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Chatting with Magazine Mastermind Joanna Coles on Romance and the Digital World

Much like Bumble CEO and founder Whitney Wolfe Herd, Joanna Coles has built a career around her mission of inspiring and empowering women. From her groundbreaking run as Cosmopolitan‘s editor-in-chief to her new role as the first ever chief content officer of Hearst magazines (Cosmo‘s parent company) Coles has gained enough knowledge about how women work, live and love to last a lifetime.

With the release of her new book, Love Rules, rapidly approaching (find it on the shelves in April, or pre-order through Amazon now), our wonderful founder sat down with Coles to learn a little more about what dating can, and should, look like in today’s digital world. View the full interview by following this link, or read the condensed transcript below! 

Whitney: Hello, welcome to Austin! We are here with the incredible Joanna Coles.

Joanna: Incredible — incredible — Joanna Coles, I like that very much.

Whitney: She is the incredible Joanna Coles — she is the Chief Content Officer at Hearst, and we are here to celebrate and talk about her incredible new book coming out, Love Rules, which will be available on April 10th, but it is available for pre-order right now. So, welcome to Austin!

Joanna: This is unbelievable. And also, people can’t smell it, but we’ve got four candles burning here, and it’s just… talk to me about this because you’re one of the few — probably one of a tiny handful maybe even three or four—female tech entrepreneurs with a company worth more than a billion dollars and you’re under 30, so you may be the only one under 30.

Joanna: Do you think as a female boss having a feminine office like this sets a different tone than the usual sort of severe glass tables and crazy panelling that men so seem to love?

Whitney: Yeah, I do, and I think it’s important to not force women into any category. Just because they’re technically a “boss” or a CEO, they don’t need to morph into something that is not their style, or not their natural vibe. And I think it’s healthy to show the world that you can be feminine, but you can also run a very successful business. You don’t have to morph into something that society has otherwise defined as “successful” in the past.

Joanna: Right, and I see that you’ve got four cushions over there, which are of a kind of shaggy wool. I have one of those cushions — because I could only afford one — so I’m glad business is good.

Whitney: I think love is such an important thing — and self-love, or love of your friends, and healthy relationships in general — and I think that what you did with this book was so important and you bring up such a great point which is the theme: How do we find true connection in this digital world? I’m excited to be talking to you about that.

Joanna: Well I’m interested in how the point of Bumble is to allow women to make the first move and in doing that, you sort of upended the tropes of dating.

Whitney: Well, if you look at society… [g]ender dynamics go back to the day we bring babies home from the hospital. You bring home a young baby boy from the hospital and within a week grandma and grandpa are saying he’s going to be a CEO or a doctor, an astronaut, a lawyer. And you bring home a baby girl and she’s delicate, and she’s precious, and she’s going to be a ballerina — which is great, love ballerinas — but the point is we put people into these roles from the moment they’re brought into the world.

What that means for love is very dangerous, because these young girls and these young boys on the playground have been already categorized into how it should be. So as they grow up, and they find romance or their first partners or their next partners, there’s this expectation that the man is the boss. That he’s in charge — he must do the hunting, he must chase. And that’s very dangerous because you’ve trained the woman to run away and to play hard to get.

Now you have two people going in opposite directions, if we’re talking about heterosexual relationships. We’re just talking about gender dynamics in terms of male versus female. And it can just create such a disconnect for the health of that relationship. It creates insecurity and rejection. Instead of the man feeling he must do that pursuing, let’s have the woman be confident [and say start the conversation]. Take away the rejection from him, give her confidence and empowerment, and she guides. And it changes the entire flow.

Joanna: One of the points that I try to make in the book is that you need to take the quest for finding a relationship — whatever the relationship is that you want — you have to take it as seriously as you are taking the quest for your career.

Whitney: Absolutely. Right. And I think that the future needs to be about the empowered couple — not the power couple.

Joanna: That’s nice. The empowered couple. Which is what it says on your mug.

