Disaster date

How to love

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She left him but a note.  

“Dear Adam,

Life has lost its flavor since those days in the Garden.  We used to do a lot of crazy shit, eating Dad’s food without permission, traipsing around wearing nothing but our birthday suits, letting your “snake” convince me to do things I shouldn’t.   But since we’ve moved, the excitement is gone,  you just don’t seem to try anymore.  I still love you, but I’m not in love with you.  

Goodbye Adam.

-Eve”

I have dealt with a great deal of confusion from people over the years on the subject of love.  Specifically with people who either don’t know if they are in love, don’t know if they want to be in love, or don’t know if they ever will be in love.

The standard advice is that love is felt, when you know that you are in love and you are certain of it, then you are.  If you are questioning whether you are in love, the smart money is on getting out of that situation because if you were really in love you would “just know.”

I am here to tell you why that’s wrong.  I’m here to tell you how to love.

 

That statement itself poses a problem for most people.  Love is the last bastion of safety from a world seeking to codify and categorize things.   For someone to say they figured it out demystifies it, and that ruins it.  And I agree with that, it does ruin it.  I am not looking to do that at all, I am simply attempting to avoid the appeal-to-nature of the “you’ll just feel/know it” argument while not falling victim to my own naturalist fallacy.

What I am trying to do is help those of you who may have doubt about love.  Are you really in love?  Can you do anything to make it feel stronger?  Can you save a strained love?

There are answers to these questions, and those answers come when you learn a skill.
How to love.

And that’s what we’re going to learn how to do now.  

Love is a feeling you get that intensifies with relatable experiences.

This simply means that you have things you relate to with another person, then you have experiences orbiting around those things, then you have experiences that relate to past experiences and it is intensified if those experiences relate to your ideas, dreams, hopes and especially stories about partnership.  That is how the feeling of love is created.

Here’s an example.  So, Adam meets Eve and they both say, “wow, we both really enjoy gardens.” Because they are compatible they have some experiences around gardens (perhaps they plant a garden, frolic in a garden, or eat some fruit).  Adam knows about Eve’s love of gardens so he will choose to do things for her that are garden-related (a wedding in a garden, a garden party, etc).

Those are the relatable experiences that makes love intensify.  What makes it romantic is the way you narratively frame it, the way Adam arranges events in their lives that reflect on the story of Eve’s life, and vice versa.  Maybe you grew up in a family that gardened and it was a place that witnessed many loving moments, or just simple comfort.  Or maybe a garden symbolizes growth and fertility for her, and if so that’s her narrative frame for gardens.  The number of past positive stories that Eve can relate to revolving around gardens will intensify the feeling of love.  And the number of those stories that feel romantic or sexual will increase romance for Eve.

So if you care about similar things and then create interesting memories together that relate to those things you care about and do so with affection.  You’ll feel love naturally.  But while most people think that happens naturally, it often takes work to ensure its success.  Because life makes us busy, the effort you have to spend is often just about finding time to write the stories that make the memories.

The focus on how to love is the key then.  And that is broken down into two very distinct categories.

The first is value to you and the second is value to your partner.  Essentially, what they have that you relate to and want, but also what you provide to them that they relate to and want.

The first is responsive, you need only sit back and watch what they do for you and how many things they do that make you smile, give you a warm-fuzzy feeling, turn you on, and so forth.

The second is active.  And this is the tricky part for most people, because it defies normal convention and almost seems backwards in its thinking.  But I promise you, nothing could be more important.  Nearly everyone has been taught to believe that in order to do one’s part in a relationship one simply continues to do whatever it was they were already doing in life that attracted their mate in the first place.

 

So, when we break down the areas of how we actually create love, there are four important actions we must look at.  

  1. What Adam wants that Eve provides
  2. What Adam does to create a relationship that Eve benefits from
  3. What Eve wants that Adam provides
  4. What Eve does to create a relationship that Adam benefits from

It is true that 1&4 overlap and 2&3 overlap.  This is because it is a relationship, and synergy is to be expected.

But the reason they are kept separate is because (and here’s another surprising concept, and you’re going to think I made a typo), Adam is fully responsible for 1&2, while Eve is fully responsible for 3&4.  How could Adam be fully responsible for what he wants that Eve provides?!  Keep reading, you’ll see.

First, there are tricks to both.  Most relationships are just 1&3 and that is often enough for love to last a while.  Doing 2&4 as well is where you might find a story book romance that lasts a lifetime.
So, how would Adam go about doing BOTH 1&2?

Since #1 is responsive, the only thing you need to do is have straight in your mind what you value AND align those values with your own ethics.

But you have to do that in a place of distance from your feeling about someone.  The truth is that feelings come before thought.   A person has a feeling, then a thought will zoom in that tells the person why they are having that feeling.  Then something very strange can happen, the person will often think that the thought happened first because that makes the feeling rational.  If you want cake then you might get a thought justifying you to eat cake.  You might remember how good you have been recently and completely ignore the fact that the desire for cake came before that thought did.

So while a person may make you feel amazing, that could be because they gave you a smile at just the right moment, drugs when you were desperate, wore clothes that reminded you of your dad, were desperate or needy enough to not threaten you, were different from your last partner in some key aspect, gave you a romantic gesture that made you feel wonderful, and so forth.  But your feeling WILL be paramount if you have no prior system to identify a mate.  You may fall in love with someone and feeling will actually direct your mind to justify the feeling with thoughts that make it seem rational.

