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Holiday Gift Dating CoupleDear Annie, How can I choose a great gift for the woman I'm dating without getting in trouble? The last time I dated someone special, we'd been together for about six months before the holidays. I spent a lot of time and effort planning and shopping for her. I gave her a designer outfit, accessories and a couple of matching cashmere sweaters.

The next time I saw her, she gave everything back to me and broke up with me. She told me that my extravagant gifts indicated that I was too invested in our relationship and that she didn't want to lead me on. I told her that I didn't expect her to reciprocate and that I love buying clothes for the women in my life—even my mom––but there was no getting back together with her.

I really enjoy giving girlfriends thoughtful gifts. I've been dating Vivian for a few months. I really like her and the holidays are quickly approaching. I'm not sure what to get her. I don't want to blow it by giving her something too extravagant, but I don't want to look cheap, either. What should I do? Jerry

Managing gift giving while you're dating is fraught with possible landmines, especially early on. There are no hard and fast rules. However, it's important to match your gift-giving style to her personality and taste, along with the commitment level and duration of your relationship.

Giving an extravagant present too early in a relationship may seem like too much too soon. It may cause her to feel beholden to you. She might question whether you spend your money wisely. Or she could wonder whether you are insecure, needy or have ulterior motives. It also puts you at risk for being valued more for your money than for anything else.

Save extravagant gifts until you've been a solid couple for at least the better part of a year. This means that you've been talking about a possible future together, you've met each other's families and friends and that you're spending most of your free time together.

Women often express their personality through their choice of clothing. Before you give her something to wear, pay close attention to her sense of style and color. If you give her something that she wouldn't choose for herself, she may feel that your gift of clothing is a criticism of her taste. Also, the size of women's clothing tends to vary by manufacturer; an otherwise identical item could be labeled a size four by one brand and size ten by another. If you want to give her clothing, start with a great accessory that enhances what she already has in her wardrobe. 

You're not likely to get in trouble if you follow the guidelines listed below:

  • If you've been dating someone for a short time, and you're not sure whether you're exchanging gifts: Have a wrapped gift ready in the event that your date brings one for you. At this point, you don't know if your relationship is going anywhere, so it's best to give something casual. Choose a delicious edible gift, such as a good bottle of wine, tasty cookies—even better if they are homemade––or other holiday treats.
  • If you've been dating regularly for three to six months without a long-term commitment: Provide a shared experience for your beau. Think concert tickets for a music aficionado, museum membership for an art lover, or a pair of Giants' tickets for a baseball fan. This is not the time to spruce up her wardrobe or replace her decrepit toaster with a sleek new one. Keep it fun and light.
  • If you've made it past six months, but your future is uncertain: Keep gifts on the lighter side. By now, you should know her well enough so that you know what she likes. Costume jewelry or accessories, electronic gadgets, or books that she's expressed interest in are great gifts that don't imply a deeper meaning.
  • If you've made it past six months and you're planning a likely future together: Take this opportunity to discuss how you plan to handle gift giving as a couple. Be honest, willing to talk about what is most important to you and prepared to reach a creative, win-win compromise with your partner if you don't agree. Don't get into a situation where one of you gets an iPad and the other receives a pair of socks!

Since you and Vivian have been dating for a while, introduce a conversation about gift-giving attitudes, traditions and budgets. It will be easier if you start by talking about how your family and friends handle gift giving and ask how her friends and boyfriends have handled this in past. That way you'll know that the gift you choose will be up to snuff.

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FraudHi Annie, I've exchanged a couple of short emails with Jerry, who I met online. I like his profile: he's attractive, successful and we share many interests. When I suggested that we talk on the phone, I was put off by his strange reply. I'm not sure what to make of it. What is your opinion? Carol

Note: The email that Carol sent, along with Jerry's profile, is too long to post in its entirety. The following includes some excerpts from typical emails that may be fraudulent.

It does not bode well if the person you're emailing ignores your request to connect via phone. While not everyone enjoys talking on the phone, someone who wants to meet you is likely to honor your request. Not doing so is an early indicator that he is not interested in meeting your needs.

While the vast majority of those who use online dating sites are sincerely looking for a romantic connection, you're wise to be alert to signs of misrepresentation. Being fooled by someone who is attractive, intriguing and interested in you is easier than most people think.

If you receive an email with at least two the following signs, there is a good chance that the writer may not have good intentions. Just remember that someone with honorable intentions also might make similar mistakes while writing an email—especially if he is using voice recognition software on a mobile device and is unable to use spelling and grammar check tool.

  • Unusual email salutation: While you've got to allow for differences in greetings, be on the lookout for something out of the ordinary. The writer of this email began with "Hello." After double spacing, he added another salutation, "Good Afternoon."
  • Inconsistent punctuation throughout: While a legitimate email writer may have occasional bouts of sloppy punctuation, fraudulent emails may be written by people with limited English who are using translation software.
  • Poor use of commonly used language: The writer said he was raised in Switzerland, probably hoping that this would excuse his poor word choices. However there were too many examples of bad grammar in this email. These are some examples: "hope you having fun," "it has been due to circumstances my control and I was busy doing some paper works," and "would love to read from you."
  • Fantastical stories: This email writer purported to be an oil and gas engineer who completed a four-year internship as an interior designer on the side. He had varying numbers of children throughout his email. Pay attention to your intuition if you feel that someone's story doesn't make sense,
  • Creating a fantasy future: The writer talks about what your romantic life would be like if you got together.
  • Being pursued by someone who is way out of your demographic: Many older men are fooled by emails from people posing as gorgeous women in their twenties.
  • An exceptionally long email telling the writer's history that are designed to elicit sympathy: These emails may reference heavy-duty topics such as childhood or the loss of one's parents—and that's just the beginning.
  • Using excuses to avoid talking on the phone or meeting in person: In this case, Carol had suggested talking on the phone. His email states, "I also think I express myself more writing than talking... I have messenger if you want to chat."
  • Photos: Dig a little further when someone contacts you who is far more attractive than others of a similar age. In some fraudulent emails, like Carol's, that featured multiple photos, it wasn't clear if the photos were of the same person. Fortunately, easy-to-use image searches make it simple to detect fraudulent shots. A Google Image Search (http://www.google.com/insidesearch/features/images/searchbyimage.html) of the photos included in the profile of this email took me to a site that listed them as having been used for fraud.

