Dating
Resources
Basic InformationMore InformationQuestions and AnswersLinksBook Reviews
Related Topics

Homosexuality & Bisexuality
Relationship Problems

The Dating Process

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Getting a date is one task, but going out on a date is another. Meeting someone face to face for the first time tests whether romance is possible. Managing to enjoy yourself during a first date is a bit of a trick. Negotiating from one date towards a second and then a third such that intimacy grows between the two of you and that no one gets too overwhelmed too quickly is an even trickier process. Here are some guidelines for making the actual process of dating a safe and enjoyable experience.

Email vs. In-person Meetings

In these days of online matchmaking and anonymous emailing back and forth between potential dating partners, it's rather easy to develop an email relationship with someone before you meet them in person. When the majority of personals were printed in newspapers, a similar phenomena used to occur where people would form telephone relationships and spend some period of time talking on the phone to potential dates before agreeing to meet them in person. Using email (and to a lessor extent, the telephone) to facilitate communication early on in a relationship can be a positive thing in that these technologies preserve privacy and allows a less threatening space to open in which thoughts and feelings can be exchanged and compatibilities assessed. The downside of initial email or telephone relationships is the flip side of what is positive about them: These technologies can become barriers to physical, face to face contact.

Getting around to a physical, face to face first date with a potential partner is an important step in determining your mutual compatibility. You can learn a lot about someone's values, thoughts and feelings from email or the phone, but you won't learn how they look and smell, how they carry themselves and how they dress, what their body language says, whether there is any physical chemistry between you, and a host of other types of information that might be important to you in deciding whether you like them. Each person has to find their own comfortable balance between taking time to get to know a potential date via email, telephone or other communication technologies and deciding when it is right to meet in person.

The First Meeting

People vary in terms of how they like to set up their first dates. While some people set up formal intimate dinner dates, many prefer their first contacts to be short casual public events such as going out for coffee or walking in a park. A casual and short date is nice because if you don't like your date's company you will be able to leave sooner. If you both like each other, you can always mutually decide to spend more time together. Also, in a first date situation you are likely to be meeting a stranger who might possibly pose a danger to you (unlikely but possible). If you've never met before it might be a good idea to meet in a public place so that there are people around you and so that you can keep your home address private. It's not a good idea to meet a stranger at your home (or at his or her home) or to give a stranger information that could be used to track you down against your will (such as your home address). Online communication tools such as email and instant messaging are your best bet for maintaining your privacy, although it may be convenient to give out your telephone or cell number as well when you plan your date.

While on your date, encourage your date to talk and practice being a good listener. Your careful listening to your what your date has to say allows you to learn about your date's intelligence, maturity level, sense of humor, values, goals and desires. This is good information to know, as it forms the basis on which you'll decide whether you'll want to spend more or less time with this person.

Be on the lookout for people who's goals do not match your own. A red flag should go up if you want children but your date tells you that she/he has no interest in having a family. Take that flag seriously. It doesn't matter how handsome or beautiful and charming someone is if they are committed to goals that are incompatible with your own. Being rational about your relationship decisions as much as you are also emotional is a good strategy for minimizing pain and difficulty. In the same vein, don't be afraid to reject someone if you have an uncomfortable feeling about them. If you're neutral about someone you may choose to date them some more so as to see how things go.

Stay calm if someone rejects you. It's likely to happen if you go out on enough dates. Early on during dating relationships partners simply don't know much about each other and so can end up rejecting each other for superficial reasons that make them feel uncomfortable. By rejecting you they will have actually done you a favor by removing someone who doesn't care for you properly (themselves) from your life, freeing you to seek after someone who will. Rejection of this type is not personal.

If you like someone (and they like you too), it's a good bet that you'll be seeing more of him or her. Although your mutual liking is implied in the fact that you continue dating and in your body language as you are together, at some point you will want to proclaim your budding affection to your new partner. There are at least two schools of thought on how to do this appropriately. On the one hand, you can proclaim your affection openly as you feel it. The beauty of this approach is that it is spontaneous; the difficulty of it is that you might frighten your partner as the stakes of your mutual relationship are suddenly raised. An alternative approach involves keeping your feelings private for a little while. Judicious withholding of complements and further invitations can lend suspense and heighten passions, or alternatively allow for a hesitant partner to catch up emotionally to where you have become comfortable. Overzealous withholding becomes manipulative which is a negative thing. Be judicious rather than manipulative.