Tuesday, April 23, 2013

First Date Tips and Reentering the Dating World

Last week, the Huffington Post asked me to participate on the panel of Huff Post Live to talk about Dating after Divorce, First Dates and Dealbreakers.  I was immediately excited and a it’s subject I know well.  Last week, I went on two fantastic first dates, so I’ve  recently experienced first date jitters and felt like I could make a contribution.

I’d say over the last 7 years I’ve been on anywhere from about 75 to 100 first dates.  Yikes, that sounds like a lot, but over 7 years, that’s an average of 10 a year on the low side.   My first dates have ranged from being taken to Hooters to watch cage fighting to overnight camping, so I’ve had a wide range of experiences.

To give you some reference, I was married for 13 miserable years, had two kids and when it was time to date again, I was chomping at the bit.  I couldn’t wait for romantic first kisses in the rain and to run across a field of daisies to greet the man of my dreams, arms stretched out wide and his likewise.   That whole dream sequence didn’t play out so well for me in the real world.  What I ended up with in reality was more like the plot of a horrible Lifetime movie.  I met men who had major substance and violence issues and a big 'ol helping of dysfunction.  

After a revolving door of douchebags, I ended up on my shrink’s comfy sofa for a good old fashioned trip to the wood shed.  She ever so gently pointed out to me that I kept choosing the same bad boy over and over again, the color of the Harley may be different as well as the placement of tattoos, but I had to change and expand my dating pool.  She advised me to do two things at that moment.   

The first was to write a list of traits that I wished to find in a long term partner and dealbreakers.   The purpose of this list was to be a reference to keep me on track when I met a man - if he didn’t meet most of the qualities I wanted, I had to move on to the next one.    

The second piece of advice was to go out on as many dates as possible.   Since I had a particular “type”, she suggested I go outside of that comfort zone to meet men of different ages, careers, or ethnicities.   Basically, she challenged me to have a lot of casual first dates in the hopes of expanding the type of man I would be attracted to. 

After a few glasses of wine and some laughs with a married girlfriend, I had a Match.com profile.   My girlfriend enjoyed spending time with me, vicariously feeling like she was a character in “Sex and the City” but then would happily go home to the arms of her loving husband.    She left and before long I was answering emails, instant messaging and making dates. 

That summer, I had shared parenting and for the week I didn’t have my kids, I sometimes had 7 dates in a week.    They ranged from horrific to not God-awful, but eventually I did meet someone pretty terrific, who wasn’t the stereotype bad boy.

Fast forward to the present and I have learned a lot the hard way and I still fall for the wrong guy.   My life is so much more complicated now, having my kids 24/7, rarely having time to date.  During these years, I've taken time to grow and explore myself.  Time I wish I would have taken before I started dating in the beginning.  It was productive to do an honest self-inventory and look hard at things I needed to change.     

Recently, I've forced myself to dip my toe into the dating pool again with a breezy new attitude.   I approach dating now more like a trip to Golden Corral, I take a spoonful of yummies on my plate and see what I like.  If I want more, I can go back for a second helping.   It's more important for me now than ever to keep things in perspective since I have more time constraints now.

 Here are some of my general tips to get you out there on your first dates. 

1.      Talk to and date several people, trying to NOT focus on just one person.   This helps keep it light and having many people to talk to prevents you from thrusting you into a Rocky Road tailspin if you don’t get a text from a specific person.
2.      If you find someone online you think you like, meet them relatively soon, within about a week or so.  I’ve made this mistake, talking to someone constantly and becoming very attached only for it to blow up in my face.  Bottom line is you have to meet the person to know if you have physical attraction, so do this before you fall for the person you think they are, not really the person they truly are.
3.      If you’re a woman, my advice for how to dress for a first date is to dress like a GOOD movie trailer.  You know, the movie trailer that doesn’t show all the best scenes of the movie in the 60 second commercial.   Dress in a way that gives some idea of “coming attractions” but not showing everything you have.  In essence, it’s ok to be sexy but not slutty.
4.      Plan a short date, not longer than a couple of hours or so.  This way you have a built in “out” if you don’t hit it off.  If you do like the person, it’s also going to build intrigue for the next time.   Of course, if you really like each other and want to continue, go with it.
5.      Do an activity on a first date if possible, not a dinner.   An activity helps you bond more readily than trying to make small talk across a dinner table for 2 hours.    Go to a sporting event, play mini golf or a wine tasting.  If you must do a dinner date, choose something that has some built in excitement like a hibachi restaurant or a fondue restaurant where you are actually doing something.
6.      In your conversation, be positive.  Talk about fun activities and positive subjects.   Don’t bring up your ex and if it comes up, share a casual sentence or two.   Listen carefully about what your date has to say about their ex, however.  It will give you a lot of clues about if they are over that relationship and how they talk about that person will give you a lot of insight.
7.      Be honest as much as possible, but don’t feel like you need to bring your tax return.
8.      Of course meet at a neutral location and always be cautious about your safety.

So, whether you’re going on your first date after your divorce or your 50th, I hope these ideas help you get your dating mojo back.  Oh, and one of my first dates a couple of weeks ago has potential to be something lasting.  Who knows?

Thank you for reading and please share with me your thoughts!  


The Single Mom