Relationship

Dating services have been around for decades, but it's only been in the past 6 or 7 years that they've really taken off online. Here are a few tips we've cobbled together that should help you safely navigate what is, for many, new online terrain.

Staying Anonymous for Awhile
Most online dating services use a double-blind system to allow members to exchange correspondence between each other. This allows members to communicate, but without knowing each other's email addresses or other identifying personal information. It's best to use the dating service's internal, secure messaging system until you feel as though you know the person to some degree. This ensures that when you do run into the inevitable creep online, you remain anonymous and safe.

Be Realistic
Prince (or Princess) Charming may very well indeed be waiting for you online, but you should also set your expectations just a little bit lower. Most of your dates will turn out to be duds. That's just the statistics! So it helps prepare yourself if you remember that going into the online dating process. Don't believe that everyone who shows interest in you is worth your time. And don't get disenchanted if your first date decides they don't want a second. It's easy to believe they are rejecting you personally, but it's for the best. After all, you're looking for a good, mutual match, not someone to swoon over. (But hey, if you find someone to swoon over, that's cool too!)

Being realistic also means setting realistic expectations about geography. The Internet allows us to search for and communicate with people from all over the world, regardless of their proximity to us. Unfortunately, that makes a real dating relationship difficult once you have to translate it into the real world. So if you're not willing to fly to Paris to meet Mr. Frenchie, then don't look for anybody outside of your local community. Keep in mind, that 50 mile drive for the first date might seem like no big deal, but imagine doing that multiple times a week if things got serious. It can (and has) been done, but know what you're getting yourself into beforehand.

Use Common Sense
It's funny I have to write those words, but they are just so important. We sometimes feel like we've made an "instant connection" online with someone we've only just met. Some of that feeling is a result of the disinhibition that's a part of being anonymous on the Internet today. So go slowly with new contacts and get to know the person via messaging and emails first. Then proceed to phone calls if you still feel safe, attracted, and curious. Finally, setup a first date when the time is right.

Don't agree to do something just because it sounds like fun or exciting if it's really not you. The point of online dating isn't to reinvent yourself or to try out everything new under the sun. It's to find someone you're most compatible with, which means being yourself. So while it may sound romantic to agree to fly off to the Bahamas on a moment's notice with someone you barely know, it isn't very good common sense to do so. Keep your wits and instincts about you.

Proceed Slowly and Listen to Your Instinct
As I wrote above, you need to take things slowly, even when it seems or feels right immediately, or the other person is pressuring you into meeting more fast than you are comfortable with. Take things at your pace. If the other person is a good match for you, then they will not only understand your pace, but will often mirror it! Always talk to the other person by telephone at least once before agreeing to meet for your first date. Ask for a photo (if they didn't provide one in their profile) so that you can be assured of meeting the right person. Be on the lookout for inconsistencies in their history or any stories they tell you of their life, background, or growing up. Ask informative questions of the other person to ensure they match what and who they say they are in their profile.

Don't feel the need to give out your phone number if you're not comfortable doing so. Instead, ask for theirs and remember to put in the code for blocking caller ID before making the call. There's no need to be paranoid about your privacy, but at the same time, it is wise to take simple precautions that will ensure you remain safe until you are completely comfortable. Some people also use a cell phone or even a public pay phone to ensure their potential match can't get their home telephone number. Do what feels best and right for you.

Remember, you don't have to meet everyone you communicate with online. Some people will obviously not be right for you and you can politely say so before ever progressing to a phone call or first date. Online dating empowers you to make choices that are right for you. So feel free to make those choices, even if you are typically unuse to doing so.

First Dates Should Be in Public
This is a no-brainer, but sometimes, even the obvious needs to be said. Never agree to meet at the other person's place or to pick them up. Agree to meet in a public place. Most people find a restaurant is ideal, as it gives you both something else to concentrate on from time to time to break up the awkward moments. It also ensures that both parties are on their best behavior, while still allowing you the opportunity to see how your match behaves in a public situation. Be an astute observer during that first date, and don't drink too much (if you drink at all). The purpose of a first date is to not only see if there is a mutual attraction, but to learn more about the other person in their own words and see how they communicate their intentions non-verbally. By paying attention to all of these cues and information, you will learn a lot more about your match.

If you need to travel to another location on the date, always take your own car or transportation. Always arrange for backup transportation (e.g., a friend) if you've relied on public transportation for a meeting. Let a friend or two know that you'll be out on a date and if possible, have your cell phone with you at all times, on and charged. (If you don't own a cell phone, ask to borrow a friend's for the evening, or purchase an inexpensive pay-as-go type from your local Wal-Mart or Best Buy). You hope these are mostly unnecessary precautions, but better safe than sorry.

Be on the Lookout for Red Flags
Not everyone has similar morals or outlooks on life as you do. Some folks can do a pretty good job at hiding their true agenda, even if you've followed most of these tips. First dates (and second dates and even third dates) are for people to be on their best behavior, so you may not always see the "true self" behind the person you're sitting across from. Sometimes, though, people can't be on their good behavior for that long and signs begin to appear. Look for:

  • Avoids answering directly to questions, especially those about issues that are important to you. It's okay if people joke about their answer, but eventually they need to get around to answering the question or explain why they feel uncomfortable doing so.
  • Demeaning or disrespectful comments about you or other people. How your match treats others can be a telling sign into their future behaviors.
  • Inconsistent information about any basics, especially anything within their profile. This especially includes marital status, children, employment, where they are living, but also things such as age, appearance, education, career or the like
  • Is nothing like the way they describe themselves in their online profile.
  • Physically inappropriate or unwanted behavior (e.g., touching, kissing).
  • Pushes quickly to meet in person.
  • Avoids phone contact.

Be Sexually Responsible
Inevitably, some online dating is going to lead to a sexual relationship. This is not the time to start being coy. Know your partners' sexual background by asking direct, frank questions about the number of partners he or she has been with, whether protection was always used, how well they knew the people (was it mostly serious relationships or just one night flings?), and whether they have any known sexually transmitted diseases. Yes, it's not easy to talk about these sorts of things, but it's important to do so before your first night in bed. When in doubt, definitely use a condom.

Long-Distance Dating
If you've made the decision to date long-distance, make a note of it in your profile. Since travel is usually expensive for most people, be realistic about your ability to see the other person. Ensure you feel completely comfortable with the other person before making your first trip to see them. If possible, make all of your travel plans yourself and arrange to stay at a hotel. Get a rental car if you need to get around town with your date. Avoid making dates at your hotel's restaurant or having your match meet you at your hotel. Only after you've met and feel completely comfortable should you share such information with the other person. While some of this may seem a bit silly at first, you need to protect yourself until you are certain the other person is legitimate and you are comfortable with them.

Remember, you're the only person you have to answer to at the end of the day. If you don't feel comfortable in any particular situation, that doesn't mean you're a bad person or you're not ready for dating. It simply means that you're not comfortable with the other person in this situation. You don't need to apologize for needing to leave a date or anytime you feel you are in a threatening situation. Your safety should always be something that is on your mind throughout the entire dating process. Relax your guard when you've met the person face-to-face and feel entirely comfortable with who they are and how they relate to you and those around you.

As the old saying goes, there are plenty of fish in the sea. Don't pin all of your hopes on one person, until you're sure your feelings are returned. Keep an open mind, an open heart, and most of all, your common sense.

By the time people seek marriage counseling, they usually arrive armed with an arsenal of complaints about their partners: “She isn’t affectionate enough,” “He’s so insensitive,” “She wants to control everything,” “He doesn’t listen to me,” “She’s never on time,” “He’s so tight with money.”

Therapists’ walls echo with accusations as people point fingers at one another in an attempt to explain what they see as the source of their own discontent.

False, harsh consolation

After a litany of blame, accusation and lamentation, clients are often “consoled” by their therapists with the harsh reality that, “You need to realize that there isn’t anything you can ever do to get your partner to change. People are who they are. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, especially one that’s not interested in learning any, so you need to simply accept your spouse or else get out of the relationship.” There’s nothing you can do to change them!

But what people fail to realize, including many marriage counselors, is that we can change other people. In fact, we have the power to create dramatic and long-lasting changes in those around us. The secret lies in how we target our energy and efforts, because our capacity to change others is entirely based on our willingness to change ourselves. This is not double-talk or trickery, it’s simply the reality of relationship dynamics.

“If I create a change in my own attitude and behavior, my spouse and the marriage itself will automatically be forced to change.”

A fundamental law of relational theory is that when any part of a system changes, the entire system—meaning all other parts—will be forced to change in response. What this means in a marriage is that if I create a change in my own attitude and behavior, my spouse and the marriage itself will automatically be forced to change. This is a powerful truth to embrace but, unfortunately, most of us are so busy blaming our partners for their shortcomings that we neglect to assert our power to create the very changes we want.

When the Beatles wrote, “All you need is love à” they should have added, “and the wisdom to work through tough times, even if it means seeking professional help.” This is because counseling can be a relationship-saving resource for couples. Couples counseling is also known as marriage counseling or marriage therapy when the two people involved are married.

When Counseling Can Help

Perhaps blowups between you and your partner are occurring more regularly. Or ongoing sticky issues and irritations are causing increased tension and resentment. If you have had little success working through relationship issues, find yourselves avoiding each other, or using hostile words or actions that cause emotional or physical hurt, professional counseling may help.

Sleep or sexual problems, extreme moodiness or feelings of dissatisfaction, loneliness, sadness or failure also can be clues that something is wrong. Couples counseling can uncover the underlying issues.

There may be external factors that can add stress to your relationship, including:

  • Birth or adoption of a child
  • Step-parenting
  • Infertility
  • Chronic illness or disability
  • Substance abuse
  • Infidelity
  • Financial problems
  • Career pressures

Professional counseling can help you learn coping strategies for such periods of transition or stress.

Finding a Therapist

Your local mental health association, family doctor, clergy or friends are good referral sources. Look for someone whose education and training best fits your needs and situation. For example, a gay couple may benefit from a counselor experienced in dealing with gay/lesbian issues. Make sure your chosen therapist is licensed by the state or accredited by a professional organization.

What to Expect from Therapy

Most couples meet with their therapist once a week for about an hour each session. Generally, therapy lasts for about 12 to 20 sessions. During the first session, the therapist will review the therapeutic process, confidentiality and cost. She will become acquainted with you and your partner and the problems that brought you to counseling. She will ask many questions to understand your lives and relationship as best as possible. Both you and your partner should feel comfortable talking with your counselor.

Couples counseling is different than family therapy or individual psychotherapy. In family therapy, the focus is on helping the family figure out the large problems within the entire family (including children), and helping them to find fixes (such as improving communication). In individual psychotherapy, the focus is on a single person. While that person may talk about their relationships in session, the relationships are not usually the primary focus of the counseling.

The Couples Counseling Process

For the first several sessions, the therapist will attempt to evaluate your relationship. She will try to figure out:

  • What keeps you together
  • What stresses your relationship
  • The nature of your conflicts
  • Behavioral and communication patterns
  • Your strengths and weaknesses
  • The power structure
  • What qualities are missing or dysfunctional in your relationship

She also will study you as individuals.

Together, the two of you and your therapist will set realistic goals, which could be anything from learning how to be empathetic to figuring out new ways to negotiate problems to deciding how to share household and parental responsibilities. Your counselor will use a variety of therapeutic techniques until your goals are met or until you reach a point where either you or the therapist wants to terminate treatment.

Responsibility of the Couple

Ideally, both you and your partner will seek professional help together. But, therapy can have positive outcomes even if only one of you is willing to attend. Most important, however, is your willingness to be honest and to make changes. Although your therapist can provide direction, you are responsible for acting on such guidance. By doing so, you will enjoy improved interaction and renewed enthusiasm for your relationship.

What to keep in mind when things heat up at the watercooler.

One of my best friends is a social worker at a community mental health center. She took the position immediately out of college, viewing it as a natural step in the development of her career.

Within the first month, she found herself working closely with a handsome speech pathologist who treated a number of her clients. Now, many case meetings and treatment-plan reviews later, they’re engaged.

Bet you’re not surprised—or shocked. Most people crave social interaction and companionship. What better place to find it than on the job? After all, office life is hospitable to the development of romance on many fronts. Daily interaction, a safe and generally dependable environment and common interests are all conditions that can ignite an initial spark between two people.

Casual interactions, from laughter over a cup of coffee or heated discussions in the conference room to mutual schmoozing at a trade show, can naturally evolve into attraction. However, reconciling the personal and professional benefits and the perils of an office affair is a formidable task.

Dating a coworker may seem an ideal solution for those who just don’t have the time to meet a potential partner. Unlike the sometimes uncomfortable surroundings of a bar or nightclub, the office usually permits romance to blossom gradually and within an atmosphere of trust and respect.

Moreover, mates who are on the same career path usually find it easier to understand one another’s needs and to empathize with the demands that the job entails—an appealing benefit in any relationship.

And an unspoken truth about office romance, be it short-lived or long-term, is that it usually provides the kind of excitement that many of us crave. Sure, flirtation is fun. And the forbidden nature of a workplace relationship adds drama to the grind of our daily lives.

Whenever someone asks me how I met my wife, I proudly say, "Online!" But of course, I think to myself... Where else would one meet up with one's significant other nowadays?