Online dating is a great way to connect with people you wouldn't ordinarily meet. The vast majority of those you meet are honorable people with fairly good intentions. So enjoy yourself, but check out the strangers you're meeting. In the end the best policy is to trust, but verify the information you receive.

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Midlife FriendsDear Annie, I'm fed up with my friend's negativity about dating. She frequently tells me that men want to date younger women and that they aren't interested in dating women my age.

Many people have told me that I do not look my age. I take care of myself and try to look my best.

How can I get her to see that people of all ages date? Life doesn't need to stop because I'm 53. Alice

If you're like most women, positive, supportive friends are great allies to have as you handle dating's inevitable ups and downs. A good friend can remind you of your strengths and desirability, along with serving as a reflective sounding board as you become acquainted with various possible romantic partners.

This kind of friend can also help you to roll with the punches, see your dates for who they are—rather than who you would like them to be—and can point things out as you sort through what is important to you.

On the other hand, interacting with someone who is negative and discouraging is likely to demoralize you every time you see each other. Someone who tells you that you aren't good enough—whether it's because you're "too old," "too heavy" or anything else—isn't really your friend.

When it comes to dating and love, most women can't tell you what a particular man is seeking.

Every man is interested in a different type of woman. Most people, no matter what shape they're in, want to date someone who is youthful, takes good care of his or herself, and is in good shape. Most want to be in a relationship where they can feel loved, appreciated and treated well.

Older men--especially those who lack substantial wealth--who want to date a much younger woman, often find it's difficult to find those who are interested in dating them, as they tend to look like their older relatives.

You can tell your friend that there is no expiration date on a woman's desirability to men. I know plenty of men and women who married in their fifties, sixties and seventies.

But, you've probably tried that and it hasn't worked.

Since you know that she's likely to get negative, simply avoid the topic of dating when you're with her. If she asks how your love life is going tell her it is fine. Then change the subject by asking her a question about her life.

If she persists, tell her that you will be sure to let her know when there is something important to share about your romantic life. In the meantime, the topic is off-limits because you want to put less of a focus on it when there is no one special in the picture.

Many of my clients have found that limiting discussions about their dating lives to one or two supportive friends helps them to stay grounded and focused on what is truly important for them. The result is that they make better decisions about their dates.

If you think about it, you probably shouldn't put too much weight on most people's opinions about your dating life. Trust your perceptions. After all, you are the one who is experiencing it. And, if you watch what a man does, most things are pretty obvious.

If a man likes you, he'll ask you out. He'll contact you in-between dates. He'll plan ahead so that he has the opportunity to spend time with you. He'll ask you to be in an exclusive relationship and to be his girlfriend after he's gotten to know you. He'll talk about the kind of relationship he wants.

Keeping a positive attitude as you're dating helps you to enjoy the process. It gives you the energy you need to be patient as you wait for things to naturally unfold.

In the meantime, spend time with friends who are supportive of your dating endeavors.

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He Isnt Who He Seemed to BeDear Annie, I just started dating after my twenty-five year marriage ended in divorce. Finally, after lots of dates, I met a man with whom I felt extraordinarily in sync and highly attracted. We had a fabulous first date.

Dan paid me lots of compliments. We engaged in major eye contact, flirted a lot and shared a wonderfully deep conversation. He insisted on paying for our expensive lunch, walked me to my car and gave me a kiss and complimented me about my soft lips. As we parted, he said, "We'll see where this goes."

I haven't heard from him since—and it's been a week. I'm confused, because I thought that we got along so well. Every sign pointed to a possible connection.

This left me doubting my ability to trust my perceptions—how could it have seemed so right, but worked out so unexpectedly?

I'm disappointed, but I'm keeping my spirits up. I have already gone on another date and continue to keep an active on-line presence on two dating websites.

It's tough out there! Alison

I think it's great that you are continuing to meet men online. However, you're likely to experience fewer disappointments if you make a couple of minor adjustments in your approach to a first date.

One of the most confusing things about online dating is that, no matter how much the two of you clicked online or on the phone, a first date is really just an introductory meeting with a stranger.

Rather than experiencing a first date as a possible romantic encounter, it's more realistic to look at it as a short, fun, introductory meeting.

From what I know of a male perspective, this is how he probably saw it:

  • He asked you out because he was attracted to you and wanted to get to know you better. He most likely didn't have an agenda that went further than that.
  • He wanted you to have a good time on the date, regardless of whether he felt there was a possibility of a future relationship. He gave you honest compliments. He had fun flirting with you and engaging in conversation.
  • He bought you an expensive lunch because that is what he likes to provide for a woman on a date.
  • Many men share deep stuff on a first date because they have learned that women like to do so. It's unlikely that he saw it as a sign that you were becoming involved in a budding relationship.
  • He kissed you because he wanted to. He may have not meant to signal that he wanted to see you again.
  • He may have known at some point during the date that he wasn't interested in taking things any further, but he wanted you to enjoy yourself anyway. It's likely that the idea of directly rejecting you in-person made him feel uncomfortable. His ambiguous "We'll see where this goes" good-bye may have been his way of saying that he didn't want to lead you on
  • He didn't call you later because it never became a priority for him.

