Do you associate an ex with a certain podcast that you once loved to listen to? What does “podcast and chill” mean to you? Have you ever intentionally incorporated a podcast listening jam into a date? We’ll be probing these questions and more in the coming weeks. Shoot Muira an email (or audio message!) firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch with her on Twitter if you have thoughts, concerns, quagmires, or lurking memories.
Image by Liana Finck
Stay tuned for next week’s follow up piece. And, in the interim, check out Why Oh Why’s latest podcast episode, “The Aspiring Dad’s Focus Group.”
The dating podcast Why Oh Why is a magical hodgepodge of fact and fiction, of interviews and of introspection, of dudes in bars and dudes in radio studios, of pre- and post-inaugural dating advice. I'll admit that in the aftermath of my own breakup, I couldn't listen to it. It reminded me of all the feelings I was trying to not feel, all the thoughts I was trying not to think, all the questions I was trying not to ask. Do I hate men? Can meddling help a date?
Where should I go for dating advice? Economists? What about strangers? Is it okay to want to be alone, to cuddle with podcasts instead of people?
Singlehood brought questions. I tried to fill the space with sound.
It turns out Andrea Silenzi, the show's witty and wondrous host, was way ahead of me—channeling her own pain into her love of storytelling. Instead of trying to explain what I was feeling, I started to send episodes of her show to friends and family members. On a cold snowy night in Massachusetts, instead of hashing out life and love to my dad, I played him an episode of Why Oh Why. What followed was an honest conversation about parenting, pregnancy, patrilineality, and all the things in between. I don't know if we would've gotten there without Silenzi's Why Oh Why as a point of departure.
Today, Silenzi is on Tinder, and I am not. We are both podcast addicts looking for love, so I turned to ask her how to handle heartbreak. She gave me the rundown on dating apps, her take on the term “podcast and chill,” and a list of the pods that have kept her sane. (Pro-tip: her Twitter feed is gutsy and funny as hell. Each syllable is infused with exponential doses of hilarity. Check it out.)
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
What sort of constructive dating advice, you've gotten from listeners and friends of Why Oh Why? Or, maybe none of it's been constructive…
Andrea Silenzi: I think the most important thing someone can do for their dating life is admit that it's going to take work. Just because dating was easy for you in college or for characters on your favorite romcom doesn't mean it will be easy in your adult life. I encourage single women to brave the online dating apps, as many as they can stand, and come up with a coping strategy for embracing the weirdness of those spaces. Find an outlet for your observations there. I recommend a group text with some single lady friends, sharing on social media or maybe taking up stand up comedy? Then, wait for the nice decent guys to stand out. They're in there, it just takes a bit of work to find them.
Before signing up for swing dancing classes or moving to Alaska (where the guy to girl ratio is more favorable for me), I like to advise single people to try hitting up their immediate network of friends for help. Find a cute way of making sure your friends know that you're putting some effort into looking. Ask them directly if they have anyone they'd like to set you up with. I've also learned to be so brave as to ask the host of a party if any of their single friends are in the room. Usually it's just that one drunk guy standing next to the fridge watching a game on his phone, but it's still good to know.
You're putting a lot of your life on a public slab for mass dissection and consumption, so I have to ask this question: To what extent, if any, has making the podcast been therapeutic for you?
Silenzi: Has it been therapeutic? It's probably been the opposite of that. I decided to share my personal story on the show because that's the kind of podcast I would most enjoy listening to. I'm a huge podcast listener, and all my favorite moments tend to be when hosts get shockingly personal with their listeners.
I think incorporating personal storytelling into my show has made it harder for me to move on from my recent breakup. Usually storytellers take some time to figure out what a trauma means in the larger narrative of their lives before sharing it. Instead, I'm giving my listeners the play by play, and becoming increasingly undatable and highly-specialized in my own grief along the way. I'm now a special correspondent for the gaping hole in my chest. I'd rather just pretend it's not there, than attempt to document its size and inability to heal.
