Dating in the digital age can be undoubtedly treacherous or, as Joanna Coles suggests, like navigating the varied options at an expansive grocery store. On Tuesday evening, the Hearst Magazines chief content officer joined Elle editor Nina Garcia in conversation at NeueHouse in New York about her debut book, “Love Rules: How to Find a Real Relationship in a Digital World.”
“People don’t really talk about falling in love anymore,” explained Coles to the crowd. “And yet falling in love is the great engine that drives all the best art — or falling out of love or being heartbroken — drives all the best books, drives all the best music and yet we’ve sort of stopped talking about it.”
Describing love and sex as “transactional” given the ubiquity and ostensible ease of dating apps, the former Cosmopolitan editor asserted she is not against using our mobile devices to find love, but insists “junk love” will leave us with the same undesirable feelings as a low-quality diet.
“Love and food are very similar in many ways,” she continued. “We can’t survive without them and they bring us great joy and just as there is junk food and you can become obese, there’s also junk love.”
In fact, many of Coles’ chapters adapt this culinary metaphor by comparing hookups to french fries, pornography to chewing gum (“all artificial flavor”) and reminding the reader that “alcohol is not a food group.”
The media maven, who for 16 years has been married to author Peter Godwin, was prompted to research the methods of modern love after an eye-opening conversation with the 20-year-old daughter of longtime friends. The college student revealed to Coles her typical weekend practices, which included drinking to excess, sleeping with strangers and using Plan B as a recurring means of birth control — eliciting an audible gasp from the largely female audience.
“I started asking around and it turned out this [behavior] wasn’t as abnormal as I had hoped,” said Coles. “The more I got into it, the more I thought I really want to write about this and come up with a series of solutions.”
However, the British-born writer’s advice is not limited to those of college age — and, she will tell you, is not all doom and gloom. Coles described apps like Tinder, Bumble and Hinge as “incredibly useful” tools in meeting a match, but when used with a healthy intention. “Dating apps are brilliant for expanding your actual social network, which leads you to meet other people.”
Addressing both the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements, Garcia questioned Coles about the future of dating for men and women in light of these recent social changes. “Both [the “Me Too” and “Time’s Up”] movements are really fascinating, exciting and long overdue,” said the 55-year-old author. “I think dating [now] becomes much more complicated for men, but it also becomes complicated for women, too, because there’s now this pressure on women to sort of be thoroughly independent and go-getting.”
Describing the book’s dating rules as “common sense,” the “Project Runway” judge applauded Coles’ “practical” and occasionally tough-love approach to finding true romance. But Coles urges her text, while practical, is “also full of joy.”
“I don’t want people to think it’s not funny,” she added. “It sounds a bit bleak [this] conversation, but you want a big life and if you go out every night thinking, ‘Oh, is tonight the night I meet the one,’ it won’t be because it’s the wrong question to be asking. The right question is about having as big a life as you possibly can with as many people in it [while] valuing the things that are important and last the long haul — like that organic fruit.”
More from WWD.com: