Avoiding Certain Places Like the Plague

You may be sorely tempted to go scouting for a date at the office, at a bar, or online at work, but don't. Trust me.

1 The office: I know, you think, "Well, it's nonthreatening and familiar." Yeah, and everybody will know about it, and one of you will very likely get fired. Work is about competence, and anything that interferes with that is poison. Most of us succumb to the M*A*S*H philosophy of life, based on the popular TV series, but think about it this way: Want to lose your job and your love at the same time? Dating someone from the office confuses your work life with your love life and makes you a likely target of office gossip.

You may be tempted to date friends, sibs, or exes of people you work with, but doing so is still not a good idea, so don't, at least unless you plan to change jobs — voluntarily.

1 Bars: "What can she possibly be thinking here?" you may wonder. How about it's dark, almost everybody has been ingesting substances that alter perception, and who needs a relationship based on blurred sensibilities? Plus bars are too noisy to talk in, and you can't see what the person looks like. If nothing else, how do you answer, "Come here often?"

1 Online: Even though I'm a fan of online dating, there are four caveats here: 1) Never use the office computer — it's not private, it's not smart, and you could get both busted and fired. 2) Don't spend too long online before you actually meet in a safe, controlled environment. 3) Because it's so easy and private, the resultant false sense of intimacy can allow you to divulge too much too soon. 4) The accessibility gives rise to a "shopping" mentality — "I'll just keep looking; I wonder who else might be out there. . . ."

Online is primarily about fantasy. It's the illusion of intimacy while still being at arm's length. When you do meet face to face, there is all that expectation. Even with a blind date, you know that you don't know. It's okay to chat, but online is the ultimate long-distance relationship. You'll think you know much more than you really know, and that's really tricky. So get off-line quickly.

1 Singles dances: The air of desperation is palpable, but if you can go and have fun, you'll probably do okay, because you'll stand out as the only person really having a good time.

1 Singles weekends: These weekends mean too much stress and expectations that are too high. You're better off spending the same money and taking a cruise; at least that way you can feel your money is well spent even if you don't fall in love.

Singles activities are designed to pair you off, but you may have nothing in common but desperation or loneliness, which won't work and doesn't make you look anything but pathetic. If you're going to adopt this approach, at least build up some experience and confidence by doing some of the preferred activities included in the earlier sections.

The breakfast of ex-companions

A guy I dated, but with whom I felt no chemistry, and I hosted a series of brunches with all of our "rejects." Not only were they fun and low-key, but both he and six other couples found each other and actually ended up married. Exes have a history in common with you; there's a common link, so it's not strangers meeting (you can both talk about old Joey); and brunch is a pretty non-threatening meal.

Of course, you don't have to have a brunch. You can organize singles parties at a Chinese restaurant, a progressive supper (one that travels from house to house), or a picnic in the park. The ticket of admission is a covered dish and a same-sex friend who you think is quality material but who doesn't make your heart beat fast. Just make sure you have the same number of men and women.

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