Actually, my attitude is probably not the norm in society. At least not yet. But before long, it wouldn't surprise me to find that online dating has surpassed other forms of meeting one's significant other. Why? Because it is more efficient, produces better matches (and dates!), and allows love to bloom when the silly things (such as actually having something in common) are already taken care of ahead of time.

More Efficient

Using online dating services are far more efficient than other methods of dating. Getting set up by friends or family is purely a hit-or-miss proposition. While well-intentioned, friends and family often don't really know us half as well as they think they do. We don't often share all of the intimate details of our lives, our likes, dislikes, hopes, and dreams for the future with everyone. So people can get somewhat biased ideas of what we're like, because they only see what we're like with them.

Office romances, while convenient, are often fraught with possible problems, danger, and role conflicts. Meeting people randomly at bars or in bookstores or other interests such as hobbies is pure chance. While appealing to our romantic, impulsive side, you're better off throwing darts at random names within a phone book. There's nothing efficient or really, fun, about spending countless hours drinking in a bar looking for supposed "Mr. Right." Chances are he left with the woman just before you.

Better Matches (and Dates!)

Online dating allows you to get to know the person you may want to date long before you ever actually have to date them! How cool is that? Most people communicate a great deal by email or IM first, before talking on the phone. You've spent time reading their online profile, which includes not only their likes and dislikes, but hopes, dreams, reading and movie preferences, hobbies, shoe size, and in some cases, annual income. While these things vary in importance, they provide a fairly accurate snapshot of a person (or at least as much as they want you to know).

There's been a great deal of research to show that couples who are more compatible are more likely to remain committed in a relationship to one another. Lack of compatibility often comes from lack of knowledge and knowing one's partner as honestly and truly as one believes. Online dating gives you the chance to slow things down a bit and really get to know the person you're dating, again, sometimes long before you've ever gone on that first face-to-face date. That's a good thing, because it means you're more likely to find compatibility that works for you online.

Allowing Love to Bloom

Too many times, people get so caught up in the dating world and the need to date that they lose sight of love and finding happiness. It becomes as much a chore as it is something to do for Saturday nights. Going to a bar week after week or being constantly set up on a blind date is more like a recurring nightmare for most people than it is a joy or something to look forward to.

Online dating puts the hassle, stress and pressure of dating on the back burner. You take your time and go at your own pace, because there will always be hundreds of possible partners for you in the huge online databases that exist. New people are always signing up! There's no need to hurry because there will always be people who are compatible with you and your needs available. It's just a matter of finding them.

Once you start dating people through an online dating site, you already know a lot about the person when you go on your first date. That doesn't mean everything will always go smoothly, or that every date is going to be one with Ms. Right. But it does mean that you can relax your guard a little and stop worrying about providing and getting information from the other, or discover that every hobby or interest you like, he abhors. Instead, you're starting out on common ground with a lot to talk about and a lot to enjoy.

With so much less pressure on each date, online dating allows love to take root and more fully bloom far more easily than other methods.

Online dating may still seem a bit odd to some people, but then again, those folks have discovered the secret of it. You have, or are considering it, and for that, you're already a step ahead of many others. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride

10 Secrets Happy Couples

They might be 30, or 75. They come in all colors, shapes, sizes and income brackets. It doesn’t matter how long they’ve been together. Whatever the demographics, when you see a happy couple, you just know it!

How do these couples stay in love, in good times and in bad? Fortunately, the answer isn’t through luck or chance. As a result of hard work and commitment, they figure out the importance of the following relationship “musts.” Because few couples know about all of the musts, I think of them as the relationship “secrets.”

Happy Couples and Their Secrets

1. Develop a realistic view of committed relationships.

Recognize that the crazy infatuation you experienced when your romance was new won’t last. A deeper, richer relationship, and one that should still include romance, will replace it. A long-term relationship has ups and downs, and expecting it will be all sunny and roses all the time is unrealistic.

2. Work on the relationship.

An untended garden develops weeds that can ultimately kill even the heartiest plants. And so it is with relationships. It is important to address problems and misunderstandings immediately. Some people believe good relationships just happen naturally. The truth is that a good relationship, like anything you want to succeed in life, must be worked on and tended to on a regular basis. Neglect the relationship, and it will often go downhill.

3. Spend time together.

There is no substitute for shared quality time. When you make a point of being together, without kids, pets and other interruptions, you will form a bond that will get you through life’s rough spots. Time spent together should be doing a shared activity, not just watching television.

4. Make room for “separateness.”

Perhaps going against conventional wisdom, spending time apart is also an important component of a happy relationship. It is healthy to have some separate interests and activities and to come back to the relationship refreshed and ready to share your experiences. Missing your partner helps remind you how important he or she is to you.

