Monday, December 29, 2008

Small talk in Dating

Small talk has gotten a bum rap (excuse the pun). Mistakenly linked with airheadedness, the assumption is that those who engage in small talk only chitchat about life’s piddling moments without a concern for the deeper, burning issues underneath. Poppycock.
Small talk is a necessary and important part of our social fabric. It’s a way to adjust to one another, get comfortable, and find your conversational seat. Without small talk, we’d all be walking up to acquaintances and saying, “Hi. How would you create peace in the Middle East?” or “Nice to see you. My father is an alcoholic.”
Getting good at small talk, or at least comfortable with it in small doses, will hold you in good stead not only on a date, but in life as well. Small talk is just a means of chatting easily and comfortably about day-to-day issues without rancor or intensity. Big talk is about politics, religion, family, gun control, abortion, and whether chocolate should be a controlled substance.

Opening gambits

Because everybody’s most nervous at the beginning — once you get past “hi” — an opening line can give you some confidence. There is a universal opening line that’s guaranteed not to fail: Tell your date she or he looks fabulous (beautiful, handsome, delicious, ravishing, divine . . . you choose the adjective). The more specific, the better — but stay away from body parts between the neck and the ankles. Such a compliment as an opening line immediately puts both of you at ease: Your date knows the preparation wasn’t in vain, and you fly past the first hurdle with several inches to spare. Plus, there’s a bonus: Your date will probably return the compliment, and you’ll both feel your confidence surge.
Of course, a great opening line is only the beginning of an entire date full of conversation. After all, you can’t keep telling your date that he or she looks fabulous (stop after 20 or 30 reps). Eventually, you’ll have to actually talk to one another. That doesn’t mean you have to initiate a discussion of nuclear physics or the meaning of life as we know it. Start small with small talk, discussed in the cleverly named “Small talk” section later in this chapter. The last thing you want to do in the first five minutes is let your date see you cower. Gobs of nerves are contagious, and so is serenity. This isn’t the final round of the National Cool Talk Competition. Relax. Take deep breaths and say what’s on your mind, unless it’s one of the following:
  • How are you? The question is trite (“Fine, thank you. How are you?”) or too personal, depending on the response, especially on a date when a truthful response probably sounds like, “I’m feeling a bit nervous, slightly sweaty, a tiny bit nauseous, excited, filled with anticipation, and hoping we end up really liking one another.” Yikes! Even a clever response (like “I’ve never been better” or “I worked out today, and I’m on an endorphin high” or “I’m looking forward to our wonderful evening tonight” or “I’m starved and raring to go”) is kinda cute but a waste of time.
  • Why are you late? If there was a ten-car pileup, it will be the first thing mentioned. If your date overslept, he or she may or may not tell you. I know you were kept waiting, worrying, and wondering if you’d written down the wrong date, and I know that’s not okay, but the first five minutes of a date is a tough time to begin sounding like an angry parent. Make a decision. If your date’s too late for you to forgive and forget, cancel the date and explain why. If the tardiness is slightly irksome but you’re willing to overlook it, let it go. I mean really let it go. Don’t bring it up. Not now, anyway. (When you make the next date, explain that you’re a bit compulsive about being on time.)
  • How do I look? When you’re nervous, it’s easy to fall into the trap of focusing on yourself and your insecurities. Don’t go there. The quickest way to ease date-stress is to get out of your head and into the moment. Assume you look fab and try to relax yourself and your date. No fishing for compliments.
  • Mind if I smoke? Believe it — most people do mind. Unless you met in a cigar bar, this question is far too risky to even attempt. I know, you smokers out there are thinking that one puny puff would sure take the edge off the first moments of a date. You may want to light up so much your fingers are twitching. But there are two reasons to give your addiction a rest right now: First, smoking is like taking out a billboard ad announcing you’re nervous. Guys on their way to the guillotine were offered a final cigarette! Do you want your date to feel as though you’ve been sentenced to death? Second, cigarette smoking inspires passionate feelings on both sides of the issue (I know lots of folks who wouldn’t go out even once with a smoker). The first five minutes of a date are time for vanilla ice cream, Wonder Bread, and sensible shoes. In short, don’t even go close to controversy.
No matter what your question is, make sure you don’t make the same mistake one famous interviewer often makes: You get so involved in the elaborate question that you pay no attention to the answer. Also, make sure your date can’t answer your questions by a simple yes or no; otherwise, you’ll feel like you’re in a batting cage with an automatic pitching machine. In times of stress, we tend to regress to childhood behaviors that might have calmed us or felt safe. Many women slip and fall into a sort of “mothering mode” when they feel anxiety tighten their chests. Questions like “Do you need a sweater?” “Do you have the directions?” and “Are you sure we have enough time to make it?” just make your date feel like an inadequate little boy. Even if he freezes his buns off or doesn’t have the directions or botches the reservation, keep quiet and let him work his way out of the mess he made. Remember: You’re not his mom; you’re his date. Okay, so you know what not to ask. But what are some good opening gambits?
These are:
  • What did you do today? (The focus on the other person shows interest, and presumably everyone did something.)
  • What book (movie, TV show, and so on) is your favorite?
  • Are you a cat person or a dog person?
The point here is that you’re gathering the building blocks of a conversational bridge, a way of getting from no knowledge to important stuff. You can’t go from “Hi, my name is Fred” to “What do you want in life?” Talking about weather, books, friends you have in common, and so on is a way to lay the foundation across the chasm that separates strangers so that they can meet in the middle or comfortably go back and forth.

How to do Proper Visualization?

The mind is an incredibly powerful tool for turning stress on and off. To turn stress off, you want to create a safe place in your head where you can always retreat when the going gets tough. The best way to do that is through visualization. With your eyes still comfortably closed, take another deep breath in through your nose, out through your mouth, and then do the following:
  1. Think of a place you’ve been that makes you feel happy and comfortable. You may think of the seashore, a forest, or your childhood bedroom —wherever you remember feeling totally content. “See” that place in your mind’s eye. Smell the smells. See the colors. Hear the sounds. Be there. See yourself in that blissful environment.
  2. Think about a special person in your life: someone you love unconditionally, someone who cherishes you. See the person slowly walk toward you as you stand in your joyous place. Feel suffused with comfort and well-being and happiness. Feel delighted to see this person and feel how delighted the person is to see you. Let the person’s love wash over you as he gets closer and closer. Finally, when the person is right next to you, look in the person’s eyes. Don’t say anything, just look in their eyes. Everything you need to know and say to one another is said in your eyes.
  3. See a pinpoint of pure, bright, warm light. Watch it expand until it fills the entire space. Feel its warmth. You and your special person are bathed in the glow of that special light. You have no cares, no worries. You feel comfortable and warm and loved and accepted. Experience what it feels like to be surrounded by that light.
  4. It’s time for your special person to go, but you don’t feel any sadness. Feel the love remain as the person leaves.
  5. It’s time for the light to recede, but you feel no loss or sadness. Instead, you still feel the warmth and well-being the light gave you.
  6. It’s time to leave your wonderful place. But you’re really not leaving for good; you’re taking it with you. Now and forever, this spot, this feeling, will be available to you whenever you want to go there. It’s you. In you. Always.
  7. With your eyes still closed, slowly become aware of your surroundings. Feel the chair, hear your heart beating. Feel happy, warm, accepted, content.
  8. Slowly open your eyes. Sit for a moment. Know that the calm you feel now can be the calm you feel throughout your entire date . . . if you let it happen.

Types of Yoga

You can find many varieties of Yoga, an ancient discipline that was practiced in both India and China. Its migration to the New World, specifically the United States, has resulted into a transmogrification of a regular buffet of possibilities.
Depending on your personality, strength, body type, and commitment there are a myriad possibilities. Make sure that you opt for one that will reduce not increase your stress level by making you competitive or nervous. The term ‘Yoga’ can include tapes, studios, practices, gear, mats, wardrobe, props, and Christy Turlington. In alphabetical order, here’s a list of options:
  • Anusara Yoga: An aerobic Yoga that stresses alignment while increasing the heart rate. It’s a lot faster paced than traditional Yoga, but less of a cardiovascular workout than a step or high-impact class. Purists hate it, but if you’re looking to work up a bit more of a sweat, give Anusara a try.
  • Ashtanga Yoga: A more fundamental Yoga that utilizes a sequence of postures involving synchronized breathing, so you basically have one breath to do any particular movement. If you’ve done Yoga before and you’re looking for a challenge, this may be your particular cup of tea.
  • Bikrum Yoga: Done in a very hot room; popular because you can lose a lot of weight due to excessive sweating and become light headed due to dehydration, which can be mistaken as altered consciousness. Many folks swear by it, but it seems to me overly taxing, and weight loss due to sweat is offset at the drinking fountain.
  • Hatha Yoga: Considered classic or basic Yoga, this is for those who are looking for inner peace rather than panting, sweating, and weight loss. You hold postures for a long time, and the emphasis is on deep breathing. Beginners get a taste of basics here.
  • Iyengar Yoga: Emphasizes procession and purity of form. (To be quite honest, this is my favorite because it really does focus on holding a posture for a long period of time and doing it absolutely correctly.)
  • Jibamukti Yoga: Combines physical practice with foundations in spiritual teaching. Jibamukti means “liberation from limitation.”
  • Kundalini Yoga: A style of yoga that specifically focuses on energy flow and is recommended for relieving emotional stress and awakening psycho energetic power by those who swear by it. Sting has made this famous by incorporating it with tantric sex positions — tee hee.
  • Vinyasa Yoga: Moves from one posture to another and tends to be a bit more vigorous. Vinyasa is the name for a Yoga posture.