The most common time for a dating "relationship" to end is after the first date, so I suggest that you always view them as introductory meetings with unknown consequences.

You can tell if a man is really interested by how he behaves after your date. If he calls or make plans to see you again within a few days of your first date, he's interested. If he doesn't, he's not.

I suggest that you save deep conversations until after the third or fourth date, when you have a sense of whether your relationship is progressing or not.

The only way you can really know if a date will turn into a relationship is if your date starts showing up in your life on a regular basis, over time. His actions will tell you if he is really interested.

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Singles PartyDear Annie, I'm recently divorced and am thinking about attending a singles mixer. But I'm really nervous and I am not sure what to wear. I am also worried that I'll feel awkward, that I won't find anyone interesting and that I'll get stuck talking to a loser. Leslie

Singles mixers and dances are great places to meet available men and women. While the thought of walking into a room full of strangers might feel intimidating, you're bound to feel more confident if you have a solid strategy to guide you through the situation.

Increase your confidence by looking your best

  • Arrive freshly showered, well groomed and dressed to impress in well-fitting clothes that lightly skim—not hug––your body.
  • Dress appropriately for the occasion.
  • Wear an interesting piece of jewelry, tie or colorful scarf in order to provide a conversation point for someone who wants to meet you.

Set realistic expectations

Rather than expecting to meet The One, plan to enjoy a fun evening and interact with new people. You'll be more appealing if you have several short flirty conversations with each person spaced over intervals throughout the evening. Keep them wanting more!

Although some people go to singles events with the intention of meeting someone special, some strategies increase the possibility that they will leave feeling disappointed. Unsuccessful tactics include:

  • Just waiting to be approached.
  • Believing that you can tell if someone is a possible match simply by looking.
  • Talking with friends rather than introducing themselves to strangers.

I advise my clients to attend singles events with the intention of talking to at least six people of the opposite sex before they leave. Successful tactics include:

  • Appear friendly and approachable. Make eye contact, smile and nod to as many people as possible throughout the evening.
  • Think of a short list of conversational topics. Keep it light and fun––favorite vacation destinations, spare time activities and favorite movies, books or shows. Avoid discussing dating, relationships or exes.
  • Express an attitude that says that you are the host of the party and want to help others feel at ease.
  • When you introduce yourself, chat for a few minutes. Then, say that you've enjoyed your discussion and that you hope to run into each other later on. If you have had good rapport, return later for a longer conversation. Repeat this pattern throughout the evening. Don't worry that you're leading people on—you are just being friendly. You are under no obligation to go on a date simply because you've enjoyed chatting with each other.
  • You will be far more approachable if you move away from a conversation with your friends. Most people feel that it's rude or awkward to break into someone else's conversation.

Plan and practice your exit strategies

It can't hurt to say yes to an opportunity to get to know someone who might be interesting. After all, you can't find out much about someone over a few short conversations in a noisy environment. Once you have exchanged numbers or made tentative plans, excuse yourself by saying "I'm looking forward to seeing you again. I'm going to mingle for a bit. I'm really enjoying getting to know you."

If you want to escape from a conversation, wait for a pause, smile and say, "Excuse me, it's been fun talking with you. I'm going to mingle. I'll catch you later." If they talk non-stop, try to touch or tap them on the shoulder to get their attention.

Singles events and MeetUps are great ways to meet others. If you attend these events with the intention of getting to know a few people, rather than feeling pressured to find a date, you'll feel more relaxed and have more fun.

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Hoping For LoveMakingDear Annie, Why do most women think that men who want sex before commitment are only interested in sex?

That's not true for me. I am looking for a committed relationship, but I can't imagine wholeheartedly committing to a woman until I know that we are truly sexually compatible. Fred

Many men feel the same way as you do. But, most women have difficulty understanding a man's intentions as they are getting to know each other.

In the early stages of dating, men who are only interested in sex often behave the same way as those who are seeking a committed relationship. After all, many women won't agree to engage in sex with a man if he tells her that all he wants is a temporary, sexual liaison with no possibility of a future.

Most men quickly learn that if they want to have the greatest chance at successful sexual conquest, they must use romantic language and gestures to court a woman.

This is where it gets confusing for women. It's difficult for many women to discern whether a man is interested in the possibility being in the kind of relationship that she's looking for or if he's only interested in sex.

Men who are only interested in playing the field often send women mixed messages. For example a man may talk to a woman about the many ways that he finds her fun and irresistible, briefly mention that he's not quite ready for a relationship, then resume his intense romantic pursuit. A woman may interpret this to mean that she is so special that he will not be able to resist becoming deeply involved with her.

A man who is genuinely interested in a relationship usually won't send mixed messages. He will continue to reliably romantically and sexually pursue a woman.

For the most part, women who are seeking a relationship desire a reliable emotional connection before they engage in sex. And, like you, most men want to know if there is sexual compatibility before they commit to a relationship.

However, there are no guarantees in dating. If you are seeking a long-term relationship, the first few dates are an introduction to someone whom you find attractive. After a few dates, both of you are in an extended "audition" to figure out how you get along. During that process, it's important that each of you appraise the other's intentions.

This works both ways—both men and women worry about being "used" in different ways during dating. A woman might want to discover if a man is only dating her in order to have sex. And, like most men, you may want to be assured that a woman isn't just interested in dating you for your money, so it's up to you to discover whether she's attracted to you or drawn to your bank account.

It's not just about chemistry and sexual compatibility. A relationship won't succeed unless you are compatible on multiple levels. And dating is about discovering whether you're right for each other by sharing time and experiences together.