Imagine Stella just getting on a bus when she notices that she is missing the correct change in her purse and just as the bus driver is about to kick her off a man leans over and winks at her putting coins in the jar and while doing so says to the bus driver, “It’s a good thing the machine does the math for you.”  He gives a big smile to Stella who is overwhelmed by the charming and dashing gesture.  She sits across from him and thinks to herself.  “That comment WAS accurate I guess.”  Now Stella is the kind of woman who hates it when people are rude to others.  But because she had such positive emotions about this man she justifies his action and then puts it out of her mind.  She thinks she is being rational when in fact she just violated her own ethics.  This of course is the culprit for all number of shocking relationships that everyone (except the couple in question) is very aware should not be happening.  Without a set of values already written down that one can refer back to, the tidal wave of emotion that happens in a new relationship can set up a pattern of justifying thinking that can lead to a slippery slope where someone can stay through even abusiveness.

That said, #2 above was also being given energy and effort, a lot of the irrational justifications you allowed yourself to believe would be brought to light, but we will get into #2 in a moment.

Knowing what you value and what your ethics are is often a matter of trusting yourself.

It is better to do this when you are not in a relationship and did not recently get out of one.  If that isn’t possible, I recommend isolating yourself from your current relationship for as much time as is feasible (a week or two is usually sufficient).  Then you simply write a list of things that are important to you and categorize them. Here is a simplified version of the exercise I give to my clients:

  1. Things that make me happy:
  2. Things that help me survive better:
  3. Things that don’t fit into the above that I know I value:

Anything that is both in A and B are especially important but they all may be important and it’s really up to you to decide what order they go in for you.  All you need to know is that things that both help you survive and make you happy are usually the things that you keep on the list the longest.

Then write down what your ideal mate would be.  Write this one by hand, and leave it in a prominent location.  For this you should be very explicit and very strict with yourself.  This is someone you will never meet probably.  I call this list “Somnia Femina” which is a Latin bastardization of “dream girl.”  If you are into men you could label it “Somnia Vir.” “Somnia Persona” is the best you will probably get if you want to leave the gender ambiguous.

If you can, order all the lists in order of importance.

You can revise this list but before you do, please read through this list of cognitive biases and realize that everyone is susceptible to them.  I am, you are, your super intelligent boyfriend is, your dad, your mom, your teacher, your shrink, everyone.  Some more so than others but what is constant is that these biases are the most influential when you are upset or in some way motivated by emotions.  If you are in a fight or just out of one, or if Prince Charming just saved your life, do not revise your list then.  Trust yourself when you were more rational and allow the list to influence who you fall in love with.  Find someone that matches your values.

Here is an example.

Adam’s list (this is an actual list used with permission):

  1. Things that make me happy: Beer, hockey, fast cars, hot women, money, my dog, law school, pot, yearly charity drive, intelligent conversation, sex
  2. Things that help me survive better: Money, law school, food, air, good decisions, pragmatism
  3. Things that don’t fit into the above that I know I value: Love, attention, dedication

Somnia Femina: Wants children, stay at home wife, beautiful, somewhat smart, happy, honest, dedicated, clean, takes care of herself, healthy, no history of cancer in her family.

He then needs to remember this list and reflect on it when he meets Eve.  It’s not meant to rule you, of course. If Eve hates dogs but is a beautiful honest woman who wants to marry and raise children, plus she loves beer, hockey, fast cars, then you might be ok with letting go of the dog.  The point is to avoid falling in love with the woman who likes beer, hockey & fast cars but says she never wants kids and/or seems flighty and dishonest.  That woman might make you happy in the short term, but in the long run she’s bound to make you crazy.  Or the beautiful, honest woman whose goal in life is to be a stay-at-home-mom, but who is vehemently against alcohol and drugs, hates violent sports, has a very low libido, wants to trade in your sports car for a minivan, and is a terribly dull conversationalist.  That woman may seem like she’s “good for you,” but will it be worth sacrificing all your favorite things?

It is also not a list meant to make it impossible to meet someone.  I repeat: this is someone you will probably never meet.  Instead, it is intended to give you standards which will make you both more attractive to a potential mate (being selective is attractive) and also keep you from making a mistake.

It should also be noted that mistakes are very valuable and you should not discount the fact that people do change, and that you can help people to change (see #2 below), so this list should not restrict you from following a strong feeling to explore further with someone, or even to fall in love.  If it doesn’t work, you will find you have probably grown and so have they, and you can move on to someone else that fits your list (which may now need revising) even better.

This may seem obvious, but it only seems that way now, reading it without the pressure of someone’s desire for you burning into your head.

Write it down, and refer to it.
Let’s delve into the second item now (2&4 above):

You love someone because of your value to them.

This is an active concept.

Adam’s feelings of love increase based on Adam doing things for Eve, to help Eve, to make Eve happy, to grow the whole relationship and to create amazing stories with Eve.

Adam’s feelings of love increase based on how much he creates and nurtures the relationship more than anything else.  

