Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Science - Because It’s Fun (and could get you date!)

Ok, I’ve pontificated from my computer about making sure you’re hitting the gym, ironing your shirt, going out with an open mind, smiling (extra emphasis on this), networking, not telling your date about how late you were out drinking the night before (or discussing your partying habits in general) …

Some of the pointers above may seem obvious (though, I have seen far too often they are surprisingly not followed) so I thought I would share some not-so-obvious information that may give the resourceful single a little extra ammunition in his or her search for the “One” (after all, it’s a jungle out there).

This week’s blog brings fun facts from a field of research that most everyone finds fascinating (gotta love alliteration) and which is constantly evolving: the science and psychology of attraction. Indeed, the more you learn about what makes people attracted to one another, the more you realize that there are an abundance of factors at play, the majority of which we are barely cognizant … Considering the business I'm in, I make it a point to stay current with everything that's out there on this topic, and I thought it might be fun to share some highlights with my loyal SAN readers. Next week, we’ll go back to the pressing questions of singledom, but for this week how about some helpful tips which also make for some good cocktail party trivia?

For starters, did you know that something as basic as the color we are wearing can make a person more attracted to us. For example, when men see a picture of a woman surrounded by, or wearing, red, they're more likely to want to (1) ask her on a date, (2) spend more money on the date and (3) have sex with her?[1] (if I start seeing a lot more red scarves, skirts and tops around town, I guess I know my readership is increasing!). Another interesting one - spicy floral fragrances can make women appear on average 10-12 pounds slimmer.[2] Talk about the next fad diet!

Also, an interesting piece of information for the single women out there – men find women’s voices sexier when they’re ovulating.[3] A small incentive to schedule your dates strategically?? In fact (not surprisingly) men find a lot of women’s physical traits sexier when women are ovulating. Consider pupil size. In one study where men were shown pictures of women that were identical in every way except the women’s pupil size, the men overwhelmingly found the women to be prettier and more feminine in the pictures where the women’s pupils were larger (in case you didn’t know, women’s pupils dilate widest around ovulation).[4]

For the guys, there’s plenty of science to help out there too. Did you know that research has found that the release of adrenaline enhances feelings of attraction? Therefore, if you plan a date that has an element of excitement or danger to it, you can increase your chances of securing a round two. Meeting for a midnight picnic in Central Park might be overdoing it, but whitewater rafting or bungy jumping could do the trick. Ok, I know, we’re in Manhattan – how about ice skating?

Another helpful tidbit for the guys … you can also get some serious mileage from a favorably disposed wing woman. In one study, researchers gauged the impact of an attractive female’s approval on how other women perceive men’s attractiveness and the results were fascinating. A quick recap of the study: researchers showed women photos of two men side by side and asked them to rate their attractiveness. They then showed the women one of the men’s photos again but with a twist – on the second go around they showed the man talking with an attractive woman. In half the photos the woman wore a smiling, engaged expression and in the other half, she wore an unsmiling, or neutral expression. I’m sure my intelligent readers can guess that the men were found to be more attractive in the photos where the women were smiling at them, but would you have expected that the female judges rated them at least 15 percent higher? And if they were the recipient of the sullen look – a downgrade of 10 percent on average.[5]

This study makes me think of a good friend who, when he sees a woman of interest at a bar, gives me a nudge and asks me to focus on talking to him for a minute. I always end up smiling and engaged not only because he is a friend, but because he is incredibly funny. Pretty intuitive of my friend for a finance guy (sorry about the shot, finance guys, I know you are all not like that!).

There is so much information out there on this topic, I could write a 100 blogs on it – uh oh, I guess I should have titled this Science: Part 1. If you want more on this topic, speak up (how is that as a transparent ploy to get more comments posted? Shameless, I know…)

[1] Approximately a year ago, Regina Nuzzo wrote a great article for the LA Times which provides fun tips for using the science of attraction to maximize the chances of meeting your soul mate during the holiday party season. No reason not to apply these tips to socializing year round! See http://www.latimes.com/features/health/la-he-mating82008dec08,0,1461407.story?page=1

[2] Andrew Trees, Decoding Love: Why It Takes Twelve Frogs to Find a Prince and Other Revelations from the Science of Attraction (New York: Penguin Group ( USA ) Inc., 2009). Simply put, this a great book. It’s not a “how to” dating guide but a serious, scholarly evaluation of research that shines a whole new light on dating and the search for a mate.

[3] The Discovery Channel has a short video on this called “Voice on Estrogen” which really illustrates this tidbit of scientific information nicely. See http://dsc.discovery.com/videos/science-of-sex-appeal-ovulating-voices.html. If you have a few moments, watch a few of the other videos on The Science of Sex - I also liked the video titled “Dating and Mating Pool” and the related “Out of Your League” video, as well as the one called “Unsexy Scents” which deals with the issue of how sense of smell helps humans pick the best partners, genetically speaking. Amazing stuff.

