Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Speed bumps

Everything you and your date say and do from the moment you meet is recorded and processed and filed in both of your brains. Unless you turn each other off from the get-go, a sense of dissatisfaction, disappointment, and unease usually builds until you realize, “Uh-oh, this date isn’t working out. I’m definitely not having fun, and I don’t want to be here.”
The tricky thing is making sure it’s not just nerves or fear or shyness or arrogance that’s convinced you guys you’re having a rotten time. So first — a quick reality check. Ask yourself these questions:

Am I relaxed, or am I tense and fearful?
Being vulnerable and letting another human being get close can be very scary stuff. Just like any other animal, scared humans sometimes lash out to keep other “threatening” animals at bay, or they retreat to the safety of their cave or shell. Perhaps this is what both of you are doing right now. If you’re so tense that your true personality is hidden beneath a mass of knotted muscles, your date may dislike the tension, not you. You’re not allowing the real you to emerge. If you feel completely stressed-out, take a few deep breaths or excuse yourself to the restroom and do three minutes of square breathing

Is my date relaxed?
The same standard that applies to you (see the preceding item) applies to your date. Your date may be so wracked with nerves that every response is stilted, every laugh forced, every reaction pretentious. Stress doesn’t make anyone likable. Do what you can to make your date feel comfortable:
Be friendly, initiate conversation, pull back a little. Try not to judge the success or failure of your date until things get a bit more relaxed.

Is it something my date said?
Sometimes, one careless remark can send a whole date careening downhill. A friend of mine, who’d just changed the color of her hair, had a date attempt to make a joke. “Did they have a sale on red?” he asked her. Understandably, she was insulted, but she didn’t say anything. Later her date told me he found her “cold and distant.” She thought he had the class of a slug. Both were probably just really nervous. Human beings are complex creatures. One dumb remark does not a personality make. Make sure there’s sufficient evidence to write the whole thing off. It’s perfectly okay to say, “Wow, that comment seemed kind of hostile.” Make sure you’re not letting other, relatively minor things like imperfect table manners, height, weight, sense of humor, style, driving habits, or dancing ability (or lack thereof) trigger a turnoff. You’re both in a heightened emotional state, and your behavior may be exaggerated. Let things settle down before evaluating the whole date.

Facing Facts

A date is a level three experience: Level one is meeting someone, talking on the phone, chatting online, staring longingly at the back of his or her head all semester in class. On level one, there’s enough of a connection and attraction to warrant venturing into level two. Level two is a little pre-date interaction, which gets pretty quickly to level three, the date. Unless this is a totally blind date, meaning you’re set up with someone you’ve never even spoken to before, it’s safe to say there are at least some good feelings passing back and forth between the two of you before your date begins. Once the date gets going, however, the connection and attraction will be tested and tried on for size — from both sides. Liking or not liking each other is rarely an instant evaluation. Luckily, most of us are willing to give somebody a bit more time because we’d like them to give us a bit more of a chance, too. Deciding whether you want to invest a bit more time and effort in getting to know someone is a process of evaluating lots of verbal and nonverbal cues.

Chalking It Up to Experience

You can learn something from every experience. Sometimes the tuition is high, and sometimes it’s not. If you view this date as a learning experience rather than dashed hopes, a waste of time and money, or a night you could have spent watching Glee, the entire date will feel very different. After all,
  • It’s only one night (day, afternoon, hour).
  • It never has to happen again.
  • This date can help you figure out what you want or don’t want next time.
The best way to avoid making another mistake is to figure out specifically what went wrong this time. After the date is over, after you’re home and reliving the scenario in your mind (or trying to get it out of your mind), take out your dating notebook and make two columns on a piece of paper: “What I was originally attracted to” and “What totally turned me off.” List everything you can think of in each column. Be honest. No one is looking. You can burn or flush this list later. Even if what originally attracted you was her Baywatch bod and what turned you off was the fact that Baywatch is her favorite TV show, write it down. Write it all down. When you’re finished, you’ll have a much clearer picture of exactly what went awry . . . and how to avoid making the same mistake next time.