It is not that it is wrong to focus on what someone can do for you.  It is a natural consideration actually, survival dictates this kind of focus and almost every form of media poses that self-interest is the most important selling point for any product or service.  I am personally all for self-interest.  But let us not conflate that with what makes us happiest.  Artists and parents know better.  They know that creations and children (another kind of creation) are so precious to them not because of what the artwork or the child does for them, but because of the energy and care they have put into creating, nurturing and helping grow or change their creation.

The trick here is to view a relationship as your work of art.  To see it as something you enjoy putting effort into.

In most models, people find love strained after a few years.  Many have heard 18 months.  One study said 2.568 years.

There is a natural assumption that follows from this about the length of time needed to get a child into and out of a womb and safely strapped for travel.  Or the lazier amongst them assume the oxytocin drop is the cause rather than the effect of such a drop in interest.

This is such a problem that some scientists have taken to the idea that a love vaccine might help stave off cheating after love has gone.  Doctor Elaine Hatfield takes a slightly more rational approach stating, “The prevailing wisdom was that passionate love would last for a few years and then companionate love would grow, but it also declines,” She adds that it tends to decline at the same rate as romantic love, and generally never stops declining.  Later she explains that commitment often increases in spite of that.

I am here to say that the initial model of love is what is wrong in most cases.  In fact, it is the focus on only 1&3 above to the exclusion of 2&4 that lead to this dropping of interest and the frittering of love.

Effort is usually the missing link, and a lack of effort is, likely, the actual reason for the drop in oxytocin.  Though a study proving this would be fundamentally impossible, the anecdotal experiences of the oldest couples in the world show a consistent philosophy of effort and focus on the other partner and the relationship itself from both partners.

Often the model is for one partner, usually Adam, to put forth most of the effort and the other partner, generally Eve, to enjoy the effort as though it were a show or a carnival ride.  Then Eve rewards or pays for Adam’s carnival ride with affection (often limited at first in order to increase her perceived value), sex, then tenderness, kindness, comfort and so forth, so long as the effort and rides keep coming.  It is a 1&3 model where the focus is on what someone can get and #2 is usually being done in order to fulfill social expectation in order to get 1.  (Please note though the male and female roles are most commonly in these positions respectively, it certainly happens with all genders and orientations in all manner of configurations.)

This “enjoy the ride” mentality of relationships is engendered by countless television shows and movies that simultaneously place women in the position of both prize and audience, adorable weaklings whose attempts at strength are to be nurtured as you would a child’s, but not expected.  The truth many of us know is that women are strong and capable, and making things easy for them doesn’t do them any favors.

If Adam were to be putting in effort, not to buy affection, but instead to create the relationship he envisions (especially if he had done a “Somnia Femina” above so he knew what he wanted in a relationship) then he would feel very strongly about every single milestone he helped to create.  It would have been nurtured from the start.

If Eve did the same, she would feel the same, and by being expected to do the same she will also be being told that she is respected for the strength and capability that she really has.  She then gets to enjoy creating something amazing and fun too.

But the real beauty comes when they are doing this together, when they both agree on the ideal relationship and both spend energy to create it like a work of art, asking for change when it is needed, enacting changes that are required, making sacrifices, etc.  Creating grand displays of affection that require tremendous planning is a great idea, not only because both the planning and event create more love, but because it then becomes a story that is referred back to and remembered as proof of love.  Love is referential to itself.

Those stories are essential to a lasting feeling, and to the compelling part of the art project that is your relationship.  Sadly, there is usually only one storywriter, but ideally both people should consider that an essential part of their role in the relationship.  Grand romantic gestures by both sides give monumental momentum to the relationship.  The gesture does not need to be huge every time, though every relationship would do well to have both sides artistically and creatively putting together something like this from their own personal determination at least once every decade.

Even the smaller romantic gestures should have some personal touch to them, some artistry.  Remember these gestures are memorable because of their narrative weight.  They evoke love by linking the story of the moment to the hope, dreams and existing stories you both share as to what romance looks like.   As stated at the beginning, that is how love is intensified.

And let’s not forget the simplicity of help.  Simply noticing that something is needed and providing it without asking or being asked is the easiest way to grow a mutual relationship.   Your focus should be to attempt to grow the relationship and connection as much as you can.  Help should never be offered as a means of trade, but rather as a way to continually improve upon your creation.  The gestures should always feel like art projects and never feel like currency spent to buy affection, or to appease an unsatisfied partner.

The model is total mutual agreements on what the relationship should look like, then focused effort by both sides to create it, brave efforts to grow, repair or improve anything needed to achieve it, along with efforts both grand and small to make it narratively interesting so that the story of your relationship adds beauty to it.   It doesn’t matter what gender, orientation, or how big or small your relationship is.  This applies to two people in a monogamous relationship or 5 in a polyamorous relationship.   All that is required is to grow the love to something more serious, stable and permanent.

This model is far in excess of what is necessary, many relationships get by on much much less;  that said, nothing in the model is extraneous.  If it is followed, your relationship will become a synergistic masterpiece that gives more energy back than the amount of energy you expend.   It is designed to create feelings of romance and love that make you giddy and excited about the person.

