Sometimes people need to be reminded of how to date, and when I say “How To” I mean getting back to basics. I’m not talking about how to be suave or to “play the game.” I’m not in to that and you should all know that by now. With all the crazy dating stories I have heard from people, read about, been asked about, my mouth just hangs open in disgust, amazement, and question, and I am just left speechless. In honor of all of those, I am getting us all back to the simple basics of dating. Start with these five common-sense tips and hopefully there will be many dates in your future.
I have put together my Top Five dating tips, applicable to both male and females. This is advice from someone who has been there, done that, and has learned from it. It also doesn’t hurt that I am a licensed social worker and was forced to take Human Behavior I and II in graduate school.
Tip #1 – Be prepared to date. Before committing to a date with someone, make sure you are ready – emotionally and mentally – and able to open yourself up to someone else. If you are not fully prepared to do that, then don’t date. This doesn’t only refer to those in a dating funk – down in the dumps – but those under pressure from school or work who may be too busy to devote the time needed to date, to begin a relationship. Whoever you date deserves all your attention, just as you deserve his or hers. If you only have a couple of hours a week to date or you are constantly thinking of deadlines and how much work stresses you out, then don’t date. If you are not in an emotionally good place – and that could mean anything, such as trying to get over the demise of a previous relationship or the death of your dog – then don’t date.
I vividly remember sitting in the car at the start of a date when the fellow said, “I think I should tell you I was recently engaged. We broke up two weeks ago, or should I say she blindsided me and ended the engagement. I still can’t believe it. But don’t worry; I am getting back into the scene.” Throughout the evening, my date cried actual tears. He was still in disbelief regarding his breakup. He never should have been out on a date so soon after, and the shadchan should have known better than to set him up.
I also remember being redt to someone who kept putting off the first phone call. First there was a text message asking if he can call that night. Then later, another text message asking for another night. When we finally were able to speak, he told me that he was “in a rush” and had to “make it fast.” That’s not really the way to try to start a new relationship. He also postponed our first date, twice. While on the date, he kept checking his phone and didn’t seem fully involved. I asked him about this and he apologized. He said that he had a lot going on at the moment, so his head was in a few different places, but “Yeah, no. I’m here with you. I’m into this. Yeah, I am.” And the next time he received a text message, he apologized while he texted his friend, I think, back. I don’t need to have a fellow whom I meet once hang onto every word I say, but this guy was very, very distracted. If you can’t date, if you can’t give the person you are with at least most of your attention and are able to carry on a complete conversation, then don’t date. I won’t be angry to have missed the opportunity to date someone who didn’t have time for me. I was upset to have gone out with someone who didn’t make the time to spend with me, because after he committed to a date – that he wasn’t forced to commit to – he didn’t treat the opportunity as I feel a first date should have been treated. And that is him thinking, “I can meet my future wife, my best friend, mother of my future children, tonight. I should put my best foot forward.”
It’s simple: No time and not able to give attention, then don’t date.
Tip #2 – You must like yourself before asking another to do so. It’s not as easy as it sounds. One’s personality is shaped by one’s experiences in life and how he or she was raised. Thankfully, my parents let their children know how much they loved and supported us. But others aren’t as lucky. I know of those who didn’t have anyone telling them how much they were loved, who didn’t have anyone in their corner when they were wronged. I have gone out with men who didn’t have any self-esteem or self-worth. It was apparent in the way they walked, talked, and behaved. I would always treat these fellows with extra care. I would laugh at their jokes, give them compliments. Their eyes would light up when they realized I was listening to what they were saying. Unfortunately, I can’t be with someone who doesn’t have a good sense of self or who isn’t confident. I called a shadchan the morning after such a date to tell her, “He’s nice, but he isn’t for me.” The shadchan said, “He called last night saying he had a great time, but that you probably wouldn’t want to go out with him again. He enjoyed the date while it lasted. He wanted me to thank you for that.” It was heartbreaking to hear.
