As a student at New York University in the late ’90s, she [Maria Dahvana Headley] applied that advice to her love life, turning down most men who asked her out and dating only intellectual, literary types. Frustrated by those guys, she reversed course, resolving to spend one year responding positively to all flirting and saying yes to literally anyone who asked her out. The ensuing 150 dates included a homeless man, several non-English speakers, 10 taxi drivers, two lesbians and a mime.
Headley’s memoir of the experience, "The Year of Yes," is now in bookstores, and Hollywood’s already calling. She urges other people to say yes more often, despite some horrible dates. (One guy took her to a bar that, it became clear, was a strip club–and that’s a tame example.) "Lots of women are pretty set in what they think they have to have in order to be happy, but it doesn’t hurt to date people who are not that," she says. It worked for her: during her dating spree, she met a playwright who was divorced and 25 years older and had two children–baggage that would have ordinarily nixed his chances. They married in 2003; now 28, Headley lives in Seattle with two teenage stepchildren. "It’s something I never would have picked, but it’s turned out to be this kind of amazing experience," she says.
In general I favor approaches which shake us up, and force us to overcome our preconceptions and status quo biases. If you are at a very good restaurant, you often do best by ordering the course you think you are least likely to enjoy. I do not, however, recommend going to the restaurant you think you are least likely to enjoy. The trick is to keep part of your filter steady and strong, while, at the same time, inverting some portions of your expectations. I’ve never gardened, or wanted to garden, but the best book on gardening in Borders still might be worth my while. Or pick a genre of music you dislike — the more rabidly the better — and go buy what is supposed to be the best CD from that genre.
Here is a skeptical take on Maria’s decision. Might this surfeit of choice make a suboptimal candidate look better than he ought to? If nothing else, marriage would allow you to bring the oppressive experiment to an end. Here is an informal interview with the author.
Microeconomists are encouraged to ponder what model is required to generate "don’t ask anyone out but say yes to all who ask you" as optimum search behavior. And does Maria’s decision impose negative or positive externalities on men? (On other women?) Imagine if all women always said "yes" to all proposed dates…