Progressive relaxation

You can banish stress from your system in several ways, including exercise, meditation, Tai Chi, Pilates, and Yoga. But one of the quickest and most effective ways is a technique called progressive relaxation. It focuses on each muscle group, from your toes to your head, and releases tension. I walk you through the process, step by step. Still seated in your comfortable chair, with your eyes gently closed, start with the tips of your toes. Repeat each muscle group sequence twice.
  1. Make a fist of your toes. Squeeze. Hold. Release slowly. Repeat.
  2. Roll each foot slowly, all the way around from the ankle, clockwise.Then roll each foot slowly counterclockwise. Point your toes, then flex them. Repeat.
  3. Tense and relax your thighs. Repeat.
  4. Make a fist of your buns. Hold tight. Relax. Don’t forget to inhale deeply through your nose, exhale through your mouth. Repeat.
  5. Tighten your stomach muscles. Relax. Repeat.
  6. Lift your shoulders up to your ears as high as you can. Now, a bit higher. Slowly lower both shoulders as far as you can, pushing them down gently, using only your shoulder muscles. Repeat.
  7. Make a fist with your hands. Clench your biceps. Slowly extend your arms out. Relax. Repeat.
  8. With arms extended at shoulder length, flex your hands, palms facing the far wall, fingers reaching straight up to the ceiling. Press out. Relax. Repeat.
  9. Turn your head all the way to the left and then all the way to the right. Be sure to keep your shoulders pressed down. Repeat.
  10. Scrunch your face up into a ball. Slowly relax it. Repeat.
  11. With your eyes still closed, slowly rotate your eyeballs clockwise. Then counterclockwise. Repeat.
Your whole body should feel very heavy. That’s good. Now, before you open your eyes, you need to do one final thing: Visualize.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Heavy breathing

Breath is, quite literally, the essence of life. Deep breathing is the essence of relaxation. Breathing is the cornerstone of almost all meditation. It’s chi in Eastern philosophy. Energy. Life force. If you watch a pitcher on the mound, a gymnast before she leaps onto the balance beam, or a professional bowler as he stands, ball in both hands, staring down the pins, they all do the same thing: take a deep breath and blow it out. Which is what I want you to do right now. On the day of your date, before you get dressed, block out ten minutes for your peace of mind. Turn the answering machine on and the volume down. There’s nothing that can’t wait ten minutes — even if it turns out your date was lost and calling from a gas station — especially if it’s your mom calling to tell you she wants (or doesn’t want) grandchildren. They can call you back.
For now, here’s what to do:
  1. Pick a quiet room that isn’t too dark, too light, too hot, or too cold.
  2. Select a comfortable chair, one that supports your back, arms, and legs.
  3. Make sure your clothes are comfortable. Take off your shoes. Wiggle your toes. Remove your belt. Loosen your collar.
  4. Sit down and let your eyes fall closed.
  5. If random thoughts enter your consciousness, allow them to gently float away like a fluffy cloud.
  6. Tune in to your body. Listen to your heart pumping, your breath inflating and deflating your lungs, and the blood pulsing in your ears.
  7. Feel very heavy in the chair.
  8. Breathe deeply in through your nose for a count of four, hold for a count of four, and exhale for a count of four out through your mouth. Then hold for two counts of four.
  9. Begin again. Repeat four times. Now, you’re ready to move on to a deeper phase of relaxation.

Relaxing body and soul

Just before your date begins, I want you to try the following relaxation technique to make sure your body and mind are in a relaxed state. Later, as a sort of “booster shot” during your date, I want you to periodically do a relaxation “spot check.” (It’s okay to go to the restroom to relax.) You may want to scribble a few of these steps on a piece of paper to tuck into your pocket or purse.
  1. Check your breathing. Look down. Is your stomach expanding with every breath? If not, stop worrying about your waistline and breathe deeply.
  2. Relax your shoulders. Do they look more like earrings than shoulders? Lower those babies! While you’re at it, gently swivel your neck in a figure eight.
  3. Look at your hands. If you have fingernail marks in the palms of your hands, you’re a little too tense. Lay your hands flat on your knees (you can do this under the table, and no one will be the wiser) and stretch your fingers and your palms.
  4. Check your face. Particularly if you’ve been smiling non-stop, your face can freeze into an uptight mask. Open your eyes and mouth as wide as you can. Hold. Release. Note: Don’t try this at the table in the restaurant or in the front row of the play. After your date is underway, excuse yourself to the privacy of the restroom stall.
  5. Check your mind. After your date is in full swing, ask yourself whether you are “scoring” the evening. You know, one point for you when your date laughs at a joke, one point for your date each time his or her fingertips brush your arm. If so, cut it out! Bring your mind back to the present moment, stop overseeing the project, and, hey, enjoy yourself!

Looking at every dater’s fears

Everyone who dates feels anxiety or stress sooner or later (usually sooner). After all, dating isn’t meant to be boring. In earlier sections, I explain the source of stress and give you techniques for coping with it. In this section, I identify the fears experienced by anyone who has dallied in the dating world so that you’ll know that you’re not the only one beset by insecurities and worries. Then I give some tips for dealing with these fears.
  • I’ll say the wrong thing. If you worry that you’ll say, “I see,” to someone with really bad vision or, “I’m in a really foul mood,” to someone who looks like a duck, or make a Freudian slip or burp or blurt out the wrong name when addressing your date, join the club. It happens all the time. Just take a deep breath, apologize once, and explain that you’re nervous.
  • I’ll do the wrong thing. You set your menu on fire by the votive candle or swallow down the wrong pipe and spend the next five minutes choking, gasping, and wiping your eyes; ask an usher for a program only to discover she’s really another audience member who, for some reason, thought wearing a black-collared red vest to a play would be a good idea; or mispronounce the name of something on the menu. Everybody periodically makes mistakes — and sometimes very silly ones. So why obsess about it? Relax. You’re human. If your date is cool about it, it can become part of your lore; if not, aren’t you glad you found out now?
  • Broccoli will get stuck in my front teeth. You could avoid smiling all evening just in case, but what’s the fun in that? Run your tongue over your teeth occasionally, check the mirror in the restroom, or don’t order anything green. And relax. Better to take your chances with stuck broccoli rather than fidget all evening, unless you’re dating a broccoli bigot.
  • I’ll get an erection. Most women won’t notice, and if your date does, she’ll likely be flattered. Don’t try spilling a glass of water on yourself as a distraction.
  • I’ll get my period. Only if you wear white — just kidding. The point is, nerves rev the system. It’s natural and normal. Carry change or protection and don’t sweat it. If you’re worried, wear a panty liner just in case.
  • I hate my date. You’re going out because you hope to have a nice time and good company. But what happens if your date turns out to be a huge boor, intolerably arrogant, or — eek! — the spawn of Satan.
  • My date hates me. As charming and warm and funny and wonderful as you are, you’re occasionally going to stumble across a few people who just don’t like you. As hard as it may be to imagine, that’s life. If you want tips on extricating yourself from this situation with the minimum of pain.
Regardless of what your fear is, try to put it in perspective and then put it behind you. Even the most embarrassing blunders are seldom fatal. Plus they make great stories later.

Mind over what’s-the-matter

Stress can be a snowball. If you’re not careful, it’s easily an avalanche. If one thing goes wrong when you’ve let yourself become really tense, you’re suddenly tossing your hands up in the air and ready to forfeit the whole game. Don’t go there. Instead, it’s time for a reality check. Ask yourself the following questions:
  • What do I really feel? Have I jammed a couple of unrelated memories and fears together to make a stress sandwich? Stop and ask yourself what’s the worst that could possibly happen? Believe it or not, allowing your fear to be specific rather than abstract, putting a face on your fear as it were, can really help because doing so defines, and then lessens, the fear. The bogeyman thrives in the dark.
  • Are my nerves talking, or am I? How many times have you tripped over your tongue or your good manners and said to yourself, “I can’t believe I just said that!” If it should happen to you on your date (and it happens to everyone), ’fess up right away. Apologize. Tell your date you were momentarily possessed. Just don’t let one faux pas fester into an ugly, giant, oozing ball of stress.
  • Am I trying to make sure my date doesn’t get too close? Intimacy is a scary thing. If you find yourself running for the dugout before the seventh inning stretch, get back in the game and see how it ends up.
  • Is this just old family baggage I’m keeping alive? If you notice that you seem to be falling back on tired old patterns left over from childhood to make you feel comfortable, give yourself a good talking to. Take a deep breath and tell yourself you’re safe. It’s okay to feel a little afraid. Don’t worry — you’ll hold your hand every step of the way.