I remember another date with someone else who thought very poorly of himself. He had absolutely no self-esteem or positive image of himself to put forth. When I asked about his job, he told me that he worked for the family business (which I knew), but was only given busy work to do because his brother and cousins didn’t have much faith in him to do well on “the important stuff.” Oyyy. When I asked about his family, specifically nieces and nephews, his face lit up for a minute, but then said that his brother-in-law suffered a stroke, and since he is the only single uncle, he is the only one able to spend a lot of time with them, so he told me all of the “fun” things he does with them on weekends, and then added something like, “I know they’d rather be with anyone else, but me.” Oyyyyy. There wasn’t a topic that I was able to speak about where he didn’t have anything negative to say about himself. Even when I brought up Disney World, the happiest place on earth, he told me that he got a terrible sunburn there a few years ago, and employees closed down the Dumbo ride due to lightning when it was his turn after waiting in line for over an hour. OMG. There wasn’t anything I was able to do or say to get this fellow to smile or laugh. I think I did hear a violin playing in the background somewhere!
To those who can identify with what I just wrote, I say, you are good enough for everything you want out of life! Hashem loves you, now you have to love yourself. You are worth every good thing that can happen in life. Don’t let anything stop you. You have every right to reach for and get the brass ring. If necessary, I also recommend seeking out a therapist to help you realize your self-worth and to find your confidence. You are good, smart, and beautiful enough to accomplish anything you want. But, again, you must think well of yourself before you ask another to do so.
Tip #3 – Just thinking of where to go on a first date causes anxiety to many. Many don’t want to sit and eat on a first date, or if they do, they don’t only want to eat on a date. So what can you do on a first date? A few friends of mine went to a hotel lounge and spent the night playing a board game that their date brought. The evening was spent with two people getting to know each other and playing checkers or Trivial Pursuit. Depending on how confident you are in your ability, you can go ice skating. I was once taken to a comedy club on a first date, but it’s hard to get to know someone when you can’t speak to each other for 90 minutes of the date. I feel dates such as shows and ball games should be saved for the third or fourth date when you’ve already gotten to know each other a bit. Think outside the box; ax-throwing venues are popular. There’s the new craze of playing Cornhole or Shuffleboard. I guess the old is new again. There are Sip and Paint classes that people seem to love. Choices are endless. But the one place I do not recommend going to on any date is – the cemetery. Bet you didn’t expect me to write that. A cousin of mine called me right after a date she had. She said that her date wanted to introduce her to his family. My cousin thought it was strange, because it was their first date. She reluctantly agreed. Imagine her surprise when her date pulled up outside of a cemetery. He took my cousin to his grandparents’ graves and, according to my cousin, introduced her to them! My cousin said it was very creepy. I think all would agree.
Tip #4 – People often wonder: “What am I supposed to talk about with a stranger?” This, as well as Tip #3, can be referred to as “First Date Jitters.” It’s normal to feel nervous, because you are meeting and spending time with a stranger and trying to figure out if you want to wake up next to this person for the next 50 years. It’s everything you were warned about doing since childhood, talking to strangers, telling them about yourself, etc. The goal of the first couple of dates is to get to know the person you are with and vice versa. Talk about hobbies or, if you “don’t have any,” like I hear so many say; start with asking how his/her day was. Talk about your day. Maybe tell a funny story about a classmate or co-worker. Discuss summer camp or the bungalow colony or which seminary in Israel you attended. Soon enough, you will be playing Jewish geography and realize you both know some of the same people. Ease into things. Don’t start off with hashkafah questions, and please don’t recite a monologue about your life. Yes, you are trying to get to know the other person and vice versa, but you shouldn’t tell him/her everything in one sitting! Let there be a natural back and forth. If there are a few moments of silence, embrace them. Think of them as comfortable silences where you can think and regroup instead of awkward silences. When married, you and your spouse won’t be talking every second of the day. You may sit next to your spouse without saying anything, simply enjoying the company.