Here’s the rub:  This method will also lead to early detection of incompatibilities.  You are finding out early on whether or not you are compatible  because you’re putting energy into creating.  You have the vision of the ideal relationship in your head and you’re painting that picture.  But soon you realize that your partner doesn’t really like the painting as much as you thought.  S/he refuses to paint with you at all or suddenly starts using a color you thought you both hated.  You are being active in creating something based on agreements.  If you can’t reach agreements, you’ll find out quickly.  You may find it difficult to abandon the project — after all there is satisfaction in overcoming challenge.  However, I strongly recommend that you return to your description of your ideal partner and make your decision based on empirical evidence of compatibility rather than the emotional urge to hang on.

On the flip side, if you are compatible, the relationship may just last forever, and even if it doesn’t, it will feel incredibly fulfilling to both sides, will not feel like work, will feel ever romantic and will last a long time.

The Oxytocin will runneth over.

It’s not an exact science.  In fact, it should be like art.  The artist has an idea of what he’s painting, but the evolution of his art is beautiful and surprising.  Love requires narrative, power, directed creation, and commitment to your own values.  Any one of these, if missing, will be noticed, but together they are the ingredients for an ideal relationship.

And that’s how to love.

Exit Strategy

After my most recent post, I got quite a few questions regarding the specifics of the situation I described (in which I and a man I didn’t know helped a young woman out of an awkward entanglement), the gist being, “Are you SURE intervention was necessary? Couldn’t she have just told him herself that the interaction was over and left?”

I won’t go into any more specifics here, except to reiterate that yes, in this particular case, there is no question in my mind that intervening was the right thing to do. That said, I am 100% in agreement with the idea that it is best to teach and empower people to disentangle themselves from unwanted interactions. So that’s what today’s post is all about.

 

I’ve already written a bit about the art of rejection. Quick review:

The ABC’s of rejection:

A. Admiration. Find something, anything to admire about the approach: “Clever opener,” “What a refreshingly direct approach,” or  “It takes cojones to make the first move,” etc.

B. Brief statement of disinterest. “…but I’m not feeling it.” DON’T list off your reasons. Keep it short and to the point.

C. Close off quickly and decisively. A friendly “Have fun” or “Good luck” followed by a turned back or walk-off is usually quite effective.

Altogether, it goes like this:

“You’re funny! Thanks for the entertainment, but it’s a no on the date. Cheers.”

In most cases, a casual rejection like this one is all you will need, so long as you deliver it with confidence.

 

But what do you do when you’re dealing with someone who just won’t take no for an answer? Or who has a strongly negative reaction to your rejection? And how do you deal with someone whose approach was in no way friendly or admirable, but was clearly intended to intimidate or dehumanize you? 

Here are some concrete suggestions for making a clean get-away in these stickier situations.

First off, you must be able to recognize that you are in said sticky situation. When it comes to identifying a situation that merits stronger action, trust your gut above all else. If you begin to feel genuinely afraid–not just butterflies in the tummy, but really scared–then it’s time to go. NOW. You don’t need external evidence, and you don’t need to make excuses for yourself. Just get the hell out of there, to a more (NEVER LESS) secure location.

  • Bolt first, ask questions later.

When it comes to getting out of a really uncomfortable situation, short of breaking the law (remember: you can still be charged with assault if you attack the approacher first!), just about anything goes. But here are some tried-and-true methods that have worked for generations.

NOTE: I ordered this list from least to most invasive, so I recommend starting at 1 and moving on to 2 only if 1 fails, and so forth. Also, these methods are most useful (and some of them are ONLY useful) as long as you remain in a public place. If a stranger or near-stranger tries to isolate you for any reason, or starts hitting on you in an isolated location (i.e. an elevator, an empty or nearly-empty bus or train car, or in the woods), you may need to use techniques like these instead.

 

1. Call me

Obviously it isn’t always possible to plan ahead. Say, if you’re approached at a bus stop or coffee shop. But if you’re going on a date with someone you don’t know well, or going clubbing, or anyplace where you’re more likely to get approached, it’s a great idea to set up a back-up call.

Picture this: you’re having a lousy time, but this dud just isn’t picking up your signals. You send a short text under the table: CALL ME. The phone rings a moment later, and your friend is in *terrible* distress.

“Oh no,” you tell your date, “this sounds serious. I need to go talk my friend down.”

Exit secured.

You can also set it up for a friend to call you at a certain time without prompting, just in case. If things are going well, you simply ignore the call, or better yet, take the opportunity to brag a bit.

This can also work without anyone on the other end, so long as you know how to make your own phone ring on command. I recommend learning this trick, as it has bailed me out of more than one unfortunate interaction.

 

2. I’m late, I’m late, for a very important date

It may be cliche, but it works.

All this trick takes is a quick look at a clock, and distressed expression, and a panicked, “Oh no! I’m late!” Then you just grab your things, give a quick, “Sorry, gotta go,” and you’re outta there.

 

3. When you gotta go, you gotta go

It’s hard to deny someone an immediate, physical need. If you suddenly have to pee, or you feel ill, or you spill something all over yourself, there are few approachers who will try to keep you from heading to the facilities.

And if s/he does try to keep you there, or follows you to the bathroom? Feel free to start acting like you’re going to vomit on him/her, pee your pants, etc. If you can rip a really juicy fart, or burp right in his/her face, do it.

