| The Date Doctor's Guide to Dating |
By Bart Ellis
Genre: Inspirational & Self-Help
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Getting It Right from the Start
It's the morning after another first date. You had fun, you liked the guy, and he seemed to like you. Yet the phone sits silent the entire day, and the day after, and the day after that. Did you blow it? Why doesn't he call?
Lately, more often than not, this seems to be the burning question on your mind . . . why, why, why? Getting asked out on a first date isn't a problem for you, but moving from those initial two or three getting-to-know-you meetings to a real, lasting relationship is. Could you be doing or saying something that turns these men off? Is there something about you that makes them see you as a pal, a business contact, a casual lover, or even a confessor, but not as a potential long-term partner? Do they assume you've crossed them off your own list, and that's why they don't call you back?
For years, in my capacity as a Los Angeles dating consultant, I've listened to questions such as these from clients who are sick of going out on date after date and never getting anywhere. I've heard these women weep, endlessly analyze, and simply yell in frustration at how difficult it seems these days to enter into a loving relationship. Sometimes, the causes of their failure to find lasting love are evident to me the moment they start to talk. More often, the reasons surface after a "Power Date" or two, during which their dating habits are observed by one of my trained associates, and I've begun discussing positive alternative behaviors with them.
One of the greatest sources of trouble for my clients lies in their confusion between the goal of "getting a man" and that of having a serious relationship. They may have become expert at adhering to a rigid, external code of dating behavior (such as never asking a man out, or never accepting a date if the man calls at the last minute) or adopting an artificial personality ("Be vivacious. Men like that.") that enables them to rack up date after date. Yet they sense that, in the end, this series of brief nonrelationships gets them nowhere fast. As intent on "bagging their prey" as some men are on "scoring," these women's phones may ring all day long, but they are still alone.
Other women resist the idea of "playing games" in order to get a man. Not only do they believe it would be impossible to keep up such a charade on a long-term basis, but they sensecorrectlyethat any man hooked by a fake personality is likely to lose interest once the act begins to wind down. Still, by refusing to make an effort to play the seduction game they also end up lonely and alone.
The problem with both these approaches lies in their focus on the "scenario" of the date rather than on dating as a vehicle for communication between two unique individuals. A woman who is focused during a date on reeling in a man isn't likely to notice or appreciate that particular man's special qualitieseand, of course, her date will eventually sense that she sees him as just a commodity. A woman who "refuses to play games" misses her chance to communicate her desire and desirability to her date, prematurely lumping him into the category of all the other men who are too blind to appreciate her.
On the other hand, approaching a date seriously as the possible beginning of a long-term relationship between two well-meaning individuals, rather than as a short-term struggle between hunter and prey, allows each of you to begin learning at once who the other is and what you're looking for in a lover. This honest exchange of information, mixed with a judicious dose of harmless, enticing "fun and games," is the only way that healthy long-term partnerships get started.
Sometimes, in their baffled state, my clients tell me they want to give up on the practice of dating and just live hoping that romance will drift their way by chanceeor else force the commitment issue with any man who expresses interest in them by telling him right off what sort of relationship they want and insisting that he take it or leave it right then. It's understandable that after years of suffering through the often tense and unnatural routine of dating you might also be wondering. "What's the point?" But the fact remains that in our Western culture, lacking for the most part traditional matchmakers or even interested (or effective) relatives, dating remains by far the most effective way to get to know a member of the opposite sex, weigh his character traits, interests, and circumstances against your own, and decide whether he has the potential for helping you build a happy and fulfilling future. What's important is to get past the first few somewhat awkward meetings to an honest and productive joining of hearts and minds, to move from "just dating" to "testing the waters," and maybe even to "falling in love."
The ability to consciously use the dating process to achieve your relationship goals is what I call "constructive dating," and it's what I'll address in this chapter and the ones to follow. It involves learning to express your special personality in positive ways that will attract an appropriate mate; keeping your own best interests at the forefront when assessing a potential partner; avoiding misunderstandings that can nip potential relationships in the bud; taking risks that can enhance and deepen a love affair; and tuning in to the "relationship comfort zone" that will bond the two of you together, happily forever after.
