Thursday, August 08, 2002

First date: Consider it a fact-finding mission

By Shauna Scott Rhone,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Fourth of five parts

        Congratulations! You've landed that first “official” date.

        Now what?

        “You can't approach it as “tonight, I'm going to meet my soul mate,” says Brian Vonderbrink, 34, of Sycamore Township. “I just think that most people have lost the art of communication.”

        More than wearing the right perfume or choosing the right outfit or even picking the perfect restaurant, the first date is a time to be honest with yourself and your date and discover the fine line between conversing and listening.

img Monday:
Tristate's dating scene
Making small talk
Internet dating
Groups and dating services
Wednesday: How to flirt
To flirt, listen
Today: The first date
Friday: A good match

You are invited to respond to our series, note your experiences and offer tips for improving the single life for follow-up coverage. E-mail
        “The primary purpose of the initial date in a relationship is to create a connection,” author Nina Atwood says in her book, Date Lines (Henry Holt and Co.; $9.95). “Secondarily, it is to get to know someone, explore the possibility of a friendship or romance and to practice relationship skills.”

        What men and women talk about and how they use language as a fact-finding “power tool” tells more about who they are than what they know.

        “Often, men think they should display their knowledge, their expertise, to underscore their importance,” says Georgetown University linguistics professor Deborah Tannen. “They use language to make sure they get the respect they deserve in order to impress (a date).”

        “Women use language as a two-dimensional tool,” says Dr. Tannen, author of You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation (Quill; $14) among others. “Rather than wondering who's up, who's down, where are we, it might become far more important by asking questions and listening to the answers,” she says. “Women do spend a lot of time listening,” compared to men during this exploring phase. Men need to be reminded that listening is good.”

        Communication between men and women becomes almost like a hearing condition. They talk at each other, about each other, sometimes in spite of each other, but rarely do they actually hear each other through all that talking.

Made by women:
    • Appearing desperate to get married or to be in a relationship.
    • Expressing negativity about yourself.
    • Talking excessively.
    • Being controlling or argumentative.
    • Looking for a “father figure” to take care of you.
    • Discussing psychological, medical or personal problems.
    • Not paying attention to your date.
    • Dressing in too sexy a manner, or not sexily enough.
    • Having an “attitude.”
    • Being too flirtatious.
    • Grilling your date on his intimate past or his financial status.
    • Using sex or the promise of sex to control the relationship.
    • Expressing very possessive or needy feelings.
    • Failing to recognize the difference between a “fantasy land” date and a real date.
    • Talking about previous dates.
    • Having sex on the first date.
Made by men:
    • Expecting your date to have sex with you on the first date.
    • Staring at your date's body parts.
    • Expecting your date to fall in love with you immediately.
    • Talking endlessly about sports, cars and electronics.
    • Being selfish or cheap.
    • Ignoring your date while checking out other women.
    • Talking about previous girlfriends.
    • Looking for a “mother figure” to take care of you.
    • Exaggerating your good points to impress your date or get her into bed.
    • Trying to control the date.
    • Wearing inappropriate clothes.
    • Having preconceived expectations about your partner and about how this date will go.
    • Taking yourself too seriously . . . and not taking your date seriously enough.
    • Poor hygiene.
    • Treating your date like a “buddy.”
    • Not watching your manners.
   Source: The Date Doctor's Guide to Dating by Bart Ellis (Warner Books; $6.50)

Conversation guidelines:
    • Keep the talk fairly light.
    • Listen more than you speak.
    • Use questions sparingly.
    • Avoid analyzing and judging as you listen.
Good topics:
    • The essence of who you are.
    • People and events that have given you inspiration.
    • Your background.
    • Your hobbies, interests, what you love to do when you're not working and why you love to do those things.
    • Current positive events in your life and what excites you about them.
    • Your hopes and dreams for the future.
    • What kind of relationship you're looking for.
    • What you've learned from your relationships without being negative about your partners.
    • How you've benefited from knowing your past partners without gushing about them, even if you had a negative experience in the relationship.
    • How many times you've been married; give just an overview why it didn't work and talk a little about what you've done to understand your marital failures.
Topics to avoid:
    • Negative talk about your former lovers or spouses.
    • Sweeping negative generalizations about the opposite gender.
    • Villainous past partners.
    • Intimate details of your sex life.
    • A gushing report on a former partner's good qualities.
    • Complaints (your boss, your children, your health problems, your circumstances.)
    • Intimate details of your therapy, your 12-step program.
    • Religious experiences.
    • Your success, wealth or connections with influential people.
   Source: Date Lines by Nina Atwood (Henry Holt and Co., $9.95)