5. Make the most of your differences.

Stop and think: What most attracted you to your partner at the beginning? I’ll almost guarantee that it was exactly the thing that drives you most insane today. Take a fresh look at these differences. Try to focus on their positive aspects and find an appreciation for those exact things that make the two of you different from one another. It’s likely that your differences balance one another out and make you a great team.

6. Don’t expect your partner to change; but at the same time give them more of what they want.

If both you and your partner stop trying to change each other, you will eliminate the source of most of your arguments. At the same time, each of you should focus on giving one another more of what you know the other person wants, even if it doesn’t come naturally. For instance, instead of complaining how your partner never cleans out the dishwasher, try just doing it yourself once in awhile without complaint. Your partner will likely notice your effort and make more of an effort themselves around the house. If you do both of these things at once you’ve got a winning plan!

7. Accept that some problems can’t be solved.

There may be issues upon which you cannot agree. Rather than expending wasted energy, agree to disagree, and attempt to compromise or to work around the issue. Two people cannot spend years together without having legitimate areas of disagreement. The test of a happy relationship is how they choose to work through such issues — through compromise, change, or finding it’s just not that important to stew over.

8. Communicate!

Lack of communication is the number one reason even good relationships fail. And here is a useful format for doing so, especially when dealing with incendiary topics: Listen to your partner’s position, without interrupting him or her. Just listen. When he or she is finished, summarize what you heard him or her say. If you can, empathize with your significant other even though you don’t agree. This will take your partner off of the defensive, and make it easier for them to hear your thoughts and feelings. It’s hard to argue when you use this format, and best of all, you may come up with an understanding or a solution.

9. Honesty is essential.

You may share with your partner the things he or she doesn’t want to hear. Better this than to have him or her doubt your honesty. Mistrust is one of the key deal breakers in relationships. And once trust is lost or broken, it can take a very long time to re-establish it in the relationship.The happiest couples are the ones where honesty is as natural and every day as breathing.

10. Respect your partner, and don’t take him or her for granted.

Treating your sweetheart with respect is likely to get you the same in return. And regularly reminding them how much they mean to you will enrich your relationship in indescribable ways. When you say, “I love you,” pause for a moment to really mean it. And don’t be afraid to express your feelings of appreciation with your partner — he or she will be thankful that you did.

Making these secrets an integral part of your relationship won’t be easy. In fact, your efforts may initially seem like planted seeds that never come up. If you maintain your efforts, however, you will likely reap what you sow.

Is your marriage alive and well, or is it time to dial 911? Chances are the health of your relationship falls somewhere in the middle — slightly out of shape and tired. Unfortunately most of us tend to take the health of a marriage for granted. And we don’t realize how important a happy, healthy relationship is until it’s time for marital CPR.

Maintaining personal health requires work — exercise, good nutrition, rest and regular checkups. No one teaches us that the same kind of maintenance is also necessary in order to keep a marriage alive. Love between a parent and child is unconditional. Love between a husband and wife is not. As divorce statistics would indicate, an untended marriage falls apart too easily. The good news is that there are ways to make a marriage survive, and better yet, thrive.

Your Marital Diagnosis

There are warning signs or “symptoms” when your marriage is “under the weather.” Here are some key symptoms:

  • feelings of chronic resentment toward your spouse
  • lack of laughter between the two of you
  • desire to spend free time with someone other than your mate
  • too much time spent playing the “blame game”
  • conversations between you are laced with bitterness and sarcasm

Relationship Revival Program

Do any of these symptoms sound familiar? If so, it’s time to revive your marriage by following this program.

  • Make the marriage your priority, not an afterthought. Set aside regular time to be alone with your partner. If kids are in the picture, hunt for a “network” of trusted babysitters. If money is a concern, compare the cost of a night out with that of marital therapy or a divorce attorney! Get the drift? Start doing some of the things that used to bring you joy, and helped you to feel more connected. There are plenty of activities that you can do for free — a long walk, star gazing or window-shopping are all simple pleasures that can bring you closer together.
  • Resuscitate your romance. Remember how the sparks flew when you first met? It’s probably not too late to rekindle the embers. Surprise your spouse with a homemade Valentine (any day of the year!) and a bottle of champagne. Light up the bedroom with candles, or put a love note in his briefcase. Last but not least, initiate lovemaking. Passion is the glue in a marriage — it helps you feel close to your mate, and makes getting through rough times a lot easier.
  • Accept what you can’t change. Much marital strife is caused by the belief that you cannot be happy in your marriage as long as you must live with your partner’s bad habits or imperfections. Have you noticed that no matter how much you gripe and moan, these things don’t change? Rather than trying to control what you can’t, work around his quirks and focus on the positive. We all respond much better to praise than to criticism. And here’s the paradox: Sometimes when we stop fighting the way things are, they actually do change. No guarantees, but it’s worth a try.
  • Be attractive, inside and out. “Married” doesn’t have to mean complacent. Continue to learn and experience new things, and share these with your partner. Eat right, exercise, rest and make the most of your appearance. Doing these things is taking good care of yourself, but it’s also a way of showing your mate that you want to be your best and share yourself with him.
  • Improve communication and negotiation skills. Being a good listener is key to healthy communication. Even if you don’t agree with what he’s had to say, empathize with his position. This will open the door to more effective conflict resolution. If you must be critical, convert criticism into a request for behavioral change by stating it positively. Most important, apologize when you are wrong.

