Too many options? That's not it.

A 20ish woman was telling me some of her dating woes–and theories. I love the theories most of all.

She had been doing some dating on OKCupid, and had come to the conclusion that the problem with online dating was that “there were too many people on there.”

What do you mean too many people? I mean, I could see if you were trying to date in the online stone age when there weren’t ENOUGH people doing it and the digital pickins were slim. But that’s hardly the issue now. Plenty of folks are on there looking. But saying there are too many people on there is like saying you can’t buy a book because there are way too many titles being offered.

Why limit this argument to OKCupid, or Match, or any dating site for that matter? Why not just say there are too many people on the planet to date anyone?

I wasn’t buying it. Plus: When was the last time you heard a single woman complain that there were just too many men to choose from? Unless you plan on reducing the world population to increase your dating potential, this is a non issue.

There was something else afoot. Then she said it.

“Well, since there are too many people on there, guys just keep looking.”

Aha! So that’s it. It’s not a fear of surplus online profiles–it’s fear of competition, paired with a lack of confidence.

When I asked her if she felt a little threatened by the idea that a guy would go on a date with her and then keep looking, she balked. Of course not. “I mean, I have had ten dates with different guys, and I just don’t want to waste my time if I don’t get a vibe.”

So she didn’t like the idea of someone racking up dates with her and her fellow ladies…but yet she was doing the same thing. Right? Did she not see that? Or did she think she was dating defensively, clicking through date after date because she had this idea that men were doing the same?

Fear of Crowds

This is not a new fear, brought on by the surfeit of online dating options. This is an oldie but goodie in digital disguise: That there’s someone out there better than us. That the same compulsion that causes a man to click through channel after channel without watching anything, is the same one that will cause him to pass us by. After all, if someone can keep up the virtual hunt, and click through thousands of profiles, why would someone choose her, she wonders.

These fears work against your efforts to meet, connect with, and date new people. So let’s get a few things straight.

  • More choices don’t mean better ones.  It’s a quantity over quality issue here folks. The woman I spoke with intellectually knows that having too many options doesn’t mean she can’t find connections. But emotionally, it’s another story. There’s a lot of interesting research into the psychology of choice, and how too many options affects how satisfied we are with the choices we make. (For more on that, check out Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice and Sheena Iyengar’s The Art of Choosing, both fascinating reads.) And anyone who’s spent any time online dating knows that more doesn’t equal better. If you find some people you like, it’s a lot more compelling to spend more time with them than to go back to the drawing board over and over again. Trust me on this one. But that doesn’t mean people don’t peek. It’s not a dig against you, by any means.
  • Fearing other options puts you in a position of weakness. She said it herself: There are a lot of people out there. There will always be someone prettier or taller or thinner or younger. Doesn’t matter. Attraction doesn’t adhere to one set of rules. However, you have the power to ignite and stoke attraction simply by letting someone know you’re attracted to them. You have more power than you think. You can’t make other options cease to exist; you can, however, be one of the most appealing options–that is, if you even want to be. it’s a two-way street. After all, if he isn’t the most appealing option you have, why would YOU stop there? Exactly.
  • Stop trying to control his choices, and control your own. It’s called dating for a reason: because you’re out to meet people. If a man goes on a date with you, that doesn’t mean he will now cease to look, talk to, or date anyone ever again. So embrace it. If you feel good about yourself, then what do you care if he looks around? Go right ahead, I say. If something doesn’t click, I’m certainly not going to blame it on a population explosion. It’s not because there’s SO many other great things out there. It’s because we didn’t have a connection. Period. Next.
  • Understand that men are novelty-seeking machines. This is how they’re wired. It’s no different from the fact (and it is a fact) that whether you just started dating someone or have been married 15 years, he’s going to look at, admire, and think about other women. This isn’t supposed to depress you. The sooner you learn this, the better. Use it to your advantage. A man in your sights, no matter where you met him, is in your thrall. And unless you’re on a horrible dating show where you’re all contending for the same man on the same date in the same hot tub, every moment you’re with him you have the ability to be the only woman in the room he’s aware of. That’s power.
  • Don’t wear your fear. There may be millions of single women out there (and in fact there are), but that doesn’t change who you are. And there’s only one of you. Believing that fewer women would make you more appealing is a pretty negative worldview–and when you believe it, it shows. It assumes your lovability is directly and inversely related to how many people are out there. But if you live in accordance with this fear, trust me, it will read that way. You wear your fear like a scarf soaked in lousy perfume–people see it, smell it, and respond to it (probably by moving away). As my late uncle, Rev. Robert Barone said to me many times, “Terri, don’t be a desperate woman.”

Sound advice indeed.

Terri Trespicio is a writer, speaker, expert, and coach. Find out more at trespicio.com

 

 

 

It's not a date if it doesn't have a date. (Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net & Stuart Miles

Women have been bitching about men who can’t commit for, well, forever. As a single woman with no driving interest in marriage, I’m not even looking for someone to commit to me forever and ever. I’d just love to find someone who can commit to a decision. And maybe a date.

The problem, as I see it, is chronic indecision, which smacks of insecurity and a lack of authority. An ability to commit to a plan. Spontaneity is fun, and sometimes works out, sure, but it alone cannot make you more appealing or “fun.” It’s seasoning, not substance. And as I am learning, those who favor spontaneity over scheduling in advance are also quick to cancel, and often cannot be counted on to follow through. It’s not a date if it doesn’t have a date. This goes for ladies and gents, by the way. It’s not solely a dude’s problem. Thought I’ve been seeing a lot of it lately.

