Such as… relationships!
Now, it’s been a fairly common complaint that I’ve covered a lot about getting phone numbers, getting dates and sex, but not giving all that much coverage to getting into longer-term, more committed relationships. As criticisms go, it’s a valid one – I do tend to focus more on the intial and interim stages of courtship, dating and/or pick-up (for lack of a better, less loaded term) because frankly most of the time it’s a case of “learn to crawl before you walk” and the better you get at the early stages, the better the odds of finding someone who’s just as interested in something more serious with you as you are with them.
But in fairness, sometimes it can be difficult to make the leap from casual dating to something more serious. In fact, if you’re more used to casual relationships (or no-strings attached sex, fuckbuddy relationships or got too deep into PUA culture), the headspace needed for making the transition can feel utterly unfamiliar, even alien.
So let’s talk about what it takes to get that girlfriend you’ve been looking for.
Standard disclaimer: The advice here applies equally to men and women, regardless of pronoun usage.
So before we get too deep into things I should point out that this is not necessarily first date material. Ideally you will have had a couple of dates and a pretty good gauge as to whether there is some mutual attraction going before you start feeling out the potential for a relationship. If you start pulling some of this out before you’ve even had your first kiss (or – and I’ve seen it happen – before you’ve even got the phone number) then you are going to come off as crazy intense and most likely scare the living hell out of your poor date.
This is also about building a relationship, not about trying to get a fuckbuddy or a hit-it-and-quit-it situation. Building up somebody’s emotions and expectations just in order to use them sexually is an incredibly shitty thing to do.
Keep this in mind.
Know What She Is Looking For.
You can’t just assume that, because you’re on a date, you’re both seeing this as an audition for a relationship. People go on dates for any number of reasons beyond potential life-partners. Some go on dates because they’re new to an area and are looking to meet people and build a social circle. Some are looking for sex, some are looking for activity partners. Some are just looking for friends but are vaguely open to more if it all works out. Some people are only interested in a casual relationship.
You need to understand this: if someone you’re interested in does not want a serious relationship, you cannot change their mind. The worst thing you can do here is agree to a “casual” relationship in the hopes of convincing them that you are, in fact, the exception to their rule. All you are doing is wasting your time and hers and opening yourself up to heartbreak and disappointment.
Trust me: I have been there, done that, printed the t-shirts and have the angsty, passive-aggressive LiveJournal updates to prove it.
I cannot stress this enough: some people just are not open to the possibility of a relationship on any level and there is nothing you can do about it. Tattoo this backwards on your forehead so you can read it in the mirror in the morning. Shave your head if you need the room.
However, this doesn’t mean that these people are hanging around, present but disguised, like a dating minefield. As a general rule, the people who simply aren’t up for it will let you know early on – either directly (“I’m not looking for anything serious,”) or through context that you can easily recognize.
Yes, there will be people who aren’t up front about being interested in a relationship. Some of them honestly don’t know. There is nothing you can really do about these people – as often as not, they may think that they’re interested (or ready) for a relationship and discover much to their surprise that they are not.
Some of them are simply dishonest about the matter. These people are assholes. Unfortunately, potentially encountering assholes is the price of entry for being in the dating game. The best thing you can do is sharpen your instincts and learn to detect them early so as to not invest too much time or treasure in them.
Set The Relationship Frame
Nobody wants to get hurt. And yet, dating requires deliberately putting oneself in (emotional) harm’s way; when we start dating someone, we are putting ourselves in a position to be rejected, which can be scary. Because we instinctively avoid pain, we will act in ways that are contrary to our long-term goals or self-interest for fear of being hurt.
As a result: dating can be annoyingly nebulous and vague, with each person being afraid to disturb the status quo for fear that doing so will ruin things. Even couples who know that there is something deep and intimate growing between them will put off wanting to address the matter for fear of misjudging the situation.
Men are especially prone to this; we are socialized to not be as open – or as comfortable – with our emotions as women are. We are expected to run on instinct, to just know things, apparently by clairsentience, rather than to talk about them. Even worse is the fact that pop culture has taught us to believe that relationships – like sex – are things that just happen without really having to talk about it. They just build and build until that climactic moment when everything falls into place.
When we’re dating with an eye towards a relationship, you don’t want to bring up the topic too early for fear of appearing emotionally over-invested or needy, when you aren’t. At the same time, you want to be sure you’re on the same page with the person you’re dating.
