Mailbag: What to talk about on a date + dealing with long distance relationships

There have been some very interesting letters coming in the inbox recently — keep ’em coming. I’ve got two of them for you right now, and the theme they share is communication. One is about what to talk about when on a date; the other is about long-distance relationships. But before I get into either of those, I’d like to announce:

  • The Tao of Dating LIVE, Tuesday 20 May 2014, 7-9pm, San Francisco, CA: 
  • Ladies: How to Let More Love In
  • Purchase tickets at Eventbrite
  • We will mingle, sip wine & nibble on chocolate (included in ticket price). I will talk for 30-40min. Then I will field your questions for the rest of the time — all of them. Bring it on!

And now, to the letters:

Hi Dr. Ali, I so wish I had read your book before my date last Saturday. I was excited to meet this very accomplished man and was intrigued by his ethnic background of being Austrian. I even researched it a bit so I could ask him questions.

He is a music professor and we arranged a little “tour” of my downtown community that is an emerging artist and music area. I felt like I was in my zone, being a real estate broker that specialized in this downtown area, etc. I was just touring away.

I thought I looked the best I could and all day got comments from friends about how beautiful I looked and how slim. My jeans were rocking and I thought I was too. Three hours together talking, touring galleries, studios and a wine shop.

Ok, so you know what? I really didn’t find out anything about him. Never asked about his background. Spent time on stupid stuff like past Match dates. I wanted to go arm and arm but didn’t. We didn’t touch at all. I didn’t lock eyes. I was too darn busy being the popular city street agent. We did kiss but very quickly, and I thought we would have a second date because the afternoon was so wonderful.

Well, being afraid to call him the next day (should I have?) I waited and there was the email on Monday: “Had a great time – we could be great friends but I didn’t feel the chemistry.”

Bummer! At first I thought, wait — are you kidding me? I was rocking that day. Now I know, of course he didn’t.  Why would he have? My attention and distractions were elsewhere. Now I know hopefully what to do and I wish I had a second chance.  I liked him.

Thank you for your book.  Just thought I would share. –Kelli

Thanks for the report, Kelli!

Here’s the truth of the matter: if a guy’s not attracted to you, he’s just not attracted to you. Doesn’t matter if you’re looking your rockingest that day, or how well the jeans fit. If you’re not his type, you’re not his type. As a guy, I can tell you it’s true. So if that were the case, there’s probably not a whole lot you could have done about that.

That said, it is possible to take a borderline “maybe” case and turn that in to a “hell yes” by being fully present, looking him straight in the eye, having lots of physical contact, drawing him out with questions, making him feel like a million bucks, flirting like crazy and just being the goddess. ‘Cause who’s gonna resist the goddess? Sounds like you were mostly focused on yourself in this situation. The good news is that it’s easy to remedy.

That said, this letter illustrates a larger point. I’ve gotten many letters just like this talking about how you went with this guy/girl, had a great conversation that didn’t flag even for a second, kept talking for 3 hours, and then – nothing. “Sorry, didn’t feel the connection.”

That’s because most conversation happens at the level of the mind. You’re exchanging facts about your background, stories from the past, the interesting New Yorker piece you read last night. It’s stimulating the cerebral cortex, but not a whole lot more. Recall that what you want is a connection at the level of mind, emotion and body (head-heart-groin as I describe it in The Tao of Dating). If you want a guy to keep thinking about you as a potential partner, you must affect him in an emotional and visceral way, too.

Luckily, as a woman, this is easy. All you have to do is be your flirty, sensual self. Kinesthetic sensation engages the emotions, so touch him intermittently and regularly – squeeze his forearm, touch his elbow, pick imaginary lint off his jacket. If you’re bolder, rubbing his hand or forearm works particularly well. And if you’re really bold, kissing him is bound to make a lasting impression. Especially if you’re a good kisser, and you’re enjoying the process yourself.

In your conversation, instead of talking about facts that aren’t bound to get you anywhere interesting (“Where are you from? How do you pay your rent?”), ask emotionally salient questions, like:

  • What is your fondest childhood memory?
  • Who was your hero as a kid and why?
  • What did you want to be when you grew up?
  • Who’s been most influential in your life?
  • What’s a recent experience of awe that you’ve had?
  • What’s your favorite book of all time and why?

The more powerful, pleasant emotions you evoke in him, the more he will associate those with you, the more of them he’ll want, and the more time he’ll want to spend with you.

Think about it: how many times in his life has anyone asked him about his fondest childhood memory? Very few, I assure you. At the same time, you’re finding out important stuff about what this guy’s really made of and whether you want to spend more time with him.