There are no marriages made in heaven. But by devoting time and energy to reviving your marriage, you’ll once again feel your relationship pulse beating strong and steady.

It’s not long ago that men were expected to do all the chasing and make all the decisions when it comes to dating. But how much has this changed in the 21st century?

A survey by DatingDirect.com suggests a new trend — women are becoming sassy and assertive, while men are remaining more traditional in their approach to courtship.

In the survey of over 2,000 people, women reported being less shy on dates than men (29 per cent versus 44 per cent), and making more effort with their appearance — half choose smart, sexy clothes on a first date, whereas 78 per cent of men go for the casual and relaxed look. Women also like to keep the finances on an equal footing. Seventy per cent prefer to split the expense of a date, or pay for themselves. However, 52 per cent of men believe it’s their time honoured duty to pay.

Darren Richards of DatingDirect.com concludes: “The rules of dating may be changing for some, but the concept is still as popular as ever.”

But what might be stopping you from taking the first step? Sometimes even very intelligent, funny, confident women don’t ask guys out because they believe that “it’s the man’s role”, or they fear rejection, scaring men off, or appearing too keen. But there is a whole generation of men who want women to make the first move, and feel that women should embrace the power and independence they now have. And in fact, some guys are just too shy, or don’t know what to say, or think that you won’t be interested.

But perhaps your lifestyle doesn’t bring you into contact with potential new partners. So consider widening your social circle — take up a new class, try out new clubs, get involved in political or volunteer activities. Also, don’t discount your current social network, because often friends, family and work colleagues are more than willing to help and will set up introductions if asked.

Other possible avenues include personal ads in newspapers and more specialized dating services to cater for your specific hobbies or preferences, guaranteeing that you share at least one common interest.

These days, the internet is increasingly used by modern singles to search for a compatible date. So join in discussion groups, forums and chat groups and put your dating skills into action. And in the arena of internet dating, women can be as forward as they like and either side can make the first move. Men report that they are perfectly happy to be approached by women and their supposed “male pride” isn’t hurt at all — quite the contrary!

In many ways, online dating is the ideal way to meet someone suitable, as you can quickly get to know a great deal about a person at no risk to yourself. It’s no small thing to be aware of the other person’s outlook on life, religion, sense of humor etc. before meeting up in person. Chatting in a safe environment encourages honesty and therefore compatibility, so may prevent a wide range of problems occurring further down the line.

Internet dating also avoids the potential problems of dating work colleagues or other people you will inevitable continue to see socially, and it puts you in control of your future without even leaving your front door!

Experts recommend getting to know the other person well via email or over the phone before actually going on a date. The more you know about each other, the easier the conversation will flow. They also suggest remaining anonymous until you feel confident enough to share your contact details (the dating service will have its own internal messaging system). And don’t cast your net too wide geographically or you’ll run up against practical difficulties later.

When setting up a first date, choose a public place such as a restaurant, cinema or museum. If you’re concerned about seeming too ‘forward’, you could invite the guy to something you are going to anyway, like a concert, so it’s like you are asking them to come along.

Tell a trusted friend your plans and arrange your own transport. Then it’s a case of picking up on the cues to your compatibility, so trust your instincts and don’t drink too much. Remember there will always be other dates so there’s no need to settle for second best.

If the date goes well, don’t wait for the guy to call you – let them know you had a good time. This doesn’t have to be a plea to see them again right away. It’s simply a courtesy. If your date had an enjoyable time too, it will be icing on the cake!
Too often, life is a case of “what ifs” and maybes, so if you really like someone, then you have to do something about it. Ultimately, what is there to lose? A bit of pride that can be replaced with a cheap bottle of wine. The answer is easy — take the initiative. You have nothing to gain by waiting, and if it doesn’t work out then you’ll know they weren’t right for you, with no regrets.

