10 April 2020

Now is the perfect time for dating

Let’s be clear: I suck at relationships. Well, let’s say that apart from my first relationship that lasted 13 years, I never came that close to reaching my personal “record” again. Okay, it’s also because I’m not that old yet, thankfully. Perhaps my latest relationship will last “forever and ever”, since we all want to believe in fairy tales, don’t we.

Having said that, I believe I’m not bad at dating i.e. the process of wooing someone so they get sufficiently interested in going out with you. So I’m going to share with you my best two tips which have landed women into my arms, from Rio to Ibiza (I’ve never been to either of those places yet, but I’m not going to reveal all my secrets today either). This is going to be pure gold, so read on carefully, especially if you’re on the singles market. I know, it sounds like bragging and it will probably make some of those women scoff at me (I doubt they’d be reading this though) but who cares, I am actually quite serious in summarising what would be the two “killer” practical tips, however they may sound obvious in hindsight.

Before I proceed, you may be wondering why I am willing to share them today. Around half of the world’s population is currently in lockdown. That logically implies almost all of those people are stranded at home, which in turn means two things (from now on, I’ll write “you” to address those amongst you who are experiencing this but read on if you still want to read my practical tips which are valid regardless): the first one is that you may have some time on your (washed) hands (I don’t get tired of my own humour) so you can more easily implement my tips; the second is that you are almost guaranteed that the people you are chatting with on dating apps are actually living in your vicinity.

The rest of the time, when the world is operating normally, people roam around, it’s virtually impossible to make sure that the potential dates you connect with on dating apps actually live not far away – unless of course it’s your thing to make your life more complicated. Right now, people are home. Right now is your chance to connect with the singles in your area. Sounds like a pitch for dating apps? Could be, except I have strictly no vested interest in them and I won’t recommend any in particular. The fact remains: now is the perfect time for dating; and  now is probably a bad time for relationships, based on the current observation of the rise in domestic violence. Heck, now seems also a good time to launch new dating businesses.

Granted you won’t be able to go out on dates for the time being. You may not end up with that person anyway if you get infected on your first date – so stay home as you’re told! But that’s where the tips I’ll share in a moment come into play and how much more effective they become during this period of forced lockdown. How many women complain for instance that so many men are seemingly only interested in hook-up sex? Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but ask any woman who tries to use dating apps and they’ll pretty much all point out how shallow and vacuous all their online matches seem to be. Oh trust me, some women can be just as boring. I’ll however easily concede that my gender generally ends up being the vastly inelegant one. Whatever your intentions, the following dating tips should help.

Tip #1: pay attention

The ability to focus for long stretches of time is increasingly difficult because of the constant notifications we are bombarded with, leading us to unlock our phones about 70 times each day. Add to it the deluge of news which constantly catch our eye: if you’re like me, you’re probably clicking on multiple article headlines within a few seconds, thus opening dozens of new browser windows so you can read the articles one by one, to the point of overdosing on them by reading about the same topic in different media – or eventually only skimming through the content because, well, there’s too much to read and we simply “don’t have the time”.

Let’s take it a step further: if we find it difficult to pay attention to notifications, emails, or news, we sometimes find it even more of a pain to pay attention to other people – their words, their worries, their lives, because after all we have our own problems to deal with. Yet, paying attention to another human being is 50% of the ingredients for a successful date. Isn’t your intention to end up with them? So you might as well know them a little bit. It’s less difficult than it sounds and you don’t even have to agree with what the other person says.

One way to pay attention is to ask questions. There are plenty of websites where you can find questions such as “what excites you right now?” or “what are you looking forward to?” (which is empirically understood half of the time as “what are you looking for?” /facepalm) or “what's the best thing that's happened to you this year?” or “where is your happy place and why?” or “what book are you reading at the moment? What made you choose it?” (although you may want to replace that question with “which TV series are you watching at the moment?”). Once you discuss a specific topic, try to get an understanding as to what led them to make the choices they made or have the preferences they have.

The point is as much asking questions as being genuinely interested in the answers. It would be very surprising that you would have nothing to say in response or that nothing would strike you as surprising or exciting in their own answers. If you struggle remembering things they share, in particular family details (e.g. the number or names of their siblings) or important markers of their life (e.g. the passing away of a dear friend), then write it down. No, seriously, take notes (I like to use the notes section of Google Contacts). You’d be astonished how pleasantly surprised people are when you can show that you remembered – even with the support of notes – some particularly salient aspects of their lives.

However, you don’t want to ask too many questions, lest you appear like an undercover detective. Half a dozen questions should be enough to get you started for at least half an hour of conversation, even more if you’re typing back and forth instead of talking on the phone.

Remember, at this point, you don’t have to agree with everything they say. If something shocks you (say, they are in favour of death penalty and you are not), you can either ask clarifications on what makes them support that opinion (by the way this is a good method to practise open-mindedness, avoiding immediate criticism) or elegantly move away from the topic. The key at this stage of the conversation is to demonstrate empathy. If anything, you could actually be wrong in your own opinion, so seize the opportunity to properly evaluate another point of view. Don’t get angry if they disagree with something you said. Make sure instead you’re not forgetting something in your reasoning, or making a mistake. Encourage the person you’re talking to to express their own views: be more interested in listening than speaking, which also requires you to be careful in not too abruptly interrupting the other from speaking.