Whitney: Exactly. How do we take this notion of power and flip it into empowerment? In my personal relationship — I’m married to a wonderful man — he allows me to be empowered. And he loves when I’m successful and he wants me to be as happy and healthy and successful as possible. And that’s what I encourage every woman out there to look for: Don’t look for somebody that marginalizes you. Don’t look for somebody who tries to put you into this kind of archaic role. You can find an empowered relationship. It’s all about starting with self-love and allowing that to grow. That’s the point that you make in this book, throughout. It’s all about being kind to yourself and to others, and I think there is so much to be said with that.

Joanna: Well, and the problem is as well—you’re absolutely right—and one of the problems I try and highlight in one chapter, which is how to spot a narcissist — a lot of narcissists are incredibly compelling and charming. You sort of swoon under their attention, this sort of spotlight of their attention. And then of course, by the time you’ve woken up to the fact that there might be some gaslighting going on, or you’re not quite sure what’s happening, it’s sort of too late…

Whitney: It’s really scary.

Joanna: It is a little scary, and I think people have to be on the lookout for it. And also, because there are so many more people to meet now, thanks to dating apps, you want to figure out how best to use the app, so it’s an arrow in your quiver — it’s not the only quiver you have.

Whitney: Exactly.

Joanna: Pick up the phone. Because if you don’t pick up the phone, you will have wasted all that time, with the 2,000 texts, setting up a coffee.”

Whitney: I agree. And you could have just had a really quick phone call. I think that as we go digital, we also need to remember to go physical, right?

Joanna: Oh, that’s good.

Whitney: And that’s what we’re doing with Bumble at the moment. We start by connecting you on the platform. Then for example this weekend we have a Hive opening in L.A., which is a physical representation of our brand. It’s empowered, it’s safe, it’s kind, it has pretty much all of our values on the walls. Quite literally, we’re going to bring those to life. We want you to take that digital connection and now have a reason to become face-to-face with one another. And I think that, what you’re saying is really, pick up the phone. Be communicative. Go out and go after what you want instead of just waiting for maybe a text read.

Joanna: And the other thing is, if you put so much focus on this one match being the one that’s going to lead to romance, and by the time you’ve sat down and you’ve got the destination wedding planned, it’s never going to work —

Whitney: Yeah. Oh, I agree. It’s a gateway to opportunity.

Joanna: Yeah, and it’s the first step in the next journey that you’re going to take.

Whitney: I could not agree more.

Joanna: But the goal is to build up real friends, real network. And that’s how you actually meet people that you have something in common with — that you will find real relationships with.

Whitney: I agree with that. Our tagline when we were coming out with Bumble Bizz was really “that one connection that changed your life.” It doesn’t mean you met “the one” — t doesn’t mean the first time you met somebody at the coffee shop it went on to be your boss, or your co-founder, or your mentor. That person might lead to the next person, or to the next opportunity, or might invite you somewhere. And then you show up to that somewhere and you meet somebody else — life is all about these connections that we make… [r]ealize that everything is just about access and opportunity.”

Joanna: Well, and also, go on more than one date a week. What’s, what’s fantastic about dating apps is they connect you with people you might not know otherwise —

Whitney: Absolutely! You would have never met!

Joanna: You would have lived parallel lives. I remember, I was working on a night shift 25 years ago on a newspaper. I used to go to work at 6pm and leave work at 3am. It was the worst nine months of my life because I didn’t know anybody else who was working that shift.

Whitney: So you couldn’t connect with anybody.

Joanna: Now, I would be able to connect with people. Right. I had no one to go to breakfast with at 3am. It was the saddest, loneliest part of my life —

Whitney: But this app helps you!

Joanna: You should use it and set up like one, or two, or three dates a week so that you always have something to look forward to and that you’re not overemphasizing one… [I]t’s too much pressure.”

Whitney: And we’ve had these amazing stories, to your point of working all night and not being able to meet anyone. We have actually had several success stories where people were living in the same building. But, one would go to work at one time…

Joanna: Right, they never saw each other.

Whitney: One would go left out of the building, one would go right. One would go to the coffee shop to the left, one would go to the coffee shop to the right. And they would never have met — but their proximity was closer than we could imagine! And now they’re living together, married or even on to children. I mean, we’ve heard some exceptional success stories.