[4] Jena Pincott, Do Gentlemen Really Prefer Blondes, Bodies, Behavior and Brains ~ The Science Behind Sex, Love & Attraction (New York: Delacorte Press, 2008). This book on behavior answers all the pressing questions like “what body language do women use to express interest?” (Answer: it’s in the gaze) to “why does creativity get men laid?" (I’ll let you read the book or ask me offline if you want this answer!) Over 100 such questions that will really get you thinking (and staring, and creating…)

[5] Id.

Monday, September 14, 2009

That Dreaded Question …

You’re on a wonderful date (finally!). You’re laughing and having fun. You are super attracted to your date and there’s no question that there’s chemistry. You’re even reaching over to try each other’s entrees with the familiarity of at least date 2 or 3. There’s no lull in the conversation. And then he/she asks:

“You seem so amazing, you are so much fun and, you know, of course, you’re very cute … HOW are you still single?


If you’re under 30, chances are the question rolls off your shoulder with a knowing smile, a thank you and a cheeky shrug. If you’re over 30, the arms cross and the eyes narrow a bit. You know that the question is “supposed” to be flattering but it has the inherent effect of making you feel instantly defensive. This question is supposed to be a compliment?! Rather, reading between the lines,* the question could be heard like this:

“You seem so amazing, you are so much fun and, you know, of course, you’re very cute … There must be something wrong with you if you’re seemingly so amazing and STILL single at [insert age]. What am I missing? Come on, tell me what it is so I don’t have to waste weeks trying to figure it out.”

Possible responses swirl in your head.

You could answer with the generic interview-style response: “I’m just very picky.” Aren’t we all … and I’m too detailed oriented.

Or you could offer the comical “deflect the answer” type response such as: “I’m really an ax-murder so none of my relationships have ever gotten very far.” Or “I’m just too good for you girls/guys.” ** Perhaps it will get a laugh.

Or maybe you try the “turn the tables” approach: “Well, you’re single too, so what’s wrong with YOU?!” I don’t recommend this one for obvious reasons.

Most of the time the person asking the dreaded question is in fact trying to compliment you (and figure out what could be wrong with you) but doesn’t realize that the question can make dates feel like they have to justify their single 35/40/45/etc. year old existence. When I told one of my girlfriends the topic of this week’s blog, she remarked “that question is downright rude.”

Yes, perhaps it is rude – even if it’s not intended to be. Regardless, it’s certainly not a smart question for a first date. Does anyone think they are going to get an honest answer? There are many reasons why someone as wonderful as yourself could be single at 30+, 40+. Are you going to get into the details behind such a personal issue with someone you barely know? A good response to this typically well-intentioned inquiry can be simple and straightforward: “I’ve had some wonderful relationships but none of them were right for the long run. In my opinion, marriage isn’t something to be taken lightly. I want to make sure it’s right.” A fine answer and, hopefully, this is true. Anyone who has ideas for a good response, please post them – at a minimum, we’ll all get a good laugh.

But while my dear readers (and I know you’re out there and growing - thank you!) are stopping to think of what witty answers they might offer should this question rear its ugly head on their next romantic encounter, it also does calls for a moment of true reflection.***

If you’re single and don’t want to be, why not take a few moments and really ask yourself the dreaded question: Why am I still single? (if you’re single and happy about it, feel free to clap your hands and stop reading now).

Maybe you are too picky … but maybe picky is a nice way of saying unrealistic. Maybe you’re not “getting” the same guy or girl you were “getting” five, or even two, years ago – at least not for the long run. There could be a variety of reasons for this. Maybe it’s time to face reality. If you’re a woman in your late 30s perhaps it’s time to expand the age of the guys you’ll consider dating – there are a whole lot of good guys out there who may surpass the 4 to 5 year cap you’ve arbitrarily placed. It may also be time to really ask yourself why it’s so important that the guy towers over you? Yes, tall is preferred (sorry short guys, it’s true). But there are a lot of women married to tall men who would give anything to be with their friend’s short, but caring, kind and considerate husband. And if you’re a guy who has “dated” “hot chicks” but has actually never had more than a one night stand with one, maybe it’s time to ask why you keep going for the model types? Are you really looking for a partner or for validation?

