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