Michael and Gwen enter the counselor’s office and nervously take their seats. Michael fidgets and stares at the floor while Gwen sits upright, looks toward the therapist and utters the words that marriage counselors hear so frequently, they can almost say them in unison, “Doctor, we’re not like most of the couples you see… we don’t have any really serious problems; he doesn’t drink or beat me or chase other women—nothing like that. Our problem is that we just don’t communicate.”

“We just don’t communicate.” The cry is frequent and the assumptions are clear: Communication means a better marriage; more conversation means more connection; increased interaction means increased intimacy. It all sounds logical enough—or does it?

Brace for fallout

In the past, I might have rushed in with a glut of techniques to help a couple like Michael and Gwen accomplish their stated goal of better communication. But over the years I’ve learned that working to improve marital communication is a lot like exploratory surgery: The risk of what might be exposed is fraught with peril. Couples need to brace for the potential fallout that better communication may bring before they recklessly plunge ahead with the scalpel.

Good communication involves both partners being aware of their own thoughts and feelings and expressing them in an open, clear way. When a person communicates effectively, there is congruence between their inner experience and their outward expression. However, even an increase in direct and consistent communication doesn’t insure that a relationship will improve.

Let’s take television’s Cleaver family, for example. If Ward started to be more open with June, maybe he would finally tell her that he doesn’t like her award-winning meatloaf or share the fact that he’s still upset about her quitting her job last year. He might even confess that he just lost half of their savings by making a bad investment. If June risked better communication, she might reveal her dissatisfaction with their sex life, complain about Ward’s low income or disclose the fact that his inebriated brother made a pass at her last Thanksgiving.

Partners conspire to restrict and filter their interactions because they sense the danger involved in expressing themselves more openly. Once this pact of limited communication is broken, the lid of Pandora’s box can blast open.

Finally, you have met him or her. You know what I mean, the one. All your life, or so it seems, you have been waiting for the person who made your heart pound, made the stars bright, and taken over all reasonable thought processes with ideas of making love on every beach from here to Tahiti.

You have a weird expression on your face, food suddenly seems like a mere inconvenience and sleep is just something you used to do. Your friends tease you about being in love. Your mother WARNS you about being in love.

Of course, you’re not stupid. You’ve been around (more than Mom knows about), and you have spent time in meditation/therapy having explored your own needs in the world. You want a soul mate but this guy/gal is just so sexy that it’s hard to imagine introducing him/her to your parents at all.

Going Public

So, things are going well and you are looking toward the next step, becoming an item. Going public. Everyone knows and invites you as a couple. People you know speculate about the future of your relationship. But the future means forever when it comes to commitment, so how do you know if this is really a good thing?

Are people whispering about how happy they are for you, or are they wondering if you should be committed yourself (like in a secure mental health facility)? And how about yourself? Do you feel comfortable with your newest love interest or do you just want to feel comfortable with someone? Is this the person that you want to spend your life with or are you just afraid to march into the future alone?

These very large questions deserve great considerations. The passions of new love are so entwined in our own emotional makeup, that it seems impossible to find objective considerations when proceeding along love’s thorny paths. So, for the purposes of this discussion, let us define love and infatuation so each can be thought about in a more organized manner.

Love is Forever Changing

Love as a dynamic process. For me, that means that there is a relationship that flexes, changes and grows as people mature, experience happens upon them, priorities and dreams are built and goals are met. Love brings out the best in people as individuals. The relationship between them becomes the way they define their lives. As jobs, careers, and family concerns change, people are able to work as a team to be understanding and flexible so the relationship (their lives) will flourish.

Dynamic process of love equals a sharing of emotion, trust, and growth of relationship. Growth is increasing ability of a couple to live symbiotically, enjoy each others company, trust each other with more secrets, depend on each other in more crises over the years, in raising children and taking care of aging relatives. It’s about growing old together, and long-term investments like real estate and children.

Is it Just Infatuation?

So what about infatuation? That’s when you think of someone all the time, you go out of your way to be around him/her, and you begin to center your priorities around him/her as well. There is history with this person: Maybe a short history, but maybe quite a while. You both enjoy being together. You both daydream about each other and get all crawly in your underwear. But is it love? I mean, you hate to be wrong about this kind of thing, especially if you have in mind perhaps reproducing together (or maybe if you forget to think about it just once).

Infatuation as are defining it here, is a static process characterized by an unrealistic expectation of blissful passion without positive growth and development. Characterized by a lack of trust, lack of loyalty, lack of commitment, lack of reciprocity, an infatuation is not necessarily foreplay for a love scenario. People, however, have many reasons for making commitments.