Look, bad dating stories abound. We could trade them all night. But here I’d just like to highlight a few bad CHOICES that were made. Not to poke fun, specifically, but because a good learning experience can be had by all. And yes, these things really happened.

 

Bad Choice #1: Test a woman to see if she’s worth dinner, and then tell her you tested her. 

A young man recently took me on a first date to an upscale sushi joint in midtown. We had a mild disagreement during dinner–I like to think it was playful–about whether it was a good idea that he told a woman he’d been emailing that he couldn’t meet her one night because he had another date scheduled. I simply asked, why bother telling her your business? Just say you have plans. (And WHY are we talking about this?) But he said he liked to test women’s responses to the fact that he was dating other women. Hmm. Weird.

When the bill came, he held it in his hands and said to me, “So, did we ruin this?” What do you mean, I asked. “I mean, do you want to see me again?” And I said, sure, I’d see you again. Why, because we had a disagreement? That’s not a big deal. And he said, “OK. I always ask that before I pay the bill. Because if you’d said no, I would have suggested we split it.”

Wow.

He probably thought being honest was charming. It wasn’t.

THE LESSON: Decide whether or not you’re going to pay for dinner going in. And certainly don’t walk through the decision-making process in front of her. If you DO have a handy little rule you use to figure out if a woman is worth dinner, I’d advise keeping it to yourself.

Bad Choice #2: Set a date, but then cancel because you remembered you have a girlfriend.

I met a handsome gentleman at a singles event (let’s remind ourselves, he was AT A SINGLES EVENT), and we seemed to hit it off. He bought me a drink, chatted me up, and even invited me to join him and a guy friend for a bite afterward.

The next day, he texted me at around 5pm to see if I had plans for that night. Unfortunately, I did.  So we made a plan for Wednesday.

Then he changed it to Friday.

Then he sent a text saying that maybe we shouldn’t meet at all. He’d been seeing someone for three months and didn’t want to “disrespect her” by going out on a date with me. You want to talk about disrespect?

On the surface, it seems he’s gunning for good-guy points because of his sudden and surprising attack of conscience. But I don’t see that as good guy at all. I see it as indecisive guy, and ultimately, disappointing guy. A disappointing guy who seemed to want my blessing for backing out.

THE LESSON: I for one don’t care if a dude is seeing other people–that’s why we call it dating, right? But either keep it to yourself or get clear on what you’re doing first. What seems like an “aw shucks, I’m just too good a guy to do this” makes you look less like a man…and more like an ass.

 

Bad Choice #3: Cancel on her twice, but when she can’t meet you spontaneously whenever you randomly text, end it.  

I met a man online one day and spontaneously decided to get a drink that night with him. I liked him. Good sense of humor, normal-seeming guy. He asked me out to dinner the following Saturday. The day before, he texted to say he would have to work late (he is a waiter at a very nice hotel), and that dinner wouldn’t work after all. OK, the life of a waiter. I get it.

Then, Saturday, he asks if I’ve made other plans. Since he had canceled, yes, I said, I had.

“Well, I decided not to work late tonight.”

Hmm. Decided? I thought you had to work late, I said, reiterating his text. “Oh I decided not to–I don’t have to if I don’t want to.” OK. I say, why don’t we reschedule for Sunday night since you’re off Monday? And to that he said he wasn’t sure, about funds, he had bills to pay, but if I wanted to meet up in the park during the day, that’d be cool.

It soon became clear to me that he was specifically trying to avoid DINNER, clearly, since thereafter came a string of day-of invites to meet in the park, or for a late-night drink, etc. This just seemed odd. When I asked if he wanted to reschedule our dinner, he did.

THEN, a few days before our second attempt at a date, he asks me if I can spontaneously meet him for a drink before I go out.

When I said I couldn’t, but was looking forward to seeing him Sunday, he texts this (and I quote):

“I think it’s best we skip Sunday…I think I may b a little to outside of the box for us to actually enjoy any type of real connection…no hard feelings I hope.”

Wait…what? I reminded him that while I was unable to take him up on his spontaneous offers, he was the one who had canceled not one but both our dates. “Hmmm…” he texts back. “I even confuse myself…especially when it’s spelled out like that 🙂 If u still wanna keep Sunday, I’ll b less mixed up.

No thanks, I said. I think I’m done.

THE LESSON: A few things:

–If you’re going to lie about how you have to work, don’t later say you didn’t actually have to. If you’re going to go with a lie, follow through.

–Don’t talk about money. It’s very…undergrad. Your money is your biz.

–Spontaneity can be fun, sure, but spontaneous is not a euphemism for can’t stick to a decision. And as far as “real connection” goes, you can’t know if there is one until you’ve actually been in their presence–which is hard to do when you can’t stick to a plan to meet.

Dating does require at least a little foresight and commitment, like anything you want to actually make happen, like mastering a sport or maintaining friendships. Like life, a big part of the dating game is simply just showing up. Interesting, good, sexy things can’t happen to you if you’re not there.

Terri Trespicio is a writer, speaker, expert, and coach. Visit her at trespicio.com.

This should be you. (Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and imagerymajestic)

A guy I know recently asked me if I’d read Fifty Shades of Grey. I said yes, I had. He then told me he didn’t know any women who HADN’T read it.

