Dr. Romance: Avoiding Dating Pitfalls

Dr. Romance: Avoiding Dating Pitfalls

Relationships: Tips to Help Find the Love of your Life the Old-Fashioned Way

There are two kinds of dating– One I call “Hollywood Dating” because it’s based on romantic and phony media images and fiction– that’s the one where you go out with a stranger, both of you have to be beautiful people, you spend a lot of money on a romantic date,and you fall in love forever. Not very realistic. Then, there’s the method I recommend, which I call the “get a life” method. That is, you develop a social circle you enjoy (college is an ideal place for this) and spend time with friends, doing things that are productive and things that you enjoy. If you allow this social circle to be large enough, you’ll find plenty of people to date, and you’ll already know what kind of people they are before you date them.

The good thing about old-fashioned dating was that people got a chance to know each other before sex. Having sex too soon clouds your judgment, and makes it difficult to make an intelligent choice of partner. If you’re just having “sport sex” and don’t want the relationship to mean anything, it’s OK, as long as you take care of your health and safety. But, if you want a relationship that’s enjoyable and lasting, you have to go a little slower.

I think most people are looking for love, partnership, and companionship.

I actually believe in going “Dutch.” I think it creates equality in the relationship, and also prevents one person from thinking he or she is buying the other. Either share the cost, or take turns paying– you’ll find that the relationship is a lot more balanced. If one of you has a lot more money than the other, the one with less money can cook at home, or do something creative that costs less. If the energy is balanced, the cost doesn’t have to be. Inviting someone out on a date and paying is a very romantic thing to do, and should be saved for when you know enough about each other to want to show you care.

If you barely know each other, then introduce yourselves as “friends.” If you have an understanding that you’re exclusively dating (you should never assume you have this without talking about it) then you agree to say “girlfriend and boyfriend” or even “sweetie” Save “significant other” or “partner” for when you have made a formal commitment. Just make sure you both agree how you want to be introduced before describing your date as any more than a friend.

Internet dating sounds easy, but it’s rife with pitfalls. You’re missing so many of the cues you get from seeing a person face-to-face, not to mention from seeing him or her interact with other people. Despite the fact that Internet dating is hugely popular, I doubt if it’s very successful for most people. I teach my clients what cues to watch for in a profile, and in e-mail conversations, how to protect yourself from fraud, and how to safely meet face-to-face.

If you do connect with someone online, and the relationship develops, make sure that person’s friends as soon as possible. Have him or her meet your friends. Do a lot of group activities, don’t begin by being alone together. A con artist can easily fool you one-on-one, but will have a harder time in a group, and the group will guard your safety. You’ll get to see the grittier aspects of your date’s personality when you share group activities, especially if they are challenging. If you think something you say will ruin the relationship, then screw it up right away– you want to know if you two can work through difficulties.

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Here are some warning signs to look for. If you find them, be careful and try discussing them with your date. No one is perfect, and the best of dates may exhibit a warning sign or two. Most of them are not fatal, and they may not mean the worst, but if you talk them over and work them out, you will find out how you deal with problems together.


1. Too Charming/ Practiced at this.

If your date is not at all nervous, awkward and never at a loss for words, you may be very impressed. Such a polished approach is very attractive and pleasant to be around. However, there could be a down side to this smoothness. It can mean that you’re dating a professional dater someone, unlike you, who’s dated a lot, and is therefore very practiced and comfortable.

This is fine if you just want to have a good time dating. But, if you’re going to get attached, if you want a more meaningful relationship, or if you want a commitment from someone, this is not the person.

2. Angry Outbursts, Heavy Drinking or Talking about it

Watch Out: If your date is able to drink a lot without showing it, that’s a sign of alcohol tolerance such a person is used to drinking. It might be a warning that you’re dating an alcoholic whose drinking doesn’t show readily, but who still has serious problems. If your date drinks more than one or two drinks in an evening, or two glasses of wine with dinner, pay attention.

Out of control behaviors, such as rage (perhaps at the waitress, or while driving the car) too much drinking, talking about drinking too much, missing work, or being depressed can be clues about serious problems that can make a healthy relationship impossible. If you get such clues, be very careful, and go slowly until you have a chance to see if they really do indicate problems.

