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Loveandfriends - Internet dating for thinking people
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Chapter 5: Article: Action prompts for successful dating

Mary Balfour gives some hot tips for successful dating gained from over ten years experience of running two of the country's best known personal introduction agencies . Click on any section headings for more of Mary's personal advice.

Successful dating what's the recipe?

Personal safety

Don't give out your address, home or office phone number or your e-mail till your sure you can trust the person. Mobile phones aren't usually traceable.

Always arrange to meet in a public place

Always have your own transport home. Politely refuse a lift.

Never meet for longer than one-and-a-half hours on a first date. End the date leaving lots more to discover

Ensure your answer-phone message is user friendly

Avoid leaving messages on answer-phones. Persevere till you can speak personally to your quarry.

Don't talk long on the phone and avoid very personal topics.

Dispel nervousness by owning up to it.

Avoid ‘danger topics' of conversation on a first date

Don't talk your head off or collude with your date who's doing this.

Smart answers to tricky first date questions

Don't expect to be able to judge your date's relationship potential on a first meeting. If you could be ‘just friends' try and see them again.

Finishing a date when you're NOT SURE if you want to see the person again

How to end a date when you're certain you DON'T want to meet again

Finishing a date when you DO want to see them again

Always offer to split the bill, but accept graciously if your date really wants to pay.

Have fun! Relax and enjoy yourself!

 

 

Successful dating what's the recipe?

I always await the first phone calls on a Monday morning in my personal introduction agency with excitement and maybe a little apprehension. Some of them are bound to be report-backs on dates. First dates, second dates, tenth dates or no dates. Whatever, we get the low-down on what did or didn't happen. Every time I talk with a member I learn something new about what can go right or wrong. How some couples are still waiting to get to the first date as they're both so busy they've been playing telephone tag for weeks. Others who have been on several dates with different people and they want to go on ‘hold' so they can catch their breath and explore whether one of these might lead to something special. Sometimes we get feedback from both parties one positive and one negative. Of course we never tell members what others have confided in us about them. This would be betraying their trust and we'd rapidly lose our unbiased referee status.

But the call all of us at the Agency like to hear best of one is the one where the member rings to say it all went wonderfully and they've arranged to meet again next week. This is what it's all about, the success stories. These are where both parties are thoroughly into dating mode and dancing a sort of dating duet together. They are communicating in the same language, they both want to hear what the other has to say and there is a buzz not love yet, but certainly good vibes.

So what's the recipe? Yes, you can organise the lead up to the date and the date itself in such a way that it's more likely to go well. The same two people, maybe an ideal match, could meet up and fall for each other. But handled differently the first steps of the relationship might lead nowhere. There are good and bad ways of setting the scene. It's taken me fourteen years of listening to feedback and carrying out informal research amongst my members to learn what they are. They're just common sense things, but you'd be surprised how few people observe them and thus fail to do themselves justice when they first meet an interesting person.

Of course, with cyber dating the preparation is different I can hear you saying.

In some ways it's really old fashioned in its approach. You flirt with the written word and you needn't go too fast if you don't want to. Alas! This can lead cyber daters into a false sense of security. So first of all please remember that most of the strategies that work or fail to work with conventional apply equally to cyber dating.

 

Personal safety

This is very important - see separate article on this as well as the following advice.

Women: Reputable personal introduction agencies are much more secure than the Internet as we interview all members personally and check id. The important thing is to use your common sense and not be lulled into a false sense of security - no matter how advanced  the site nor how good the members look, dating on the Internet simply can't compare to a personal agency. Although the majority of people dating on the Internet or answering classified ads in the press are OK you need to safeguard yourself against the small minority.

Men: You may know you're OK but be thoughtful and put yourself in the woman's position. Don't suggest places to meet or things to do that compromise your date's security.

 

Don't give out your address, home or office phone number or your e-mail till your sure you can trust the person. Mobile phones aren't usually traceable.

OK, so you've been E-mailing each other for a couple of weeks. One of you suggests a date. Don't rush things. Always talk to each other by phone first. And remember don't give out a home or office phone number to anyone until you've reached the stage when you are sure you can trust the person and want to continue the relationship.

 

Always arrange to meet in a public place.

So that neither of you feel under any pressure I'd suggest that you always meet in a public place and never in one of your homes. This puts you in the driving seat. Never allow yourself to be picked up from home either as it's sometimes difficult to avoid asking your date in for a quick drink. The same applies to the end of the evening:

Always think about where you'd like to meet your date before the phone call. There's nothing worse than fumbling about for addresses of venues and ending up agreeing to one that's miles away from where you live for lack of ideas. You'll feel resentful.

