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Love Is on the Air

SED alum blends sass and sex on the radio

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Neely Steinberg, cohost of The Dating Marketplace with Nic and Neely, says the goal of her show is to make issues of love and romance “informative, engaging, and playful.” Photo by Stephanie O’Neill Photography

It’s that day again—Valentine’s Day. Anticipated or reviled, it’s a day of expectation and disappointment, likely to elicit mixed emotions in even the most diehard of romantics.

Fed up with the pressure? Need a little relationship advice? Then log on and listen to radio talk show host Neely Steinberg.

Steinberg, (SED’03) has a penchant for telling it straight. She offers this advice for those depressed at the prospect of Valentine’s Day: “Think, it’s 24 hours of your life—and really only 16 because you’re asleep for about 8—once a year!”

No drowning in one’s sorrows here.

Part advisor, part cheerleader, Steinberg, 33, is one half of the voice, brains, and style behind The Dating Marketplace with Nic and Neely, a new weekly internet radio show about dating, relationships, and sex, which she cohosts with personal dating coach Nic Johnson, 36, founder of Personal Edge Consulting.

Steinberg has always loved talk radio; she says she realized there was a need for a show like hers after looking around and finding no local radio show devoted to the subject, despite its being such a critical part of everyone’s lives. The goal of her new show, she says, is to take issues of love and romance and make them “informative, engaging, and playful.”

That she does. The show is funny, intimate, and irreverent, a bit like catching up with an old friend. And like an old friend, Steinberg is happy to speak the unvarnished truth.

“What are your motives?” she asks the audience during a recent broadcast. “If you’re having sex to try to get the guy to like you and want to be with you, if that’s the case, it’s not gonna work.”

You go girl.

“I think young women today get a lot of confusing messages about sexuality and empowerment.” Steinberg says. “I want them to be honest with themselves about what feels good and right to them. It’s so easy to be dishonest with yourself and be influenced by pop culture and the media and your peers instead of listening to your own true desires.”

Steinberg believes that dating on today’s college campuses is challenging. Technology is a double-edged sword, leading people to be more connected, but often making them feel less connected. Drinking and the no-strings-attached culture of hooking up can lead to poor self-image and an inability to create intimacy, she says.

Her advice to students? Not to be afraid to demand something deeper out of a relationship. “There’s nothing empowering or liberating, really, about having casual, emotionless, detached sex,” she says. “It’s allowing someone in, allowing someone to get to know and love you, loving someone else—that’s the hard stuff. That’s empowering.”

Steinberg speaks from the heart, acknowledging that in college she was part of the hook-up scene, because she didn’t know how else to make connections with a guy. “When I graduated, I had no real understanding of what intimacy with a man was all about,” she says. “I think this carried through into my postcollege life for many years.”

Now an academic advisor at a local college, Steinberg never imagined herself in radio.  Her early career included stints in advertising and public relations and as a college-level tennis coach. “That’s what’s great about life,” she says. “You never know where it’s going to take you, and if you have the courage to step outside your comfort zone, you may just stumble into something that’s really fun and personally satisfying.”

Steinberg earned a master’s degree in counseling from the School of Education, an experience, she says, that taught her to be more empathetic. She also credits the University, and in particular, Thomas Cottle, an SED professor of education, with making her into a writer. “The funny thing is, I was a terrible writer in high school and college. I got a D on my first college paper,” she recalls. “But something clicked for me when I was at BU.”

After graduating from BU, Steinberg took her new love of writing and began freelancing, filing pieces for the Boston Phoenix, Boston magazine, and the Boston Globe magazine, among others. Time and again, she found herself drawn to topics about dating and relationships. In 2009 she launched a radio talk show called The Love Hangover. A year later, she retired that program and teamed up with Johnson to create The Dating Marketplace.

Johnson, she says, is her perfect counterbalance: “She is married; I’m single. She comes from a very emotional, wear-your-heart-on-your-sleeve kind of place; I’m a bit more logical, cautious, and analytical.”

Together they bring a mix of personal experience, humor, and information to the broadcast. Not satisfied filling their show with mindless chitchat (OK, there’s a little of that) both Steinberg and Johnson come well prepared, armed with quotes, studies, statistics, and yes, plenty of opinions. They can veer from the outrageous (six sex dolls, really?) to issues of empowerment, trust, and emotional health. Any topic can be a springboard for discussing men, women, and their relationship health. During a recent broadcast, the talking point was the message conveyed by Ashton Kutcher’s latest film, the romantic comedy No Strings Attached, whose lead character, played by Natalie Portman, wants sex without emotional attachment. Needless to say, Steinberg was not impressed.

“Movies like this have a tremendous effect on women and their ideas of relationships,” she says. “These types of movies can definitely poison us.”

Ultimately, Steinberg believes, romance shouldn’t be a matter of just the heart or the head, but the two working together. And despite her own “fair share of heartbreak,” the radio host says, she’s still a fan of Valentine’s Day. “Why not?” she says. “I’m always hopeful, no matter how many setbacks I’ve had in the romance department.”

The Dating Marketplace with Nic and Neely airs Sunday nights from 8 to 9 p.m. on Boston’s UNRegular Radio.

Laura Davidson can be reached at ldavidso@bu.edu.

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