Thursday, December 31, 2009

It’s chemistry

Chemistry is mentioned a lot when two people click. “I just knew,” “It was love at first sight,” “We were destined to be together,” “Soul mates” . . .
Beware. While some couples feel an instant and powerful pull to one another (which isn’t always sustainable or prolonged), for most, the response is slower and subtler. An interest. A tingle. A thrill. A desire to get closer. In a word: chemistry. A number of physiological changes take place in your body when you encounter a person who turns you on. Your pupils dilate (you want to see more of them), your heart races, your palms get sweaty. You feel energized, like you could stay up all night. And you probably could — that’s what the expression “turned on” really means. Physically, your body is totally awake, alert, and raring to go — basic biochemistry 101. Hormones turn you on — lust in its most basic, uncomplicated, thrilling form. Your body is saying, “Let’s party.”
Unfortunately, as convenient as it would sometimes be to be able to bottle it, chemistry is either there, or it’s not — and it’s impossible to fake.

Tuition for Dating 101

If your date goes down the drain, give yourself a break. It happens. Life is a curve ball, an off-speed pitch, a fast ball low and inside. Even Ted Williams struck out more often than he hit a home run. It may feel lousy right now, but remind yourself, once again, it’s only one date. You’ll have tons more nights on which you can strut your stuff. Use the experience to learn something so it won’t happen again. An autopsy is a great idea. The date died — figure out why. Answering the following questions in your dating notebook can help you figure out what went wrong. Answer these questions as soon as you can after the date ends, when your impressions are still fresh. By keeping these notes, you can begin to look for patterns in your behavior.
Tomorrow, after a few hours have passed between tonight’s date and the rest of your life, I want you to reread your responses and see if they say anything to you. Don’t pass judgment; don’t look for hidden meaning. Simply read through and see what it says. If you haven’t already. now, give yourself a nonchemical treat (unless it’s chocolate), take a deep breath, prop your feet up, and chill out.
First, at the top of a sheet of notebook paper, write your date’s name, the date (day, month, year) and time of the date, and where you went. Also note when and where you first met. Then on a scale from 1 to 10 (0 = meltdown;
10 = divine), rate the date as a whole.
From there, reflect on the date and answer the following questions. Make sure you’re being really specific here (for example, nice smile when we met, good table manners, well-groomed).
  • What positive stuff happened? In what ways did the date go well?
  • What was icky poo poo? In what ways did the date stink?
  • What were your expectations? (Tip: See if you can make yourself aware of what disappointed you, which will instantly focus on what you expected.)
  • Were your expectations based on how someone acted before?
  • What patterns emerge that you have noticed on previous dates, in the other relationship? Is this déjà vu all over again? Now reflect on your current feelings.
  • How are you feeling right now?
  • What do you want to do? For example, do you want to try again, talk to a friend, join a monastery, reread the whole book, take a vacation from dating?
  • What can you do differently on your next date to offset this problem and change the pattern?
  • Did you feel that your date saw the real you, yes or no? If no, why not?
Answering these questions after every not-so-hot date and/or journaling about your experiences can help you learn from rather than focus on less than successful dates. But please avoid sending a “this is why you shouldn’t have treated me badly” letter to your date, which falls into the whining category I address earlier in this chapter. Every once in a while, in an effort to save face and salvage some remnant of dignity, you may be tempted to contact your date explaining why you deserve better or how the creep hurt your feelings. Resist this urge. You should never put anything into a letter or e-mail that you are not willing to have advertised on the front page of The New York Times. Even something like “have a nice life” can sound sarcastic. I know you may be hurting, but don’t write down your feelings anyplace, except for a diary that no one else will see.

Ending on a Positive Note

Your job, when your date isn’t dazzled by you, is to listen gracefully and nondefensively and smile sweetly and make a swift exit as soon as the coast is clear. No need to prolong a bad date.
One of the biggest pitfalls to a date that feels like it’s heading downhill is the “snowball effect” — you sense something’s wrong, you panic, you clam up, you overreact, and it just makes matters worse. Suddenly, a not-great date is on its way to disasterville. If things are really awful, it makes more sense to call a polite and gentle halt rather than hurt someone’s feelings for hours or waste your time or your date’s time. It really is okay to say, “You don’t seem to be having a good time. Shall we just chalk this up to experience?” Be honest. ’Fess up. Stop the snowball before it becomes an avalanche and buries you both. Ignoring an overwhelming feeling; trying to hide, squash, cover up, or pretend it isn’t there; or wishing it weren’t there isn’t going to change the reality. You’re not responsible for your feelings, just your behavior. If you can gently acknowledge your feelings, you can deal with them. A lousy date isn’t a reason to inflict pain on either of you. It isn’t necessary to hang in there and finish what you started. It’s okay to say, “I think we should call it a night.” It’s also okay to use that universal come-down line almost all daters have heard at least once, “I think we should just be friends.” Not every couple has chemistry. That’s what dates are for — to find out. Hey, chemistry happens, or it doesn’t. It can’t be faked or manufactured. The feeling is out of your hands. If your date says he or she just doesn’t feel any chemistry between the two of you, don’t take it personally, but also don’t assume a few more hours will make a whole lot of difference. While it’s true that a deep love can develop slowly over time, this is a date, not an arranged marriage. Chemistry up-front is helpful on both sides for future promise; it gives you both motivation to explore further — unless it’s so overwhelming that you both ignore every other part of what might be going on between the two of you. Overwhelming initial passion can move you both at the speed of light past things you ought to be assessing slowly and carefully (see Chapter 21 on taking things slow). Don’t worry too much if you’re not turned on as long as you’re not turned off.