all-time best success story came from a guy who’d read a column wherein I admonished the letter writer to throw out his gnarly old futon and buy a real bed. Not only that, but he should go out and purchase some high-thread count, 100 percent cotton sheets and brand new pillows.
About a month later I got a letter from a divorced dude who had been going through a long dry spell and, coincidentally or NOT, had spent it sleeping on a lumpy old futon. He decided to give my advice a try and went shopping. The day he took delivery of the bed he invited a female friend over to help him set it up and wound up sleeping with her! I was probably more excited about this turn of events than he was! So he wrote to thank me, and I have to say, it’s one of the most gratifying letters I’ve ever received.
You saved that man’s sex life – well done! So in your professional opinion, what are the top three best places for women to meet guys?
1. Online. It’s a godsend for shut-ins who can’t mine the breakroom for dates. It also takes the ambiguity out of dating. Never will you have to wonder “is this a date?”
2. Work. All that crap about not shitting where you eat – feh. You get to know someone pretty well during the eight-plus hours you spend with them.
3. Because I’m all about negative examples, I will say that all of my worst experiences have involved men I met through friends. Maybe it speaks badly about who I hang out with, but I have pretty much only had rotten experiences with friends of friends.
You’ve obviously got the dating thing down since you have a serious boyfriend of four years. How did you meet? And is he cool with your work?
I met Spyro on Nerve. Nerve.com has recently changed their format, and I hear it kind of sucks now, but about five or six years ago it was booty central. Spyro’s comfortable with my work. He’s proud of me and usually enjoys reading what I’ve written about him. Not every guy I’ve dated has felt the same way and it has caused some problems.
I always find it awkward to break it to guys that I write about dating and sex for a living. Most of them either completely panic or put on a weird show for me. How have you handled that disclosure moment without sending men running away in horror?
Google has pretty much eliminated any mystery. My current boyfriend thought I was only using him for “material,” so I had to calm his ass down on our first date. He also spilled that he was “only medium” apropos of absolutely nothing. Because naturally, a dating columnist only dates men with ginormous equipment.
OH, there was one guy who Googled me so extensively that he started quoting ME to ME over dinner. That was really, really bad.
How often should those of us without boyfriends be going on dates?
You should go out on dates as often as you like. Not only that, you should allow yourself to take dater breaks when you just aren’t up for dating. There’s so much pressure on women to meet “the one.” The reality is, luck and timing are the two biggest factors in finding love.
Thank you – no one ever says that! I think we so often blame ourselves for being single instead of thinking about the luck and timing involved. Your writing is so witty and sardonic. Where did you get your fantastic sense of humor about sex and dating?
Dating is, by definition, ridiculous. And sex? Please. I’ve never been one to use the term “make love.” Perhaps I’ve never mentally graduated from the sixth grade but I find the whole thing hilarious.
1. When you were 10 years old, what did you want to be when you grew up?
2. What type of kids did you hang out with in high school?
The hippies. I was punk rock in a small New Jersey town in the early ‘80s. I used to get screamed at by the other students every day, and the hippies were the only kids who would talk to me nicely.
3. What women from the past do you most identify with?
Don’t we all turn into our moms?
4. What’s your workout?
Pilates twice a week, but I think I’m going to start going to a regular gym. Pilates is great, but it’s expensive.
5. Cat or dog?
Two cats-Inky and Mabel. My boyfriend has a tattoo of Inky, which never fails to crack me up.
6. What do you do when you want to completely tune out?
Sleep or stare into space.
7. What book is sitting on your shelf waiting to be read?
I just finished this amazing Joe Strummer biography so now I’m just catching up on my New Yorkers.
8. If you could have dinner with any two people, who would they be?
My mom and Joe Strummer. Both died far too young, and I think they would get along. I also miss them both terribly.
9. What is the one thing you do or do not want the next generation of girls to encounter?
Sexism, the wage gap, illegal abortion . . . where to start? I wish I were more confident as a kid and didn’t waste so much time being insecure.
10. If there were one thing you could change in your life, what would it be?
My teeth. Oy. Definitely, my teeth.