Gross is good. Nothing shrinks a boner like icky bodily functions.

Another tried-and-true method of grossing out unwanted approachers is to pick your nose and wipe it on your clothing. This is a great trick on public transportation, where there are no facilities and just up and leaving isn’t necessarily an option.

4. Go crazy on you

If any/all of the above didn’t do the trick, then you’re probably dealing with someone with a couple of loose screws. So, why not turn the tables and loosen your own screws a bit?

A quick illustration: a friend of mine was getting a little too much attention from a much older man in a park. She was polite at first, but when he sat down next to her uninvited and started to put his hand on her knee, she busted out her improv skills, turning to him with a suspicious look and saying,

“Who sent you? Was it THEM? Did THEY send you? Well you can tell them I’m NEVER COMING BACK! They’re not going to keep running experiments on MY brain, even if those aliens DID implant a microchip in there!”

She ranted on like that for several minutes, until finally he made his excuses and left.

Mission accomplished.

 

5. You make me wanna SHOUT

You may be surprised how effective it is simply to raise your voice. Most people don’t like “causing a scene” and will get anxious if you start yelling. Besides, a nice, strong yell right in the face can snap them out of their one-track-trance and make them realize that this has gotten serious. “NO” or “STOP” are good go-to yell words.

And if that doesn’t work? Well, this is where a rape whistle comes in handy. But anything you can get your hands on that makes a loud noise will do.

A sudden loud noise will also alert others in the area that something untoward is happening, and you may be able to solicit some back-up.

Speaking of which…

 

6. Requesting Backup

A lot of the time, when something not so good is going down, onlookers are nervous about stepping in. But when clearly invited to do so, they are often happy to intercede. Alas, you can’t, and probably shouldn’t, count on that, but you can learn some clever ways to leverage their presence, regardless.

Try randomly involving an onlooker into an awkward conversation. Ask a question, seek an opinion, compliment their shoes, do whatever you can to get them to respond. If they stay and chat, this will offer safety-in-numbers, and even if they don’t, it will send a clear signal to the unwanted party that you don’t want this to be a one-on-one interaction and aren’t afraid to involve others.

Sometimes, though, you may need to take more drastic measures. Try to make eye contact with someone (or even better, a group of people), and send out distress signals with your eyes. Once you think they’ve gotten the message, call out,

“There you are! I’ve been looking all over for you!”

and walk toward them. Unless the person is seriously oblivious, or just kind of an asshole, they will almost always play along. This works especially well if you are female and can disappear into a group of women.

Meanwhile, if ever you see someone in a precarious situation and wish to intervene, here are some tips for doing so safely and effectively:

– Address the person who looks like they’re in trouble, NOT the person causing said trouble.

– Ask first. “Need a hand?” in a friendly, upbeat tone works nicely. If they say no firmly, simply smile and say, “Just checking.” If they say no with hesitation or in a manner that seems unsure, say,

“Okay. I’ll be right over here. Let me know if anything changes.”

– If they do ask for help (or are visibly unable to do so), ignore the troublemaker completely. Even if they speak to or threaten you directly. First priority is to get the person you are helping, and yourself, out of there and into a more safe environment.

– As in everything, there is safety in numbers. A whole group of people extracting one person is always going to be safer and more efficient.

 

7. And if all else fails, Let’s get physical!

I really recommend avoiding getting into a physical tussle if you can. There are just so many things that can go wrong, and it’s easy for onlookers to mistake you for the attacker and back the wrong side.

There are, however, some situations that absolutely merit a hands-on approach. If someone is getting very handsy and won’t stop when asked to, do your best to block/remove said hands, and then create enough of a safe distance between yourself and the approacher that a recurrence will be easy to curtail. In other words: get out of the intimate/personal zones and back into the social/public zones.

If, on the other hand, s/he is actively attempting to restrain you, then going on the offensive is the best move you can make. A nice, hard slap (or drink!) in the face is a classic choice. That will show her/him that you aren’t afraid to go on the attack, and should provide enough of a shock factor that you are able to disengage and GTFO.

 

Above all, do your best to disengage emotionally from the situation as soon as it becomes less-than-enjoyable. Because the most powerful weapon a stranger can have against you is your empathy.

 

 

 

The 10 dating mistakes you’ve probably made (yes, you!) Part 2

The countdown continues! Here are the top 5 dating mistakes you’ve probably made (along with everybody else)…

5 – You bragged. Once upon a time, I was on a date with a ridiculously hot Australian model. She was half Maori, half Italian, and completely gorgeous. She was also smart, and worldly, and had most recently dated Laurence Fishburne. Yes, that Laurence Fishburne.

Suffice it to say that I was a bit intimidated by her. So, on this date, I knew it was imperative that I impress her. I had to “be excellent” as Dex puts it in The Tao of Steve. When she asked me to tell her a little bit about myself, I brought out the big guns. I told her I had just been awarded a prestigious Fulbright scholarship and would soon be headed to West Africa to study Francophone African Theatre. Before I had the chance to list any other accomplishments, I could see that I had lost her. She tightened her lips, and looked up and away. I recognized my mistake immediately: Not only was I blatantly bragging, I was bragging about something that meant nothing to her.