Some people believe in explicit communication – everything must be dragged out into the light and examined in great detail. But while this can be a good thing, it can be a bit much for many people. Some people actively dislike explicitly talking about relationships and where things are going, while others are – by temperament or by experience – more attuned to implicit communication.
So how does one implicitly communicate the idea of building towards a relationship?
Well, one of the ways of doing this is by framing the interaction.
Framing is the meaning that surrounds the event or the interaction. To use a classic negative example, a Nice Guy who’s been stuck in the Friend Zone may take his crush out to dinner; in an attempt to add meaning to the event – and thus push things towards convincing her that he’s really sex-material – he may make jokes about how “hey, this is kind of like a date, huh?” He is attempting to set the frame that this is a romantic event, with all of the potential inherent in one. Theoretically, should his crush not challenge the notion that they’re on a date, then she is implicitly agreeing to the frame – which in turn establishes him as someone she would be willing to date.
There is more to framing however than just verbally establishing the meaning. We respond to deeds far more than we do to words; the creation and management of expectations through actions and implications is also a form of framing.
Framing – setting the meaning of an event – through actions and implications is one form of implicit communication, and a way of communicating intent without necessarily forcing things to an awkward conversation. To quote Mssrs. David Gahan and Martin Gore: “Words are very unnecessary/ they can only do harm”.
So how, exactly do we do this?
To start with, we talk about the future. Not to the level of “so what will we name the kids?” but about what we hope for and expect out of the future, whether it be three weeks from now to years. You may notice that some people – men especially – who are looking for a more… informal relationship1 will often avoid any discussion of future plans that are more than a week or two out for fear of setting themselves up for the “where is this relationship going?” speech. When we talk about our future plans and long term goals with people we are dating we create the expectation that they will still be in our lives to see it, if not explicitly be a part of it. Similarly, bringing up theoretical long term plans based on mutual interests – say, mentioning that she might want to go with you to a concert coming up in a month – builds on the expectation that you will still be seeing each other a month from now.
For another, consider the amount of time you spend together. Once you get out of college and enter the job market, it gets harder to work out the time to see people you don’t actively work or live with; the more time you devote to seeing someone, the greater the implications for your relationship with them. Going out one night a week with someone you’ve been seeing bespeaks of a casual relationship. Seeing each other twice, even three times – assuming, of course, that this doesn’t lead to her feeling smothered – says far more about the level of interest that the two of you have in one another than words alone might – and helps set the frame that this is more than just two people who enjoy one another’s company.
Acting like a boyfriend in a relationship helps to set the tone and meaning of the interaction; slowly building emotional intimacy and connections carries the message that she means more to you than just as a friend with potential benefits.
Keep in mind: this is about implicit communication, not about trying to mind-fuck someone into being your girlfriend. You aren’t trying to slow-boil her into a relationship, you’re setting the tone. If you’re experiencing push back – she starts cutting back how often you see each other, you’re suddenly talking on the phone less and responses to texts are slower and slower in coming, you’ve likely pushed too far, too fast. Slow your roll, Romeo; dial it all back until she’s comfortable.
Find The Commonalities
Relationships are based on three components: desire/attraction, connection and trust.
Now I’ve written fairly extensively about how to build attraction, about flirting and about how to have great conversations, but less about building that all important connection – the feeling that the two of you mesh perfectly, as though you were “meant to be”.
Now I’m not a believer in fate – there is no One True Love, after all – but that doesn’t mean you can’t make it feel as though there is.
It’s easy to say “opposites attract”, but the truth of the matter is, we like people who are similar to us. There’s a lot to be said for dating people outside of your experience or even your comfort zone – I recommend it, actually – but there comes a point where being too unalike will actually push people away.
Why? Because they feel as though they have nothing in common. Part of building the connection is all about finding those points of commonality: areas where you share similar or complimentary interests and mutually shared values.
One of the benefits of being a great conversationalist is that you have to learn to embrace the concept of active listening – taking an active part in what she’s saying by taking what she’s said, paraphrase it and expand on it to ensure that you’ve caught what she’s been saying. Why would you want to do this? Because part of what you’re doing is looking for opportunities to express those points of commonality; you want to relate something she likes or is passionate about with something you are passionate about.
The more commonalities the two of you have, the more you’re going to feel drawn to someone… because you have so much in common.
This doesn’t mean that you need to be a carbon copy of somebody in order to build a relationship, mind you. She may be into skydiving and you’re terrified of heights… but on the other hand, you’re into travelling to exotic places. Where’s the point of commonality here? You’re both adventurous, looking to live life to the fullest by doing things that other people might never do.
