Logan R. Ury ’10 knows her book probably doesn’t appeal to undergrads. For spirited young 20-somethings who likely think of our romantic lives as boundless and bountiful, a book titled “How to Not Die Alone” might seem like a purchase reserved for years down the road — and only as a last resort. Even then, reading it would probably feel like an admission of failure. None of us want to think of ourselves as the kind of people who would need “the surprising science that will help you find love,” as the book’s subtitle advertises, in order to actually find love.
But while Ury admits that the book is geared toward an older audience, she believes that college students shouldn’t use their youth as an excuse to defer the creation of good dating practices. Most of her clients have “years of bad patterns that they’re trying to break,” she says. “It's better to develop healthy patterns now than have to break them in the future.”
In fact, Ury herself used to approach the dating landscape as a self-dubbed “maximizer.” She always believed that one day, she would find someone who magically embodied the best qualities of each person she’d already dated — a hope that no romantic prospect could possibly fulfill. There was this one guy she’d kissed while dancing in the desert at Burning Man; their connection felt spontaneous, fun, exciting. After he left her crying outside of a San Francisco club, she remained hung up on him in spite of — or perhaps because of — the anxiety that he induced.
It wasn’t until the now-dating coach hired her own dating coach that she began to see through her maximizing tendencies and discover “who was hiding in plain sight,” she says. Ury didn’t know it then, but in doing so, she was harnessing the power of what may seem like the most unromantic thing in the world: science.
Ury and her now-husband Scott only had one interaction during their time at Harvard. They grabbed lunch in the Adams dining hall for distinctly platonic reasons: Ury’s boyfriend at the time was taking a math class with him. Ury and Scott didn’t interact again until seven years later, when, removed from the Harvard bubble but immersed in the equally bubble-esque world of Silicon Valley, Scott approached Ury at a Google shuttle stop.
“‘Didn’t you go to Harvard? And you were dating so-and-so,’” she says, recalling their first post-college conversation. “And then we were friends. And then a year later, we started dating.”
Acquaintances reconnecting years later and becoming friends, friends turning into lovers — Ury’s story might sound like a perfectly conventional love story. But that doesn’t mean that the spark was immediate. In fact, Ury initially wrote Scott off entirely. She had been judging him against her strict checklist of “dateable” traits — he didn’t like tropical vacations, for example — instead of focusing on how he made her feel, as her new dating coach advised her to do.
When she adjusted her dating mentality to follow this seemingly simple instruction, everything changed.
“I realized those initial surface-level preferences were distractions. I loved how I felt around him, even if he shuddered at the idea of staying up all night and partying in the desert,” Ury writes in “How To Not Die Alone.” She later recognized that her coach’s advice was “not just smart — it was backed by mounds of research.” This counterintuitive revelation — that the road to love can be paved with scientific rationality — is the foundation of Ury’s book, as well as her career more broadly.
Ury’s interest in the intersections of love, sexuality, and science began in a Harvard sociology class, where she wrote a paper about her peers’ porn-watching habits and their effect on in-person sexual tendencies. Post-graduation, after a stint in what she terms Google’s “porn pod” — the team that helps porn and sex toy companies promote their products via Google ads — Ury switched to the company’s “irrational lab,” or behavioral science team.
While working there, “I was single, I was on dating apps, and I was struggling. And I saw that the people around me were struggling,” Ury says. In response, she spearheaded a speaker series called “Talks at Google: Modern Romance,” where a revolving door of dating experts came to educate her and her co-workers. “I was like, ‘There’s something here. People need advice on dating. People are stuck. It’s really hard to figure out this new world of modern dating.’”
Ever since, perfecting the application of decision-making science to relationships — and translating that science into usable tools for the average person — has become the goal of Ury’s professional endeavors. She currently works as a one-on-one dating coach, teaches a dating boot camp called “Date Smarter,” and directs the relationship science department at Hinge. The bluntness of her book’s title reflects the direct, unsentimental nature of its advice; based in behavioral science research, it offers psychological explanations for bad dating habits and frameworks with which to develop new ones. All of the hats that Ury wears are united by the understanding of a relationship “as a series of decisions,” she explains. She believes in the idea of dating “like a scientist,” which she says means “ to have hypotheses, test them, see what happens, and then iterate.”
Amidst a landscape of media representation that valorizes irrational love — the notion that love prevails in spite of pragmatism and because of passion — Ury’s “date like a scientist” model decidedly opposes conventional wisdom. Ury even points to this supposed wisdom as a catalyst for unhealthy relationships. One of her book’s chapters is even called “F**ck the Spark,” debunking the myth that instant chemistry equates to “the one” and makes a relationship viable.
She says she sees too many clients whose understanding of love is, “When I like someone and they pull away and I convince them to be with me.” Characterized by cycles of fraughtness and resolution, relationships where you feel as though you’re fighting a battle often combine the devastating lows with blissful, intense, spark-filled highs. But instead of feeding the addiction to the chase, Ury wants to “encourage people to go after someone where I choose you, and you choose me.”
Of course, as undergrads, we might not approach dating through the lens of choosing a life partner. Choices we make now can feel impermanent and inconsequential; our approaches might be oriented around fun and self-discovery — and fairly so. Still, much of Ury’s advice applies to the issues that arise in seemingly low-stakes college situationships, too.
I asked Ury about a classic conundrum that my friends and I often debate: if you’re casually seeing someone and they’re not treating you with the minimum respect of a friend, should you be the aloof “chill girl” to maintain a favorable position in the power dynamic, or should you put your emotional cards on the table? According to Ury, chillers lose.
“I think this idea of being the ‘cool girl’ or the ‘chill girl’ is not a good strategy. It’s usually a euphemism for saying, ‘I am not going to advocate for myself and ask for what I want,’” she advises.
Ultimately, Ury thinks that transitioning from hookup culture to serious dating isn’t as easy as flipping a mental switch. “Dating is a cumulative experience where the patterns that you develop now are going to stick with you for a long time,” she says, speaking directly to college students. “You should actually start thinking from the beginning from now about, ‘How can I invest my dating skills? How can I invest in my communication skills?’ Because if you do that, you'll really be ahead of the game and you won’t be calling me when you’re 30. Break those bad habits.”
— Magazine writer Elyse D. Pham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.