I may as well have said, “I recently made a dollhouse out of blueberry pop tarts.” In fact, she probably would’ve been more impressed if I had.

“But for now I’m still just an actress/waitress/belly-dancer,” I quickly added.

Now her eyes brightened. “Ballet dancer? Like a ballerina you mean?”

“No, no, a belly dancer. Like this:” and I proceeded to break into “snake arms” right there at the table. She was instantly charmed (pun intended), and I managed to pull out of my braggart tail-spin with no time to spare.

  • I had forgotten one of the cardinal rules of attraction: show, don’t tell.

Obviously, the most preferable way to do this is to actually perform some impressive feat, or show off one of your more excellent skills or traits in front of your date. But since that isn’t always possible, a close second is to convey the evidence of your awesomeness verbally via DHV. In fact, demonstrating high value without bragging is one of the most important tools in an attraction artist‘s metaphorical toolbag. Here are some tried-and-true tricks for conveying a really juicy accomplishment:

  • – Sneak it into an unrelated story. “Anything but the gumbo for me. I can’t stand okra. When I was in Africa doing my Fulbright, I had to eat that slimy stuff every morning for breakfast. Yech.”
  • – Trick your date into asking the right question. Had I said to the hot Aussie: “Sorry, my voice is a little hoarse. I was up all night celebrating.” Chances are, I would’ve gotten a “Celebrating what?” in return. Then I would’ve been totally justified in answering, “Oh, I just found out I got a Fulbright scholarship!”
  • – Complain about a positive. “Well, now I’ve got no excuse not to go back to school. I can’t really say no to a full-ride scholarship to the M.A./Ph.D. program at UC Santa Barbara, can I? Although I have no idea how I’m going to get any studying done living so close to the beach.”

4 – You grilled. No, I’m not referring to your barbecuing skills, although if your date got food poisoning after you made baby back ribs, then feel free to interpret the title both ways.

There is a fine line between an interview and an interrogation. While just about everybody appreciates a well thought-out question that offers an opportunity to show off a bit or give insight into the deeper self, nobody likes to feel put on the spot or hounded by a relentless stream of questions. Here are some tips on how to get your date to open up without making her/him feel like there will be a quiz later.

– Ask evocative, open-ended questions. Think essay questions rather than yes/no or multiple choice. A few examples:

  • “What is something you really want but have resigned yourself to never getting?”
  • “Tell me something you’re proud of.”
  • “If you could be anywhere, doing anything, where and what would it be?”

– Avoid questions that may incriminate your date. There will come a time when all the skeletons can come parading out of the closet, and you can go on a hunt for red flags, but all of that can wait for a date or two. Allow your date to give you the best possible impression up front, and trust that s/he will inform you in good time of any less-than-optimal details. General topics to avoid on a first date include: past relationships, criminal activity, drug or alcohol use, STI’s, income, living situation, political or religious affiliations…

  • Basically, if you wouldn’t necessarily want to know the answer, don’t ask the question.

– Avoid questions altogether by playing a guessing game. “Let me guess: you came from a big family? Lots of brothers and sisters?”

If you’re wrong, your date will happily correct you: “Nope, I’m an only child!”

And if you’re right? “Wow, how could you tell?”

3 – You hesitated. In the world of attraction, hesitation is deadly. When opportune moments present themselves, you have only seconds to take action, or risk landing in the friend zone permanently.

Another personal example: Back in high school, I had a huge crush on a soccer player whom I will call “Spike.” Spike was clearly into me, too, but never made a move. So, finally, as graduation loomed large on the horizon, I invited Spike to go hiking with me. There we were, just the two of us, sitting on a giant slab of pink granite, surrounded by nothing but gorgeous scenery for miles around. I lay myself down on the rock, wet my lips appealingly, and gazed up at Spike. Spike looked down at me, gave me a crooked grin, and…

And nothing. She just sat there, grinning at me, and not coming any closer. For what felt like an eternity. Until finally, bored and vaguely humiliated, I got up and started hiking again.

On the hike back, I questioned everything. Maybe it was just wishful thinking that the crush was mutual? Maybe Spike wasn’t even into girls? By the time we got back to Spike’s car, I had already mourned the loss of her affection.

“That was really fun,” Spike chirped, dropping me off at my place, “we should do that again sometime!”

But we never did. Because the truth is, I had already reassigned Spike to the role of “friend” in my mind.

Years later, during a chance encounter on the Pearl St. Mall while visiting my hometown of Boulder, Spike confessed to having desperately wanted to kiss me that day, and being deeply disappointed that a second date never materialized. *facepalm*

Having learned from Spike’s mistake, a couple of years after that, when the object of my affections (who, for various ethical reasons, could not make the first move) took me for a picnic on a deserted beach, and lay down next to me, and–that’s right–licked his lips, I went for it. I kissed those pre-moistened lips, and then I pulled away to gauge his reaction.

“Did that just happen?” he whispered. I nodded, and he kissed me back with twice the force of the initial kiss.

The moral of the story is: be bold, be brave, take chances.

Which brings me to number 2…

2 – You played it safe. So you got all dolled up, and you took your date to a nice restaurant for a delicious meal, and then you went to see a funny and touching Rom Com, which you both enjoyed. You avoided all the aforementioned pitfalls, and when it was all said and done, you even got a goodnight kiss. So, why didn’t you get a second date?

