Dating Advice (or writing advice)

Complain all you want about online dating, and there is plenty to complain about, but if you are of a certain age, and you cannot (will not) date people from work—which also makes up your immediate social circle—then it’s off to the great internet meet n’ greet.

Dating poses a number of challenges later in life. First of all, by now you probably know much more about who you might like to meet than you did when you were 18, or 24, or 36. This is at once an advantage and a trap. “What if she is not exactly who I am looking for?” you might wonder. She may be too much like your Ex, or one of your Exes. Or, heaven forbid, too much like your mother. Are you still really fighting that battle? Chances are if you haven’t given it good long thought that you are. I am not suggesting that any of your Exes, or your mother for that matter, is a bad model for the date you seek, or, on the other hand, the exact person you should run screaming from the building to avoid (It’s your life; you know best). However, either impulse is likely to constrict your expectations. It’s bloody impossible to go swimming with dolphins when all you are thinking about is the White Whale, Ahab.

Second, you may have gotten over all the awkward first moves of your early dating life. “I know where this is going to end up,” you think, already having all the accoutrements ready in the bedroom. And things with your date may, eventually, end up there. May. Look if sex is all you seek there are plenty of other options in the world. I had a friend who declared, “If you don’t care who it is, you can fuck anybody.” Touché!

Remember: You are going on a date. You are meeting a person who is, with any luck in the world, different in ways you have not yet figured out. Slow down. Everywhere. Spend hours making out. Who cares that you know THAT secret trick—you can impress her later. And do not jump to making out. Kisses, short exploratory kisses are gifts not to be forsworn. They are the bubbles in the champagne. If you haven’t learned this yet—and many men and women have not—you can skip everything that follows.

Seriously friends, you will meet least dozens, if not hundreds (and if you move a few times, make it a thousand) of people who will tickle some fancy you have. I have the benefit of being an extrovert (in some ways), and have short conversations with upwards of 10-20 people I have never met before almost every single day. I intend to marry none of these people, but I would fight for the right to have these conversations all the same. If you are an introvert, prepare accordingly, but do not forget that a date is the beginning of a conversation. Let it be that. Learn as you talk. Listen to her. Listen to yourself.

Look, some dates will get annoyed if you are courting too slow. Advice: who cares? Anyone who wants to light the fuse after the first date, or third date, has most likely lit the wrong fuse. 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Duck! And if you feel annoyed or anxious to get moving, remember this: everything you learn about this person now will help you know whether or not you will want to go on a second date, or a fifth date, or more. Introverts, you know that someone has to meet certain criteria to get past your healthy defenses; spend the time needed to discover. “But I don’t want to have to go through all this again,” you complain. Of course not, so slow down and maybe you won’t, later. Extroverts, you know how easily you can be charmed by a single aspect of another person (I’m giving myself much needed advice here)—remember that people are multi-faceted and that more than a first date requires connections across many facets.

And here’s my complaint. Too often online daters post, “No pen pals. If you can’t meet right away, don’t bother.” Can I just say that harboring an extrovert and introvert in my heart, that words, lots of words, are an essential part of my dating process. And not quick, little texts (although that can be delightful too, but like badminton in the backyard at dusk, can drift into chasing fireflies). Finding someone who can unfurl a story over paragraphs in writing—just as I do here—is my sweet spot. Of course, before the paragraphs come, something will have been sparked by who knows what, a phrase in a written dating profile? a provocative and thoughtful question? “I don’t do words,” one respondent declared early in the process, which, of course, promptly ended. Or someone rushes to meet, and then holds forth. I had a three hour coffee date that was an unspooling of work, home improvements, exes, and there had to be something else. I don’t think I said anything.

I know that my charming exterior works around a diligent writer who is both an extrovert and an introvert. I know that I will need to find someone who can manage both sides of my complicated equation—who wants me to write to her, and who wants to write to me. And she will need to share at least some aspects of this too.

Why writing? Because writing takes focused attention, takes time, and done well, offers a chance for discovery for both the reader and the writer. Writing, done well, offers a chance to grow and learn in perpetuity. What could be better than discovering together?

Before I collapse into, “This is all about me,” let me say, what works for me (the words) may not work for you. Chances are it will not. But you know what does work for you, don’t you? A little self-knowledge about this goes a long way. Revel in it, slowly. Well begun is half done, goes the maxim. Here! Here!

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Brian Brennan

I am a writer and a teacher. I have lived in Philadelphia, Binghamton, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Norfolk, and Northern Virginia. I have sailed on the ocean and flown over the North Pole. I write fiction, poetry, and nonfiction.

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