Stress busters

Here are some cool gadgets and gizmos on the market that can help chill you out before a date or anytime you need to kick back a bit:
  • Rain chimes (the sound of falling rain)
  • Aromatherapy pendants
  • Relaxese Glasses (calming flickering lights)
  • Herbal pillows
  • Tub Tea (giant herbal tea bags for the bath)
  • Meditation tapes
  • Electric foot massager
  • Flexaball (giant ball on which you roll around)
  • Indoor fountains
  • Shower massagers
All this great stuff is widely available in New Age stores or catalogs such as Stress Less (800-555-3783 or

Saturday, November 29, 2008

How to create chaos?

If your family life was a roller coaster ride, you’re probably feeling the same sort of thrill/terror right now as you get ready for your date to begin. You’re likely running a teeny bit late, you’re not totally sure what you’re going to wear, and you think you know where you’re going. What you’re doing, in essence, is re-creating the same chaos you experienced as a child because that’s familiar. In this time of stress, you’re regressing to the comfortable days when, even though your family life was nutty, you knew your way around.
I can hear you now: “Just a minute, Dr. Joy . . . I’m running late because my boss called me into her office just as I was leaving.” You haven’t settled on an outfit because you weren’t sure what the weather would be. For heaven’s sake, you’re a grown-up. You don’t need to pin the directions to your sleeve — you’re pretty sure you know where you’re going!
All fine and accurate, but irrelevant. They’re cool excuses, but excuses nonetheless.
You don’t have to do this anymore. You don’t have to replay your old family scenes in your current life. You can tell your boss you have an appointment, you can wear a jacket if the weather’s cold, you can drive with confidence because you know where you’re going. You can feel cool, calm, and collected before a date. It’s a choice you can make a little more upfront so that you can sweat a little less later. Your choice: cool short-term or cool long-term (Hint: always go for the long-term — it lasts longer). If you want to never let ’em see you sweat, sweat when they’re not around. Nothing comes easily to everyone. Trust me on this.

Understanding Stress History

You can always tell more about a person by examining what they do repeatedly than by holding a magnifying glass up to one mistake or one incredibly romantic moment. Unless this is your first ever date (in which case, you can look at your behavior in other stressful situations like final exams, sports try-outs, school play auditions, and so on), think back to other first dates you’ve known. Did you feel the same way? Act in a similar manner? Call everyone in your address book and obsess for days? My guess is the answer is yes. And there’s a very simple explanation why. When stressed, we regress, which means that we revert to an earlier form of behavior that’s familiar and comfy. It’s why kids become unpottytrained when they get a new sib, or why most of us become childlike when we get sick. Often, you return to the way you behaved with your family when you were growing up. This doesn’t mean the circumstances were always good, just familiar. Remember that old joke about the man who wouldn’t stop banging his head against the wall? When asked why, he responded, “It’s the only thing I know how to do really well, and it feels really good when I stop.”
We all learned really well how to respond to stress. This does not mean we all respond really well.
Think back to the morning of one of your childhood family vacations. Or just before Thanksgiving dinner at your house. Or watching your parents get ready to go out. Pick the scenario that best describes the scene:
  • Serenity reigns. The bags were packed the day before and are lined up at the front door. The kids are lined up, too, ready to march single-file into the station wagon. Or, the table was set the night before. Roasted turkey smells fill the calm air. Your mom relaxes on the couch watching her kids play tiddlywinks. Or, the baby-sitter is early, Mom is dressed and waiting, Dad has the directions in hand and made the reservation weeks ago and is always so efficient Mom never once has to ask him, “Did ya remember to . . . ?”
  • Chaos reigns. You’re riffling through the pile of dirty laundry in the corner of your bedroom searching for your favorite T-shirt to stuff into your suitcase. Dad keeps yelling, “If you don’t get into the car now, we’re leaving without you.” Or, you’re polishing silver as the doorbell rings, the kitchen looks like Hurricane Andrew blew through, and your mother vows, “Next year, Thanksgiving is at Grandma’s!” Or, Dad is yelling at Mom, who’s been in the bathroom for the past 45 minutes, “If you don’t get in the car now, I’m leaving without you!” When Mom is finally ready, she asks your dad if he has the address where they’re going, and he says, “I thought you had it.”
If you picked the second scenario, your family is like almost everyone’s family. If you picked the first, your parents were probably hatched from an alien pod. In most families, chaos is a part of all big events, at least to some degree. Your family life was the school in which you learned how things are “supposed” to be before a big event in your life right now.

Breaking the stress wall

A stress wall is a barrier most people build to keep strangers from getting too close too soon. It keeps others at arm’s length. Like small talk, the walls we construct to protect ourselves have gotten a bum rap. When built properly (out of movable and removable building blocks rather than cement), emotional walls serve a very handy purpose. They keep dashing, yet deadly, Attila the Huns from jabbing a spear into the center of your heart, or nineheaded Hydras from swimming across your emotional moat and slithering into your life. The notion that instant vulnerability is a desirable trait is dangerous, indeed.

After all, we’re not in Eden anymore.
What I’m trying to get at is the sense that some feelings of stress are a normal and essential part of being alive, and — dare I say it? — of staying alive. Dating, by its very nature, is one big, fat unknown. It’s okay to feel a bit of trepidation. It’s good to drive cautiously with your eyes on the road and your hands at “ten and two” on the steering wheel. What’s not productive, however, is to work yourself into a tizzy because you’re suddenly convinced a serial killer must lurk in the soul of anyone who would date you or that a vengeful ex in an eighteen wheeler is about to cross the median and obliterate you. The goal of this section is to show you how to manage your stress and make it work for you, not wear you out. First, ask yourself the following questions:
  • Was I sober and of sound mind when the date was originally arranged?
  • Have I spoken to this person since the date was made?
  • Is excitement buried beneath my feelings of stress (as opposed to dread)?
  • Is this someone I would unhesitatingly introduce to my mother? If all or most of your answers are “yes,” your stress wall will probably start lowering a bit as soon as your date laughs at your first joke.

Understanding the Psychology of Stress

In previous chapters, I discuss the physiology of stress: how your body shifts into the fight-or-flight mode and pumps you up with adrenaline when you face a tense situation. Later in this chapter, I give you step-by-step instructions on how to calm those heart-racing, stomach-churning, mouth-drying, palm-sweating symptoms. Now, though, I want you to explore the other side —the psychology of stress.
Stress is your system’s response to being overtaxed by anxiety due to excess drink, sun, food, work, or even fun — too much of anything, even good stuff, stretches the boundaries. Stress is a spring that’s wound too tightly. It’s your body’s equivalent of a flashing yellow light, a Caution sign, or a Slippery when Wet warning.
When you’re just getting to know someone, your senses rally all their resources to help you evaluate whether this human being is a friend or foe. Intuition, past experiences, present observations, your ability to trust — they all come into play and keep cooking as new “cues” come your way. Until you’ve had enough positive cues to convince you that — whew! — this person is okay (he or she isn’t going to hurt me, humiliate me, or leave me holding the check), you’re going to feel a tad stressed, and the yellow light continues to flash, meaning you’re not ready to let your guard down just yet.
You can reduce your anxiety by understanding that stress is a natural and useful response to an unknown and potentially scary situation. Instead of dismissing your stress, you can leave yourself on guard and then, as you feel more confident, allow less and less of a barrier between the two of you, which is the whole point of dating. It’s okay to leave this wall of protection in place for a while, while you peek around to see what’s on the other side.

