Because dating is such a hot topic, I’ve decided to interview women about their dating experiences. Apparently 53% of all American women, including lesbians, are single–and many of these are interested in having a romantic relationship. Dating is an excellent way to get there. So I’m asking about good and bad experiences, mistakes made, lessons learned, positive outcomes. And yes, there are many positive outcomes! This is good to keep in mind, because the dating path is challenging.
Dating means intentionally spending time with another person in an effort to find out if you want to spend more time with her. It’s supposed to be a prelude, potentially headed toward a long-term, primary relationship, but with places to enter and exit gracefully. If only! The beginning of dating can be awkward, and endings are often worse. Fortunately, it is possible to make all this less traumatic and more rewarding–by dating wisely.
The problem is that dating calls for a balance of emotion and reason that’s just hard to maintain. Therapists encourage people to “trust your feelings.” But which feelings? The euphoria and excitement with an attractive new partner? Or the vague apprehension when something doesn’t feel right? When I’m so excited about how hot you are and how much fun we have together, it’s easy to ignore the small voice asking “Where are your friends?” or “How do you actually earn a living?” or “Did you really just drink that entire bottle of wine?”
So dating wisely means using good judgment to make positive decisions about how to enter, and exit, a dating relationship. But first, some words about unwise dating, or negative decisions. Three things stand out: (1) not dating at all; (2) indulging in too much fantasy and too little data gathering; and (3) hanging in there even after it’s obviously not a good fit.
Choosing not to date at all is absolutely fine, for those don’t want a romantic relationship. There are many benefits to being single, and plenty of examples of miserable couples. So choosing not to step onto the dating path is fine–if it’s a rational decision. The problem is there’s often an irrational hope that the right person will just appear, without having to do anything. In fact, the statement “you’ll meet someone when you’re not looking” feeds into this semi-magical thinking. It’s true that you can’t predict exactly when you will meet Ms. Right–but it’s not likely to happen at all if you stay home by yourself.
From what I hear, the main reason people choose not to try dating at all isn’t that they don’t want a romantic relationship. It’s more about fear, of being hurt, or having to hurt someone else. Yes, it’s painful to “put yourself out there” and risk getting shot down. And most of us hate causing pain to someone else. The truth is, that often happens–it’s just part of the package.
To combat these fears, remember this saying: We are all bozos on the same bus. Not sure who first said this, but I am sure it’s the key to empathy and compassion. No one wants to feel or cause pain, or wants to give up on the potential for romantic love. That’s our shared human condition. So focusing on how to help each other will go a long way to make initial dating much more satisfying.
A second very common problem is indulging in enamored fantasies without really knowing the person. This is extremely prevalent in online dating. I refer here to the widespread practice of building a huge fantasy about someone, based on her photo and her writing, before meeting her in person. The rationale is that communicating indirectly helps build rapport and will make the first encounter easier. However, this is a set-up for a huge disappointment, which usually happens within 5 minutes of actually meeting the real, live person.
A wise young woman, who first connected with her wife online, had a rule that if she couldn’t connect for an in-person coffee within one week, she wouldn’t pursue it at all. She had a lot of one-time dates, and had learned that difficulty arranging a rendezvous within a week was an excellent predictor of a no-go. People usually delay meeting in person because they are ambivalent, or stalling, or attempting to hide something. Being unavailable probably just means she’s emotionally unavailable. It’s true that things do happen–a business trip to China, or a car accident–but it’s smart to pay attention to ease-of-getting-together.
Hanging in there with an obviously poor fit is a third example of unwise dating. One woman recognized, after her third date, that her new friend didn’t pay complements, pay for dinners, or pay attention when she talked. While the words “self-centered” floated through her mind, she told herself that her new friend was just insecure and would become less self-absorbed when she relaxed more. She finally paid attention to the little voice when she discovered her friend was seeing someone else–but by then six months had passed and her ego had taken a beating.
So how do we do this better? That’s the theme for the interviews I’m doing now, and for this series on dating wisely.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, experiences, ways you’ve managed to balance of emotion and reason. Please post your comments and questions here, or follow the conversation at Epochalips on Facebook.
Because many of you have had very positive outcomes–that’s why we need to talk about dating!
Glenda Corwin, Ph.D is a clinical psychologist who specializes in lesbian sexual issues. She is the author of Sexual Intimacy for Women: A Guide for Same Sex Couples (Seal Press, 2010).
Her specialty areas of practice are:
- Issues associated with female sexuality and sexual desire
- LGBT individuals and couples
- Workshops on sustaining sexual intimacy
Find out more at GlendaCorwin.com