I’ve had a few dating horrors stories in my day. Enough of them that a friend and I started a blog as a place to confirm what we now know as fact: Dating is hard. Despite the advent of apps to streamline the hookup process, fortifying a relationship beyond sex, Netflix, and chill has become no less difficult.
And just as the playing field of dating has expanded — from analog to digital — so have the options for seeking advice. There are still relationship columns in newspapers and magazines, and bestselling books peddling romantic advice, but now YouTube also boasts a litany of videos offering dating tips and hookup guidelines. And Instagram in particular has become a forum for people looking for love and for those dishing out guidance: the dating gurus, self-love authors, and so-called relationship experts.
Spend a considerable amount of time on a social media platform and you’ll come across any number of quasi-authorities offering tips. On Instagram, there’s plenty of advice for single people, or people in toxic relationships looking for the courage to move on — most of it intended for people who identify as straight. Curiously, many of the most popular accounts dispensing this advice are run by men and catered toward women.
Derrick Jones, 27, is the self-published author and former college football player from Miami behind the popular @HoracioJones Instagram. Originally, he started posting poetry on his account as a way to heal from heartbreak. “I was in a bad relationship and when we broke up, it was hard for me to deal with it,” he said. “I didn’t feel comfortable enough to talk to my teammates because guys give you weird advice about jumping onto the next girl. At that time, it wasn’t really healthy for me.”
As a way to cope with his failed relationship, Jones created an anonymous Instagram profile in October of 2013. “I didn’t want to be too emotional in talking personally so I started posting my poetry. It wasn’t about quotes or relationships, it was about the poetry.” A female friend of his stumbled upon the unattributed page, and because she had previously heeded Jones’s guidance, asked if the account was his. From there, she encouraged him to post under his real name. “She thought it might benefit other people to let them know about my relationship experience and advice.” Turns out, she was correct — Jones’s account now has a sizable following, with more than 160,000 followers. Over time he found himself connecting with people on similar journeys. “I realized I wasn’t the only person going through it. The more I posted, the more people would comment that they were going through it, too.” But doing so came with its own set of difficulties. When Jones first started his account, women expressed resentment about a man offering tips to women, even though he felt that was what distinguished him from the pack. “I grew to consider my posts as just ‘perspectives from a man’ rather than advice.”
Jones has written two books, Broken Vision and I Am The Love of My Life, and holds a degree in psychology from Florida International University. Still, he is quick to note that he doesn’t consider himself a guru in any sense. According to Instagram Insights, which provides user analytics, Jones said that 89 percent of his following are women, and range between 18 to 25 years of age. These women, he believes, most likely want understanding from a male perspective. “They just want to know why we think the way we think, and why we manipulate them the way we do.”
Jones is part of an ever-growing community of men who provide boutique relationship advice and promote self-love via Instagram. There are the more religious-based @StephanSpeaks (281,000 followers) and @PureDatingTips (112,000) accounts. Gentlemenhood, for example, started in 2012 by Pierre Canty, maintains a substantial presence on Instagram (221,000). The page is splattered with motivational quotes, typically in black lettering against a white background, and say things like: “Be one of the reasons why she wants more in life” and “If you have to lie to keep it, it’s not yours to keep.” Canty’s ethos is made clear in his site’s tagline, which reads: “Inspiring better men. Giving hope to women.”
But do these accounts actually offer hope to women?
User @missypurplegirl, who follows Jones and others, believes they do. “I’ve been through a lot of heartbreak, relationship wise. When I read that others are going through what I’m going through, it somehow feels easier.” Even so, she admits that she doesn’t solely interpret the quotes at face value. “I read what other followers say. I generally tag my friends who are also trying to figure men out. It helps to know someone is speaking truthfully about the dating world.”
But the validity of Jones’s outlook is not held across the board. His gendered perspective is often questioned by the community he is trying to appeal to. In a recent post about sex being the catalyst for failed relationships — which Jones labeled a “MUST READ” — one woman commenter wrote: “You are not a woman & will never relate to what i am describing. Its soul wrenching & u try to make a logical argument when you don’t have a vagina,” @lady.puff said. “I love your mindset 99% of the time but this is a hit & miss for you. You need to have more discussions with women before you simply categorize this topic to simple terms.”
Jones is hardly the first to come under fire for his male-centered relationship musings. In 2009, comedian Steve Harvey published Act Like A Lady, Think Like A Man, a book that outlined a kind of dating curriculum for women to follow if they wanted to find love. It was, so claimed Harvey, meant to “empower women everywhere to take control of their relationships.” For all its bluster, the book became a New York Times best-seller, and sat atop the “Advice & Misc” list for more than 20 weeks. But Harvey’s advice also attracted the ire of many women who found his beliefs flawed, if not entirely dangerous.
“Steve Harvey, I think, is one of the more damaging people in terms of black women and black relationships because he is a comedian who has decided that he’s an expert,” author Roxane Gay said in 2014. “He’s just putting out these ridiculous books telling black women what they need to do, and often times what they have to do is compromise themselves ethically, financially, their dignity … just to get this prize that Steve Harvey has decided we all want — it’s ridiculous.” Gay then zeroed in on the crux of the issue: “[Harvey] really put forward a very heteronormative and a very rigid gender role situation for black women. It does us all a disservice and it’s insulting.”
In Jones’s case, criticisms have been lobbed from both sides. In a recent post, user @kennythemecahnnicc vented about Jones’s lack of respect for men, an attack he comes up against regularly. “You a good dude bro! However I haven’t really seen you uplift us good men out here,” he wrote. Jones said that when he does hear from male followers, it’s from those who believe he posts specifically for women — and that doing so doesn’t empower them or hold women truly accountable for the issues that lead to unsuccessful connections. A common denunciation is that Jones solely appeals to women because “the fastest way to build followers is to post quotes only for women to relate to while bashing men.”
Gay, of course, was not wrong. The idea that one gender can tell the other how to behave, what to do to get “chose,” and how to perfectly navigate a relationship is, well, pretty absurd. Many of the men offering advice to women on Instagram tend to forget one small truth: we often view things differently. In order to communicate effectively, I don’t need to be told how to act or speak, I just need to know that when I do, I’m heard.
What these particular Instagrams do offer is a space for discussion. It’s an ecosystem built around recognition and community. Maybe the point is not necessarily to function as a place for advice, but as a marketplace for dialogue, where value is found in interaction and @ replies. In comment after comment, women and men avow, deny, and re-evaluate the rigid, shifting contours of modern relationships. In August, in response to one of Jones’s post about self-love, user @so_fee10 tagged her friend @cbee00, saying: “I’m tellin you baby girl, no ones gonna love us the way WE love ourselves.” She punctuated her affirmation with: “🙌🏼”