Countdown toward dating

  • 10 minutes Scan your reflection in a full-length mirror. Check for hanging threads, lint, and cat hair. Note: If you see a thread dangling from a button, don’t pull the thread. It’ll fall off as sure as leaves vacate trees in autumn. Instead, wrap the thread around the button and make a mental note to sew it on before date two.
  • 9 minutes Use the restroom. If you don’t have to go now, you probably will in ten minutes, so give it a shot.
  • 8 minutes Double-check your purse or wallet. Make sure you have your driver’s license, cash, credit cards, lipstick, tissues, keys, and breath mints. Stash your purse near the door and your wallet near your heart.
  • 7 minutes Give your shoes a quick buff with a shoe shine brush or soft cloth (not the back of your pants —that’s for emergencies only).
  • 6 minutes If you’re going to wear an overcoat or jacket, take it out of the closet and drape it over a chair near the door. It’s rarely wise to let a date see behind any closed doors until you at least know the person’s middle name.
  • 5 minutes Grab a hand mirror and check out the back of your head. Make sure your hair looks as good going as coming.
  • 4 minutes Quick tooth check. Lipstick? Dried spittle in the corners of your mouth? Parsley? Chocolate? Take care of it immediately.
  • 3 minutes Quick breath check. Because no one can smell his or her own bad breath, play it safe and pop one of those breath mints you’ve stashed in your purse or pocket.
  • 2 minutes Deep breathing. Shut your eyes, inhale, hold, blow it out through your minty-fresh mouth. Repeat for the full minute.
  • 1 minute Guided imagery. Close your eyes again and picture a calm person answering the door with an easy, inviting smile.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

One Final Checklist

The best way to appear casual and relaxed is to have done your homework.
The Boy Scouts are right: Be prepared. Preparation creates calm and security. There’s nothing like knowing you have it all under control and the bases are covered. Conversely, what’s more anxiety producing than being caught short? Besides, preparation is the realm of grown-ups. Only little kiddies frantically dash around at the last minute trying to tie up loose ends. To not only appear grown-up but to be way cool:
  • Know where you’re going.
  • Know how to get there.
  • Make sure you have enough gas.
  • Know how much (more or less) thing are going to cost.
  • Make sure you have enough money.
  • Make sure you have $20 tucked somewhere for emergencies.
  • Make sure your watch is working.
  • Check the following:
    • Breath
    • Teeth
    • Wallet
    • Condom (always be prepared!)
    • Pits
    • Wardrobe
    • Baby-sitter (when appropriate)
    • Curfew (when appropriate)
    • Calendar (make sure you’ve got the right day, date, and time)
    • Date’s phone number (for emergency traffic snarls, lost directions, and so on)
    • Date’s address
    • Tickets (for time and date)
Fellas, if you want to win a huge number of points, make sure you always have two clean, ironed handkerchiefs on hand. You can buy them very cheaply at street fairs or discount stores. Keep a bunch around because nothing will stun a woman more than offering her a clean, white, pressed, unscented handkerchief when she gets something in her eye or when she’s crying at a movie. You instantly become the man. Tissues will not work.

Know your Directions

Take a deep breath, guys. I’m not going to suggest that you ask for directions. But, what I will say to both men and women is this: Know where you’re going and the best way to get there before you pick up your date. In addition, know how to navigate the location once you arrive: Know where to park the car, where the front door is, and (if you really want to impress your date) where the restrooms are.
I know you would never not know where you’re going, but heaven forbid you get lost and have to look at a map. Until you know each other really well, beware these seven words: “A map is in the glove compartment.” This seemingly innocent statement sends shivers of fear through otherwise normal people. Orient the map may mean “find China” to one of you and “get out the compass and find true north” to the other. One person reading a map while the other is driving in foreign territory is asking for trouble: One of you helplessly watches highway exits whiz by while the other frantically searches for the name of the city you’re in. If (heaven forbid) you must consult a map, do you and your date a favor and pull over, pull the map out, and leave the radio on something soothing. Never, even when you do know one another really well, utter these nine words: “Let’s find a gas station and ask for directions.”

Money management in dating

The time to swing by the ATM is the day before your date. Nothing kills the illusion of a together, take-charge person faster than fumbling with your PIN while your date waits in the car.
If you ask, you pay. So be sure to do the following:
  • Stash plenty of cash. If you can’t afford where you’re going, go someplace else.
  • Don’t assume the place you’re going takes credit cards. If you don’t know (meaning you haven’t called in advance to make sure), bring enough cash to cover the most expensive item on the menu or at the venue. Or better, call in advance to both the place and your credit card customer service to make sure that your card will be accepted there (or anywhere).
  • Have a few dollar bills handy for tipping valets, and so on. For a rough estimate on how much you’ll need for tips

Transportation management in dating

No, you don’t have to pick your date up in a stretch limo to be impressive. What you do need to do is gas up and clean out your car (especially if you still smoke). Empty the ashtray, wipe down the dash, and pick up the lipstick that rolls to the front every time you hit the brakes. Use all five senses. If your auto smells like a locker room, spritz air freshener after you clean up. If it looks like you pass through a fast food drive-thru each time you hit the road, vacuum and scan for shriveled french fries and errant ketchup packs in the crevices beside your seat.
Unless you want your date to think you moonlight as a cab driver, take that dangling air freshener (and anything else that dangles above your dash) off the rearview mirror.
Many city folk, some youngsters, and future billionaires who’d rather spend time in front of a computer screen than behind the wheel don’t have a car. If you’re in that category, you can do the following:
  • Have a (clean, undented) cab waiting.
  • Plan to meet at the date destination.
  • Rent a car.
  • Borrow a car.
  • Go somewhere within walking distance.
  • Hire a car service for the night.
  • Okay, impress your date with a stretch limo (but not on a first date).
There’s no shame to having no wheels. Where a reprimand creeps in, however, is when the “autoless” treat the “autoed” like chauffeurs. Don’t go there. Most importantly, don’t make your date go there to pick you up.

Time management in dating

Most people have a thing about time. Some people, like me, are always early and hate being kept waiting. Tardiness can feel really insulting. (I’ve always been prompt, but being a broadcaster makes me especially careful. If you’re a minute late, you can lose your job. The “on air” light waits for no one.) Some people always keep you waiting as a sign of power. They feel important when they make people wait for them. What’s really important, though, especially in the beginning of a relationship, is to show consideration for each other and be on time. It lowers the adrenaline and anxiety in an already tense situation. For those of you who are always late, remind yourself that you’re late for your mom or your little brother because you can be. You know they’ll put up with it. You’re probably not late for your boss, because she won’t put up with it and will can you. Ask yourself whether you’re using time as a way of armwrestling for attention. If so, figure out a better way to get attention. Promptness is the courtesy of kings, and isn’t that how we all want to be treated?
I know it’s considered cool to keep your escort waiting downstairs for your descent, but think about it: Is it any more acceptable for you to keep him waiting than for him to keep you on ice? It’s rude and can really throw plans and stomachs into turmoil.
If you want to make sure you’re on time, try these techniques:
  • If you’re not sure where you’re going, plan a dry run the day before. Getting lost will make you late and nervous.
  • If you always tend to be late, give yourself an extra half-hour to get ready. This is a great idea even if you’re not dating!
  • Decide to be on time. Clocks are simple to read if you actually look at them.
  • Don’t overbook. If you can’t easily make it to the cleaners on your way home from work so that you have enough time to walk the dog before you shower, shampoo, shave, and blow-dry your hair, make a later date or get a cat.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Hygiene checklist for dating

To make sure you covered all the bases, check out this D-day hygiene checklist:
  • Shower.
  • Wash your hair.
  • Wash your ears (inside, out, and behind).
  • Brush and floss.
  • Clip or file your nails (don’t forget your toenails — hey, you never know).
  • Shave (face, legs, armpits). Note: “Hairless” is not a synonym for “clean.”
Personal preference rules.
  • Pluck. (Guys: pay special attention to the bridge of your nose and earlobes; women: don’t skip the chinny chin chin.)
  • Apply deodorant (go for the gold; use an antiperspirant).
  • Wear clean underwear (Mom was right again).
  • Wear freshly laundered clothes.

Hair guide for dating

At one time, our whole bodies were covered in hair. Hair, once merely a protection against the harsh elements of nature, is now symbolic of everything from virility to athletic prowess to financial status to sexuality to sensuality to youth to creativity to gang affiliation. All for a mass of dead protein cells with emotional impact on the mating ritual we call a date. If your hair looks great, you feel great. If it resembles road kill, you’ll feel just about as flat and lifeless. Women: One way to tell that you’re not ready to go all the way is if you don’t shave your legs before a big date. Men: One way to tell that you’re not ready to make out with a woman is if you don’t shave your stubble. Don’t get a haircut on the day of the date. Men always have a harsh white scalp line on the back of their necks, and women can’t stop staring at their hair until they’ve lived with it a day or two. Getting your hair done is a different story. If it’s a big date (wedding, formal, dinner at the White House), a professional do will do quite nicely.
Women lose about as much hair as men do — they just lose it all over their heads instead of the more obvious pattern of male baldness. Let your hair dictate the style, not the other way around. Go, literally, with its flow instead of your own. Your hair will fall into its own place by the end of the evening anyway, so why fight it?

