In her new book, How to Not Die Alone, Harvard-trained behavioral scientist turned dating coach and Hinge’s Director of Relationship Science Logan Ury helps readers find and keep the relationship of their dreams by making better decisions along the way. Unfollow your ex and follow Logan.
This Is a Date, Not a Job Interview
Imagine yourself in the following situation: You enter the room apprehensively, worried what your evaluator will think of you. You’re dressed nicely but a bit uncomfortably. You hope you’re not sweating. (Damn it. You’re definitely sweating. Back of the knees and underarms.)
You walk over to the table, put your bag down on the floor, shake hands, and slide into the seat across from them.
Would you like something to drink?
You mumble something about iced tea, no sugar. (Was that a test? What does iced tea say about me?)
The iced tea arrives.
The interview begins.
Where did you go to school?
What did you study? Why?
What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken?
What’s your five-year plan?
The evaluator invites you to ask her some questions.
Within forty-five minutes, the evaluation is over.
You stand up. You shake hands. You put on a friendly smile. I look forward to speaking again soon! You leave.
So tell me: Was this a date or a job interview? Instead of imagining it in a conference room, what if it’s at a wine bar? The setting might change, but the vibe is basically the same.
As a behavioral scientist-turned dating coach, the Director of Relationship Science at the dating app Hinge, and the author of How to Not Die Alone: The Surprising Science That Will Help You Find Love, I know many people are desperate to find love. But they’re also busy with other commitments. This has led many to somehow drain all the flirtation and fun out of the experience of dating. Instead, they tend to engage in what I describe above — evaluative dating (or “evaludating,” if you want to be cute about it).
And evaluative dating isn’t merely unpleasant; it’s also a terribly inefficient way to find a long-term partner. Instead, try shifting your dating mindset from evaluative to experiential. From reviewing résumé qualities and asking, Is this person good enough for me? Do we have enough in common? to getting out of your own head and into the moment; to asking yourself, How do I feel with this person?. To paying attention to what unfolds when you’re together. To dating with an attitude of curiosity. To allowing yourself to be surprised.
Five Steps to Designing Better Dates
Here’s how to design better dates — dates that don’t feel like job interviews. Let’s make dating fun again:
1. Shift your mindset with a pre-date ritual. Research shows that your mindset doesn’t just set the mood for your date — it can also determine the outcome. Whether you believe the date will go well or poorly, you are right. You’re self-sabotaging if your pre-date mantra sounds something like: “Obviously, this isn’t going to work. It hasn’t worked the last hundred dates.” Instead, shift your mindset to expect great dates by designing a pre-date ritual. This is something you’ll do before every date to get you in the right headspace.
Here are some pre-date rituals from my clients:
- “I always plan ahead. I turn off my work notifications. I try to block off at least thirty minutes before starting my date. I usually call one of my closest friends, someone who makes me feel confident and loved.”
- “I like to listen to comedy before a date. My favorite podcast is called Good One. On every episode, comedians share one of their all-time favorite jokes and then analyze it with the host. It makes me laugh and puts me in a good mood.”
- “I do jumping jacks to get my heart pumping. It releases endorphins and puts me in a good mood.”
- “I feel so unsexy when I leave work. Baths before a date work wonders. I use a bubble bath with a great smell. I’ve found scent is a powerful aphrodisiac. Then I apply lotion to my body. It helps me turn my work brain off and turn myself on!”
2. Choose the time and place of the date thoughtfully. Time and place matter. When do you tend to feel most relaxed and like yourself? Plan your dates in those time slots. No seven a.m. dates, please. And stop going on dates in well-lit coffee bars. If you’re thinking: If this date sucks, at least I got some caffeine out of it, don’t. You don’t want your dates to feel like a networking meeting. Choose something sexier, like a candlelit wine bar.
3. Be interested, not interesting. A lot of people think they need to perform on a first date. But good dates are about connecting with another person, not showing off. Instead of trying to be interesting, make the person feel interesting. That means learning how to be a good listener. You can become a better listener by learning to give support responses rather than shift responses. Sociologist Charles Derber identified a shift response as a moment in which you shift the focus of the conversation back to yourself. A support response, on the other hand, encourages the speaker to continue the story. For example, if your date says, “I’m going to Lake Michigan with my family in a few weeks,” a shift response would be: “Oh, I went there a few summers ago.” Even though, on the surface, you’re engaging with what your date has said, you’ve drawn the attention back to yourself. A support response might sound like “Have you been there before?” or “How did your family choose that location?” Support responses indicate that you’re invested in their story and want to hear more. They make your date feel appreciated and amplify the connection between the two of you.
4. End on a high note. In a famous experiment, behavioral economists including Daniel Kahneman compared the experiences of patients undergoing a colonoscopy. (Don’t worry, these were all people who needed this exam, not just psych experiment volunteers.) Some patients endured thirty minutes of unpleasantness, while others experienced thirty minutes of unpleasantness with an additional five minutes of slightly less discomfort tacked onto the end. Perhaps counterintuitively, people preferred the latter experience, even though the whole thing lasted longer. That’s because of a phenomenon called the peak-end rule: When assessing an experience, people judge it based largely on how they felt at the most intense moment and at the end. Their memory isn’t an average of their minute-by-minute experiences.
So order dessert at the end of the meal. Give the other person a meaningful compliment before you head your separate ways. Take advantage of the peak-end rule.
5. Use the Post-Date Eight to shift to the experiential mindset. Many of my clients have a long checklist of criteria for their potential partners. After their dates, all they can see are the ways people fell short when stacked up against their ideal. That “Do they check all the boxes?” mentality is yet another example of evaluative dating. Checklists aren’t inherently bad, but most people’s lists focus on the wrong things — like someone’s résumé qualities. I designed a different kind of checklist: one that helps my clients shift from an evaluative to an experiential mindset. Instead of determining if a potential match met a particular requirement, they’re able, with this list, to tune in to how they felt about their dates. It encourages them to be present and to focus on what really matters.
I urge you to answer these questions after each date:
The Post-Date Eight
1. What side of me did they bring out?
2. How did my body feel during the date? Stiff, relaxed, or something in between?
3. Do I feel more energized or de-energized than I did before the date?
4. Is there something about them I’m curious about?
5. Did they make me laugh?
6. Did I feel heard?
7. Did I feel attractive in their presence?
8. Did I feel captivated, bored, or something in between?