Commitment when you're dating usually means different things as your relationship progresses. Initially, it may mean that you're exclusively dating each other and seeing how it goes. As time goes by, the two of you could develop into a couple with the intention of exploring the possibility of a future together. Becoming engaged is a deeper level of commitment, and marriage takes it even further.

Relationships that are in the earlier stages of commitment are more likely to break up as the people involved discover incompatibilities, annoyances and red flags. As painful as it may be, it's the only way that people who are dating can discover whether they are a match.

If you and your date discuss how becoming sexually involved impacts each of you, you'll gain a deeper understanding of each other. That knowledge may make it easier for you to take your time and get into a early committed relationship before discovering if you're sexually compatible.

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Cheek2CheekWebDear Annie, Is it true that a woman should agree to have sex by the third date? Towards the end of my otherwise delightful second date with Frank, he began pushing for a degree of physical intimacy that made me uncomfortable.

When I declined his advances, he told me that we needed to get to know each other's bodies so that we could know if we were sexually compatible before making love on our third date. I told him that I generally need to take things more slowly, and he replied that I was out of touch with today's dating mores.

He expressed surprise that I didn't know about the "Third Date Rule," which states that couples must have sex by the third date. He said that he never gets into a relationship with a woman who doesn't abide by that rule because he needs to feel sexually accepted and appreciated before he is able to get emotionally involved.

I told him that I wasn't ready to move forward and our date ended. It's been a week and I haven't heard from him. I really enjoyed his company—was I wrong to resist his sexual advances?

When I met my husband—I'm currently widowed after a 28-year marriage—there was no such rule. I want to find love again, but I don't want to become sexually intimate without feeing emotionally connected. Is there any place that I can meet men who won't insist on following the "Third Date Rule?" Sally

The meaning of the Third Date Rule 

The "Third Date Rule" is in the same category of mating lore that men and boys have always employed to in order to gain a greater opportunity to engage in sex. Some others include, "If we don't do it, my testicles will be incredibly painful [otherwise known as 'blue balls']", "I'll just put it in for a second to see what it feels like" or "Let's just lie down, talk and cuddle. I promise that nothing will happen."

In other words, there is no such rule. Frank was giving you an ultimatum. His non-verbal message was, "If you don't agree to have sex now or on our next date, you can forget about enjoying the pleasure of my company. It's my way or the highway."

He gave you a wonderful, if somewhat painful, opportunity to learn about his values. He let you know that he is interested in getting what he wants without considering the needs of others and that he is open to manipulating and bullying people if he doesn't get his way.

And, if he's not willing to compromise, negotiate and respect your point of view this early on, an ensuing relationship can only promise more of the same, because his attitude sends the message that he's only interested in a sexual relationship with you.

How to tell if he's interested in all of you...or just your body

It's no wonder that many women find men's sexual signals confusing. A man won't ask a woman on a date unless he's sexually attracted to her. But, women have a difficult time figuring out if a man is only interested in a purely sexual encounter or if he is also interested in pursuing the possibility of a deep, intimate relationship.

A man who is only interested in a sexual relationship will pursue you until he decides that the cost of pursuit, whether in time or money, outweighs the possibility of success. His strategy may include trying to manipulate you by saying that you're not available, adventurous or open enough to be with him.

A man who is interested in an intimate relationship with you won't risk rejection by giving you an ultimatum. He'll respect your values and needs. As long as you let him know that you are interested in the possibility of closeness and intimacy, he will take the time to get to know you and be patient while you make up your mind.

If a man is interested in pursuing a relationship, encourage him by playfully telling him that, while you need to take things slowly, you're excited about the prospect of becoming sexually involved when the time is right.

A big part of dating is sorting out which men see you as a possible partner and which ones see you as someone to enjoy until you get too serious. You'll spare yourself a lot of unnecessary heartbreak by meeting different men, exploring the possibility of an emotional connection and walking away from those who want a relationship based solely on sex.

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One of the most common questions I am asked is, "Where do I meet single men [or women]?"

The short answer is that many people meet through work, classes or friends. Others meet through hobbies or social encounters—such as dances, Meet-Ups or outings. Some meet randomly during their usual routines: at the grocery store, bus stop or library.

However connecting on an dating site is now one of the top ways that couples meet according to a report from a 2013 study by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Often, when I mention that meeting online is a great way get to know people you wouldn't ordinarily encounter in your regular life, I hear a sigh of exasperation. Many people try it and are frustrated by the process because they are expecting it to work differently than it actually does.

If you have the same expectations about online dating as you do of real life dating, a handful of things about online dating may not initially make sense to you.

People tend to create stories about why things are the way that they are. These common online dating myths might sound like they make sense, but, actually, they can make online dating less successful.

 

Myth number one: "The kind of person I'm looking for wouldn't stoop so low as to date online."

Truth:

  • All sorts of people date online. Intelligent people. Not-so-smart people. White-collar professionals. Blue-collar workers. Deep, thoughtful and spiritual folks. People only interested in partying. People looking for lasting love and commitment. People who just want to play around. Successful rich people, middle class and poor people. And, yes, both emotionally available people and those who are already in a relationship.
  • The common thread among those who are on dating sites is that all of them want to meet someone to date

 

Myth number two: "Someone who has spelling or grammatical errors in their online profile or emails is thoughtless, careless or stupid."

Truth:

  • Someone who made those kinds of errors probably didn't think that those reading their profile would judge them so harshly on their writing. They could be in a rush, dyslexic or distracted among other things. One of my clients––who is looking for a committed, lifelong relationship––is a handsome, highly successful, eligible bachelor who has his own law firm. By his own account, he can't spell his way out of a paper bag. While spell-check works on some applications, it's not reliable on all mobile devices.
  • If someone is compatible, loving and a wonderful partner, how important are their writing skills in day-to-day life? If you met someone at a party, you wouldn't judge them on their spelling ability. So don't do it when you're online dating.