On the surface the dating process seems, even if nerve-racking, at least a relatively straightforward process. Two people meet over dinner, have a conversation, size each other up, and decide whether they want to date again. Though this is indeed the purpose and structure of a typical first date, as a definition it misses the more profound exchanges that take place between two peopleethe "secret messages" the dating partners exchange that frequently make or break a potential romance.
What are these secret messages? They're the often unconscious expressions of certain assumptions that you and your dating partner have incorporated into your worldview so long ago that you no longer realize they're a part of you. They're the way you translate your unique attitudes and character into specific behaviors that your date will observe and remember. For example, let's say you have a very natural personalityean honest approach to life that includes a belief in casual dress and a casual lifestyle and an aversion to playing games. What you really want, you may say to yourself, is a partner who will "accept me for what I am. " If so, when preparing for a first date you may be unconsciously influenced by that desire in ways that can sabotage your goals. You may wear unflattering jeans and a T-shirt to dinner, for example, or forgo wearing makeup or doing something with your hair. What you believe you're telling your date with this behavior is, This is the real me, and if you don't like it it's better we know that now." But the "secret" message (secret to you, that is, but the message your date is likely to receive) is, "I'm not even interested enough in you to dress up for our date."
It's easy to see that even when your date finds you interesting and enjoys the time he's spent with youeeven enough to ask you out on a second or third dateein the end your refusal to demonstrate that you consider those dates a "special occasion" by trying to look attractive may weigh negatively in the balance when he decides whether he wants to take this relationship further. Almost everyone likes a little glamour and romance now and then. Your date may feel that with you he'd always be locked in to one "down-home" approach to lifeethat if he wanted to go to a formal party or even a dance club, he probably couldn't take you. This is just one example of how unconscious messages can sabotage potential relationships, but I'm struck by how often my clients destroy their chances in a similar manner, even if their own messages are very different.
My goal in the following chapters is to show you how to examine your own basic attitudes toward life, toward men, and toward yourself, and to express those attitudes in an attractive, positive, productive way. By presenting your true self in the best possible light, you'll not only enable your first date to see you as you really are, but he'll be able to imagine all the potential for fun, fulfillment, and joy that a relationship with you might hold. You can learn to send the "right" kinds of secret messageseand avoid sending the wrong oneseby following four steps:
1. Accentuate the positive
2. Evaluate yourself
3. Evaluate him
4. Review your expectations
#1 Accentuate the Positive
Returning to the example of the "natural" woman, let's examine how she might express her philosophy in ways that would win her the accepting, warm partner she hopes for. Her first step would be to reexamine her fundamental statement: "Men should accept me for what I am." If you agree with this statement, ask yourself this: What are you, really? Are you a sloppy dresser whose regard for other people is so low you refuse to make the effort to look pleasant for them? Are you a person with such low self-esteem that going out to dinner with dirty fingernails or paint in your hair is par for the course? Are you so self-centered that you feel you can talk on and on about your most negative emotions even if your date is likely to be embarrassed or turned off?
Of course not. You want a man to accept you for what you are, not you at your worst.
Sometimes it's easier to spot an attitude "mistranslation" if we imagine it expressed by a man. If your first date appeared at your doorstep in his grease- or ink-smudged work clothes, or spent the entire evening telling you about his previous girlfriend, chances are you'd feel pretty offended, or at least bored, by the end of the evening. Yet when questioned, this man might also be operating under the assumption that his date should "see him as he is." The point is, first impressions really are important on a date. You and your date's initial appearance and your first few conversations go a long way toward creating the "chemistry" that can make or break the relationship. It's quite possible to put your best foot forward on a first date without compromising your unique self. Your dress, makeup, hair, and conversation can convey the message that you've looked forward to this date, that you're interested in your escort, and that you're honestly wondering whether there might be potential for something more between the two of you. Treating yourself and your date like special people, worthy of attention, often acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy. When your date looks back on your time together, that sense of "specialness" you've created may well inspire him to look deeper at the essential you.
Look back on your initial assumption that you want to be accepted for what you are. Isn't it true what you really hope for is to be appreciated for what you are at your best?