And finally, as a woman, you have a lot of leeway in evoking sexual feelings in a guy – from makeup, to provocative clothing and body language. At the simplest level, you want to spend a lot of time looking him directly in the eye. And then, there’s the whole repertoire of licking your lips, crossing and uncrossing your legs, flipping your hair, smoothing your skirt, touching your neck with two fingers, and a whole bunch of other stuff that I feel silly teaching you because as a woman you already come built-in with all of this without needing any dude to teach it to you. So work it already.

The other thing to keep in mind is what people’s memories actually retain from a given interaction are the peak and the end. So make sure you have a peak in there somewhere, and make sure the date ends memorably – preferably in a way that leaves him wanting more.

Finally, even if you had done everything right on the date and he was hugely into you, there’s still no guarantee if this was going to be a good match for you. I understand if you feel that you could have done better, and this wasn’t your best performance. That’s just the ego talking, so it’s easy to let that go. If you end up getting along with only 1 out of 10 people that you go on a date with anyway, then it’s likely he was part of the 90% and you’ve saved time and effort which you are free to expend on a guy who’s a much better fit for you.

This second letter’s the one about long-distance relationships:

Hi Dr Ali! I am loving your book, but it has made me realise how bad I am at this loving game… I was wondering if you could provide any private advice please?

I do have a unique situation with a long distance relationship. We chat everyday, Skype once or twice a week and are trying to catch up every few months for a few weeks together.  He currently lives in Italy and me Australia.

I have however started being a bit obsessive, getting annoyed if he doesn’t text me first thing. I have drunk texted him a few times and I am afraid may have pushed him away. No more “sweeties” or “babes”, only one “x” instead of two, I can read the signs (although he does say I read too much into things…). 

We are meeting in the Middle East next week for a 2 week holiday together, but I have some trepidation as I know I have done the wrong thing and am afraid I will be all treading on egg shells which will just annoy him even more I am sure. 

So my question to you, is do you think I can recover from this? I am a strong confident woman who 6 months ago before I met (well “re-met” as we went to school with each other 35 years ago) was quite fulfilled being on my own, like you say in your book, but I seem to have lost this sense.  I know I need it back if this is to work.  Any suggestions please?  Can I recover, or have I gone too far?  I would be so grateful if you can help. Sincerely, Beryl

Dear Beryl –
Thanks for your note. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: a long-distance relationship is no relationship at all. And just in case anyone missed it, here it is in all caps, on a line of its own:


Relationship is all about face-to-face contact and touch — the entire nervous system and our hormones are oriented towards that. 3 million years of evolution hasn’t done anything to prepare us for a relationship by email, text or Skype.

Relationship is also about the day-to-day dynamic of interaction. Right now, what you have is a port in a faraway harbor, which is always nice to have, as long as you understand and accept it for what it is: someone nice to snuggle up to you when you happen to be in that city.

As soon as you start imposing the requirements for a real relationship on this pen pal, that’s when the disappointment, neediness and mistakes start to build up. Stop that. Find a local boy for a real relationship, and most of these problems you’re describing will go away.

I wrote a whole article about how asynchronous communication like email and text can be the downfall of any relationship, which you should read right now if you haven’t already. In the meantime, I’d like to point out this passage from Beryl’s letter, when she’s talking about the texts he’s writing back to her:

No more “sweeties” or “babes”, only one “x” instead of two, I can read the signs (although he does say I read too much into things…).

The richness of a relationship is directly proportional to the richness of its communication. The richest form of communication, in terms of the amount of information conveyed, is sex; next, cuddling (speaking with physical contact); then, speaking in person with no contact; then video (like Skype); then phone; then email; then text; then Morse code, skywriting and smoke signals.

By the time you’re counting the number of “sweetie”s, “babe”s and “x”s in a text to figure out what’s going on, you’re firmly into tea-leaf and coffee-ground reading territory. In other words, the quality of the communication has degraded to the point that you have no idea what’s going on. So step up the communication to a richer level so you’re at least getting reliable information instead of listening to the United Chorus of Crazy in your own head – phone calls are always a good start. And if you can’t even get that, you’re pretty sure you don’t have a relationship and can let it go. Communication and relationship are basically one and the same.

All the best,

Dr Ali B

PS: If you have a question of your own, zap it on to me! Put “QUESTION” in the subject line, then articulate the situation in 200 words or less, and make sure it has a question in there which addresses what you want out of the situation.

PPS: And if you’re reading this second PS, this means you must be a true fan! If you really are, and if you’re already read The Tao of Dating and loved it, I will love you forever and ever if you’d be kind enough to express your love publicly by posting a review on Amazon. It’s how I pay the bills, and short of actually buying me a new Tesla, it’s one of the best ways you can support the cause.

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