 

Myth number three: "There are a lot of serial daters online because most of the same people, who were there last time you looked at them, are still on the site."

Truth:

  • Many people who use online dating sites will go online to meet someone who they believe has relationship potential, and then stop using the site when they meet someone special. If that relationship doesn't work out, they may return to the site to meet someone new. After all, if you've been on the site before, others may be saying the same thing about you.
  • Seeing someone's photos many times can make it seem as if you've gotten to know that person. However, if you haven't actually read their profile and given yourself a valid reason not to date them, all it means is that they are a familiar face. So, if you see a familiar face, read their profile and eliminate them from your future searches, according to the dating site's instructions.
  • When I began my dating coaching career, close to a decade ago), one of my clients became involved with a man who I'd seen online for several years. They are still together, and are in a long-term committed relationship that works fantastically for both of them. If she had looked at his photo and said, "Oh, I've already seen this guy." she would have missed out on what she calls the best relationship of her life.

No one is born knowing how to online date. Selecting a possible romantic partner by reading text and looking at photos isn't part of anyone's mating instinct. But, if you've got realistic, positive expectations, it's a great way to meet someone who could turn out to be a wonderful romantic partner.

Click here to view a summary of the study from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Higher self-confidence increases your attractiveness

If you haven't dated in a while; you may find yourself wondering how important self-confidence is to attracting a mate. According to studies by the American Psychological Association and many others, it's hugely important.

People sometimes confuse confidence with arrogance or snobbishness. Confidence is about trusting that you can attract various people, and believing that you have the ability to enjoy getting to know them until it becomes obvious whether you are a good match for each other. Confident people tend to be friendly and kind to almost everyone.

When you're confident, you can become acquainted with someone without becoming invested in a specific outcome from that connection. You know what you want in a relationship, and you're willing to walk away from someone who is unable or unwilling to provide it.

You can tell if you're confident about dating when you can be open to what comes your way, and accept the ups and downs without getting upset with yourself when you're feeling inadequate, blaming others or feeling defensive. When you're in this mode, you attract more positive romantic attention from others.

When you're confident you can move through the world with an attitude of self-assurance and openness to the possibilities that meeting others can offer.

Attitudes sometimes mistaken for confidence

  • Arrogance is a display of superiority or self-importance. It's about needing to show others that you may know better than anyone else.
  • Snobbishness is often manifested by looking down on others, having the attitude of, "How dare you think that you're important enough for me to pay attention to?"

People are attracted to those who are confident and turned off by those who express arrogance or snobbishness.

Seven ways to boost your confidence include:

1. Update your wardrobe: wear colorful, flattering and figure-skimming outfits to transmit signals that you're available.

2. Practice behaving in a friendly, poised and self-confident manner when you go out in public. Showing the world you have faith in yourself is likely to impress a potential suitor.

3. Update your look by asking your hair stylist what cut would be best and then give it a try.

4. Brush up on your conversational skills. Warm up before you go on a date by thinking about what you'd like to talk about. Review the news and local events. Think about topics that you'd like to discuss. Dating involves talking to strangers so you'll come across as more relaxed if you can engage in casual conversations on a wide variety of topics.

5. Broaden your social network by attending a variety of MeetUps, public social events and social classes, such as dance, improv or martial arts.

6. Be friendly to everyone you meet. Stay open to new opportunities to get to know people. Meeting others—in a safe environment—it is a great way to discover if you want to explore the possibility of a friendship or romance.

7. Show an interest and enthusiasm about nurturing new relationships: one might develop into a romance. Getting to know someone before you let chemistry and projection take over really helps to build up trust and the groundwork for a relationship.

Addtional tips for women:

  • Most men enjoy touching your hair. If your style requires a generous spray or gel to keep it in place, ask your hair stylist what you can do to minimize product use.
  • Experiment with makeup. Investigate department store makeup counters by observing how they are doing makeup for their clients and find an age-appropriate style for yourself. Many department stores' makeup counters also offer free makeovers that don't require a purchase.

Additional tips for men:

  • If your hair is thinning on top, accept it and cut it short or go bald rather than combing it over.
  • Check your clothes for cleanliness, stains and frayed cuffs and collars. If you can't fix them, get new ones for when you go out.

Feeling confident is, without a doubt, the most important thing that you can do when you're starting to date again.

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SocialMediaRelationshipSabotageDear Annie, My boyfriend's Facebook page was open to the public when we began dating. But after he mentioned that an ex-girlfriend had sent him a friend request, after which I was unable to view his Facebook friends. Nothing has changed with my other friends' Facebook pages.

Should I ask him why he changed his settings? I'm worried that he might think I'm insecure. But this incident makes me wonder whether I can trust him. Janet

Facebook changes its privacy rules on a regular basis, so there is a possibility that he had nothing to do with creating different settings. He may have decided that he didn't want the general public to view his Facebook friend list. While your assumption that he is hiding something could be true, there are other possible explanations, so don't buy into an unsubstantiated theory.

After all, he was honest when he told you that an ex-girlfriend reached out to him on Facebook. And, if they have resumed dating, the odds are that you're not going to find out about it from online sleuthing.

Dating and establishing a relationship involves building intimacy and trust. When you find yourself checking up on your sweetie, your actions can beget suspicion and doubt. These are feelings which are completely opposite from those that you must have to in order to nurture a relationship.