Bad Breath Exam

Bad breath is most often caused by:
a. Stomach acid
b. Tongue bacteria
c. Plaque between the teeth
d. Poor oral hygiene
e. Sinus problems
f. All of the above
Answer: b.
Surprised? The latest research on halitosis has found that by-products of bacteria called Volatile Sulfur Compounds (VSC), usually found on the back surface of your tongue, cause nearly all cases of bad breath. Everyone has these little devils in their mouths. In fact, they help with digestion. But the 25 million (yes, million) men and women with chronic halitosis have an overabundance of the critters. No one knows precisely why, and on D-Day, who cares? The best temporary solution is a good tongue scraping after you brush and floss. Then contact a specialist (breath clinics are popping up in many places, often associated with dental schools) to eradicate the problem for life.

The sweat guide for dating

Sweating, when you’re nervous or hot, is natural. Excessive sweating, called hyperhidrosis, can be problematic. It happens when your sympathetic nervous system is out of whack — working harder than it needs to in regulating your body temperature. Sweat appears on the palms of your hands, your face, feet, and torso, as well as your pits. Remember the Albert Brooks flop sweat scene in the movie Broadcast News? No one wants that to happen on a date. If you sweat profusely (or even just a little), here are things that can help:
  • Antiperspirants: The active ingredient in most antiperspirants is aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex (or tetra-chlorohydrex) GLY. Some people do apply antiperspirant to the soles of their feet or the palms of their hands, but most use them on their armpits. The purpose of an antiperspirant is to stop sweat from reaching the skin. A deodorant, on the other hand, is used to mask perspiration odors.
  • Powders: Brushed on the hands and feet, talc, cornstarch, and baking soda-based powders absorb perspiration as it reaches the surface of your skin.
  • Relaxation: Particularly before a big date, sweat may be more of an emotional response to stress than a physical problem with your armpits or hands or forehead. Take several deep breaths and try to chill out.
  • Surgery: In severe cases of sweating, surgery is possible to remove axillary sweat glands, or the sweat glands under the arms — but don’t try this at home.

Sweat Management in Dating

Sweat is the Stooge Factor. You know, the thing that really separates men from women. Men love the Three Stooges; women just don’t get it. A few weeks ago I was loading my sweaty ’tards into a laundry bag at the gym when a cute fella walked by and started to chat with me. I cautioned him that he was standing dangerously close to the rather ripe scent of my exercise gear. He got a dreamy look on his face and said, “Yeah, smells like sweat, baby, baby.” Like I said, a difference between men and women. Men think sweat is sexy; women think it’s fairly disgusting. Maybe sweat reminds men of all the sexy ways they can get sweaty, and women get embarrassed by the same thoughts. We don’t have to convince one another, but guys beware: Women find stale sweat smelly and quite uncool. Got it? Good. Blotting papers, which you can buy in many cosmetic departments, are handy inexpensive makeup aids to absorb facial oil so you don’t have to repowder or wash your face and reapply makeup. They also work on sweaty hands. If you don’t happen to have them with you, not to worry. In most public bathrooms, those paper toilet seat covers work just beautifully. (Please use them before you put them on the toilet seat.)
Blotting papers work for you, too!

Cleanliness in Dating

Good hygiene is an essential element of attraction. Most people have five functioning senses, after all, and use them liberally to evaluate a potential mate. In fact, your sense of smell is intimately involved in your choice of a mate. In essence, proper hygiene is attractive. Or, at the very least, it helps you avoid being chased by wild dogs and shows that you care not only for yourself but for others as well.
When you smell an aroma, any aroma, it stimulates the olfactory nerves which, in turn, activate the limbic, or emotional, center of the brain. Heady stuff. That’s why certain smells make us feel luscious (think freshly baked chocolate chip cookies) and other odors make us grimace (think freshly minted cow patties). Scientists now believe we all have an “odor print,” or pheromones, that silently lure the opposite sex. These pheromones are released through natural secretions of the body. Poor hygiene, therefore, can interfere with our natural “smell” selection.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Putting together an emergency repair kit

Hey, life happens. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be ready for any eventuality. Keep a shoebox of the following items in your closet at home so you won’t be searching for them at the last minute, and keep a mini version in your car or pocketbook for a quick trip to the restroom if necessary.
  • Safety pins (small, medium, and large)
  • Needle and thread (white, black, and brown)
  • Styptic pencil (men and women)
  • Extra pair of pantyhose (women)
  • Band-Aids
  • Clear nail polish to stop a run in pantyhose or repair an earring, a broken acrylic nail, or loose lens in your glasses
  • Hem tape
  • Tweezers for that splinter, or a pesky hair that just popped up
  • Antacid tablets (optional)
  • Breath mints

Profile of the politically correct date: A joke

  • Drink more than two glasses of red wine . . . if you drink at all.
  • Eat meat (fish and chicken are okay).
  • Set your hairstyle with hair spray from an aerosol can.
  • Wear fur, leather, perfume, cologne, or chemicals of any kind (includes sunscreen and antiperspirant).
  • Discuss politics (unless you met at a rally).
  • Call her “babe” or him “sir.”

  • Ask for bottled water in the restaurant.
  • Discuss whale watching and spotted owl spotting.
  • Praise family values.
  • Insist on splitting the check.

Bearing other factors in mind during preparation

Here are a few other things to keep in mind as you prepare:
  • Allergies: Many people are sensitive to a whole lot of allergens; it’s no longer just the cat or dog. One biggie: perfumes and colognes. To some, wearing a strong scent in a public setting is tantamount to lighting a giant stogie in a doctor’s waiting room. Play it safe by either going au naturel or, before you get dressed, spritz your scent into the air and walk into it instead of squirting perfume or cologne directly on your skin.
  • Sore spots: Although you can’t avoid offending all of the people all of the time, you can avoid stepping on potential toes by considering what your date may think about fur, cleavage, big hair, smoking, drinking, drugs, and photographs of Mother pinned to your lapel. Because you don’t know each other at this point, pretend that you’re dressing for a job interview or a meeting with a bank to consider a loan. You can make political statements on date three.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Have I figured my date into the equation?

Dressing for your evening out is primarily about making you feel like a million bucks, but while you’re at it, throw a few cents of sense your date’s way. Tom Cruise and anybody aside, most short guys feel a tad shy with an Amazon woman at their side — especially if he has a bald spot previously seen only by birds or passengers in low-flying aircraft. Date night may not be the right night to break out those four-inch heels. Grungy rock stars aside, most women prefer a gu who at least ran his fingers through his hair — unless, of course, he’s been working on the car or in the garden or out in the stables and his shower is broken. (In that case, the whole date will be a wash, so you might as well reschedule.) The point is, a date is a twosome. Some consideration on your part can help make it one heck of a great time.

Think about what your date will probably wear. If you’re beaching it, lose the tie. If you’re going to a barbecue, don’t wear something suitable for a funeral. Dress age- and place-appropriate so that you’re not likely to be taken for her

father or his baby doll. This is also not the time for gender-bending outfits. When in doubt, think about both your comfort and your date’s. Remember that it’s easier to remove a tie than wish you’d worn one, and overdressing makes you look elegant, and underdressing makes you look sloppy, so if you can’t hit it exactly right, try a bit over rather than under. My aunt has always
maintained overdressing will get you taken to a better restaurant.

Did I pay attention to detail?

Shine your shoes. Press your collar. Check for errant threads. Rub the lipstick off your teeth. Tuck in the tag. Clean under your fingernails. Sniff for excessive aftershave or perfume. Unstuff your purse. Freshen your breath. Match your socks. Check out the rearview in a full-length mirror (don’t forget the back of your hairdo). In short, pretend you’re going to Sunday school and grandma’s watching.
  •  Department store dressing rooms are notoriously overlit. If you look good in there, you’ll look good anywhere.
  •  Bathroom mirrors are typically underlit for bright, daylight makeup. If you can, apply daylight makeup close to a window flooded with natural light. If you can’t, recheck your makeup once you get outside and blend in any areas that look a little thick.
Unless you’re covering surgical scars or other major skin care challenges, you should always be able to see your skin through your makeup. Foundation is designed to improve Mother Nature, not replace her.

Where am I going?

This point is simple, but often overlooked. Ask yourself, “Did she really ‘We’ll grab a bite to eat’?” If so, case closed: Wear a catcher’s mitt. But if you’re not entirely sure, there’s no harm in asking, “Is this a casual affair?” — only, leave out the word “affair” so he won’t get the wrong idea.

What do I feel good in?

Comfort is crucial. You’ll have enough emotional turmoil to grapple with without fussing over a shoulder pad that keeps slipping or a silk shirt that suddenly feels like a plastic bag.
  • Select cozy fabrics. Cotton or velvet or any other material that feels soft against your skin is a good choice.
  •  Make sure that the fit is fabulous. Take the penny test: Drop a penny on the floor; then pick it up. If your waistband is too tight, heels too high, skirt too narrow, slacks too snug, shirt too short, or gold chains too heavy, rethink your look until you can easily scoop that penny off the floor. If your outfit doesn’t pass the penny test, put it back in the closet.
  •  Wear what you already own. The temptation to rush out and buy the perfect outfit will be strong. Resist it. You don’t want to take chances with an outfit that hasn’t already proven itself at least once. “New” doesn’t necessarily mean “flawless.” Hems fall, button threads unravel, perspiration shows. Again, play it safe and go with what you know.