Most people are infatuated with their love partners to a certain degree. People who are in love think of their partners periodically when they are apart (some more than others). Men seem to be better, in general, in compartmentalizing their lives, thereby putting thoughts of loved ones aside until the mind is free to dwell on life. And yes, there are many exceptions and many ranges within the genders.

Knowing the Difference?

So how do you know? The question, actually is simple, the answer, however, is not easy to own or accept. And here it is: Does this relationship bring out the best in both of you?
This is the part where you get to assess and evaluate yourself and your partner, and your relationship honestly.

Though difficult, evaluating how things are going at regular intervals can help to give some direction (and re-direct misdirection) to people who are self-guided toward happiness and success. For those who are on a negative course, people who are unhappy,
confused and perhaps self-sabotaging, regular evaluation can point out some hard truths about oneself, and/or about the person you want to take the next step with.

While you try to evaluate whether or not it is the real thing, here are some things to consider:

Are you happy? That would be a yes or no. When you wake up, are you glad to be alive? Are you grateful for the blessings that you receive daily, like being alive and loved? Are you loved and treated as a person of value? Does his or her mother know about you?

Is your life on a positive track? Do you have hope for the future? Do you have dreams and work toward them all the time? Is your life better because your boy/girlfriend is in it? Really?

Are you in this relationship alone? Having someone on your arm makes life less complicated. You get a built in escort and date. Most people seem to think and feel better as part of a pair. There is a sense of social relief as well meaning family and friends stop trying to fix you up. Are you thinking and planning as a pair? Do you automatically consider both of your plans for the weekend, or merely anticipate maybe meeting up sometime? Have you postponed or given up your hopes and dreams for the relationship or have you restructured your dreams together?

Determining the Difference

The answers, and the courage to face the facts is the key to making the determination. In infatuation, your gaze, your thoughts and maybe your world revolves around someone. You have blinders on. It seems that all the world pales in comparison to this person’s looks, talents, intelligence, creativity, etc. What you might not see by keeping the blinders on, what can be serious flaws in any relationship, are the destructive traits and behaviors that degrade self esteem and cause some pretty negative effects on one’s choices and decisions.

Many have had the experience of looking back at some early romance, in middle or high school perhaps, when we were “in love” with a special teacher, or camp counselor. It can be easier to see in retrospect, what you weren’t ready to see at the time. Your thoughts of
romance were simply an innocent fantasy: An infatuation that felt like love at the time.

Aside from your age, what was it about you that made you make that mistake. Innocence? Loneliness?: A longing to grow up, maybe. But those were things going on in your head. In fact, these feelings had little to do with the actual object of your infatuation (crush). It could be that some of those same feelings and needs exist for you today. Beware of your own vulnerability, and your own desire to “get rescued” from that solitary life of the unpaired.

In time, the faults that you refuse to see will begin to come to the foreground. You may be infatuated with a rich and powerful person, but as you come to know that person on a more intimate basis, the qualities that intrigued you will begin to fade into the background.

In the case of love, your focus is on your special someone, and that someone exists in the real world. Give and take, compromise and cooperation are characteristics of love relationships. Working toward common goals, sharing dreams and values define the dynamics of a good love relationship. People know each other on a separate and private level than the world at large.

Bringing it Into Reality

Infatuation can even be thought of as love with only 2 dimensions. With love, that third dimension is reality. So, it is actually your ability to tell what is real in a relationship, versus what is imagined. You love being part of a couple, but is this the person you want to be in a couple with?

Look at the reality of who this person is, not who she/he wants to be. Do you always interact over dinner and drinks? Meet under different circumstances. Become part of each other’s lives. If that is not happening, why not? Are you spending and enjoying time together? What happens when you’re apart? Are you sure?

Trying to differentiate your love interest from your lust interest is requires a level head and the courage to face the unpleasant. It also requires maturity and the ability to take a step back and survey the big picture. The result is more control and confidence as you stride your way in love’s direction.

About the Author: Michelle Drew is the pseudonym for J. Michelle Davis, a psychologist, educator and advocate with 30 years of experience in various social service and educational agencies in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New York. She holds a M. Ed. in Counseling Psychology from Cambridge College and a B.A. in developmental psychology from the University of Rochester.

Not to be sidelined by an accident induced disability in 1999, Michelle has continued to provide insightful advice, information and resources in her on line advice column, Soft Shoulder Advice. Please visit her website at www.softshoulderadvice.com for more advice, motivations and resources.