If you feel that you must talk to him about his privacy settings, approach the subject from a subjective standpoint. First, consider whether you want all of your Facebook posts to be available for the world—friends and strangers—to see. Perhaps say to your boyfriend that you're thinking about changing your Facebook privacy settings and ask for his thoughts and opinions.

On the whole, I don't recommend initiating Facebook connections with someone you're dating until you're well into a long-term, committed relationship. Although it might seem like a benign way to get to know more about each other, it doesn't foster a deep connection because it turns you into an observer, rather than a participant.

It's all too easy to check up on someone you're dating and misinterpret his online interactions. And, if your relationship is faltering, the temptation to stalk him on Facebook just might be irresistible.

Instead, focus on getting to know him by connecting the old-fashioned way. Spend time together and share stories and experiences. Find out whether you can trust him by seeing how he treats you over time. Accept social media for what it is: a way for people to keep in touch and share information with a wider social set.

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Dear Annie, I just got divorced and I miss being in a relationship. I've dated several guys, but none have been a good match for me. On the rare occasion when I meet a man who interests me, he's not available.

My friends say that it's too soon for me to date. They think that I should take time to mourn my past and figure out what I want in my future. But, I know what I want—a great marriage with the right guy.

They have no idea how lonely I am. But, I don’t want to get involved with a man if it’s going to lead to a breakup. How do I know if I’m ready for a flourishing relationship? Patricia

Contrary to popular myth, there is no formula that can tell you whether you’re ready for a relationship. Some people enter into a lasting romance fairly soon after a break-up, while others take years to do so.

However, your chances of future success will be far greater if you have examined your previous relationship dynamics and taken responsibility for how your actions may have contributed to your marriage’s successes and failures.

Take those lessons to heart when you’re getting into a new relationship.

You’re most likely to be ready for love if your answer is “yes” to the following five questions:

  1. Have you given up on “magical” thinking? Most people don’t “just know” when they meet their match. Dating is about getting to know someone well enough to discover whether they have the potential for long-term love, chemistry and compatibility.
  2. Are you willing to get to know several different men well enough so that you can discover who is a good fit? Choosing a relationship or marriage partner is a momentous decision. How you feel about him is important, but relying on instinct alone can lead to falling in love with men who treat you badly, will never commit or are guaranteed to be relationship failures in the long run.
  3. Are you ready to risk rejection? Rejecting a man who isn’t a good match is the only way that you won’t be stuck with the wrong guy forever. If a man isn’t treating you well, casting him aside is the only way to give yourself the opportunity to meet someone who will cherish you. Dating is like test-driving a car to see if it’s a good fit—but the crucial difference is that he’s also trying you on for size.
  4. Do you have time for dating and growing a possible relationship? If you are so busy that you only have a few extra hours a week, consider what you can edit out of your life so that you can focus on your love life. Many men don’t want to date women who aren’t willing or able to share significant time with them.
  5. Are you willing to do things differently? Dating is about exploring possibilities, discovering what’s important to someone else and figuring out what is meaningful to both of you.

Being ready for a relationship isn’t about how much time it’s been since a breakup. It is about being able to freely relate to someone with mutual respect, admiration and love.

Watch this video for more tips about how to know if you're ready for a relationship. In it, I'm talking with experts John Gray, Tammy Nelson, Dr. Susan Heitler and Dr. Margaret Paul in a Your Tango Video panel. 

See more of my videos about dating on Get A Love Life's YouTube Channel.


 

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Annie, Why do men act as if they're interested in a relationship, but fade away as they get to know a woman? Every time I fall for a guy, he wants to see me all the time for the first few weeks, but sometime after that, he starts making excuses about being busy. I do everything I can to keep him around, but after a while he disappears for good.

I'm getting to the point where I'm afraid to get involved with anyone, because this always happens to me.

Where can I meet a guy who really wants to build a real relationship? Noreen

If the same thing happens to you every time you get involved with a guy, it's possible that you're accidentally pushing men away. Lots of single men are genuinely  in the market for a relationship with the right woman.

I joined John Gray (author of the Mars and Venus books), Tammy Nelson, Dr. Susan Heitler and Dr. Margaret Paul in a panel for YourTango.com, where we talked about what you may be doing to sabotage your relationships. We also discussed how doing things differently can make a huge difference in your love life.

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Q: Ron and I have been going out every week. We've been on five dates. He seems very interested, but we have barely kissed! He told me that he wants to take it slow because he doesn't want repeat his old pattern of becoming intimate too soon and finding himself in a dead-end relationship.

I know that he is definitely dating others, but otherwise, he's a great catch. Is there anything I can do to move things forward?

A: The good news: He's being honest with you. He's not just looking for sex. He doesn't want to waste time (yours or his) in a relationship that's doomed to failure. He wants to get to know the real you before getting emotionally involved.

One of the most difficult things about dating is that you don't know how it's going to turn out.

The possibilities are endless. You might have great chemistry and live happily ever after...or not. You might have a wonderful date and never see each other again. You might have a humdrum start before you discover that he's the love of your life. Anything could happen.

Ron wouldn't ask you out if he didn't like spending time with you. Rather than being invested in a specific outcome—a romantic relationship—I suggest that you see this as an opportunity to develop a friendship and see where it goes.

Express affection and appreciation when you're with him. Let him know that you enjoy him for who he is, rather than for what kind of relationship he could provide. If he enjoys spending time with you, he's more likely to become involved in a relationship with you.

You should date others and remain open to other possibilities unless he tells you that he wants to be your boyfriend—and you agree. Otherwise, if things remain the same after two or three months, you should back off and enjoy his occasional company.

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Dear Annie, I'm feeling terrible. Ray, my formerly perfect boyfriend, wasn't at all attentive what was important to me on Valentine's Day.