#2 Evaluate Yourself
One of the best ways to improve your dating life is to ask yourselfbefore you go out on another dateewhat your assumptions are about yourself and how you express these assumptions to a man you're just getting to know. Do you consider yourself an intelligent woman who deserves to be appreciated as such? If so, how do you communicate this information about yourself to a first date? When he states a fact that you know is wrong, do you correct him? Do you argue over the details of a story you both read in the paper, amend his quotes, or insist that you're right about the exact date an event occurred? If so, you may feel you're demonstrating your intelligence, but the negativity of your expression (arguing, correcting, haggling about details) will most likely eclipse the message that you're good at remembering things. Instead of competing with your date to prove your intelligence, try skipping the irritating challenges of fact and instead contribute to the conversationesay, by introducing some history behind the news event he's brought up, or by offering a creative solution to a problem he's expressed. Such positive efforts will not only keep the conversation flowing smoothly, but will earn his respect more effectively than arguing ever would.
Do you prize your independence, and long for a partner who can love you while letting you "have your own space"? If so, consider whether you express this personality trait negatively, by refusing to let a first date pay for dinner or open the door for you (thus implying that you don't need him for anything), or positively, by describing to him some of the adventures you've enjoyed lately on your own (thus depicting yourself as a woman it might be fun to share a life with).
Are you a person who's happiest sharing everything with her lover, no matter how personal it is?
You can express this quality in off-putting ways, by sampling food from your first-date's plate or divulging the most intimate details of your last affaireor positively (and less threateningly) by, for example:
touching his arm occasionally as you talk.
listening attentively to his personal conversation.
asking with real interest about his family and friends, his likes and dislikes, and his hopes for the future.
No matter what type of woman you are or what your assumptions about life and the way it should be lived, a first date offers you an excellent opportunity to demonstrate why you'd be a wonderful woman to share a life with. Learning to express your distinctive personality in positive ways, rather than adopting an artificial personality supposedly attractive to all men, is the most effective route toward attracting a man who's right for you. Following is a brief quiz designed to help you translate your most basic convictions into positive, but still genuine behavior. Take the time to complete these sentences and you should see a startling difference in the way your relationships progress from the very next date.
QUIZ: WHAT KIND OF WOMAN ARE YOU?
1. If I had to describe myself in a few brief phrases, I'd say I am...
2. The ways I've expressed these unique traits on a first date in the past include...
3. If my date exhibited the same behavior, I would...
4. My dates have responded to my behavior by...
5. In the future, I might express my personality in more positive or attractive ways by...
#7 Evaluate Him
When meeting a man for the first time in a potentially romantic situation, you inevitably convey "secret messages" not only about yourself, but about how you see the man as well. Your assumptions about men in general are unconsciously communicated in the ways you interact with each individual male, and your date is likely to pick up on these messages whether he's conscious of doing so or not. For this reason it's a good idea to examine your assumptions about men and analyze the ways these assumptions affect the tone of your encounters.
No one likes to be judged according to stereotypes, and allowing yourself to believe that "all men hate commitment" or "all men want is sex" isn't fair to you or your date. What's more, such negative assumptions are likely to express themselves in behavior that will turn your date off without your realizing why. Of course, after years of not-very-successful dating or a bad relationship or two, it's all too easy to write off the entire male gender on the strength of one's bad experiences. If you're going to end up in a fruitful relationship, though, it's vital to fight your prejudices and see each date as an individual.
Let's look at the common idea women have that most men these days are afraid to commit. Taking that "fact" for granted can lead to such negative dating behavior as lowered expectations, cynicism, premature pressure on the date to prove he's interested in a relationship with you, and manipulative "games" designed to trick him into committing. Before you analyze your own dating behavior in this light, try looking more closely at the stereotype itself. Assuming there's some truth in the idea, ask yourself why some men might fear commitment more than men did in the past. Ask yourself whether you may have feared commitment at some point in your life. (When you suspected you were being tricked or lied to, or simply didn't feel ready emotionally?) Try to think of instances in which your fear disappeared. (When a date allowed you the freedom to commit at your own pace, perhaps, and otherwise treated you with respect?)
When a first date arrives at your door, do you hope he sees you as you really are, not as he thinks women are in general? If so, offer him the same consideration. Wait until you know him better to decide, for example, whether he has a problem committing to relationships. If not, your negative attitude may scare him off before he's even had time to consider a long-term relationship with you.