As you're avoiding a three-hour dinner commitment suggest a bar or a brasserie where you can both get a snack if you're starving. Restaurants in the evening mean dinner, so avoid these. Pubs are usually too smoky and noisy and it's difficult to find a corner where you can talk without being overheard. If it feels congenial for you a hotel bar is often ideal, as there tends to be more space and quiet. If you're not being overheard by the people on the next table you'll be much less inhibited. A lot of my members swear by a weekend lunch date because it can be more finite and at a time when they're more relaxed. And then if it's going really well what about a walk in a park afterwards?

 

Always have your own transport home. Politely refuse a lift.

Always make sure you have your own means of transport to get home. This way the there will be no awkwardness about being offered a lift home and feeling you should invite your date in.

 

Never meet for longer than one-and-a-half hours on a first date. End the date leaving lots more to discover about each other.

I always advise that you should be clear on the phone that you can't meet for long, say just an hour or an hour and a half. Then if you can't wait to get away there is no embarrassment as your date knows beforehand that you wouldn't be staying long. You can always plead an elderly relative, or work to catch up with before the morning. If you don't fix the duration of the date beforehand, then it will be difficult to cut it short if you can't wait to escape. Even if it's going very well it's still wise not to meet for long. This way you will still have some easy conversation left for the beginning of the second date. Long first dates are open to all sorts of pitfalls, and even if it's humming along all hunky-dory you can still find you've been tempted to move on to exploring too much personal stuff, such as why you broke up for your ex. or what you're looking for in your future partner Some men are put off by topics like 'being-in-touch-with-one's-feelings', being ‘sensitive' or being ‘commitment-minded', etc. Lots of women will definitely not be attracted by a man who is too forward on the phone (or on a date, for that matter).

 

Ensure your answer-phone message is user friendly

Ah, but it's not so simple as just phoning each other. You're both busy people and often out. So of course you leave a message. Or do you?

Let me tell you about June and Sam. In fact, June was a friend of mine to whom I'd given free membership. She was a PR officer for a charity and Sam ran his own publishing business. I suggested a meeting and Sam rang June and got through to her answer-machine. He heard what he thought was a rather flat, bored message so he hung up. He'd decided that she was not for him. She was obviously no live wire. There was no energy there, he proclaimed. Alas, there was nothing I could do to persuade him to the contrary. She was attractive, great fun with good sense of humour. I was sure they'd get on. But no, he asserted, he could always judge someone by their voice. Being the interfering person I am I managed to arrange it that the two of them did eventually meet up at one of our social evenings the following month.

At first neither of them realised who the other was. And yes, they got on like a house on fire. An hour later I could still see them chatting and laughing together at a table in the corner. By this time Sam had twigged. But June never knew she'd been rejected at first because she sounded flat and boring. In fact she's got an interesting and warm voice in the flesh. She just hadn't bothered to ensure her AP message was user friendly and reflected this. They went on to date regularly and have now been married some nine years.

So let's tackle your answer-phone. You can't avoid using this off-putting piece of machinery altogether so you might as well ensure that it's behaving properly and gives a cordial welcome to callers. Many a prospective date has told me that when they rang up their quarry and heard the AP message they ‘decided at once' that he or she was not their type. I learned early on that answering machines give out lots of false negatives (and false positives too). The sound of someone's voice is a very potent force. When people record their AP messages they're often in a hurry, or are disoriented by unfamiliar technology. The result is that they don't do themselves justice. So put yours to the test and listen to your outgoing message very critically. Is it clear for a start, and does it sound ‘pleased' that the caller has rung? Does it sound friendly, too businesslike, or a bit moody or bored? Is it interesting? Is it soft or harsh? Were you bending over the machine when you recorded the message giving it a throttled quality? What a lot of fuss, I can hear you saying. But do bear in mind that the smallest clues about you will be pounced on and all sorts of fantasies both negative and positive - will be projected onto them and may influence the caller for better or for worse.

Answering-machine 'no noes' include background music, far too pretentious who do you think you are? a radio presenter? Also I avoid having your child's voice on the recording. Yes, I know several people who do this on the basis that any future partner will have to accept little Sally or Johnny and they might as well get used to the idea from the start. The problem is there may not be a start. It's wiser not to push the children to the front of the picture till you've got to know one another and built up trust.

Always choose a relaxed moment to record your message. Don't bend over. Stand or sit straight, take a deep breath and smile, yes, smile before you start talking into the mike. This way you will come across as open and friendly. Now I know some of you use your home telephone number for work and you can't come across as too informal. That's fine, but there's nothing wrong with sounding friendly and positive for work too.