He is usually incredibly thoughtful, loving and present. Until this happened, I thought I'd found the perfect match.

We had to cancel our plans because he was recovering from the flu and had to work. He sent me a card in which he expressed how much he cared for me. That's it. No flowers, gift or romantic dinner.

I was ready with a card, his favorite chocolates and a gift certificate for a romantic afternoon. I feel unloved and disappointed.

I don't want to speak with him or see him. We have a trip coming up this week, but I'm thinking of cancelling it. Elizabeth

What if Valentine's Day didn't have the same significance to him as it does to you?

My guess is that your expectations were out of sync. Each of you expressed your affection for each other in a different way.

You both presented each other with tokens of love on Valentine's Day. He thought that a card with a handwritten message conveyed his feelings. You felt that he wasn't being romantic enough because you felt that his card didn't meet the same standard as your more elaborate gifts.

Most men are incredibly romantic. Romance is a feeling that includes enchantment, intrigue and passion. It's most authentic when it rises spontaneously from the heart.

Romance on demand is not the same thing. What happens between you during the rest of the year is far more important than what ensues on Valentine's Day.

Don't allow your disappointment to create a rift in your almost-perfect, real-life romance. Let him know how much you appreciate the thought and effort he put into writing his sentiments into a card.

If you would prefer to celebrate Valentine's Day differently next year, wait until next January to tell him what you would like him to do to make you feel loved and happy.

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Dear Annie, I'm ready to find love, but I'm not meeting anyone interesting. Where are the best places to meet high-quality men? I don't want to waste my time with the wrong ones. Nora 

Single, available and wonderful men (and women) are almost everywhere. They work, shop and engage in all sorts of activities. Become a dating detective and you'll find them in your day-to-day life. 

Looking for love requires a great deal of courage. You're embarking on an adventure into the unknown. You know that love is your destination—but like all explorers—you have no idea where or when you'll reach the end of your journey. The most important thing is to have faith in the fact that you will get there. The following steps will put you on the right course.

1) Create daily opportunities to meet men or women:

  • Eat lunch out and run errands at busy times.
  • Use online dating sites to meet people.
  • Attend Meet-Ups and singles events a couple of times a week.

2) Have a friendly demeanor. (If it doesn't feel natural, then try to imitate the friendliest person you know.)

  • Smile, make eye contact and say hello to strangers.
  • Chat with those around you. If you resolve to be friendly with everyone, it will be easier to talk with those of the opposite sex.
  • Strike up conversations by asking men or women for opinions, help or directions.

3) Take chances! Spend a little time getting to know new people.

  • If you're a woman:
    • Give him a chance to ask you out. Smile and allow for some silence during your interaction. Most men won't interrupt you in order to ask for a date.
    • Be open to possibilities, and just say yes if he asks you out, but you're not sure if you want to go. 
  • If you're a man:
    • Ask her for her phone number.
    • Suggest that you continue your conversation over drinks or coffee.

The most successful explorers focus on the positive. As with any adventure into the unknown, it's possible that you may take a couple of detours that don't pan out. These aren't failures; they are part of your journey that will ultimately lead you to a great love life.

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There is only one reason that you should use an online dating site: Your day-to-day life isn't providing you with the opportunity to meet interesting people to date.

Since 35% of all relationships originate online, it makes sense to use it as an opportunity to find romance. If you use in addition to other ways to meet others, you'll vastly increase your possibilities of finding The One.

After you make the decision to go online, the next step is to choose a dating site that meets your needs.

First, decide which kind of site makes sense for you. There are three types of dating sites: mainstream, matchmaking and niche.

  • Mainstream sites, such as match.com, OK Cupid and Plenty of Fish, attract a large, diverse group of members. The male to female ratio is usually fairly balanced, which gives you a good chance to meet your match.
  • Matchmaking sites, such as Chemistry.com and eHarmony use a formula that decides who you should meet online. They base their matches on answers to quizzes you take when you sign up. More women than men tend to use these sites. People who are on these sites are more likely to be serious about finding a serious relationship.
  • There are thousands of niche sites, such as JDate, DateMyPet and AsianPeopleMeet, which are based on common values, demographics or interests. While these sites have a smaller population, you're more likely to have something in common with everyone who uses the site.

According to a research published in the New York Times earlier this year, the odds of meeting someone who is a good match are about the same on mainstream and matchmaking sites.

Before you pay for a dating site explore what it has to offer. This should be free. Create a user name (usually 16 characters or less), sign up and search for age-appropriate candidates who live within a reasonable distance. Sort them by last activity date, so that you can see how many are currently using the site. Don't pay to join unless there are many active users.

There are lots of ways to make online dating easier. In my next article, I'll give you tips so you can make your online profile stand out.

If you want help making sense of online dating, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. about dating coaching.

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Dear Annie, How do you know if you should reply to a text? I went out with a man who I met at a Meetup function. A couple of days later, he texted me and asked for a date on Saturday evening. I'm not crazy about being asked for a date via text messaging, but I told him that I would have loved to go.

Today I got a text that said, "Hi Nikki." I didn't answer because we had already planned our date, so I didn't think it required a response. Was that the correct thing to do?

This made me wonder whether he's confident with women. After all, I accepted the date, so that should be good enough. Nikki

Many men believe that it's OK to set up a date via text. If you prefer that he calls, wait until the next time he texts you. Answer briefly and say how you prefer to communicate. "I'd love it if we could talk on the phone." He'll call if he's interested in making you happy.

When you don't respond to a man who is reaching out, it undermines his confidence. He's likely to interpret your silence as, "I'm not interested in you." He'll probably distance himself. He may even think that you might not want to see him.

