From “Hello” to “Good Morning”

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The subject of courtship is vast. We’re all interested in it, and few of us feel equipped to do it with grace. It’s exciting…and it’s scary. We know some things about the courtship process. It has a certain number of steps, which differ depending on whose research your using (today we’ll use mine), and starts with ‘hello’…first meeting…and progresses through a ‘getting to know you’ stage to the pivotal point of being sexual together, which we call ‘consummation.’ Of course courtship continues…hopefully forever, but here I want to talk about the early part of the process because it is so important…and where we all start.

Every relationship begins with “hello”, in one form or another. We rarely know when we’re going to meet someone new, nor do we know where that new relationship will go. This is one of the exciting aspects of dating. When we are open to opportunity, all sorts of surprises are in store! We are easily intimidated by courtship. We hear warnings like, “You won’t find anyone special until you quit looking.” Hogwash! It’s fairy-tale thinking: that if you just sleepwalk through life, waiting for your prince (or princess) to come, that your passivity will be rewarded with happily-everafter. The truth is we have a much better chance of getting what we want if we ask for it, and we spend far more Saturday nights in our jammies…alone… waiting for a knock on our door than if we are out there having fun and keeping our eyes open.

Another trap we can easily fall into is going to some place loaded with potentials rather than going somewhere where we know we will have a good time. If you’re lousy at drinking and loud music gives you a headache, quit frequenting the bars. If you don’t ‘get’ poetry, stay away from the slams. If you were born lacking a sporty gene, leave that locker room. Ask yourself, “What do I really enjoy doing? What do I do just because it makes me happy?” That’s where you want to hang out, and that’s also where you’ll find others who share your interests.

“That’s it? Just show up?” you ask? Adopting an attitude of watchful waiting is a fundamental step in the process. It pays to set up for success, as well. Consider your forays out into the social world as chances. If you want to win, you have to play. Moreover, you want to play smart to increase your odds. So before you head out, stop and evaluate your presentation. Brush your teeth, and your hair. Are you clothes clean? Do you look good? If in doubt, change something and check the mirror again. Would you notice you? Now I’m not suggesting that you be a fashion slave, just that you be intentional about what you communicate about yourself to others. After all, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

When we first meet someone, eye contact is our first connection. We make a jillion assumptions about people based on all sorts of things that have nothing to do with truth. Does this person remind you of someone you like….or don’t? Are they part of one of your groups, or are they different from you? Are you physically attracted to them? Although sometimes we grow to appreciate someone’s looks as we come to love them, initial attraction is the norm. It immediately puts that person in a different category. Sexual attraction is a compelling force. If they share the reaction, sparks fly and pheromones permeate the air. We (stereotypically) become coquettish (if we’re female) or grandiose (if male). We revert unconsciously and somewhat uncontrollably to our ancestral selves, complete with biologically determined courtship dance routines. For those of you intrigued by this fascinating topic, find Sex Signals by Tim Perper, books by Helen Fisher, author of The First Sex, The Sex Contract: The Evolution of Human Behavior, and Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery, and Divorce, or find a copy of Desmond Morris’s unfortunately titled Manwatching, in which there we are in all our animalistic, evolutionarily-charged predictability.

Now that we’ve made eye contact with someone we’re attracted to, and they seem interested in us, too, what happens next? Then we need to speak. It doesn’t matter much what we say, though witty opening lines can be attention-getting and remembered. On the other hand, smarmy comes on turn people off. There are a number of books available to smooth this part of the process. A book I heartily recommend is Carol Queen’s Exhibitionism for the Shy, a guide to how to become socially graceful and confident.

So now you’re eyes have met, you’re pretty sure you’re mutually attracted, and you’ve begun a conversation. Let’s assume you find talking smooth and enjoyable. Awkward pauses are non-existent. You’re starting to feel a bit confident, and a bit aroused. You realize you’re thinking sexual thought about this person. When you’ve spent enough time to validate the mutuality of this attraction, move the two of you to another location. It doesn’t have to be to different province, or even building, but carve yourselves out of the group you’ve been in and geographically establish yourselves as a couple having a private conversation. This step isn’t mandatory, and is sometimes impossible, but it tends to move the process along more quickly and symbolically changes the dynamic.

Now it’s time for goal clarification. You’ve gathered a lot of information so far. You have chemistry, and you converse easily. Where would you like this go? At this point, you have a lot of power to decide what’s going to happen next. Are you looking for someone with whom to play tennis? A lover? A mate? Of course each of these has different criteria. Do you know what you’re your various criteria are? Making a list of attributes and ranking them according to priority can help avoid regrettable choices when hormones and opportunity combine to muddy our thinking.

You know the old chestnut: You have to kiss a lot of frogs to find the handsome prince. Don’t think every frog is a prince. The concept of soul mates is fairytale thinking again. On a planet of billions of people, there is certainly more than one perfect mate for each of us. More likely, there are hundreds of others with whom we could happily couple. The problem is that there are probably hundreds of thousands with whom we would be mismatched. The trick is sorting the two piles accurately. Think critically. Don’t let the stars in your eyes blind you.

But let’s suppose that you have consciously assessed this person and decided he or she is worth risking a romantic encounter. You know that, whatever else may be in store, you are sexually interested. Now is not the time to become mute and to wait for sex to “just happen.” Bring up the topic of sex. You don’t have to be a boor or a bulldozer; innuendo and flirtation are easily decoded by a mutually-interested companion. Still, if sex is what you want, you need to communicate that clearly. Then you are ready to make a direct approach. Touch your new friend. I’m not suggesting you grab ass….after all, you are hoping to establish a mutually-respectful encounter. But making physical contact will give you lots of information about how this new partner responds to you. When you place your hand on his or her shoulder as you laugh at a joke, for instance, does s/he lean in to you, pull back, or remain stationary? Read the body language. After all, you’ve made no binding commitment yet. If you are seeking a responsive lover, pay attention to what kind of response you get from touch. It’s an important indicator of what may lie ahead.

The next step is establishing a specific date. Suggest spending time together doing an activity that you’ve already determined interests you both. Even going to a movie together will work, although sitting in a dark public place silently staring at a screen precludes conversation and further opportunity to assess whether this is, indeed, the direction you want to go. Regardless, build in time together after the event. Go somewhere private and comfortable and plan the main event. Talk about the kind of touching you like. Ask the same questions of your partner. Be specific. It doesn’t have to be unromantic. Not speaking about our sexual preferences is another part of the “spontaneous sex” myth, when we believe that owning our desire sullies it. Simply not true. Sex is play for adults. If you’re adult enough to be involved, then be adult enough to be proud and determined about your decision. It can be very sexy, indeed, to listen to your about-to-be-lover tell you what really gets his or her mojo going. Ditto telling your sexual penchants. And it takes a lot of the awkwardness out of the first encounter. If you hear that your new sexual friend swoons to having his/her neck kissed, you’re guaranteed at least one move that will make you look like a sensitive and generous lover. The more information shared, the better the sex will be. This is NOT the time to stumble with shyness. Now is the time to embrace the moment, and your partner, and dive into mutual delight.

Coupling really is quite simple, once we get past the temptation to play games and avoid responsibility for our own actions. Remember, though, that a successful sexual encounter doesn’t guarantee a successful relationship or, for that matter, any further relationship at all. Do not confuse lust with love, which takes a loooong time to grow. What we are talking about here is only the first steps on that uncertain journey.

Dating is where the frog-kissing comes in. Just as every relationship begins with hello, each ends in goodbye, whether that’s tomorrow morning or when we are parted by death. Grab hold now and have the most fun you can. Appreciate every minute. Make wonderful memories.