“Have you read it?” I asked. He hadn’t.

I know very few men, in fact, who have read or even peeked at the book. And if they do, they feel the need to issue a disclaimer. This is crazy to me. I have seen one–ONE–man reading it, a businessman at Laguardia. I thought, “Aha. He’s one of the smart ones.”

Why on EARTH are men NOT reading this book? These are the keys to the kingdom. Women everywhere have gone molten over the sexy power play between Anastasia and her conflicted, dominant lover. Which means it’s basically an instruction guide on What Women Want. And yet? It might as well be a big ass box of maxi pads. Dudes will not go near it. The same dudes that watch video after video on adult film sites like https://www.hdsexvideo.xxx/ are too scared to read a book about pleasing women sexually.

The arguments? It’s a chick book. It’s a lame romance. It’s not really about BDSM, which you can actually find in its true form on sites like tubevsex and other adult websites.And my favorite gripe about 50 shades: It’s poorly written.

Really? Do you pass on porn because of the low production value? I think people would always want higher-quality porn, There is always more free XXX available on Tubev. Then why are you purposely putting out of your own reach the very thing that has women craving the kind of kink men complain they can’t get women to try? Here’s a backstage pass to women’s fantasy lives and men are saying “Nah.”

We all know at this point that this is not just any other book. And while we all realize it’s not a literary masterpiece, it is a huge fucking blockbuster. Of course, it’s easy to hate on this book, or any other bit of pop culture that has caught like wildfire and become a huge success. Which is why I think hating on it is even more cliche than some of the cliches in the book itself.

And you super new-age sensitive guys: PLEASE don’t give me this bullshit about how it’s setting feminism back by several decades. No one said that women want to give up their rights, their equality, etc. Try not to confuse those issues with what happens in the bedroom. We don’t choose what arouses us, and the rules of desire are often the inverse of what we want in real life. (I’ve already said my piece on this in my other post about 50 Shades.)

So attention dudes: If you are not reading this book, you are making a big mistake.

Read it, learn it, love it. Study it. Ok, you don’t have to slog through all three books, but the first one you can zip through in a matter of hours. Not only will you gain some insight into millions of women’s desire, you’ll also have something to talk about with pretty much every woman you meet. You’ve got the seeds of a conversation that could get very interesting very quickly.

The alternative, to roll your eyes and marginalize what she finds arousing makes you, by comparison, very unarousing.

And don’t give me this, “I don’t want anyone to know I’m reading it.” That’s what Kindles are for. Though I recommend reading the actual book and brandishing the cover with pride in public places. Forget trying to start up a conversation with a woman. She’s going to start one with you.

Visit me at trespicio.com and @Territ on Twitter.

The Queen of Pop doesn't give a shit. Love it.

The Queen of Pop doesn’t give a shit. Love it.

Madonna can—and so can just about any rock star or pop icon or celebrity that you happen to really, really like. More so than a boyfriend. More than most boyfriends. It’s true. Get tickets to see her. Or anyone.

If you think that obsessing over celebrities is going to wreck your self esteem, new research finds the opposite may be true. Science Daily cites a study published in Personal Relationships that found that our connection to celebrities (called “parasocial relationships”) can boost our self esteem in ways that even our intimate relationships can’t do.

The results showed “that people with low self-esteem saw their favorite celebrities as very similar to their ideal selves…. people with low self-esteem primed with their favorite celebrity felt more similar to their ideal selves than low self-esteem people primed with a close relationship partner.” (source: sciencedaily.com)

Note, the research focused on those with low self esteem. I don’t define myself that way–but don’t we all have an inner, gnawing insecurity, and periods of low self esteem? I know I do.

I walked into Yankee Stadium last night feeling…down. In the span of a few days, I’d been dealt a handful of professional disappointments (potential clients that bailed, cancelations), and personal let-downs (dates that wouldn’t happen, men that wandered away)—not devastating, but taken together, they hinted at some kind of personal downturn. Suffice it to say I was having some self doubts, and wanted more than anything to just crawl back into bed.

UNTIL….until Madonna took the stage. From the moment you heard the opening strains of “Girl Gone Wild,” (which begins with Madonna chanting the Act of Contrition), I felt a surge of adrenaline, and a serious uptick in my mood and heart rate. It was as if I’d been given a mojo IV.

A few moments later, in “Gang Bang,” she waved a revolver at us and took out her attackers one after another, blowing their brains out. It was morbidly violent—and undeniably thrilling. Then, it was as if she sang right to me:

“If you’re gonna act like a bitch

Then you’re gonna die like a bitch.”

She’s right. In the span of two weeks, I’d crafted a story in which I was depressed, in which things weren’t working out—wouldn’t work out—and worse, I’d started to believe it. And with her fuck-that, I-don’t-give-a-shit way, Madonna shrugged off my mini mojo crisis—and helped me do the same.

Tony Robbins calls this a state change, and he spends his days-long seminars creating them. A state change is, simply, a dramatic shift in your mental and emotional state. And it’s what allows you to walk on hot coals (which I did this summer, without a mark). And while I expected it to happen at Tony Robbins, I was surprised to have it happen at a summer concert. Though we also experienced it more than a few times during the DNC this week. (Bill Clinton could be considered a walking, talking state change.)

