Go on a Date with Life

A lot has been written about dating. Some people rally enjoy dating, but for many, dating seems like a horrific trauma. Consider how many people stay in unsatisfying or even outright bad relationships because they’re even more terrified by the prospect of being “out there” again.

Dating can be a chore because it seems so far removed from real life. But I wonder if there aren’t some everyday lessons we can learn from dating. Maybe it’s not that dating is different from the rest of our lives but that it’s an intensified version of our day-to-day lives. We work hard on a date to put our best self forward – but wouldn’t it be nice to put our best self forward throughout the course of our lives? Maybe instead of rejecting that persona, we should embrace it? And maybe, just maybe, if we were used to being our best selves all the time, dating wouldn’t be such a chore, either – we’d just show up and be awesome.

So what can we learn from dating about being our most awesome selves day in and day out? Here are a few things that come to mind:

1. Dress counts.

We all want to be appreciated for who we are, not what we wear, but unfortunately, what we wear often determines whether or not anyone will take time to know who we are. You wouldn’t dream of showing up for a date in torn sweats and a dirty shirt – but I’ve seen people show up for job interviews in similar outfits! Unless you need specialized clothing – a uniform for work, grungy clothes for helping a friend paint a house, etc. – dressing like you’re on your way to a first date means you’ll always put your best face forward.

2. Listen more, talk less.

On a date, being fascinated with what your partner is saying is the best way to make them feel good about themselves – and about you. Asking questions and really paying attention is a great way to demonstrate that you value the person you’re dating. It’s also a great way to show people you aren’t dating that you value them – and to make sure you’re as well-informed as you need to be.

3. Don’t be too needy.

“Desperation,” says a character in the movie Singles, “is the worst perfume.” Spend a date leering or pawing at your date, or explaining how very, very, very, very lonely you are is a sure way to get the brush-off. Nobody likes a loser, and that’s exactly how you come off – winners date people they’re totally into, not whoever will have them. This is true throughout our lives as well – lots of people have noticed how much easier it is to get a job when you already have one (and it’s said that the best job interview is the one you come to straight from work) than when you’re down to plucking couch-cushion change for macaroni money. Of course, you have needs – everyone does – but you can get a lot farther in life making it clear to everyone that you’re driven by your passions and talents, not your needs.

4. Be decisive.

Partners of both sexes like to see their dates make decisions quickly and effectively – it lifts the burden from them, and it shows a confidence that most find attractive. Unfortunately, we often think it’s nice to offer our date a bunch of choices to pick from, thinking that it shows we respect their wishes, when what it really does is throw them into decision paralysis – and increase their anxiety because they’re suddenly fumbling and looking bad in front of you. In life, as in dating, making decisions quickly and firmly, while respecting other’s input, is a sure sign of leadership. Even bad decisions made boldly often turn out to be better than good decisions made hesitantly.

5. Smile a lot.

People like people who smile. More than that, there’s a lot of evidence that the physical act of smiling actually triggers changes in our brain chemistry that make us happier. On a date, that means less stressed, more confident, and more attractive to our partner. In life, that means the same thing – even when we’re not perfectly comfortable, a big smile conveys to others that we are, and often gives us the boost we need to actually become more comfortable.

6. Have an exit strategy.

Not from life – that’s a little morbid. What I mean is this: when you go on a date, you have an idea of how, at various stages, to end it. There’s the perfect “kiss at the door” evening (or “breakfast in bed” night), there’s the pre-planned “emergency” phone call from a friend at 8pm to give you an excuse to bail on a bad date, there’s the $20 spare cash tucked away in case things turn scary and you need a cab, etc. In life’s undertakings, too, it pays to have a couple of escape plans ready, as well as a clear image of what success will look like. Grinding away at a project that no longer has any purpose isn’t very smart, but we often feel compelled to “finish the job” even when it no longer matters to us. Likewise, turning up for a dead-end job day after day is a ticket to depression, at best. As the cliché goes, “plan for the best but prepare for the worst” – go into big projects with a clear idea of how much you’re willing to sacrifice and how little you’re willing to gain to consider it worthwhile.

I have a half-dozen more tips, but that’s plenty for one post. I’ll be back soon with more ways life could be more like dating, and our selves could be more like the selves we are when we date. In the meantime, how about sharing your tips for dating and how they might apply to the rest of our life (or why they couldn’t)?

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