Think of it this way: What if you were out and bumped into an acquaintance who didn't reply when you said "Hi?" If you're like most people, you're likely to feel snubbed. You'd probably be reluctant to pursue a friendship with someone who doesn't acknowledge you. Men aren't so different in this regard. Most feel hurt when they are ignored.

If you go by the rule of, "responding to a man's communications (texts, calls, emails) in a timely (but not urgent) manner and keep it friendly, fun and upbeat," chances are that he'll appreciate your friendliness and feel more comfortable moving closer.

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Dear Annie, I like to spice up my sex life by wearing silky women's underwear, including a garter belt and stockings––it's a huge turn on for me. I'm crazy about my current girlfriend, but I fear that she may be turned off when she discovers my penchant for dressing in lingerie. How long should I wait before revealing my kinky side? Aaron

It's best to wait until you establish a strong, trusting and intimate connection before disclosing any intimate secret that causes you to feel vulnerable. Hold off until you are sure that she truly likes you, knows who you are and is invested in meeting some of your needs.

Both of you are likely to feel more comfortable if you're at a point in your relationship where you've agreed to listen to whatever the other has to say with an open mind. It's easier to broach a sensitive topic of any kind when you know that either of you can accept an answer of "No" or "I need to think about it," so that you are able to talk and ask questions in a non-judgmental manner.

Set the stage well in advance. Start with fun, playful baby steps after you've known each other for a few months. Check out her reaction when you make off-hand humorous remarks that casually relate to fetishes, such as, "I'm a bad boy," or, "I was thinking about how you'd look in black leather lingerie."

It's probably best if you avoid bringing up the subject over dinner, because one of you is likely to be distracted. Refrain from initiating a conversation during the throes of passion as well, when your feelings are at the forefront. Instead, initiate your discussion during a private, relaxed moment when you're being affectionate and have some time to focus and connect with each other.

Your partner is most likely to accept your kinks if you wait to reveal them until after you've established intimacy and trust in your relationship.

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Sex, relationships and chemistry 

Has this ever happened to you? You're dating someone special. The two of you have amazing, magical chemistry. You can't wait to make love because that's going to make it even better. And, it does—for a while––until things get complicated.

Sex changes everything 

The way you relate to each other usually changes after you become sexually intimate. You and your lover may have different post-sex expectations. Perhaps one of you assumes that you'll become more emotionally intimate, become automatically exclusive, or see each other more often. The better you know each other, the easier it is to resolve out-of-sync expecations.

Rather than continuing to discover ways that you connect emotionally, sex is likely to become the main focus of your dates. Poweful chemicals released by sexual activity tend to blind you to your lover's faults for up to 18 months.
Unless you're looking for something purely casual, wait to make love until you know that both of you are exploring the same sort of relationship.

Create a sense of romantic seduction as you say no

Most men (and women) respond best if you're kind, honest and playful. Send a message that, while sexual intimacy isn't OK yet, you're excitedly looking forward to sleeping together when the time is right.

Never tell your date that you won't make love until you've been dating for a specific period of time. That takes all of the fun out of slow seduction—which usually builds up a delicious, erotic and romantic anticipation as you get to know each other.

Express affectionate feelings as you set your boundaries. Deliver your message with a smile and a friendly, flirtatious tone of voice. Say something like this:
"I love touching you. It feels fantastic. But, I need to take things slowly. I can't wait until I'm ready to be more romantic. I love our chemistry. You're amazing."

Keep smiling, back off physically and playfully start a lighthearted conversation. The key is to discourage more intimate contact without accusing your date of acting poorly or inappropriately.

Give your date positive attention, express affection, and signal that there is a real possibility that you'll make love sometime soon. If your date is only pursuing you for a sexual relationship, that may be the end of it. But if he (or she) is interested in developing a relationship, it will continue to grow.

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Dear Annie, I hardly ever get a second date. When I ask why, most men tell me that they don't feel any chemistry with me. Is there anything I can do to turn that around? Cecile

Positive energy is the best fuel for igniting chemistry!

While chemistry tends to ignite differently for men and women, almost everyone feels more drawn to someone who is confident, friendly and smiling.

One study discovered that most men rate a woman who smiles and makes eye contact as being one point (on a scale of one to ten) more attractive than the same woman who doesn't smile and is looking away. That could make the difference between a man deciding that "There is no chemistry" versus "Maybe we've got something here."

A man's instinct often causes him to see any woman as either a) his type or b) not his type. Ladies: if you're not his type, there isn't much you can do to create chemistry. But if you are, there is a lot you can do to make your interaction with him really sizzle.

A women's instinct causes her to scrutinize a man more closely before she's likely to feel chemistry. While some women feel it right away, it takes others days, weeks or months before "something about him" triggers an intense feeling of chemistry. So, if you're a woman and you're enjoying a man's company––but not seeing fireworks––give the relationship time to develop.

Both men and women can enhance chemistry by:

  1. Being playful—friendly, flirty teasing and laughing.
  2. Conveying a confident, happy and upbeat attitude.
  3. Expressing genuine romantic interest in the other person.
  4. Creating a sense of mystery: Move closer for a while, then back off a little in order to provide the other person with some breathing space and a sense of anticipation.
  5. Giving sincere compliments and expressing appreciation for everything your date provides, including fun, time and attention.
  6. Turning your cell phone off and focus your full attention on your date.
  7. Understanding that both men and women are visual. Colorful clothing, especially red, attracts more romantic interest than neutral colors, such as gray, black or white.

You'll increase your opportunities for romance if you consistently practice these chemistry enhancing approaches. Your ability to spark chemistry is a big factor in determining whether you get locked into the friend zone...or embark upon the road to romance.

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