Give yourself a state change by putting yourself in a pop-star infused glow. Here’s how:

  • Go see someone, anyone, live. Doesn’t have to be the queen of pop. TV and movies cannot compete with the powerful shift that happens when you see a live performance—whether it’s a concert, theatrical performance, comedy show, a literary reading. Get in front of people doing amazing talented things and you’re not just observing; you’re participating and some of that creative juice and momentum rubs off on you if you let it.
  • Obsess a little. Like I said, basking in the glow of a celeb can bring out some of the qualities in yourself that you want to experience more. I’m under no illusion that I am Madonna, but I tapped my inner icon that night and left there feeling like far more of a bad ass than when I walked in.
  • Cue up the playlist. Music is one of the most immediate ways to change your state. You think I’m NOT going to blast Immaculate Collection today when I go for a run? Think again. Cue up your personal pop star playlist and head down the street–you will walk differently than you would without it. When you’re home, dance around your room like no one’s watching, like you did when you were 16. It’s impossible to dance full out and NOT have a serious state change. Dare you to try.
  • Have sex. I don’t care if you don’t have a boyfriend (“Woe is me, no one to have sex with!”) Bullshit. If you have a partner, great—this makes it easy. But if you have a go-to hook-up or a friend with benefits who is safe for you physically and emotionally (maybe someone new you started seeing, where there’s no checkered past), go get yourself some, or start scheming to. If you’re a lady, this is going to be easier than you think. You already have what every man wants. So use it. If you’re a man and you’re struggling to get some, you may want to form a connection through live chats on sites like babestation.tv/girls/terrie-hawkes and speak to explicit porn models for real, in real time.

Just think: WWMD? (What Would Madonna Do?) She’d put on a vinyl body suit and a set of heeled power boots and strut around with a whip in her hand. Sex and sexuality, is the quintessential state-changer. Engage with and enjoy your sheer physicality and you do what you need most to change your state: Get out of your head.

Ah, the unassuming self portrait.

A woman called into a radio show I was on recently, talking about online dating, and asked, “I heard all guys look at are the pictures. Is that true?”

The undertone of this question-slash-fear is, “Are looks the only thing that matters to a guy?” Not the only thing. But a big thing. Yes. Looks matter. If you think a guy isn’t going to look at your pictures first, then you’re nuts—especially when chances are it’s the first thing you look at, too.

What I don’t get is why this comes as a surprise. This is just one of the many things I find confounding about people’s expectations around online dating: We’re still humans, not data bots. Why would you think that the way a person appears to you doesn’t matter?

But I Just Want Him (or Her) to Love Me for Who I Am!

Well, who are you? Are you someone who makes an effort to be sexy, appealing, attractive? That’s like saying you shouldn’t ever have to make an effort and so, yeah, go on a first date

Really?

without showering, wearing whatever you rolled out of bed in. We all want someone who piques our interest and pleases the senses. And since this is digital dating, the only way to approximate what you’re like is to show your best self; i.e., not looking like a total slouch.

I can’t even believe I have to even say this, but it appears I must: Prospective dates don’t want to know what you look like on a Sunday when you haven’t run a comb through your hair, or shaved, or put on a stitch of makeup. Someone you date may eventually see you that way, but I wouldn’t say it’s what you lead with.

So let’s go over the do’s and don’ts of online profile pictures, shall we?

Is this supposed to be artsy?

DO: Feature several clear, current shots of you. A self portrait is ok, but not ideal and at best should be flanked by pictures someone else takes of you. Reason being, the “here I am holding up my iPhone in the mirror”—especially when we can see the phone—is, well, extraordinarily lame, no matter how you slice it. It was fine in like 2005 maybe, but no longer. Do what you can with lighting etc to create a more flattering shot (tip: shooting up at yourself with your camera isn’t going to be your best angle). And then look at it. Would you date you?

DO NOT: Share your photo archives. Sure, you looked great in 1992, but since I don’t have a time machine, I can’t meet that person. I can only meet this one. So I need to see what you look like, present day. As a rule, women tend to fudge their weight while men fudge their height. And both lie about their age (something I do NOT recommend). I don’t see the benefit in doing any of these things. The picture should be you now, not you ten years or ten pounds ago. The oldest picture on your current profile should be less than 2 years old.

(P.S. EVERYONE says they look young for their age. Everyone. So don’t go on a whole rant in your profile defending your age, etc. But we’ll cover profile responses another time.)

DO: Show your whole body. In context, of course. Again: It’s important to get an idea of what you look like, below the neck as well. When else would you ever have cause to only ask a disembodied face out on a date? Never. So having some shots of you where we can at least see what the head is attached to is a good idea. But in context. And keep your clothes on.

DO NOT: Show pictures of random body parts. Dudes are especially prey to this kind of digital dismemberment. As soon as I see a headless torso online, especially as a main profile shot, I hit delete. I’m not going to be holding a conversation with your abs. Nor am I shopping for a male escort. I’d love to see some full-body shots, sure, but preferably clothed and in a normal context (you on a beach or whatever), not you doing your best impression of a centerfold. I will say I saw a woman’s profile recently in which she took what had to be the most unflattering shot of just her body—in an ill-fitting, horizontal-striped top. No head, nothing, just the shirt. It was terrible. I thought, what on earth gave this woman the idea that this would help her situation?

As for nudity, use your brain. There are plenty of places online to view naked people. An online dating site is not one of them. Dudes, no one wants to see random naked body parts. Or, maybe they do, but they don’t then want to meet it out for a beer.

I do not recommend this.