 

Avoid leaving messages on answer-phones. Persevere till you can speak personally to your quarry.

What about when you're asked to leave a message on someone's machine? Because answering-machines can spike potential romances I suggest to all Love and Friends members that it's best to avoid leaving a message if you can. If the person doesn't call back, it's difficult to phone them up again. They might feel pursued. Persevere with your calls until you get the man or woman themselves.. Oh, but don't forget to dial 141 (if you're in the UK) first to ensure that your number doesn't show up dozens of times on this caller display. They might get the impression you are desperate! Reconcile yourself to playing telephone tag quite a lot. Busy, popular people are often difficult to get hold of.

 

Don't talk long on the first phone call and avoid very personal topics

As soon as the man or woman answers in person, say who you are and immediately check if it's a good moment for them to talk. They may be rushing off late for an appointment, or have the lodger or children within earshot. These sorts of things can make for a very abrupt and one-sided conversation with the caller thinking their potential date isn't that interested.

Finally, you're talking properly together. Great. Keep the conversation light-hearted and above all short. Trying to get to know one another down the phone line before meeting is very difficult and fraught with problems. You'll probably both feel a bit under pressure and not be wholly yourselves. If you talk for more than five minutes you'll use up all your small-talk which you'll wish you still had in reserve to break the ice on the first date itself. It's very tempting to find out all about each other at this stage to see if you will get on together. What happens here is that one or other of you feels interrogated and under scrutiny. It's much the best thing to hang on till you meet because then you'll be more yourselves and feel more spontaneous.

 

Dispel nervousness by owning up to it.

Even the most confident people sometimes feel a bit apprehensive about meeting someone new. It's only natural. Members tell me that the most effective way of dispelling nerves is to actually admit to them. Just say something along the lines of

‘I felt a bit scared on my way here to meet you!' and your partner will thankfully admit ‘So did I' and you'll both laugh and any tension will be diffused.

 

Avoid ‘danger topics' of conversation on a first date

These include - for example - anything about why your previous relationship broke up, or your wish to have children as soon as possible.

I remember Gerald who'd had an acrimonious divorce and as a result he had only limited access to his children. He'd thought that at last he was able to accept this situation and felt ready to start dating again. He had a good response to his mail-out through my agency Drawing Down the Moon. On his first date he was asked by Kerry why he'd joined the Agency. Such a natural question, and it seemed only natural to respond with a brief account of his divorce, which before two sentences were out of his mouth had wiped the friendly smile off his face and had launched him into a lengthy account of his fight to achieve access to his two young sons.

The smile fell from Kerry's face too and a chill descended onto both of them. What was to have been a light-hearted and perhaps flirtatious chat had turned into a heavy diatribe against Gerald's ex wife. The date finished three hours after it started and no mention was made by either of the evening being enjoyable, nor was there any suggestion of a further date.

So don't try any short cuts in getting to know people. Talking about anything emotionally intimate, such as why you broke up with the ex, is fatal. This sort of topic can trigger unaddressed resentment which will be apparent to your date and detract from the enjoyment both of you should be experiencing. Of course you'll want to talk about these sort of things at some stage if things progress, but you need to ensure that you've reached the right stage in the relationship. This is the point where you've got the measure of whether you're ready to talk about emotional history and goals in life. Tackle these subjects too early at your peril. Remember that men and women may arrive at the propitious stage for discussing them at different times. You need to be very aware and able to read body language for outward signs of reticence or defensiveness.

 

Smart answers to tricky first date questions

What if your date starts to interrogate you about lots of personal details you don't feel ready to discuss such as how many relationships you've had or whether you want children? Try responding with ‘Ask me that one in a week or two' or ‘That's dangerous territory for a first date!' or ‘I'll give you the answer to that when I know you better'.

 

Don't talk your head off or collude with your date who's doing this.

I sometimes hear that one partner has taken over the conversation on a first date, with the result that the other thinks they are egotistical and boring. So monitor carefully to check out if one of you is doing more talking than the other. It's usually the man who does this and the woman colludes with the situation by just listening without interrupting even if she's bored stiff. There is well documented research which shows that men tend to talk far more than they realise. And they're more likely to do this in stressful situations and it may not be a truly characteristic feature in the normal run of their life. If you're ever in this predicament with a man talking endlessly about his job or one of his interests (which, of course you may not share) try and snap him out of it with something like the following interjection: ‘Hey - it's half time! I'd like to tell you some of my stuff too.' But this on it's own will not be enough. You need to back it up with your body language but keep it light-hearted and humorous at the same time. A light touch on the arm or wrist as you make the request and looking at him directly in the eye will reinforce your point. This requires some practice, but you can rehearse it in any social setting where you are not getting your oar in. Remember a person who talks a lot couldn't do so unless they had an audience apparently all ears.