Worth noting: having things in common doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have your own interests as well. After all, having something to share with your partner – or for your partner to share with you – is part of what keeps the interest and spark in a relationship.
Let’s Do The Time Warp Again
I’m a huge fan of multi-venue dates, especially in the courtship phase of a relationship. In fact, my Standard First Date involves taking women to at least three different places, if not more. If I’m going to go on a date with someone, I don’t want just to go to a coffee shop or to dinner and a movie, I want to go to an art gallery, followed by a wine bar for a drink, then perhaps dinner at this great Ethiopian place and a walk through the park to this incredible food trailer that does the most amazing desserts.
Well, because of an effect known as time-dilation.
Switching venues during a date has an interesting effect on the brain: it makes us feel as though we’ve spent more time with our date than we actually have. This time dilation effect helps build the feeling that we’ve known the person we’re on the date with for longer, which in turn makes them feel more comfortable with you… helping to build that all important connection that is so important to relationships.
It’s worth noting that the time dilation effect works both ways. Just as much as venue hopping makes your date feel as though she’s spent more time with you than she has in reality, it’s having the exact same effect on you… which helps cement those connections; the last thing you want is a one-way relationship, after all.
See Her As She Wants To Be Seen
Just as we like people who are similar to us, we like people who see us the way we wish we were. It can be incredibly powerful when somebody seems to connect with us on a level that nobody else has – they see us as we “really” are. We are built, psychologically, to want to see the best in ourselves, so someone who validates this part of us can be incredibly attractive.
Part of how we do this is by connecting and confirming our date’s passion.
Now, presumably you have been seeing this person socially for a while, which means that you should know them relatively well, if not incredibly intimately. If you’ve gone on more than one date, you should have gotten past the standard “interview questions” and reached a place where you can be more honest with each other. Thus, you should have a pretty good idea of just what it is they are truly passionate about. They will give hints – if not outright tell you – what their ideal life would be, assuming that you’ve been practicing active listening rather than waiting for you chance to talk.
Once you know what her passion is, you want to bring it up in a positive way – that is, you want to encourage and cheer on her passion. Showing that you believe that she can be greater than she is and that she can achieve her passion – becoming a great marine biologist, founding a breakthrough business, writing an incredible novel – can be powerful. Explaining that you could see her succeeding at her passion and why – she has an incredible ear for dialogue and she’s an amazing story-teller for somebody whose passion is to become a novelist, for example – can help build that strong connection that you’re both looking for in a relationship.
Make a Strategic Show of Vulnerability
Trust, the final component of relationships takes time and effort to build. Looking for a relationship means deliberately putting yourself in a place where you could be hurt, physically and emotionally, which is why trust is so important. We don’t want to expose our most vulnerable sides to someone who is only going to turn around and use it against us; all of us have had bad relationships or moments where we’ve been fooled, hurt or abused. Trust has to be earned over time by showing that you are, in fact, trustworthy.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t jumpstart the process, however.
Just as with having our passions reflected back at us, we tend to trust the people who show that they trust us. And one of the best ways to show someone you’re dating that you trust them is with what I call a strategic show of vulnerability. That is: you let down your armor just a little and making yourself vulnerable – just for a second – to them. In fact – and damn you Carly Rae Jepson for making me do this – that’s part of what’s appealing about the song “Call Me, Maybe”; she’s used to being the pursuee rather than the pursuer and being the one to make the approach to somebody she’s found herself attracted to. But now she’s met somebody unlike anyone she’s ever known and now she’s deliberately making herself emotionally vulnerable – “I never do this and this is crazy” – to being rejected by this person… and that brief show of vulnerability makes her all the more appealing.
You want to let her see the part of you that you normally keep hidden from the world – a secret or a desire or a goal that you don’t share easily because it’s private or unusual… something that you wouldn’t talk about with somebody you just met. It’s something that makes you human.
For example, I might – to use a random, if not terribly private example – talk about how seeing The Last Unicorn at a young age inspired me to want to tell stories because at seven years old I couldn’t stand the fact that Amalthea and Prince Lír don’t end up together and ended up staying up all night to re-write the entire ending of the movie… followed up by a release that acknowledges what just happened. “Wait, why am I telling you this? Jeez, I’m sorry, I usually don’t get that deep this early on.” Showing that little weakspot in your armor then pulling it back carries the implication that you trust her enough that you’ve accidentally let your guard down… which in turn will help inspire her to put her trust in you…
…and put you on the path of levelling up your relationship.
- which is to say, no-strings attached sex or actively seeing other people [↩]