What do I look good in?

A date is a time for the tried-and-true: the outfit you already know inspires everyone to ask, “Have you lost weight?” — or the male equivalent, “Have you been working out?” If you find yourself musing, “You know, I’ve always wanted to try spandex,” immediately do the following: Drop this book, run to the bathroom, turn the faucet on cold, and shove your face beneath the icy stream. If no water is available, a gentle, but firm, slap on both cheeks will do.
Save your experimental urges for dark, stormy nights full of lightning when you’re trying to jolt a green-faced monster with a giant flat-top back to life. If you’re not sure what you look good in, put on a potential outfit and stand in front of your mirror. Then really look at yourself, from head to toe to the back of your heels. You’ll be tempted to be judgmental. Don’t. This is a time for
honest appraisal, not nit-picking. If you’re not good at figuring out what looks terrific and what qualifies you for arrest by the fashion police, ask a best friend to be brutally honest (if one isn’t handy on the day of the date, do this beforehand). Friends see stuff you’ve been overlooking for years.
  • Select substance over style. Style is great, and great style is truly fabulous. Often though, the latest, latest, latest style is a tad too trendy for anyone other than the very young and very hungry. Again, go for it only if it looks good on you.
  •  Pick the right color. Yeah, I know. You guys aren’t about to hold an orange scarf up to your face to tell whether you really are an “autumn” instead of a “winter.” I don’t blame you. Who needs the devastation of discovering you’ve spent your life as the wrong season? Yet, a little color savvy goes a long way. Often, it’s hard to tell if a color really does look good or the salesperson was pulling your leg when she said, “Puce is you!” Once again, a trusted friend can come in handy. One quick rule: If your skin has a yellowish cast to it, you probably look best in soft browns, golds, and reds. If your skin is more pinkish, try grays, blues, and purples. When in doubt, hey, there’s always basic black.
  •  Consider the breadth and scope of the entire date, not just the sashay to the car or to the table in the restaurant. If there’s dancing after dinner, for instance, that jacket’s going to come off, so you’d better make sure it isn’t the cornerstone of your look (or at least that your shirt is ironed).
  •  Choose fabrics that wear as well as you do. Satin? Linen? Fuhgettaboutit unless you’re dating a Shar-Pei who loves wrinkles.

Dressing for real-world dates

When it actually comes time to choose an outfit, what do you put on? Well, if it were up to me, everybody would have a first date in their grubbiest, most comfortable clothes (grubby in terms of well-worn, not dirty). Men wouldn’t shave, and women’s legs would remain bristly, and new clothes wouldn’t even be contemplated. This non-dress code (or dress non-code) would complement the activities planned, which, if it were up to me, would be active and fun and casual. None of this fancy restaurant stuff, worrying about prices and the right fork and not dribbling and stray bits of broccoli between your teeth and a snooty waiter and tight shoes or collars or tables.
But, since I’m not in charge of the universe, I promise to help you get through getting dressed for your date in the real world. Understand that no one, not even cute little ol’ me, can or should tell you exactly what to wear on a first, second, or fifth date. You already know. Just trust yourself. Use that three-pound blob of gray matter sitting atop your neck (no, you don’t have something large caught between your teeth). In other words, if you use your head — and not your credit card or your Vogue or your MTV or your rose-colored glasses or your mom — you’ll look and feel just fine. But don’t panic. I know it’s hard to keep your head on straight, let alone your wardrobe pulled together, when you’re prepping for a date. But if you keep the following in mind, you’ll do just fine:
  •  Rule 1: Preparation before, comfort during. Worry a lot about what you’re wearing and how you’re smelling and looking before you leave the house so that you never have to waste a moment thinking about it after you’ve left.
  • Rule 2: There is no one right way. Creating a look is very different from the way you would sound out a word or learn to dance or memorizeFrench verbs. It’s not like “Put your left foot here and your right foot there.” Dressing yourself up to go out is a recognition of who you are, your personal style, what you want to say about yourself, how you want others to see you, and, in a way, a reflection of your unique sense of yourself. You go, guy. You go, girl.
A surefire way to make sure you end up in the right outfit is to think about your outfit in terms of what looks and feels good on you, how appropriate the outfit is for the activity, how your date is dressing, and so on. The following sections lead you through this examination.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Preparing Wears and Outfit for Your First Date

Because your date evaluates your appearance from the outside in, I’m starting with the least important part of you, but the most important part of an initial impression: how you look — what you’re wearing, how you smell, your haircut.
What you wear — your “costume” — counts. A person dressed as a clown is seen as silly; a clown dressed as a judge is taken seriously. Think about the clichés that apply: You are what you wear. Clothes make the man. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There’s a reason these clichés, hackneyed as they are, stick. Though everyone hates to admit it, we’re an externally-oriented society. So expecting (hoping, praying, making a deal with the dating gods) that your date will look beyond your favorite sneakers with the toe hole or that muumuu you bought at the souvenir hut in Hawaii, to the deep, spiritual, real you hidden within is spitting into the wind. In other words, you’re all wet. Get over it. Looks matter . . . no matter how much you wish they didn’t. You can do something quickly and easily without working out, consulting a plastic surgeon, or spending a fortune. The place to start is with your own sense of yourself — your personal style — your statement about yourself. Yeah, you do have one. Your handwriting, laugh, and sleep position are all uniquely you. Guess what? Creating an external, aware style can be really fun. See Chapter 2 for tips on developing and revealing your own style. When you think about what you plan to wear on your date, keep the following points in mind:
  • Comfort is key. Even if your attire makes a fabulous first impression, avoid any outfit that pinches, binds, rides up, or threatens to burst at the seams. Believe in the Law of Murphy: All these things can and will happen at the worst possible moment.
  • Plan to perspire. Even the coolest cat sweats on a date. Even in winter. It’s nature’s way of lowering your overheated body temperature. Choose clothes that are loose in the armpits and on the back. Let air get in there and dry you out before the fabric presses to your flesh like a wet tissue.
  • Save the skin show. Your date doesn’t need to know if you’re an innie or an outie just yet — unless, of course, your date is at the beach.
  • A date is about getting to know you, not your outfit. Yes, what you wear is right up there with remembering to brush your teeth, but if the first thing he sees is your ostrich feather, or she has to don sunglasses to look at your day-glo polyester pants, your outfit may never be asked out on a second date.
  • Avoid “get-ups.” If your mother would dub your date outfit a “get-up” (as in, “You’re going out in that get-up?”), play it safe and get up and get something else on. Moms, after all, do occasionally know best. This is no time to test the truth of the theory.
Now is the time to control your urge to splurge. I know it’s tough. (My favorite four-letter word is “sale.”) But beware of the 50-percent trap (if you wouldn’t buy it for full price, don’t buy it at half price). Ostensibly, this is the first of many dates. You don’t want to rope yourself into a lifetime of revolving debt or watch your date’s face fall after your horsemen have turned back into mice and your carriage is one big fat pumpkin again.

First Impressions Count

You can visually absorb someone’s appearance in two seconds. Two seconds! Talk about your once-over. That’s exactly what’s going to happen in the vibrating, potential-packed few moments between the time you open the door, flash those pearly whites, and say “Hi.” Ba-da bing, ba-da boom. An impression has already been burned into your date’s brain, so you may as well make sure it’s a great one. Even if you’ve seen each other before, the context has changed. Now it’s official. It’s a date. That two-second stare, called the copulatory gaze, triggers a primal reaction in the person being gawked at: advance or pull back. It’s a biologically buzzed moment. Pupils are dilated, and heart rates are up. Staring too long is threatening, so take it easy. Take a look and then look away before your date runs away.

