Dear Rosie & Sherry,
I've been reading your dating column and would like to thank you for all the good advice.
My problem is that I seem to have a mental block about the physical attraction.
When I'm not in a dating environment, I am very aware of what I find attractive and what not. But when I sit opposite a date, I just can't seem to be objective. I don't believe I'm "looking for something that doesn't exist," because I did find chemistry with one woman I dated (though things didn't work out for other reasons).
It's not that I'm "un"-attracted to these women. Rather I feel I am unable to determine if there's the potential to become attracted. I don't want to become physically involved, as that carries so many emotional entanglements that can harm objectivity. So what should I do?
The difficulty you are experiencing is actually very common. Dating in general and dating for marriage in particular has become a very stressful experience. Instead of approaching a first date with an "I'll try to enjoy the evening" attitude, many people arrive at the date with high expectations that usually can't be met at such an early point in the dating process. In addition, they often analyze every aspect of the date once it's over.
People who engage in these common practices unwittingly prevent many potential relationships from ever getting started. That's because unmet expectations create disappointment, people start to get turned off to another person's potential when they over-analyze, and the unwarranted pressure ends up draining every ounce of enjoyment out of the dating experience.
On an intellectual level, many people (like you) realize that it's counterproductive to invest a great deal of emotional energy into the early stage of dating. Yet they can't help themselves. Sometimes, it's because they feel a great deal of external pressure from their environment. For example, in some circles people are encouraged to be very focused on marriage when they date and to come to the decision that another person is or isn't the right one for them to marry in a relatively short period of time. Naturally, these expectations create a level of anxiety for many daters, and some people respond to this anxiety by freezing up, so to speak. It's a version of performance anxiety; since they feel they have to be attracted to someone, they can't do it.
Another reason some people find themselves engaging in this counterproductive practice is that they been conditioned by our culture to expect that they'll be able to judge a new person's potential on the very first date. It's simply not the case, but try telling that to someone who has seen a few romantic movies or whose best friend insists that the first time he laid eyes on his future wife, he "knew she was the one!"
No wonder many people approach that first meeting filled with the unrealistic expectation that they must instantly find their dating partner attractive and sense a spark or connection from the very beginning. Since they've absorbed the message that they'll "just know" when they've met the right person, they're disappointed when "that feeling" doesn't come over them. Even if they enjoy the date, they feel that they've missed out on some defining magical moment and prematurely decide that the other person isn't for them.
These are two of the reasons why we believe you may be having trouble feeling attraction for your dating partner. What we suggest is that you approach future first dates differently, without too many expectations. In fact, convince yourself to leave all expectations at home. Go with the attitude that you are going to meet someone new, with whom you have a few things in common, and that the only purpose of your first meeting is to break the ice and lay the framework for a second date.
In other words, the only goal you should set for yourself on a first date is to set the stage for a second date. Don't think about being attracted, or about making an emotional or philosophical connection. Instead, tell yourself to relax and enjoy the evening as best as possible.
Our suggestion is not difficult to follow. It is a technique that many behavioral therapists use, and it does work. Daters who are able to follow this advice feel more positively about "first dates," even if it later turns out that this particular dating partner is not right for them. It also enables them to be calmer and more receptive to getting to know the person they are with, and this sets the stage for the gradual development of a relationship. The fact is that the vast majority of couples who get married had courtships that developed gradually, and it took them time to realize that the other person was "the one."
Of course, it's also premature to start analyzing your second date, or your third. We find that doing this, or letting yourself think, "Well, since the purpose of my dating is to find the right person to marry, is it possible that's she's the one for me?" is a death-knell for any courtship. It will cause you to set up an invisible-yet-impenetrable wall that will keep you from getting to know your date or opening up to her. How can anyone want a courtship to continue if they keep visualizing themselves standing under the chuppah with the complete stranger who is now sitting across from them, sipping a diet cola?
Instead, focus on getting to know the other person and building a history of shared experiences. It's a good idea to make your dates purposeful by combining an enjoyable time together with conversation that will allow you to learn more about each other.
It is reasonable to expect that after a few dates, you will have begun to find your dating partner attractive and feel that the two of you are starting to build a connection. But let your relationship develop naturally, bearing in mind that the rate at which a couple moves forward is more a product of their personalities and communication styles than an indication of the strength or quality of their developing relationship.
We hope this helps you navigate the dating maze,
Rosie & Sherry