Sometimes, doing everything “right” just isn’t enough.  Sometimes you have to throw away the playbook and do something entirely unexpected. 

  • I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: there can be no sexual tension without tension.

How do you insert tension into an encounter? Put less focus on creating comfort, and more on creating excitement. Here are some specific tips on creating a fun, tension-laden first date:

  • – Be spontaneous. Change the venue at the last minute, or spring-board off of the first venue into a second, unforeseen excursion.
  • – Make it a game. Maybe your entire date is actually a scavenger hunt, or maybe your conversation is ruled by some arbitrary improv rule such as “every sentence must begin with a successive letter of the alphabet.” Or maybe you spend the evening making up dialogue for other couples at faraway tables. Anything that injects a bit of playful tension.
  • – Bring up controversial or slightly uncomfortable subjects. Nothing *too* upsetting (I would avoid politics, religion, and sexual-romantic traumas), and nothing too dark (the Holocaust is right out), just something that might take your date out of the usual first-date comfort zone. The goal here isn’t to piss your date off on purpose, but simply to let her/him know that you are a passionate person with strong opinions, and enough integrity not to change those opinions in the face of opposition.

The trick here is to pick a topic about which you are genuinely passionate. Are you deeply concerned over the rapid decline in bee populations? Seriously pissed off about Seattle traffic? Do you think pirating music over the internet steals from starving artists? The what is much less important than the fact that you care about it.

Note: this isn’t a license to be an ass. Be respectful of your date’s point of view, even if you strongly disagree. That way you’re not just creating good tension, you’re also displaying your ability to handle tension with diplomatic aplomb.

1 – You were forgettable. A girlfriend of mine once called me the day after a first date.

“How did it go?”  I asked.

“Fine.”

“Just fine?”

“No, better than fine. It was good. We had a nice time.”

“So, what was he like?”

There was a long pause. Finally, she admitted, “I don’t remember.”

You can’t get a second date with someone who barely remembers you. Any performer will tell you that the kiss of death at an audition is to blend into the background. At the end of the day, you need to be the one who sticks out in their minds.

So, how do you make yourself memorable? Yes, all the aforementioned techniques for creating tension will go a long way toward getting remembered. But there’s another element that is equally memory-triggering: contrast.

Your look, your voice, your physicality, and your conversation should all collude to paint a picture of a dynamic individual with a multi-layered personality that can’t be neatly summed up in just a few sentences.

If you have a generally clean-cut look, consider throwing in a hint of punk rock, say a fauxhawk, a spiked collar, or a tasteful piercing. If you’re a veritable tapestry of tattoos, wear something that goes against type, something classic with clean lines and plenty of buttons.

If you’re a computer programmer, consider taking up an altogether unexpected hobby, such as rock climbing or martial arts. If you’re a personal trainer, pick up a copy of Moby Dick and hit the NYT crosswords.

Teach to your weaknesses, embrace your contradictions, and advertise your quirks. Not only will it get you remembered, it’ll make you a more well-rounded human being.

The 10 dating mistakes you’ve probably made (yes, you!) Part 1

As a dating coach, I hear about a lot of dating mistakes, from the gut-wrenchingly tragic to the gut-bustingly hiliarious.  A lot of these mistakes are obvious in hindsight, but some are so subtle and, and frankly so common, you may not even know you made them, and therefore may continue to make them.

In fact, these under-the-radar mistakes are so insidious that, even if your date were completely honest with you about what went wrong, you probably *still* wouldn’t hear about them.  But that, of course, is where I come in.

So here are numbers 10-6 of the top ten mistakes you’ve probably made on a date at some point since puberty (I certainly have). Stay tuned for numbers 5-1!

10 – You telegraphed too much interest.

A while back I had an initial meet-up with a guy who complained that he kept landing in the friend zone after the first date. So I asked him to describe a typical first date for me.

“Well, I show up at her house with a dozen roses, and…”

I stopped him right there. A dozen roses? On a first date?

  • The poor guy may as well have tattooed  “TRY- HARD” across his forehead.

But it didn’t stop there. He went on to describe how he would shower his date with compliments throughout the date, telling her how beautiful she looked, how much fun she was to be around, how much he wanted to see her again, etc., etc., etc.

I patiently explained that he was putting undue pressure on his dates by telegraphing too much interest right away.

“But… I thought women liked romantic gestures and compliments!” he protested.

“They do,” I explained, “but only when they feel like they’ve earned them.”

I could see he wasn’t getting it, so I laid it all out for him. “On a first date, your PIQ probably hasn’t made up her mind about how she feels about you. She wants to get to know you better before she decides how interested she is in pursuing a romantic, sexual relationship with you. But now that she knows that you’ve already decided that you want one with her, she is suddenly afraid of hurting you by not returning those feelings. AND, she sees you as more needy and therefore less valuable than she is.”

“Oh,” he said. And by the crestfallen look on his face, I could see that it had finally sunk in:

  • You can’t buy her interest with your own.

9 – You weren’t prepared.

Would you show up at a job interview without doing at least cursory research on the company and position, and without putting any thought into what you might say or how you want to come off?

If you answered “yes,” that may explain why you are unemployed. Or hate your job.