Ladies, if you’re showing a ton of stuff on your profile pics, or focusing in on specific anatomy, don’t be surprised when the guys who fill up your inbox are NOT the kind of guys you want relationships with.

DO: Show yourself doing different stuff. It’s great to showcase your interests, whether it’s skiing or apple-picking or rock climbing. As long as we can see your face, a little context may add some interest, so sure, go for it. However….

DO NOT: Share an entire vacation album. Please don’t bother with a 50-yard shot of you on a mountain in a hat and glasses. Skip the shot of you in a snorkel mask. We don’t really want to see what you did on your summer vacation; we want to see who we’ll be sitting and talking to for the better part of an hour. We get it, you like water sports—but you in gear does nothing for us. If you really want us to see your vacation shots, we’ll see it when we become Facebook friends. I can’t tell you how many guys seem to be under the impression that if they include pictures of a rugged mountain range or the Eiffel Tower, I’ll want to run away with them. If I want to see shots of the Grand Canyon, I’ll google them myself.

DO: Keep the focus on you. We want to see YOU, not your friends, not your family or the

(courtesy of blog.lookbetteronline.com)

whole wedding party you were in, where we have a good chance of being confused (“Is that him? Is that?”) or worse (“Man, his friend’s really cute. How do I find him?”). Don’t do it. This isn’t about everyone you know. It’s about you.

DO NOT: Include pictures of pets. OK, if you’re an avid dog lover and owner, and want to include the pooch in a photo, fine. Like any dog owner knows, it’s a nice way to break the ice. But as soon as the focus of your profile starts to be animal centric, you’re in trouble. One man called in specifically to say he did not want to see a woman’s cats on her dating profile. This cannot be emphasized strongly enough.

Big mistake. (Courtesy of blog.lookbetteronline.com)

DO NOT: Include pictures of you with your ex. Seems like a no-brainer, right? And yet, I see people doing this all the time. But while it may have been a great shot of you, it’s now spoiled by either the gorgeous woman (or hunky dude) you’re with. Or worse: a picture of you with your arms wrapped around some blonde whose FACE YOU HAVE DIGITALLY SMUDGED OUT. While you may think this is an attempt to keep it anonymous, protect her identity, it looks so bad. Just, so bad. We can’t help but wonder what happened to that person, and if you hate her or aren’t over her, or vice versa. Don’t introduce these human dramas into your profile. Plenty of time for those to out themselves.

And yes, this includes the phantom hand shot. Even if you crop down that picture, if all we see is a well-manicured hand on your shoulder, yeah, there’s something creepy about that too. Don’t tell me those are all the pictures you have of yourself. Take some new ones.

Smile. Anything else can look...weird. (courtesy of blog.lookbetteronline.com)

DO: Post at least 3 pictures. Preferably, smiling. Just one is cheap–and usually a red flag. It could be a good shot—or a bad shot. Either way, the person viewing it is wondering what you “really” look like. The more, the better, I say. But quality over quantity. And smile! Show pics of you smiling. I know you may think differently, but that forced sexy/moody look doesn’t look as great as you think. It comes across as either moody or suicidal. A smile is welcoming, warm, and shows you in your best light.

DO NOT: Post weird ones. Do not, I repeat, do not, post the following: You in a costume, you sticking your tongue out, you making a quirky, stupid face. It’s not cute. It’s disturbing. It will also make someone think twice. You don’t want people to think twice—especially when one click and they’re onto the next person.

How will she NOT refer to you as Spiderman Photographer to her friends forever? (courtesy of the dailymail.co.uk)

Also, we weren’t there at the Halloween party and thus don’t know what a huge hit your Carrie costume was (though now we know what you look like covered in blood). We don’t realize that you were going for Indiana Jones and not the Village People. The whole point of looking at your profile is to see what you’re “like” on an everyday basis. Not one day when you decided to make yourself look weirder than usual.

Lastly: DO: Consider a professional.

It’s not the worst idea in the world to get some nice shots done of you. I have a friend who decided to do this, and has some really great pictures, that yes, she uses on her dating profile, but she also has. Just because you can take a picture at any moment of the day doesn’t mean they’re going to be all that great. And rather than less authentic, I find professional shots MORE authentic—because a professional can capture you at your best, at your most natural. They’re paid to show the essence and beauty of someone’s personality—which you never will in your bathroom mirror.

 

P.S. If you’d like some help with your online profile–and dating in general–I have a few slots open for new coaching clients. AND: New York locals; I have a photographer at the ready who can help you with some great shots. Just hit me up. 

Couple standing outside a tropical restaurantI recently attended a singles event in Manhattan sponsored by an online dating site. The bar had lots of atmosphere—but very little A/C, so it was social, but sweaty. And while the crowd was very squarely adult (average age probably about 35), you would have thought it was a high school mixer. Women sat along one wall, or chatted in small groups, while the men hunkered around, some looking slightly uncomfortable, others leering in wait like lone wolfs.

This never gets easier. But still, the people in this room had made the Herculean effort to get there—RSVP’d days in advance, got dressed, took the train or a cab across town. Got there. Walked in. They were about as committed to being here as you could be. And then, it seems, stopped short by their own stories, assumptions, and judgments.

