Love life advice can sometimes come from the strangest of quarters. Twenty years ago, Dan Anderson and Maggie Berman's surprise best-seller book Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man became a global phenomenon that was adapted into a Broadway show and even had a cameo appearance in the Meryl Streep and Steve Carell film Hope Springs.
It's in this vein that writer and self-described, "Grumpy midlife queer," Helen Razer has ended up with so many straight men attending signings of her new book The Helen 100, an unlikely source of relationship wisdom indeed.
12 years and counting
While it's often suggested divorce rates are climbing, the reality, according to the 2014 census figures, is that the figure is marginally down on the decade before, equating to roughly one third of all unions. Even more interestingly, according to the census, the duration of marriages that end in divorce has actually increased by two years to 12 compared to 20 years ago.
That her monogamous same-sex relationship of 15 years beat the odds was cold comfort to Razer when her partner walked out without warning, citing the, "need to grow."
Sparking a crisis that involved quitting a lucrative copywriting gig, the maxing of her credit card and a sudden spike in her sexual cravings, it saw her slumped on the kitchen floor sharing home-delivered barbecue chickens with her adored cat Eleven and hacking into her now ex's Facebook.
There's nothing wrong with just wanting to have sex and putting your best foot forward as long as you're upfront about that.Helen Razer
Love in strange places
Taking the advice of her bikini waxer to date 100 people in a year as distraction from the misery, the idea for the book was born. Of the various fascinating suitors she encounters, highlights include an unexpectedly intimate encounter behind the bins with a young gay man following an emotional support group for the partners of alcoholics, a Russian gentleman who, having wooed her with the promise of his very large member, proceeds to talk about nothing but his young daughter, and witty internet repartee with an old-fashioned gent with a mutual love of punctuation and loathing for Coldplay
A pragmatic person, Razer's The Helen 100 is also a reaction to the fairly shonky advice already out there. The writer didn't find much of use in what she calls the "misery lit," section of bookshops, populated by the relentlessly hope-filled likes of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love and the journeys both literal and spiritual they suggest. "It doesn't suit most of the chicks I know who have a career of some description and it certainly doesn't address men who are just as hurt financially, emotionally and otherwise."
A no-bull approach
Nor does she have any time for the so-called neuro-linguistic programming techniques of self-styled pick-up artists like controversial figure Roosh Valizadeh. "Not to be a tedious humanist about the whole thing, but loneliness is loneliness, whatever your gender or sexuality," Razer says. "Some of us want sex, some of us want love, loads of us want both and to divide ourselves falsely into these categories of people who want to manipulate those we love, or manipulate the universe in the hope that it will bring us love, seems like a waste of time."
An at-times confronting but always profanely funny read, The Helen 100 presents an alternative narrative and great advice for men tentatively dating after years in one relationship.
The first step to recovery for Razer was embracing the pain. "Over time you can't really compare the grief of a divorce to the grief you might experience over a death, but as anyone who has been through the breakup of a long-term relationship will know, it feels that way at the time. You need to permit yourself. It's just incredibly messy. It's not convenient. There's no road map for grief."
Upfront and honest
Never one for conservative morality, Razer suggests it pays to be forthright and polite. "There's nothing wrong with just wanting to have sex and putting your best foot forward as long as you're upfront about that. What's not ok is to pretend that you're interested in love when what you're actually interested in is sex or just sex when you're actually in love. A lot of women have blogs and Tumblrs and use their social media accounts to justifiably deride unpleasant male behaviour. If you don't want to be that guy, you can be assertive but respectful."
The rise of dating apps has made geo-locating your perfect partner a good deal easier. "What could be more efficient?" Razer asks. "A millennial friend of mine just started using Bumble, a dating app for heterosexual people on which only women are allowed to initiate the contact, and I think that's a great idea."
When all else fails, humour
If you, like Razer, have a tendency towards the snarkier side of life, she also recommends the app Hater, which identifies possible partners by similar sets of loathing, in Razer's case Coldplay and bad punctuation.
This seemingly negative approach triggers humorous bonding, perhaps the oldest trick of them all. "I mean seriously, there's a reason that the acronym GSOH [good sense of humour] has been used by women in personal ads for many, many decades."
And if there's anyone worth watching for tips on witty humour, Razer recommends that, as with Sex Tips for Straight Women from a Gay Man, you might learn a trick or two from your gay best mate. "We take their interior design advice, why not take their attitude to love? They can be a refreshing towelette for heterosexual interactions."
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