You are of course free to make a mental – or written – note of any value that contradicts your own. There will be plenty of time to double check whether the fundamental principles that guide your life are at odds with theirs. In other words, dating doesn’t imply you’re getting married, hold your horses.

One more thing when it comes to paying attention: there's nothing wrong in noticing a particular physical trait in the other person's photos and complimenting them for it. Truth be told, I'd be shocked if what drove you to connect with someone in the first place wasn't because of their physical appearance. Find the right balance though: a couple compliments are enough, and obviously be mindful of misinterpretation (it's probably better to write to a woman "I really like the outline of your almond eyes" than "great tits" which tells more about your night obsessions than anything else). As always, the key is to remain truthful. Any woman enjoys a lovely compliment but women can also tell when you're writing the same thing to every other woman ("your dazzling eyes have enchanted my soul").

This brings us to the second golden tip of this article. For you can only go so far in listening to what the other person has to say. You also have to be able to match what they are sharing with relevant experiences you may have had or be able to switch topics, whether because you’ve exhausted everything there was to say on one theme or because you wanted to elegantly avoid a looming argument.

Tip #2: be interesting

Half of the dating experience is about showing you care about the other person: that was the underlying message of tip #1 above. The remaining half is about you, unsurprisingly. It’s about eliciting a reaction from the person you’re talking to, whether in the form of questions or in the form of an observation stemming from their experience that aligns (or contradicts) your own. Watch out: this is not about bragging, at all. In fact, remain humble about your accomplishments, especially if you have been immensely successful in one area. Don’t hide your results but don’t become frustrated if your little speech doesn’t prompt any praise or any interest from the other person: not everyone is interested in what you do, and that’s totally fine. Accept reality and move on – to another topic, or to another person if you really struggle connecting with the other person on anything whatsoever.

How does one become “interesting” in the first place? This is barely more difficult than coming up with original questions. Look into how you spend your time: do you play sports? Do you read, books or blogs? Did you find something funny? Are you playing a music instrument? Are you learning a foreign language? Are you seeking the best surf spots around the planet? Are you building your family tree? Anything will do, as long as you can talk a little bit about it. To help in building a narrative, you could ask yourself the same questions you would ask someone else: what led you to that sport/music/book? What did you particularly like/dislike and why? What’s the next step in your learning experience/hobby?

As you can see, it can go anywhere from ad hoc experiences to hobbies and multi-year projects. Heck, you could even talk about your job if it’s something you’re passionate about. In short, talk about the things you enjoy or that deeply touch you – who wants to bore someone else with things that you don’t even appreciate yourself?

It will obviously be easier for you to talk – and talk at length, especially if the other’s interest has been aroused – about topics you know well. Guess what? It’s never too late to develop virtually any hobby. Start today, especially in these times of lockdown. Most good things are free on the Internet: learn the most beautiful language on the planet (French, of course), understand how the economic machine works, start a photography project (e.g. challenge yourself to take photos of abstract and physical things that start with each letter of the alphabet), watch well-rated films in a specific genre or from the best film directors of the past century, practise drawing, read about magic tricks. However young or old, however poor or rich, anyone can become “interesting”.

I’m not talking about you becoming the “best” in any field you’d enter, however competitive I can be myself. Do things because you genuinely enjoy them. Notice my use of the adverb “genuinely”? That’s the second time I use it in this article, one time each for each tip. Why does it matter so much? Because meaningful relationships are based on being honest and natural. Note that you can perfectly be sad and depressed, and yet still be genuine. Secret sub-tip: talking about the damage caused by my father inevitably leads to empathy and understanding – just be mindful of not abusing easy victimisation techniques.

Have you chosen what you are going to become better at? Stick at it for a while. Document your journey – in a website, on a YouTube channel, as TikTok snippets, choose your platform, it’s all free and easy nowadays. So stop with your excuses and do something, anything.

How do you then bring up your hobby in a conversation? In the most natural of ways, by mentioning you’ve been spending your time on X, Y or Z – or by reacting to something they said that is somewhat connected to your own occupation. You could even tease by saying very little about it or by presenting it as your “secret” project — it never hurts to make people laugh (one of my lame jokes is to claim that “making a woman laugh is half of the work to get her into your bed” – okay, I know, it’s not refined at all, oh well).

However don’t forget to measure whether you actually are interesting or not. You may think you are but you may not be to the other person. So how do you constantly gauge whether someone actually cares about what you’re talking about? In short: visual cues and their own words. There are plenty of resources to help you analyse body language. This requires you to look at the person you’re talking to (about 60% of eye contact is what I believe it to be the appropriate time – less gives the impression you’re not there, more is creepy). Of course that only works in person or in a video chat.

If you’re stuck in a back-and-forth text match, you can only rely on whether they ask questions or react to what you wrote, in which case you’ll know they’re interested. If they remain silent but keep looking at you (in the case of a visual interaction), you can try carrying on a little while more – or you can also gently ask whether you’re boring the other person and swiftly switch to another topic.

And that’s a wrap. Two tips that may sound obvious but which I can assure you will lead to meaningful conversations.

You’re welcome.

PS: Oh and by the way, I also officiate wedding ceremonies – in case your date turns out to lead to that point. True story (past experience includes one of my brothers – and he’s still married, yay – and one of my close friends).

PS2: Thanks to C. for reading drafts of this and for suggesting to add the paragraph about compliments to women.

Update – 2 August 2020: you may want to check what the data has to say when it comes to dating, you may be surprised at how tips vary based on gender.