The “Everyone Here Sucks” Excuse

I spoke with a clatch of women sitting along the window bench (p.s., forming a female firing squad is not a great way to meet men), who were quick to bring me into their ranks. “Is this your first time? Here, sit down with us!” When I asked what they thought, the ringleader said she’d already done a lap, and in one facial twitch, dismissed the crowd of men outright. Why? “Eh,” she said. Too old, not goodlooking enough, not my type. (None of them?) In one lap she’d figured this out.

“How do you know that?” I asked. There were some silver foxes in the mix for sure, but on the whole it wasn’t a bad looking crowd. It was essentially shooting fish in a barrel—for men and women. The woman who claimed the men were too old for her also told me she was 38. “I hate to break it to you,” I said, “but these men are in your—our—range. They’re not too old.”

“Well, we don’t see anyone worth talking to, so in a bit, we’re thinking of going to a bar down the street.”

A bar down the street? They’d made every effort to be here now, where available men were guaranteed. This is another easy strategy for avoiding talking to people here and now–that everyone you want is somewhere else. Another convenient piece of fiction to sell yourself. What on earth would make this woman think that the men of their dreams were two doors down? I wished them luck and moved on. There would be nothing gained from sitting with women complaining about men—better to just go and talk to some.

Women aren’t the only ones making rash judgments, of course. As I made my way through the bar that evening, I heard similar complaints from the men. Some seemed to think that there must be “something wrong” with these women since they weren’t paired yet (I had to bite my tongue here. How a single adult can show up to a singles event and assume something’s wrong with everyone ELSE there because they’re single is beyond me). Of course, there were the equally ugly comments about women being too heavy or not hot enough.

One guy said he just wanted an average woman, because he considered himself average, but that people were a little generous in their descriptions of themselves online. He indicated a woman with a perfectly average figure and said, “I bet that woman calls herself average.” I said, That, my friend, is average. Nowhere on the invite did it say there’d be a cast of models and porn stars here. I’m not quite sure what people were expecting—or why they think they should be served Hollywood elite look-alikes just for showing up.

What You Expect, You’ll Get

There’s not a doubt in my mind that the people who came that night with their fears ratcheted way up and their expectations way down didn’t have fun, and likely left thinking it was a waste of a night. Which, by the way, is a very convenient way to keep your scarcity mentality-slash-insecurity stories in tact. Easy to keep believing the myth that “there’s no one out there for me.” I don’t buy into that, but the people who do find it to be true, every time.

I had a really great night. It wasn’t because there was some magic in the air—I believe that to a great extent we decide how good a night will be, and it doesn’t start with showing up and thinking, “OK, prove it to me that this is worth my time.” You have to make it worth your time. Here’s how.

How to Meet Your Next Average Stranger

Bear these in mind next time you head out.

Don’t form a coven. It’s great to have some girlfriends in tow when you hit up a social scene, but as soon as you turn in the wagons—and your back to everyone else—you’ve effectively sealed yourselves off from any nearby prospects. Man-bashing and complaining may be a fun way to meet new girlfriends, but I think it’s a cowardly way to spend an evening—not to mention unproductive. Stop talking about men and start talking to them.

DUDES: Standing around staring at a lady is, quite frankly, unnerving. If you have some wingmen on hand, invite a lady into a conversation, say to “settle a bet” about a disagreement you’re having (read: just made up), something to make her feel engaged, not stalked. Or, approach her with some normal conversation leads (not pick-up lines) handy so you can get to know her and not make her want to run for ze hills.

OR: Show up alone. I know this is unfathomable to some, and it requires some gumption, but I’m telling you, the upfront bravery has a bigger payoff. I came to this particular event by myself. One friend at the last minute did show up, but I was there long before her, and when she did arrive, she mingled separately. We spoke a few times, sent a few texts to see where the other one was and how she was doing, but we were not attached at the hip. Of course, there’s social pressure and not a small bit of dread to be there on your own, but that little bit of anxiety, and a big smile, will actually make you more likely to talk to people you don’t know—and more grateful for the conversation (thus a bit kinder in your approach).

Just aim to connect. If you put pressure on yourself to find a life partner, right here, tonight, you’re bound to fail. That’s not what you’re there to do. You’re there to connect—to interact with, learn about, and introduce yourself to people you know nothing about, and whom you might not even be attracted to. If you only talk to people who, on first glance, you’re sure you’d want to marry, you won’t be talking to too many people. Think of it as informational interviewing: You don’t necessarily want or need the job; you’re there to see what’s out there.

Assume the best. Nothing sours your outlook or your outcome by going in with a chip on your shoulder. You’ve been hurt? So has every single person in that room. If you go in with your dukes up, suspicious that every man (or woman) there is out to deceive, hurt, or outright reject you, it sends a message—and clear instructions on how to treat you. Challenge those assumptions. What if you assumed there was a lot about these guys you could love if you had a chance, that they have complex stories and big dreams, just like you? You’ll be far more open, that’s what.

Remember that average is the new hot. Granted, some people are just better looking than others. But as a rule, most people are…average. Personality, humor, and chemistry can transform someone you wouldn’t look twice at into someone you can’t bear to be without. It happens. But not if you don’t give that person a try and actually interact with them. An average or even good-looking guy can get ugly fast if he acts like an ass, but another guy can become more attractive if he’s kind, funny, engaged. Think of a face as a canvas that someone draws his or her personality on.

You already know that while looks are important, they aren’t everything. Most of the men I’ve had the strongest feelings for were not grade A hunks right out of an Abercrombie ad. The surprise of a growing attraction is the best part. More often than not, women fall for, pair up with, and enjoy mind-blowing sex with (and often marry) men who will never work as George Clooney’s body double.