Considerin Cosmetic Improvement for Your First Date

Before we focus on the prosaic of what you can do to get your outside ready, let’s talk for a moment about a rather alarming, expensive trend: the idea that somehow a person is not going to be lovable unless completely and forever wrinkle and cellulite free, gorgeous, and hard-bodied with an adorable upturned nose and a full head of luxuriant hair. Okay, before you accuse me of being hopelessly old-fashioned, if you have a bump on your nose that you’ve always hated and you’re deciding that now you have the time and the money to get it fixed, so be it. It’s cool with me.
But if you think changing that bump on your nose is going to help you find love, forget about it. You’re likely to be disappointed in not only your nose job but the rest of your life. Plastic surgery is no longer only for movie stars and international socialites; today people in all socioeconomic classes are undergoing cosmetic surgery. The largest number of people getting plastic surgery make less than $30,000 dollars a year, which I find vaguely terrifying. If you want to have plastic surgery, it’s okay with me, but please don’t do it to increase your chances of finding a date. If you want to think about a chemical peel to make your skin look better, no problem, but it won’t make you more lovable or a better conversationalist or less angry with your mom while looking for a date. If a cosmetic surgery procedure — or Botox injections or hair replacement treatments — makes you feel better, so be it, but if your entire sense of self is based on the smoothness of your skin or more hair, we need to talk.
Before you decide that I’m the spokesperson for ugly, I’m the first to admit that confidence is attractive and that a good haircut, a flattering outfit, or gaining or losing a couple of pounds can boost your confidence. Well, terrific, and I am actually in favor of a couple of new cosmetic procedures that are relatively inexpensive, noninvasive, and easily available, including those that literally put your money where your mouth is: tooth whitening or, if the enamel is hugely discolored, veneers for your teeth, both of which are becoming more popular and both affordable and available. One of the top turn-offs for both men and women is bad teeth. If you haven’t had those choppers looked at and cleaned recently, start with a routine checkup and cleaning; it’s cheapest, easiest, and healthiest place to start. If you’re feeling that your smile isn’t as vibrant as you like, teeth whitening is a relatively inexpensive and common procedure. Inner beauty is truly something that may need work and can’t be bought, but giving Ma Nature a minor shove in the smile department is quite kosher.

Enjoyment and Anticipation of a First Date

Think of the astronauts suiting up for launch, your first day of school, the moment just before the curtain rises — we’re talking the thrill of possibility, and with it, adrenaline, anticipation, action. Even though your palms get sweaty and your tummy may hurt a bit, you feel alive and ready, especially if you’ve practiced your landing sequence, packed your lunch, and learned your lines. If so, anticipation is a wonderful thing. It’s the perfect imaginary meal you can almost taste when your growling tummy notices it’s been a while since you last ate. It’s the white sands of Tahiti that inspire you to see your boss about that raise, the bacon you can see sizzling when that first whiff wakes you up in the morning.
If you handle it right, anticipation is not only a motivating factor (“I think I’ll call a friend for lunch, write a memo to my boss, haul myself out of bed”) but also a way to enjoy an experience twice: You can enjoy it in your imagination, and you enjoy it again when it’s real. That’s really good news. An emotional twofer. Two for the price of one. The not-so-good news is that anticipation can backfire if you’re careless with the way you handle it. It’s up to you: You can poison a neutral or even positive situation by being negative, by building up the dreaded worst-case scenario. Or you can choose to be delighted about your upcoming date and focus on doing what you can to make things click. You can choose to label your nerves “excitement” and look forward to having a great time.
Once you’ve decided to enjoy the tingle rather than let your nerves become hives, the adrenaline-jazzed anticipatory period before your first date is the perfect time to get yourself, your mind, your body, and your soul into the “date state.”
In this chapter, referring to “date state” focuses not on cosmetic surgery before a first date (can you say overkill) or why your wardrobe doesn’t need an immediate major overhaul but why your teeth, hair, and pits need to be squeaky clean. It also includes advice on what and what not to wear. Time, transportation, money, and directions require the same attention before you head out. Finally, tada, a handy checklist of smart things to do during those final ten minutes before your date arrives.

More about figuring out who pays for the first date

Used to be easy figuring out who paid, because men paid for everything (of course, they were the only ones doing the asking), and women kept their mad money tucked neatly in their little velvet purses and paid for nothing. Of course, after so many eons of men feeling that they had to pay and women feeling that men expected something for their money, women got a bit more aggressive about paying their share (rather than being fearful that the guy would “take it out in trade”).

But it gets pretty tedious figuring out what your fair share is when you order the salad and your date orders the prime rib, and you still have to figure in the tip. My solution was to play liar’s poker, which is a game played with the serial number on dollar bills in which bluffing is allowed until you are called. Whoever lost had to pay for dinner. I got really good at offering and really good at liar’s poker, which seemed to cover all bases. These days, it’s okay to offer to pay the tip, buy the popcorn, pay for the next date, bring the picnic, pay for the gas, and so on, not only on the first date but as an ongoing statement of equality, friendliness, and generosity unless it drives your date nuts.

Who pays for first date?

In deciding who pays for the date, follow this two-part rule:

· The person who asks, pays. This ensures that whoever does the inviting knows what things will cost and has budgeted accordingly. As the person extending the invitation, if you can’t afford the activity, scale down and figure out something else to do.

· The other person offers but doesn’t insist on helping out. No empty gestures please. Don’t offer to pay unless you can and are willing to do so. No fights to the death. It’s charming to offer, but don’t push it, and be willing to treat next time.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Narrow down the restaurant list even more

After you narrow your list of potential restaurants down to those that meet your economic and ambiance requirements, narrow the list down even more by doing the following:
  • Pick a place you know. Menu familiarity reeks of confidence. You’ll sound like Cary Grant if you lean over and say, “Try the duck. It’s out of this world.” Also, knowing a restaurant well means that you’re comfortable with the service, the all-important table spacing, the lighting, the wine list, the taste, the presentation, and payment procedures. It’s the way to ensure you’ll have a good time. And if you’re happy, your date stands a better chance of being happy, too. Avoid trendy new hot spots. Number one, they are often very difficult to get into, and number two, they can be very expensive — you don’t want to put your MasterCard into meltdown. Number three, these days, they tend to be noisy! It isn’t the type of place you want to be on a first date. Save the trendy, expensive hot spots until the two of you know each other better. Scout out some very nice quiet restaurants that will not keep you waiting. Getting drunk at the bar while waiting for your table will not make you look suave. Another added advantage of by-passing the bar wait is that you’ll find yourself with money left over for your college education or braces on your eventual children’s teeth. Most importantly, make it someplace quiet where you can talk.
  • Pick a place that knows you. What could be cooler than a maitre d’ smiling widely when you walk in or a waiter saying, “Nice to see you again!”? Better, though, is the fact that regulars usually get the best tables and most prompt service — both of which go a long way in creating a great first date.
  • Pick a place where your date can eat. There’s the obvious (don’t take a vegetarian to a steak house) and the more subtle (if his cholesterol count is above 300, steer clear of the Wisconsin Cheese Fest). Chances are, unless you already know each other well, you won’t know the intricacies of your date’s dietary preferences. Simple solution: Ask ahead of time. Less simple: Keep everyone’s options open by selecting neutral territory, such as a restaurant with a large menu or a coffeehouse with a small one.

Doing the restaurant thing

Going out to eat is one of the most common first date activities. But it doesn’t have to be routine. To make your date a notch above ordinary, put a spin on the restaurant theme:
  • Go to a coffeehouse. Unless you’re meeting at a Starbucks and ordering two grande skim lattes and roasted pepper and goat cheese sandwiches (which is about the same price as the national debt), compared to a traditional restaurant, this is a pretty cheap date. It’s the ’90s version of a singles bar: relaxed, casual, and no time pressure.
  • Go to an interesting restaurant. Food is good. Good food is even better. Good, unusual food is the best and often less pricey than the usual, boring steak or fried chicken. It doesn’t have to be the culinary experience of your life, but fun and interesting food (maybe ethnic, but easy on the spices) on a first date is a cool idea. I’m partial to weekend lunch and brunch dates, myself. It’s relaxed, liquor’s not required, there’s plenty of time to get to know each other, and it’s in the daytime.
Food can be incredibly sexy and fun, as Hollywood readily attests: Rent the videos Like Water for Chocolate, Babette’s Feast, Big Night, or even 91⁄2 Weeks.
There are some way cool ways to enhance the enjoyment of a restaurant date. First, for any restaurant you consider, think about the following:
  • Noise level: You got together so that you can get to know each other. It makes sense to be able to hear what your date has to say and talk without seriously harming your vocal chords.
  • Price: Go to a place you can afford. You can’t enjoy yourself if you worry about your date ordering an appetizer and a dessert.
  • Service: You want the service to be attentive, without hovering. And who wants to be rushed out the door?
  • Spaciousness: Adequate space is an animal need. That’s why we all feel a little uneasy in a packed elevator or an overcrowded restaurant.
  • Lighting: You don’t want it too dark or too light. Too dark and he can’t see the great job you did on your makeup, or she won’t notice that your tie matches your eyes; too light, and no matter what you did, you’ll still end up looking like a delivery to the morgue.