  • A relationship is a lot like a job. It can bring you daily fulfillment and reward, or it can bring you daily misery and drudgery.

Every first date is like a job interview: it’s an opportunity for you and a potential partner to see how well you mesh. And like a job interview, you shouldn’t look at it merely as an opportunity for them to interview you. You should also be interviewing them. Prepare some questions, and think ahead of time about what it is you are looking for and what you want to avoid.

  • Contrary to popular belief, having standards is sexy.

8 – You said too much, too soon.

Have you ever been stuck at a bus stop, or on an elevator, or in some other confined space, with a stranger who is hell-bent on telling you her entire life story, regardless of whether or not you’ve shown any interest in hearing about it?

Yyyyyyeah. That’s what a first date is like with someone who is in love with the sound of his own voice.

Master the art of sound spacing. Create intrigue by leaving open loops and allowing questions to go unanswered. Be interested as well as interesting.

  • Translation: shut up and listen.

7 – You focused on the facts.

So, you’re on a first date, and you think: “Time to get to know each other!” So, you start rattling off your vital statistics and asking your date for the same.

  • Where you work, what you do there, where you live, how long you’ve lived there, what you studied in school, what you do in your spare time, blah, blah, blah. God, I’m getting bored just writing all that.

In an intellectual hot spot like Seattle, this a terribly common error. There is an overriding misconception that someone has to have all the pertinent data in order to decide whether or not you are a good match. But anyone who’s ever actually fallen in love can tell you this is patently false. In truth, strangers fall in love far more often than do people who already know a lot about each other. I myself have fallen head-over-heels for someone whose name I had wrong, and I’ve rejected someone who was perfect on paper but who, in practice, felt more like a brother than a lover.

Then again, you don’t want to turn into what I less-than-affectionately refer to as a “cosmicon”: someone who uses relentlessly vague, mystical speech patterns in order to allow a listener to falsely perceive them as fitting into a pre-existing ideal.

So, how do you tell someone about yourself with honesty and integrity, but without coming off like a talking computer?

Focus on sensation rather than information. Tell stories that are true, and offer opinions that are yours, but weave them into an appealing tapestry of vivid images and emotion-evoking language (both verbal and otherwise).

  • In short, make your date feel, not think.

6 – You apologized for nothing.

At the first workshop I ever led, I noticed an unfortunate pattern. Even when approaching other attendees at the workshop, the men inevitably led with some form of an apology, usually

“Sorry to disturb you, but…”

More disturbing still, even when I gave them a specific line to open with, they still added a “sorry” or “excuse me” on at the beginning! And when I specifically told them to stop apologizing? They apologized for apologizing, and then kept right on doing it!

I do understand where this impulse comes from. There is a lot of pressure on men these days to be respectful and polite, and to generally avoid coming off as an aggressive jerk. But when someone walks up and apologizes right off the bat, it begs the question:

“What is this person apologizing for?”

When I hear an apology, I wonder, subconsciously, if this person actually has something to be sorry about. Like bad intentions. Most likely the intention to use me for casual sex and not call me the next day. Or to convince me to date him even though he believes I am out of his league and that I could do much better. Subconsciously, I get the feeling that he isn’t here to offer me value, but to take value from me. And it makes me uncomfortable. It makes me want to get this person away from me. So now I have the unpleasant task of dissuading him from continuing this interaction, and I’m not very happy about it. In fact, I’m pretty pissed off at having been put into this uncomfortable position.

Now, how do you think this interaction is going to go?

  • People of Seattle, hell, people of the world: stop apologizing! Interacting with a stranger is nothing to apologize for.

That said, apologies do have their uses, for example offering an excuse to make a romantic gesture that would normally be considered too much too soon (as described in number 10). The key is to actually have something to apologize for. For example, set up a casual first date, such as meeting for coffee. Then, call your date half an hour before you were supposed to meet, and say you’re going to be half an hour late. Apologize, and insist your date allow you to make it up to her/him. You are now in a prime position to do something slightly over-the-top in the romance department. Show up at the coffee shop with a giant bouquet of flowers, or forget the coffee altogether and take your date to a fancy restaurant instead. Or better yet, get creative and do something your date will never forget!

Does this sound manipulative? It is a bit. But then, so are surprise parties. And most surprises for that matter.

  • The truth is, most people enjoy being manipulated if the endgame is enjoyment.

A personal example:

Back in college I was dating a rocket scientist. Literally. On one of our early dates, he told me he was taking me to a very exclusive night spot. I got all dressed up and we took off in his Toyota. But as we were driving down a quiet residential street, he stopped the car.

“Uh-oh,” he said, frowning at the dashboard.

“What is it?”

He turned to me with a guilty look and said, “I think we’re out of gas. I guess we’ll have to walk the rest of the way.”

He apologized repeatedly as he helped me out of the car. But before I even had a chance to ask how long of a walk we had ahead of us, he turned me toward the center meridian, which was lined with lovely weeping willow trees, and said, “Here we are!”

Sure enough, he had set up a table, two chairs, candles, the whole nine yards, right there in the middle of the street! It was, hands down, the most romantic dinner I’ve ever had.

So, use your apologies wisely. Make them work for you, or you really will be sorry.

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