Play the game. It’s a fact: Men like to hunt. As my own coach has said to me, hunting isn’t as fun when a deer jumps in front of the gun. And while I hate to use such violent, predatory imagery, it works here. While there’s nothing wrong with initiating conversation, especially at a social event, give a man some space to pursue you a bit, rather than a) try to stake him out and keep him cordoned off from other women or b) stalk him all night. Simply smile big, make eye contact, talk, laugh, touch him lightly on the arm from time to time. Compliment him. This is not rocket science, ladies. But it works.

Case in point: I spotted an attractive stranger that night, and made my way over to his general vicinity—so when the opportunity arose and he looked my way, I flashed a wide, open smile, the kind of smile that isn’t cursory but lasts a few beats longer, that says “I’d like to meet you.” He held out his hand and introduced himself. After speaking for a bit, I made it a point to give him some space—after all, if he thought I was worth talking to, he’d find me again. And he did: While I was talking with another gentleman, he swung by and handed me a drink, and kept walking. Well played.

Later, when I went to thank him for the drink, we were interrupted by a woman who said her friend wanted to meet him (ok, so yes, this guy was in fact strikingly handsome, no question). I stepped back and chatted with a few other people. After all, I don’t have dibs on this guy. Everyone should be able to talk to whomever they want—now is not the time to get proprietary.

“That was cool of you,” he remarked after the woman had left. “I’m glad you didn’t walk away.” We talked for the rest of the evening. He took my number and asked me out the next day.

 

 

 

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Mark Wahlberg as John Bennett in "Ted"

I spent several hours this weekend watching adults act like children and children take brave risks in the name of love.

I was at the movies.

The movies were Seth MacFarlane’s Ted and Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Seemingly, the two have nothing in common: We have a funny, crude comedy in which Mark Wahlberg’s character John Bennett makes a wish that his teddy bear were real, and of course, that’s exactly what happens. Cut to John at 35, who’s at a dead-end job at a rental car company with a girlfriend Lori (Mila Kunis) of four years. He is stunted emotionally and psychologically because he cannot move past or let go of his teddy-bear-cum-roommate, who keeps him stuck in a childish, self-serving, pot-smoking rut.

Jared Gilman's Sam in "Moonrise Kingdom"

Moonrise Kingdom, on the other hand, feels as if it were created in miniature–crafted, painted, dreamed up, intricate and artful as a tiny dollhouse world peopled by caricatures where the adults are clueless and children speak with the cadence, sobriety, and world weariness of 45-year-olds. (Reviewers use words like “whimsical” and “idiosyncratic” to make this point.) Sam meets Suzy, picking her out of a lineup of girls in bird costumes backstage at a school play. One year later, they make a secret pact to run away together.

Both have romance at their core: In Ted, John desperately loves Lori, but can’t quite make the jump to become a man and commit to making a life with her (though he makes lots of promises). In Moonrise, 12-year-old Sam makes the bold decision to leave his scout troop (representative of structured society with its requisite rules and regs) and meet his lover Suzy in a field and run away together, making camp, catching fish and cooking it, reading adolescent novels out loud, sharing dreams and disappointments, and sometimes kissing.

The irony here is that in Ted, John’s struggle to be a man requires that he let something go, essentially swap an old comfort (Ted) for a new one (Lori). He has to get rid of one to have the other. In Moonrise, Sam’s struggle to be a man requires that he leave the clock-work predictability of camp and strike out on his own.

Both films make their own cultural commentary: One could be construed as a statement on the feminization of modern men who can’t shake their adolescence (or you could say it’s just a funny movie with lots of fart jokes, and those who argue that I’m overstating it may be dodging the persistence of their own adolescence). Consider Jeff Who Lives at Home, in which the 30-year-old protagonist loiters endlessly and aimlessly in his mother’s basement. Is it a surprise these movies are popular now? They must resonate somewhere. We wouldn’t think they were funny and real if they weren’t, well, funny and real.

The other commentary, as portrayed in Moonrise, is that you’re never too young to know what you want and go after it, as unpopular and unexpected a choice that might be–and that real love is worth bucking the rules for. Sam doesn’t hem and haw like John; he’s committed to his decision from the very start.

And while I certainly laughed out loud at Ted many times (I dare you to try not to), I felt far more uplifted by Moonrise. It’s the difference between chugging a beer and tasting a strange cocktail. With one, you know how you’ll feel and have an idea of how it’ll go down; with the other, you’re not sure, but it’s an intriguing libation.

The inspiring message for me was not that a 35-year-old man can, after much prodding, release his vice-like grip on his toys long enough to propose to a woman who’s halfway out the door. (Um, that happens every day.) It was the kids who see their own difficult lives and their families’ failings with zero sentimentality (Suzy’s parents only relate as lawyers and not as lovers; Sam’s are dead and his foster home has disowned him), and are willing to leave it behind. They aren’t one bit afraid of facing the dark or the thunder (unlike Ted’s John Bennett, who still needs his thunder buddy), and remain unflappable as the chaos unfolds around them, becoming more focused and determined as the stakes are raised.

The consistent underlying message of course is that love makes you brave and turns you into an adult–and though I take issue with the hackneyed Hollywood emphasis on that One Perfect Love as the be-all, end-all, we should know by now that this is a cinema standard.