3. Control Freak/ Possessive.

When your date has it all together– makes all the arrangements, cant wait to see you again, phones frequently, is intense and persuasive in discussions, always knows what he or she wants to do, sends cards or flowers, arranges things to perfection it often feels very good, at first. Its so nice (especially if you’re new to dating), to have all this attention, you may not notice how important it is to your date to have things go his or her way.

Jealousy can also be flattering, if your date thinks someone else is looking at you, or wants you to be exclusive right away, but it can also be a sign of emotional instability. That flattering interest in your attentions can turn in to a chronic lack of trust and suspicion. Controlling people are usually very smooth when you’re only dating, and they don’t feel they have complete possession yet. But, after they charm you into committing and bonding to them, the control can turn very unpleasant, and even lead to stalking or abuse. Be careful of the too perfect lover. What feels good on an occasional basis can be very oppressive when its every day behavior.

4. Signals of an Abuser/user.

Anger, control, and possessiveness are all warning signs that your date may have a control issue, which can lead to abuse, but there are other signs to watch for as well.

One of the reasons I so emphasize the tennis match approach to conversations, phone calls, and other aspects of dating is that strict adherence to that policy early in your dating will help you avoid getting attached to a user.

Users are often charming, sometimes childlike, and usually appear to be somewhat helpless. Because they are so personable, it is easy to get sucked into doing a lot more than your share of the relationship work. We all want to help, to be caring an useful but, helping should go both ways. Until you know who you’re dealing with, be careful you’re not just being used.

Users may con you out of money, but more often they just lay back and let you give more of the love, time and attention, until you feel unappreciated, drained and hurt.

Users are often narcissistic, a Freudian term which means they are so focused on themselves and their wants and needs that they aren’t even aware that other people *have* wants and needs. For various reasons, a truly narcissistic person has not developed emotionally past two years old and is really incapable of empathizing with you or recognizing your rights, needs and wants.

Keep in mind that you and your date are both doing your best to make a good impression right now. Things will not get better later they are likely to get more relaxed. If your date is not making a good impression, keep in mind that it may still be the best he or she can do, and make your decision accordingly.

5. Your Reaction Scared, Bored, Intimidated.

You may not realize it, but you have the ability to feel another person emotionally. This ability is called empathy and we are all born with it– it is how we relate to parents and others before we begin to use words and thoughts. If your feelings are at odds with what you think about the person you are with, pay close attention. Your body’s reactions could be wiser than your thoughts. If you’re feeling tense, stressed or physically uncomfortable, your body may be giving you clues.

If the hairs on the back of your neck are raised, if you feel intimidated, frightened, uneasy, inexplicably angry, or any other feeling that seems out of synch with an otherwise pleasant dating experience, your subconscious might know more than your rational mind. Honor these feelings by being more cautious and going even more slowly, until you have a chance to find out what is going on. Emphasize group outings, and don’t be alone with your date until you feel truly comfortable.

6. No Friends or Social System.

Beware the date who has no one in his or her life but you. Unless you’ve just met a person who’s brand new to your city (or to this country), your date should have an active social life. Even someone who just came here should have an active social life back home, and be working to create another here.

No social life, no friends and not enough to do are all indications that your date has some problems relating effectively to people. While that can mean that he or she is at your beck and call in the beginning, it also can mean you will be expected to fill up your dates life, and that becomes a lot of pressure.

7. Sexuality Too Much, Not Enough.

Ah, sex: to be, or not to be, when, and how much– that is the question. Sooner or later in your dating, you will get sexual to some degree, even if you’ve decided to wait until marriage to have full intercourse. Cuddling, kissing, petting are all stages of sexual contact, and will tell you a lot.

If your partner wants to have sex when you don’t it’s natural to be disappointed, but if he or she pressures you and gets angry, hurt or hostile if you say no, that’s a warning sign. (from “The Unofficial Guide to Dating Again” (Wiley 2002)).

Although it may seem overly suspicious to worry about all these things, it’s a tough world out there, and being wise early in the relationship can protect you from being devastated later.

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