    Tristate singles are invited to respond to our series, note their experiences and offer tips for improving the single life for follow-up coverage. E-mail:
        “The socialization between boys and girls begins between peers” says Dr. Tannen. “Boys try to be the center of attention. They compete by displaying what they know. If a girl does that, she'll be disliked. Other girls will have a negative reaction. Boys have the ability to fight through disagreements, but girls are supposed to hide it. With their different outcomes, each thinks they're making a good impression.”

        Here's a real test for the good impressions of a first date: who picks up the check? According to a survey by online dating service, 44.2 percent say the man should pay, 23.2 percent say it should be paid by whoever initiated the date and 17.1 percent say the man should pay, but the woman should at least offer to pay the bill.

Who pays?

        On this subject, the Enquirer singles panel had a lot of different views.

        “I think a good impression for a first date is for the man to pay,” says Mr. Vonderbrink. “But, at the same time, if a woman feels uncomfortable with that, she can buy me dinner anytime.”

        Sarah Hawkins, 30, of East Walnut Hills says it depends on who asked whom for a date.

        “I think whoever asks for a date should graciously pay for that date,” says Ms. Hawkins. “Whenever I ask a guy out, I pay. I know he's a good person, and a good man, if on the second date he whips out his wallet before I even have a chance to see the bill.

        “My best friends and I take turns treating each other to small things — movies, a lunch or dinner,” she says. “It's fun, rewarding and completely reciprocated. Dating should be the same way.”

        Marta Trujillo, 25, of Reading, agrees but says “if this first date is a "set-up' by a mutual friend, then it would be appropriate to go dutch.”

Warning signs

        There are singles out there who believe paying for the date should lead to a physical relationship. Singles panelist and Price Hill resident Phil Harrell, 30, says the instigator of a date may pay in the hope of increasing the chances of having sex at the end of the evening.

        “Whoever initiated the date, should pay,” says Mr. Harrell. “I feel dating disguises the ulterior motive of most dates, which is . . . (a sexual encounter) at the conclusion of your date.”

        Certainly, first-time daters should be wary and make sure they're sending appropriate signals and watching for signs.

        “You can't tell when you meet someone if they're neurotic,” says Pepper Schwartz, the author of The Lifetime Love and Sex Quiz Book (Hyperion, $12.95) who operates the Web site “Maybe they only want somebody for the night.”

        There are flags to watch for when your date believes “the means justify the end.”

        “If the other person has the agenda of sex only,” says Ms. Atwood, “you may not be able to detect that on the first date, but there are signs that indicate it. Look out for the "sweeping you off your feet' syndrome. 'Too much too soon' usually means a hasty exit later.”

        Listen for any negative talk about the opposite gender, she says. Putting someone down who's your gender may signal someone who doesn't respect you.

        “Don't think you'll convert the instant gratification person into someone who appreciates a deeper connection,” Ms. Atwood cautions. “Even if the person keeps asking you out after you have said 'no,' odds are he's just intrigued by the challenge and will disappear soon after he's gratified.”

        If, near the end of the date, you still feel the attraction, Ms. Atwood says, “dare to ask the person's relationship status, and be specific.” You have a right to know.

        “If previously married or in a long-term relationship, ask how long it has been since the relationship ended. If you hear “last month” followed by a laundry list of the ex's faults, you are dealing with someone carrying lots of emotional baggage and not enough time to drop it.”

        An important thing to remember about first dates: If there's not a connection, you've still had the experience of meeting someone new.

        As Ms. Trujillo says, “if you have no luck with a mate, then you can at least meet a new friend.”

       NEXT: Recognizing a good match

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