Joanna: And also this thing of people hiding in plain sight. So often, because of romantic movies and because of the way we think of love and romance, you assume you’re going to meet someone, it’s love at first sight. But, in fact, what tends to happen is people work alongside each other and often don’t like each other for the longest time —

Whitney: Yeah, I agree. And I think that the nice thing about Bumble as well is it’s not overly romantic. Our branding is friendly, it’s a coffee shop. It’s a nice, kind place, and you don’t even need to go into with this expectation of “Oh, I’m on a dating app”. No, you’re actually just living your life and meeting people with the expectation of meeting others. Imagine you went to a coffee shop and when you walked in, the expectation was that you were to physically match and speak to people in that coffee shop —

Joanna: Which is of course what people want to do but can’t.

Whitney: Bumble’s very daytime. It’s just whatever you want that connection to be. I mean, actually, the woman downstairs who’s putting out lunch, she works for this amazing catering company here — she got her job by matching with a guy originally on the dating side of Bumble. But they got together and they had so much in common, just from a work perspective, they didn’t hit if off romantically. She now works for the company, and she got her job through a match on Bumble.

Joanna: Talk to me a little bit about Bumble Bizz, which is the next is the next iteration of Bumble.

Whitney: Bumble Bizz was really us saying, “People are already using this to network, right?” But what we ran into was something interesting with thousands and thousands of people saying, “Hey, I’m no longer single, but I used to use Bumble all the time to network or to meet new people in a new city.” Or we heard more often, other young women which I totally support saying, “I’m fatigued of dating. I don’t really want to date, but I love what Bumble brings me, which is opportunity. And it brings me access to new people. How do we get on Bumble without that expectation of being there for dating?” And we reacted to our user. And what we also saw happening was this phenomenal situation in which Bumble prevents harassment in such a way because women make the first move. They control the conversation — and they’re not being hit on —

Joanna: That’s so interesting.

Whitney: If you’re in a relationship or you’re quite simply not interested in dating today, you can actually hide the dating category out of Bumble. So now Bumble’s a full-fledged social network with different areas of interest.

Joanna: Well, I’m settling into the hive, I’m very comfortable in the hive.

Whitney: You can move in on whenever you want. I am so honored to have you.

Joanna: I’m very — I’m very empowered.

Whitney: And I really truly cannot wait for everyone to read this book — and especially anyone out there watching that is a Bumble user. This will help you navigate the world that we are trying to encourage you to buzz around in.

Joanna: And then, hopefully everyone will end up getting a ring like yours.

Whitney: Well, yes, but if they want one. The ring is nothing — it doesn’t compare to the guy. He’s nice to me, and he’s empowering, and he’s a feminist, and I would encourage every young woman out there — doesn’t matter what you’re looking for — to be with a feminist. Be with someone that wants to see you as an equal. I truly cannot stress how much relationships can make or break you.  I’ve had bad relationships in my life, and I didn’t even recognize who I was in those relationships. 

Joanna: Well, and it’s interesting that I’ve done the book a bit like a diet book, so there’s a lot of references to food. Just like this junk food, where it’s delicious, it’s tantalizing, it smells heavenly, it’s well packaged, and then half an hour later, you’re craving more. I think there’s lots of junk love that people. It’s a bit like hookups, you think “Oh, it’ll be fine, I’m excited,” and then you feel remorse the next day, in the same way that you have remorse after you’ve eaten a donut — or at least I do because I have too many of them. I think it’s easy to fall for something that you think in the moment is going to bring you satisfaction and actually over a longer period, it doesn’t.

Whitney: I think that’s a really interesting way to look at it. And I think it’s just all about healthy relationships, right? And you know what? If you want to go and eat that donut one night and you’re not going to torture yourself over it the next day, go for it.

Joanna: That’s fine, yes.

Whitney: But you have to know that you’re able to do that. You have to be able to control that. Otherwise, there’s no reason doing something if you’re going to make yourself feel bad about it the next day.