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The new way to date: Don’t date Add to ...

Do you have an “accessory,” a man you’re taking to every wedding this summer? What about a career booster, who champions your every project at work? Maybe an ex who still calls on your birthday?

You might be single, but you now officially have “a gaggle,” according to Jessica Massa, author of The Gaggle: How the Guys You Know Will Help You Find the Love You Want.

From her interviews with several hundred twenty- and thirtysomethings, Ms. Massa discovered many of the women were keeping a small herd of men “occupying both romantic and platonic roles, fulfilling a variety of different needs.” She and her business partner, Rebecca Wiegand, claim it’s this gaggle that informs a young woman’s choices: Is it the hornball she’s after, or the “ego booster” – that’s the nice guy.

Beyond gaggles, Ms. Massa argues that we’ve now entered a “post-dating world,” in which a “generational embrace of ambiguous interpersonal connections” has replaced dinner and a movie.

“Non-dates” are now the norm, from co-ed picnics in the park and happy hour with co-workers to late-night Skype sessions with the ex who lingers. (If you’re lucky, non-dates can produce more traditional unions: “The beginnings of relationships just look different these days,” explains Ms. Massa.)

She and Ms. Wiegand, both 29, spoke about the “post-dating” landscape from New York.

Why the goose metaphor?

Jessica Massa: If you go online and Google “gaggle of geese,” you get all these YouTube videos of geese aimlessly squawking around with no order. In this post-dating world, there is no order to it anymore. You see these guys trying to figure themselves out, as well as their relationship with you – texting one day, G-chatting another day, inviting you to trivia another day and then not talking to you for two weeks. All of this confused action and intention, as a woman you can let yourself be freaked out by it. Or you can put yourself at the centre of it and cultivate your relationships with them.

Is it a verb too? “I’m not single. I’m gaggling.”

JM: For some reason, that always rubs me and Becky the wrong way but people use it all the time with us. We’ve heard the “gay-gle” for people in the gay community, and “I’m Googling my gaggle,” from tech nerds.

Online dating, speed dating, the return of matchmaking – plenty of people still date. They’re going to have no idea what you’re talking about.

JM: No one I interviewed told me “dating is dead,” but they were saying, “I’m not dating. Something must be wrong with me,” or “It’s complicated.” Online dating and matchmaking are only a small piece of the puzzle. If you have your matchmaking date and you’re also chatting with some guy in the coffee line, that’s your love life as well. The more you can see that traditional dating is only a part of it, the more open to connection you are.

You write that women “must” read romance into ambiguous interactions. What if he doesn’t see it that way?

JM: That can definitely happen. It’s less about reading romance into it and more about possibility. If there’s no spark, cool, but if you are at the park, a conference or happy hour drinks and you feel a bit of a connection, don’t assume that’s nothing.

Can you really view happy hour drinks with your work crew as a legitimate part of your love life? That seems weird.

JM: It might. I interviewed a guy in Chicago and that’s when he first connected with a girl at his office. He’d seen her around, she was “the girl in the green dress.” A whole group went out to happy hour and she ended up sitting near him and ordered a good beer. He was impressed, they started chatting, then talking in the office, then started an e-mail chain and ended up dating .

Turning to the “gaggle,” what does one actually learn from the “guy who just blew you off,” or the “super horny guy ?”

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