 

Don't expect to be able to judge your date's relationship potential on a first meeting. If you could be ‘just friends' try and see them again.

In our experience at the Agency at least half the couples who end up in a relationship together were uncertain about whether there was any chemistry there at all after the first date. Surely without ‘chemistry' nothing can progress in the world of romance? But it's a fact of life that it's difficult to judge whether you could fall truly in love with someone you've just met. Of course love-at-first-sight happens. But this is about an animal attraction and physical lust, which can indeed be terrifically exciting. It can have you projecting all sorts of fantasies about the future into the situation. No doubt it can sweep you off your feet. It is true that one can lead to the other. But it rarely does. We find that if people rush into a relationship they tend to skip the vital steps that are so important in building up real intimacy and one of them pulls back before long.

The best way to judge the success of a first date is not to try and tell whether you could spend the rest of your life with the person. Or even to try and judge whether you could have an affair with them. Just consider whether would you enjoy another hour or two's conversation with them. And could they be a friend? This way you'll set the Dating Domino Effect in motion and you can get to know several men as friends and see how things develop. And the chances are that one of these could turn into something special, or could lead to another introduction (maybe a friend of theirs) which is the one for you. Always go for volume and meet as many men as possible. When you meet the right person you'll be giving out good messages and be more likely to judge the situation. If you've only been on a few dates previously you'll be much less able to tell. You won't feel so relaxed about the routine and you won't be so spontaneous and flirty.

Providing you're clear with your date about seeing others, it's fine to continue to explore a friendship. The more time you take to get to know one another before the chemistry ignites (and not just the sexual tinder) the more powerful and enduring will be the ensuing relationship.

 

Finishing a date when you're not sure if you want to see the person again

So if you think there's any mileage at all for a friendship (rather than a love affair) do leave the possibility of a further date open. You can simply use the old standby again: ‘why doesn't one of us give the other a ring in a week or two' and you can see how you feel. As long as you're not implying any form of exclusivity it's fine and fun to see lots of people. In fact, it takes the pressure off your partner to know that you're not expecting anything too significant at this early stage. People are perpetually concerned that they'll be thought to be ‘leading a someone on' and then getting lumbered with all sorts of expectations. Rather than run the risk of this they'll sometimes play it too cool and not ring at all. So make sure you leave your options open. Then you can initiate a further meeting yourself.

 

How to end a date when you're certain you DON'T want to meet again

If you have this feeling of certainty don't chicken out by saying your date could give you a ring sometime when you know you'll give them the brush-off. It causes resentment. Be sensitive to your date's feelings but be clear. Thank them for taking the trouble to meet you and say you've enjoyed talking with them but you don't feel you want to take it any further. You'll find your own form of words. It may sound a bit brutal but it's a lot kinder than saying you'll ring when you won't. Agency members say they much prefer this more honest approach because they know where they stand.

 

Finishing a date when you DO want to see them again

You've really enjoyed yourself. A couple of drinks. Some small-talk to break the ice and then chatting in a relaxed way about each other. Good vibes. Maybe a bit of a spark. The clock is ticking on and it's time to part while you've still got lots more to discover about one another. Traditionally the man would say at the end of such a date ‘That was great. Most enjoyable. I'll give you a ring sometime.' Then he may or may not get back to you. If he doesn't and you'd really like to see him again you feel reluctant to call as you're supposed to be waiting for him to take the initiative. The problem lies in a basic difference we notice between men and women. For a woman it is the most natural and easy thing in the world to pick up a phone and call someone. For a man it usually isn't. The fact that he's said he'll call you and he doesn't get round to it right away makes him feel guilty and this is another reason for his inaction, in spite of the fact he might really like to see you.

At the Agency we suggest that women should be the first to round off the first date by saying something like ‘I enjoyed that. Shall we give each other a call in a week or two?' This way the initiative is evenly balanced, and the man won't feel pursued if you, the woman, ring him and suggest another (low key) date. We find that men love to be rung and invited out by a woman as long as she isn't presuming that the relationship is more serious than it is. If you do appear to presume this they might run a mile!

 

Always offer to split the bill, but accept graciously if your date really wants to pay.

We always recommend that both people offer to share the bill. However, I think that if the man really wants to pay (and let's face it, it's usually the man) let him. It's a bit of old-fashioned courtesy and should never be treated as if it were a put-down. If you're a woman and this happens to you when you know there's going to be another meeting, you can always say ‘My turn next time'.

and finally...

Have fun - relax and enjoy yourself!



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