Good places for a first date

Following are the cream of the first-date-ideas crop: All can feel wholesome and nonthreatening during the day and only slightly sexier after dark.
  • Museums: At a museum, you get to meander through the halls, look at exhibits, and chat about anything that inspires you. It’s a great place to get to know each other and to see each other’s tastes in art — or whatever. Also, most museums are usually easy to get to and offer a place to eat (even if overpriced for what you’re getting, they won’t break the bank). A museum is relaxed, easy, and inexpensive and doesn’t bump into any of the ten rules for first dates.
  • Amusement park: Unless it’s really hard to get to, going to an amusement park is usually fun and makes everybody feel young and carefree. The only real problems? Sticky fingers from cotton candy and rides that make you so queasy you’d give up your firstborn for an antacid tablet, but all-in-all, a good choice.
  • Walks: You can take walks (almost) anywhere: parks, zoos, botanical gardens, and so on. It’s cheap, fun, and pressure-free. Plus, you can often hold hands.
  • Street fair: You’re outside, nothing costs very much, you’re around other people, and there are a lot of things to talk about. In the winter, you can substitute county fairs, car shows, boat shows, antiques shows, and even zoos and botanical gardens, all places where you can move around, nothing is very expensive, you’re outdoors, and you can talk without interrupting people.
  • An auction: An auction is a fun date as well as long as you don’t get carried away and resist the temptation to bid. I actually had a great time at both a livestock auction and a farm machinery sell-off although I did buy a cow at the former once for a guy I was seeing — but that’s another story.
  • Outdoor activities in general: Sporting events, concerts, county fairs, zoos, and picnics are great ideas for first dates. You can talk, and because you’re outside, everything feels less claustrophobic. It’s easy and relaxed, and figuring out what to wear usually isn’t a problem.
  • Miscellaneous indoor events: When the weather turns ugly, consider car shows, boat shows, art shows, antiques shows, planetariums, and aquariums. You can talk to each other with no worries about being shushed!
It may seem that in a big city there are more options, but an awful lot of people that live in big cities don’t know how to act like tourists. Don’t assume that if you are living in a small town that there is nothing to do. Even if you live in a small town, my guess is that there is an obscure museum or park that you haven’t been to, a historic monument, a fun and unusual event, a local sporting tournament. You can certainly look into special exhibits at museums or art fairs, traveling carnivals or dances work too, because what you want a first date to be is a little unusual, a little fun, but not to make either one of you feel uncomfortable.

If you know everyone in town, what you may want to do is go to the next town over so you don’t feel like your first date will appear in the local gazette. There is no such thing as an area that doesn’t have special events, and what you need to do is become a little bit like a detective and look in the Friday or Saturday paper and see if there is an art festival going on, or if you live in a college town find out if there is something going on at the school. Don’t assume that you’ve done everything that there is to do; I guarantee that with a little bit of energy and ingenuity you’ll find something remarkable.

Mediocre Dating Ideas

The ideas in this section, although very common, aren’t necessarily your best choice for a first date. Of course, they aren’t your worst choice either.
  • Movies or plays: On the not-so-good-as-a-first-date side, going to the movies or a play doesn’t give you much of an opportunity to talk, and if your tastes differ, you may have a hard time finding a show that pleases you both. On the other hand, having seen the same movie or play gives you something to talk about afterward, and, well, it is kinda fun sitting together in the dark worrying about whether or not to hold hands. It can also give you time to calm down a bit before you actually have to talk to or look at each other. Make sure your date hasn’t already seen the planned event or loathes the genre. If you plan to go risky — horror flick, avant garde performance piece, or nude review — check with your date or save the shock technique for date four or five.
  • Dinner: A dinner out is a classic, but as the focus of a date, there is too much potential for an upset tummy: deciding what kind of food, the potential to spill, and that old broccoli-in-the-teeth thing, for starters. If you’re not the one footing the bill, figuring out what to order that’s not too expensive is also a challenge. If you’re going to eat, make it a side activity rather than the date itself, or try a casual approach rather than the Ritz. Any place that has headwaiters is going to be too expensive, emotionally as well as financially.
  • Party: How good a party is as a first date depends on who’s hosting the party and where it is. If your date will be the only person who doesn’t know everyone, and you don’t know your date, it’s a bit tricky. My advice is to make other plans for your first date. Of course, going to a party is a great date for later on.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Places and things to avoid

Following are occasions and places you want to avoid as a first date. As a rule, these events create unrealistic expectations and involve too many other people. If it’s fireworks you want, get thee to a wienie roast in a gasoline jumpsuit.
  • Wedding: Going to a wedding as a first date violates just about every single one of the ten basic rules listed earlier. If you want to quibble about Rule 6 (Do something that isn’t competitive), are you really so naïve as to think your date isn’t trying to figure out how to beat you out the door when the ceremony’s over? The stakes are just too high at weddings. Avoid them at all costs as a first date. In fact, because weddings are such a bad idea for a first date, I’ve made it the standard by which all other bad first date ideas are judged.
  • New Year’s Eve party: Oh, puh-leeeze, New Year’s Eve is the scariest night of the year for a first date. New clothes, high expectations, lots of booze, high-ticket others — consider this a mini-wedding. Just about the only thing it lacks is a weeping mother-in-law and a crazy uncle who thinks the ladies’ room is the coat check. On second thought, it just lacks the mother-in-law.
  • Valentine’s Day: Valentine’s Day has all the anxiety-producing elements of a wedding, all the over-blown expectations of New Year’s, plus the paper-Cupid-induced hope of true Romance. Valentine’s Day is so potentially explosive that even couples who’ve been together for years approach it warily.
  • Thanksgiving dinner: Think of how many traumas you’ve experienced at your family’s Thanksgiving get-togethers: Uncle Harry getting plastered; Sister Susie crying into the crystallized yams; brother George coming out; Mom burning the turkey; and cousin Jim wanting to bring the TV to the table to watch football. Even if your family doesn’t behave like this (what, you’re from Pluto?), it still violates Rule 9 (Don’t involve highticket others) big time. In short, Thanksgiving is truly a family holiday —all the more reason to avoid it as a first date.
  • Beach: Although a great date for later on, the beach isn’t first date stuff: too much skin, do you or don’t you apply suntan lotion, and if you do, to what and to whom? A first date on the beach also violates Rule 5 (Go to a place that’s easy to get to), Rule 10 (Find an activity that doesn’t last more than a couple hours), and often Rule 3 (Do something that doesn’t require new clothes).

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Find an activity that doesn’t last more than a couple of hours

Brevity is not only the soul of wit, but it is also the essence of a good date. In Chapter Two, a Neil Simon play, the male lead (played by James Caan in the movie version) tells the female lead (played by Marsha Mason), after a tenminute introduction, that he’s really enjoyed their time together and thinks it’s time to plan a second date. He leaves and knocks on the door. When she answers, the two begin their second date, much more relaxed. The key is to leave ’em wanting more. If you both had a good time, you’ll both eagerly anticipate date two. If one or the other of you didn’t have a good time, keep in mind that one of the ways to limit the damage is to limit the time. If the date was only mildly troublesome and not prolonged agony, you may well recover and be willing to try a second date.

Do something that doesn’t involve high-ticket others

High-ticket others include friends, family, exes, kids, animals, or colleagues. Audiences are fine if you’re an actor giving a performance. They are tricky if you’re trying not to perform and just be, which is the point of a date. If your first date involves your parents, sibs, workmates, or people who know you and love you, the date is going to feel like an audition. You don’t need other people’s opinions at this point. (If you don’t have enough confidence in your abilities and think you do need the opinions of a bunch of other people, you ought not to be dating yet.) Later on, when the two of you know each other and feel a bit more solid, showing each other off and getting feedback from your friends (always a bit dicey) may be cool, but for heaven’s sake, not yet.

Leave time to get to know each other

A date that is chock-full of activity keeps you busy, but if the purpose is a chance to get to know one another, some quiet time is a great idea. Without a bunch of distracting noise, activity, or an audience, you can talk to and get a sense of one another.

Pick an activity that doesn’t involve a lot of alcohol

Alcohol has been, is now, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future the major drug of abuse in this country (more Pilgrims drowned in the canals after getting drunk and falling overboard on Saturday nights than were killed by Native Americans). Both of you are going to feel a bit nervous anyway. Why add the temptations and problems of alcohol, especially if you have to drive home?

Do something that isn’t competitive

Avoid arm wrestling on the first date. Although some relationships thrive on tension, it’s hard to put competitive feelings in a context when you don’t know each other. Even if you’re not competing with each other, how you deal with someone trying to beat you while the date you’re trying to impress is watching gets pretty dicey. Beating someone on a first date means that one of you feels like a winner and one like a loser. Not a cool idea.
I walk fast. For years it was my primary form of exercise, and I still use it to keep in shape. When I say fast, I mean fast. Often, without realizing it, I’ve left my companions no choice but to carry on a conversation with the back of my head. Oops. The point is that different people are comfortable with different levels of activity. Bear this in mind before you suggest a Saturday hike, rollerblading, break dancing, or bungee jumping from a hovering helicopter.