My advice would be to avoid “questioning or interrogating” your date. I am not joking here. I remember being taken to a hotel lounge by a date who was supposed to be over six feet tall, but was actually shorter than I am (I’m 5’4) and he asked me a series of questions that felt like they were pulled out of a hat, and one question had no connection to the next. It wasn’t a conversation; he asked and I answered. Some of the questions were: Which black-and-white movie was my favorite? If I had to choose to live in any city in the world, which one would I choose (but he didn’t want to know why, just the city)? If I was able to choose my name, what would it be? They were just strange questions, and when I asked why he was asking all of these weird questions, he simply said, “I’m just going down the list.” Of course I asked him what list he was referring to. Again, as if I asked him what time it was, he plainly said, “the list of questions to ask a date in order to get to know them.” Nothing is wrong with that. But I think that once one of those questions is asked, the answer should be the start of a conversation such as: Why do you want to live in Disney World? “Uhhmm, the question should be why not? It’s the happiest place on earth. It’s a place that makes the very young and the very old smile.” He would have gained a bit of insight of who I am and how I think. And yes, I love Disney and fairytales, but I know life isn’t full of happy endings, riding off into the sunset, like I always write. But it would have been the start of a nice conversation. Instead, he just moved on to the next question.
Tip #5 – When on a date, whether it is the first or eighth, always think before you speak. I shouldn’t even have to write this, but treat others as you would want to be treated. On one date, while being led to our table in a restaurant, someone called out to my date. It ended up being a good friend of his. They started schmoozing as if I wasn’t standing there. The hostess realized this and led me to the table saying she will return with my companion. When my date finally sat down at the table he very bluntly said, “You got the better seat. Now I’m forced to look at you.” And no, it was not said in a sweet, affectionate tone. It was a very rude tone. He was just getting started. During dinner, he asked which celebrity I liked. I didn’t put much thought into my answer and named an actress who was in a movie I had just seen. “Why? Is it because you think you look like her? Well, you don’t. She’s hot. You’re not.” Did he just insult me, again? I asked him why he felt the need to be rude. His answer was blasé – take him or leave him – but this was 100 percent him. I told him I was choosing the latter choice and wanted to go home.
I also remember going on a first date with two different fellows years apart, but they both said almost the same thing to me, which can be filed under Tip #1, but I’m including it here, because I did not need to know this information and both of them volunteered it. They thought they were being honest and upfront. I thought it was just rude and made my feelings of “Wow, this guy is actually normal and maybe we can have a second date,” disappear as fast as they came. This is what they said: “I’ll be honest. I have another date with someone else tomorrow and someone else next week.” The first fellow said that because he just finished the “busy season” of his job (not accounting), he had been out of the dating loop for months, and wanted to make up for lost time. The second one told me, “I just moved to New York and there are so many frum girls here. I need to see what’s out there. You’re just the second I’ve dated since I moved here.” Yes, I asked both what they would do if they met a girl they liked, but because they seemed more into making up for lost time than really getting to know a young lady…I flat out asked each: “What would you do if you met a great girl, but you already committed to half a dozen other dates? Would you push back or cancel the other dates or continue to go on the dates? Both couldn’t answer the question. Basically, both just wanted to rack up the numbers of girls they dated. I don’t think either was interested in starting a real relationship then. I didn’t have to know that I was one of many and they should have known better than to be that honest with a girl they barely knew. If they didn’t want to go out again, why bother even mentioning the other dates. Use your seichel and keep quiet! I flat out told both shadchanim “No” before they told me what the fellow said about the date. I didn’t want my time wasted or for either to have to choose between me and someone else (insert eye roll and sarcasm here).
With those words, I will end here by what I tell everyone: Never let anyone dim your spark. Do not apologize for who you are or try to extinguish that which makes you uniquely you. If the person you are dating doesn’t like aspects of your personality and asks you to change, don’t. Be true to who you are. You are worth it to be yourself and for someone to love you as you are.
Hatzlachah to you all.