What’s far more compelling to me is not how it ends but the ways in which the characters get there. I know I see my own life as more than just swapping one comfort for another. And I’d take a (grown-up) Sam over John any day of the week–I imagine most women agree with me….but then why are so many women settling for the men who cling to comfort and are terrorized by storms? Good question. But they are.

Who doesn’t want to singled out by a determined, strong-willed, capable man who knows what he wants and goes for it? Who, like a dutiful khaki scout, is prepared for all kinds of inclement weather and rising tides? The lesson here, it seems, is that being a real man–a real adult, for that matter–seems less about what you give up than what you go after.

Photo courtesy of carryology

I’m packing for a big trip and doing what I always do when I pack: Reinvent the wheel.

I start from scratch and build my life from the ground up, starting with the very base needs (underwear, bra, deodorant, shoes) to the very specific and often imagined ones (how can I be on a beach without this fabulous rattan bag, even if it scratches my shoulder up? I need it!).

I do this. Every. Time.

Let me preface this by saying I have dreams about packing. Nightmares, rather. I’m always packing–for a train about to depart the station, for a flight to China that somehow I just found out I need to be on. In a recurring dream, I’m leaving college and trying to shove all of my stuff into boxes but nothing will fit or stay. It’s exhausting. Rent a Moving Van was the solution that my dream ended with, after all the nights I had with the same reoccurring dream of not being able to fit everything in. I think after I realised there is a solution to everything, I did feel a lot better. But it was just a dream.

The Art and Obsession of Packing

I’ll leave the dream part for my therapist to figure out. But the packing itself is ritual: It really is a study in life essentials–not just what you actually need (passport, wallet, clothes), but what you feel you need. The suitcase is a zippered confessional where I keep all that I want to be and do, and the things I’m afraid to be without. And because it’s a solemn ritual (as all confessions are), I must do it alone. I cannot pack with someone else in the room. I can’t talk to you while I do it. I need to focus.

I was forced to really think essential when, in my 20s, I went on a series of trips with my uncle, the late Rev. Robert Barone of the University of Scranton, who led study group tours to Jerusalem and Rome, and then a few other trips to different parts of Italy. It was always an amazing, eye-opening adventure, albeit, somewhat ascetic–we ate at the same restaurant every night, stayed in stripped-down pilgrims’ quarters on mattresses the size of steno pads.

But what made it particularly stringent was my uncle’s one rule: No checked baggage. You had to carry on, and it had to fit. So I learned to be very smart about making one carry-on piece of luggage and a backpack house three weeks’ worth of wardrobe and toiletrees, which, for a chick is no joke. I wore a lot of neutrals.

BEFORE that rule was strictly enforced (and part of the reason it was), I checked a bag and it was lost. And then you realize that what you counted on showing up with you, in this case my lumpy duffel, sometimes doesn’t; that life is unpredictable, and that it’s amazing anyone ever gets their luggage, quite frankly. So for a few days I walked around Jerusalem without my smart footwear, and in a lousy dress someone loaned me. And while it was annoying, it didn’t really matter. Though I did shriek with joy when the bag finally showed up, I won’t lie.

Why You Don’t Need to Bring That

Nowadays, I can check with abandon, and do. I’m about to depart for ten days in Israel to visit a friend, and I have done and packed every conceivable thing, down to teabags and nut bars and a ziploc full of bandaids. I have thought long and hard about footwear and the potential for blisters. I’ve thought through hats and bathing suits, sunscreens (mineral and spray, face and body). I’ve imagined myself walking through the streets of Tel Aviv (and what bag am I holding?), or skipping along the beach (flip flops, check, sunglasses, check). Climbing around the ruins in Petra (backpack, athletic sandals, got it, check).

But I stop myself when I get to the brink of, say, packing another long, floral summer dress. I talked myself out of this just now. First I think, this is why I bought these dresses–so they could see the light of day, traipse around the Mediterranean. But then you have to ask: Who is this trip for, anyway, me or them? Sure I’m tempted to throw the other one in, but I am coming down hard on myself and saying, C’mon. So you wear the one dress twice. Who gives a fuck.

Unpacking the Packing Urge

This is why I think we go through this rigmarole: Even though it’s just vacation, whether it’s five days or ten, you are leaving. And not to sound morbid, but you can’t be 100% sure if or when you’ll be back.

My theory is this: Overpacking is a stay against the unknown. As if the more you pack, the more you can somehow control the unknown (you can’t), or armor yourself against chaos or conflict (good luck). There’s a distrust in anything beyond our immediate comfort zone, and yet the best part of travel is feeling that worry, that distrust of the world, fall away–usually the minute you’re boarded on the plane, because whatever you don’t have now you will have to live without.

Still, we have to beat back that fear-based need to take home with us. We’re torn. I’m torn. Always. If it’s the sundress this time it’ll be shoes the next. What if I need it? You probably won’t, but try telling yourself that the day before you leave your house, your city, your country, your life. And so it goes.

So if there’s a good reason to travel, this is it, I think: to learn to let go of the things you know, embrace what you don’t, and believe that somehow, in some way, the world will provide. I am trying to teach myself that my needs aren’t always needs at all, but fears of the unknown, and that the more I open up to the unpredictability and pleasure of it all, the less I need to drag along with me.

(But it would behoove you to take antibiotics along, especially if you’re leaving the country. The world is wild and exciting, yes, but no need to suffer. There’s only so much of the world you can see from a toilet seat.)