What advice, if any, would you give to listeners, esp. the single ladies (like, um, me), who haven't been able to bring themselves to get on Tinder but live vicariously through your podcast and other shows about dating, relationships, and the in between?
Silenzi: This summer, I went to the audition for this current season of The Bachelor. There was a long line of women outside ABC studios, and many of them told me they considered The Bachelor a better way to date than Tinder. At least on television, there are clear rules and one publicly adored (though not really this season) bachelor that you could fall in love with. In a lot of ways, online dating can feel like more work than standing in line for hours in heels and a fresh blow out. At least with The Bachelor, you can say you tried to put yourself out there.
If meeting someone for a long-term partnership is a goal, then, for me personally, I know that all my goals have taken some work to achieve. Getting into college had an application process. Getting a new job required a resume and a cover letter. And meeting someone to share your life with now requires an online dating profile. Even if you don't meet someone this way, you're going to learn a lot about yourself and what you're looking for.
For example, I learned from online dating that anyone who's at all apathetic about dogs and long-term monogamy won't be a match for me. So, thanks to some advice from a few friends, I say it right in my profile: “Marry me for my dog.” That's working like a magical filter, scaring away the guys who wouldn't let my dog share the bed. It's made me better at dating, even when I meet guys off the apps.
In the aftermath of your breakup, did you listen to other podcasts, or did you put 'em all on mute and embrace the silence?
Silenzi: I am a lucky duck, and got dating advice from two of my favorite podcasters shortly after my breakup. In an episode of Happier, I called in and asked for advice from Gretchen Rubin and her sister Elizabeth Craft. There, I heard the most helpful thing I've heard yet. Elizabeth told me, “Part of being an adult means learning to live with some regret.” All other advice was telling me to sign up for kickboxing, or travel more often. Instead, I was given permission to admit to myself that I might never stop being sad about this, and that's okay.
If ladies want to hear more vicarious dating stories, I'd recommend The Zoo by Sophie Nikitas. I also adore Love Me, The Heart, and Good Grief, for more powerful lady storytellers in your life. But personally, I can't stop listening to political podcasts. (Perhaps to channel my anger and make sense of the world again?) My first listens include Slate's Trumpcast, Slate's Political Gabfest, Slate's The Gist, Vox's The Weeds, The Read, Amicus, and The Intercept. I like to give my personal grief some scale.
Do you have any thoughts on “podcast and chill” as a dating technique? Have you ever done it? Can you offer any advice to people thinking of trying it out?
Silenzi: I don’t know if I think “podcast and chill” is a good idea in early dating. I’m a huge fan of using your time together to talk and get to know each other, or to have shared experiences outside of your apartments. I might be into “podcast and road trip” or “podcast in the park,” but, even better, why not just give your date some listening recommendations for when you’re not hanging out? Grab their phone and subscribe them to some of your favorite shows. Like a podcast mixtape. Then they’ll listen on their own, think of you, and fill up a future dinner conversation discussing the shows.
For me, podcast listening is my happy alone time, and I don’t necessarily want a partner to share that with me. My actual worst nightmare would be a boyfriend who won’t stop telling me about what Pete Holmes had for lunch last week on You Made It Weird, or what the Guys We Fucked hosts have to say about saggy balls. Podcasts still have a lot of growing to do as a medium, so I wouldn’t ever write off a potential date who prefers books and film to podcasts. And I say that as a someone who listens to hundreds of shows in a constant rotation. This isn’t something I need to share with someone.
Raised on a strict diet of NPR and C-SPAN, Muira McCammon is a war crimes researcher by day and a podcast reviewer for Paste Magazine by night. She can be found on Twitter @muira_mccammon or walking about the woods of western Massachusetts. Her writing has previously appeared in Slate, Waypoint by VICE, Atlas Obscura, the Massachusetts Review, and other publications.