Dear Rosie & Sherry,

First let me say that your column is great. My friends and I always enjoy reading your advice.

I have been dating a guy for a while, with the goal of marriage, and I feel as though there hasn't been much progress since the second date. I have married friends who tell me to keep at it because emotional and physical connections can often take time to develop.

My question is: He's a really nice guy, thoughtful and smart, and we have shared values, mutual respect, etc. But is that enough of a reason to keep going out? After a while, shouldn't there be a more pronounced feeling of enthusiasm?

Our conversations vary from light-hearted to more real, but I often feel that I am the one to initiate the more substantial, thought-provoking conversations. This bothers me, because I would like to find someone who actively draws me into stimulating conversations.

Where does one draw the line between being realistic and too picky? If I don't feel physically attracted, does that mean it's not likely to develop? Or if I enjoy his company and if there is enough in commonality, will physical attraction fall into place?

I'd really appreciate your feedback.

Caroline

Dear Caroline,

Your friends are right in the sense that many courtships take time to develop. And since each couple is unique, each couple builds a relationship differently.

There are some people who are attracted to each other from the start and quickly feel that they are connecting. They feel optimistic about their courtship from the very beginning, and look forward to seeing how it will progress. There are even a few people who insist that this initial attraction and connection were so strong that they "knew" right away they had met "the one." (This "knowledge" is illusory, since it's purely based on chemistry. It isn't until a man and woman get to know each other and are able to develop emotional intimacy that they really know they've met the one who is right for them. Many couples who are strongly attracted to each other in the beginning don't sustain their relationship because they later discover they don't have common values and goals, are not compatible, or don't relate as well to each other as they first thought.)

For every relationship that begins with a quick start, there are several that begin slowly. The man and woman may feel neutral about each other when they meet for the first time. They may even need to be talked into going on a second date, and sometimes a third one, because they say, "The other person seems nice, but I don't feel anything. Shouldn't I need to be more excited?

This expectation that "when you meet the right one, you'll know" is based on impressions from magazine articles, novels and movies. In truth, however, a good percentage of relationships that lead to marriage get off to a slower start.

Can I go out on one more date to see if there's something more with this person?

A slow start can begin in many ways. It can happen when a man and woman get along reasonably well at the beginning, are comfortable talking to each other, see that they are heading in similar directions in life -- but don't feel any strong emotions. They can experience this low level of connectivity over the first several dates. After each of these dates, the only question they should ask themselves is, "Can I go out on one more date to see if there is something more with this person?"

A "Yes" answer means a dater realizes there is a possibility that the relationship will grow, and is still open to seeing what happens. A "No" answer means that while this may be a nice person, the dater realizes they are not right for each other.

By the time a couple has gone out five or six times, a few things should be taking place. They should be feeling some physical attraction, even if they weren't attracted initially. (If a feeling of attraction hasn't begun to grow, it probably will not develop even if they keep dating.) The man and woman should look forward to seeing each other and feel they are connecting on a number of levels.

Sometimes, a person in a relationship that is developing in this way wonders if something is wrong, because it did not begin with fireworks or strong emotions. They wonder if something is missing because they've gradually come to feel very good about the person they are dating. These people don't realize that all that matters is that the relationship ultimately reaches the point of knowing you've met the right person. When you're going to be building a life together, whether it took a few dates or a few months to get to this point is totally irrelevant.

Communication Style

When a courtship seems to be moving in a good direction, but seems to get stalled after a few dates, which is what seems to have happened to you, a number of factors may be at play:

  • The man and woman may just not be right for each other.
  • One party could be preoccupied with a matter that keeps them from devoting emotional energy to the courtship.
  • The couple has over-dated -- going out on dates that are too long, or too frequent (more than twice a week).

Try having a fun date, or engaging in an interactive activity.

Particularly, over-dating can be overwhelming for people who don't know each other that well. They may decide that because they have run out of things to talk about, or aren't ready to talk on a deeper level, they aren't right for each other, even though the relationship has potential. They may not be dating in a way that can help advance their relationship to each other. In addition to going on shorter and less frequent dates, they can try to set a different tone for each date so that they can see each other in a different light. This can mean having a "fun" date, or engaging in an interactive activity. Sometimes, the couple may need to engage in a deeper level of conversation, and open up to each other about their thoughts and feelings. Any of these changes can help the daters feel more positive about the courtship, or can help them see more clearly that they are not right for each other.

The dynamics between dating partners become more important the longer they go out with each other. For example, you've told us that you and this man are able to have some meaningful discussions, and see eye-to-eye on a number of important issues, but you're concerned that you have to initiate these talks. It's very positive when a man and woman are able to have these conversations, and find they agree on many basic issues, no matter who brings up the topic.

It's also important to understand that the two daters may not have the same things on their mind at the same time. Your date may not have focused on the deeper subjects you brought up until you began to speak about them. You might also consider the fact that he needs to reach a certain comfort level before bringing up deeper topics. By opening up deeper discussions now, you may very well have opened the door to his being able to initiate these conversations in the future.

You haven't raised other issues with his communication style. For example, having to draw conversation out of him, or his not being interested in what you have to say, or that he simply agrees with everything you say and doesn't express his own opinion, or your sensing that you control the communication between you. These are more serious issues than the fact that you initiate most of the more significant conversations you have.

Your not feeling physically attracted to this man concerns us more that the dynamics of your communication. Earlier, we mentioned that physical attraction should start to develop by the time you have been out three, four, or even five times. It rarely takes root later than that. However, there is an exception to every rule. Sometimes, it takes a little longer for attraction to develop because a dater has to first shed a preconceived notion of what they are attracted to. A number of women have found that they were able to help this process along by identifying features they found appealing in their dating partner. It may help you to try to focus on your date's eyes and smile the next time you go out, and see if by doing so he starts to seem more attractive to you. However, if you don't find yourself feeling attracted to him within the next date or two, we think it probably won't happen. And bottom line, every marriage needs the element of physical attraction.

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze,

Rosie & Sherry