The assumptions we make about the opposite sex are abundant and varied, and all of us make them in one form or another. What's important is to ferret out these unconscious prejudices and make sure they aren't sabotaging our relationships before they have a chance to blossom. Complete the following quiz before your next date rings your doorbell. Then, when you open your door to him, make a point of giving him the benefit of the doubt.
QUIZ: WHAT KIND OF MAN IS HE?
1. If I had to generalize, I'd say that what all men want from a relationship with a woman is...
2. On a date, I deal with this by...
3. The result of my behavior has usually been...
4. Following are three anecdotes taken from friends, the newspapers, etc., in which a man didn't act according to the description I wrote in sentence number one.
#4 Review Your Expectations for This Date
Now that you've analyzed your assumptions about yourself and your date, and considered ways you can express yourself positively and expand your vision regarding him, it's time to take the last step in destroying those "secret messages" that can sabotage your date: examining your expectations regarding the date itself. Do you consider a first date a kind of business deal in which you assess what kind of car your partner drives, where he takes you for dinner, and how well he treats you, and then dispense your time, attention, or sexual favors accordingly? If you already know you're attracted to your date, do you see this first outing as a do-or-die situation in which you plan to "land" him right away no matter what? Maybe you think of dating as just like going out with the girlsa movie, a few drinks, a few laughs, and then a casual good night. Perhaps you see it as something like applying for a job or auditioning for a part in a movie. Then again, you may have been on so many first dates that you can hardly force yourself to think about this one in advance at all.
The fact is, if this date is to lead to a significant relationship, it should probably bear little resemblance to any of the scenarios I've just described. Business deals, casual outings, auditions, and business-as-usual are all examples of dating situations with short-term goals. Constructive dating, on the other hand, is a method two people use to decide whether they suit each other in the long term. To date effectively, the participants must approach the evening with the expectation that they'll learn valuable information about each other that can help them decide whether they harbor the right "checks and balances" to support a deeper romance. For example, if the man is a possessive type, does the woman enjoy being possessed? If the woman enjoys her career and is successful at it, does the man enjoy being with a woman who can take care of herself? Once you get beyond the nonproductive images of dates as dinner-for-sex tradeoffs, as job interviews, etc., and see them instead as tools for moving you closer to your relationship goals, much of the "first-date" jitters are likely to disappear. You may even find yourself looking forward to your next date with an enthusiasm you never knew before.
Following is an exercise to help you turn your next first date into a constructive date that can either tell you this man isn't the one for you or can move you a step further toward a long-term relationship. It takes a little more research than the previous two quizzes, but the change in attitude you're likely to experience makes the extra effort worthwhile.
EXERCISE: what Kind of Date Is This?
Listen to a friend's account of her first date with her husband or long-term partner. Ask for details, then write down the story of the date and analyze it for clues to what made it work. How does it coincide with your assumptions about how a first date works? How does it contradict them? How can you approach your own next date in a way that might lead to an outcome as happy as your friend's?
Chances are, however the story goes that your friend tells you, it will have both of you smiling before it's through. She may laugh as she tells you how amusingly awkward she and her now-husband were at first, or how hard each tried to impress the other. Her eyes may light up as she describes the impact of seeing her date across a crowded room, or feeling his hand on her arm. It's no coincidence that all successful first-date stories contain such an element of pleasure. As I mentioned before (and will mention again), the thrill of seduction, in all its permutations, provides fully one-half the fuel for a healthy romance. So learn from your friend's experience, and don't take your dating lessons too terribly seriously. As important as a "correct approach" to dating is a light and hopeful heart.
ARE YOU READY?
You've done a lot of analyzing, investigating, and attitude changing, and your date hasn't even rung the doorbell yet! Don't worryall this preparation is aimed at making your dates not only more productive, but more fun. In the next chapters I'll examine specific ways to move from fruitless "high-quantity dating" to productive "high-quality dating"by taking control of the messages you send, creating a more enticing first impression, and setting the stage for Act I of a lifetime of love.
Excerpted from The Date Doctor's Guide to Dating , by Bart Ellis . Copyright (c) 1998 by Bart Ellis . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top