Maybe it’s time to take stock of your dating life. Is it possible you’re doing something wrong or something that is sabotaging your chances of meeting the person who is right for you? Yes, time for a small plug for my business. I give my clients feedback (often straight from the person that they have been introduced to) that friends and family are simply not going to tell them. Tough love with a gentle hand. Recently, I spoke with a guy who had expressed an interest in becoming a client. He explained to me that he wanted to hold off on joining as he had recently been on “a million dates” and that he had a "million more" in the pipeline. I thought, if I were going on dozens and dozens of dates and none of them yielded a match I would consider that a bad thing – clearly something is not working, shouldn’t it be time to find out? Unless you’re dating for the hell of it, which I know this particular guy is not.

For all the people reading this thinking, “well, my answer is simple – I just don’t want to settle” - try a little exercise. Think of your best single girl or guy friend. If someone were to ask you why “Jane” or “Joe” is still single, I imagine you probably could offer a very informed opinion. And something tells me it wouldn’t be simply that Jane and Joe just don’t want to settle (though, most likely that would be their answer). Now what if someone asked Jane or Joe about you …

*Yes, it’s been a while since we had fun researching expressions just for the heck of it. This particular phrase comes from the days of military letters and writing, which were often written in a coded form. According to The Phrase Finder, this phrase “derives from a simple form of cryptography, in which a hidden meaning was conveyed by secreting it between lines of text. It originated in the mid 19th century and soon became used to refer to the deciphering of any coded or unclear form of communication, whether written or not.” Ok, this one’s not that surprising …

**Both of these are used by male friends of mine. I add this to ensure my female readers that men get asked this question just like the women do.

***This weekend starts the Jewish high holidays. I love this time of year because it ushers in a week of reflection. Even if you don't observe these holidays, there’s nothing stopping you from asking yourself some soul searching questions. Summer’s over and it is a new season, after all.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Mission Impossible?

Summer is over … such a sad sentiment. What other season yields so much social merriment for single scenesters? (now say “Sally sells seashells on the seashore” six times fast …) Weekend calendars filled with pool parties, bonfires at the beach, and cocktails by the water. All of those opportunities rife with the potential to meet that special someone but, for many, their most faithful companion this summer was the aspirin bottle on the nightstand. Now that the Fall is upon us, countless wonderful opportunities will arise with the potential for these lesser-tanned hopefuls to meet that elusive Mr. or Mrs. Right.

Unfortunately, many of these upcoming opportunities will be squandered by those who are the most anxious to meet the love of their lives. We all know them. Guys and girls who go out on the town on a “mission” – not a mission to simply have fun with their friends, or to make new friends, or to do something new and exciting – but a sole mission to meet that person. They primp, they strategize and then head out with a dogged determination that would make secret agent Ethan Hunt proud.

Yet, too many times these focused and fixated singles fail in their mission, returning home date and digit-less. What these secret agents often don’t realize is that the mission they’re on doesn’t necessarily get accomplished in one covert outing. There are many ways to accomplish the goal of meeting someone with whom you could potentially hit it off – just one of them being the direct go out, meet someone that night, talk to him or her, exchange numbers, go on a date and live happily ever after way. Another way is to lay the foundation for the mission and network (uh oh, the dating/job search analogy is resurfacing…).

Let me elaborate. As many of my readers are aware, I throw social events once a month. These events draw a great, sociable crowd and people meet and connect at my parties. On one occasion, however, I observed a woman who determined right away that there weren’t any guys there for her, so she lost interest in the event and the people at it. She exuded negative body language, crossed her arms, and sent out a vibe that made her seem totally unapproachable. Of course, her attitude kept many great guys away and her mindset became a self-fulfilling prophesy. Now, if this woman (let’s call her “Jane”) had gone into the event with the attitude that it was a great way to meet new, interesting people – even make some new girlfriends who might know someone who is perfect for her – there’s no doubt she would have had a totally different experience even if “her guy” wasn’t there.

In fact, if Jane would just focus on having fun and enjoying the conversation of a quality guy when she goes out (even though she isn’t hearing wedding bells in the background), perhaps the guys she’s talking to will think “wow, Jane is a cool girl” and invite Jane to his friend’s party the following week.* Instead, as Jane is looking over his shoulder, completely disengaged, the guy is likely thinking Jane sucks. No invite. Simple as that.

In the past few weeks, I had two fantastic guy friends recount stories to me of women who were so focused on their immediate mission to meet the “One,” that they lost sight of the fact that every outing is an opportunity to meet someone who knows the person you want to know. Both guys were apparently at intimate gatherings where they met women who simply didn’t want to give them the time of day until they heard something about who my guy friends knew that sparked their interest. In one instance, my friend was ignored for most of the night by a particular girl who was clearly on a mission to meet a nice Jewish boy (no one is thinking my pal is a member of the tribe) until he made it clear through conversation that he had ample single Jewish guy friends. By the time she started to acknowledge his presence, it was too late – he wouldn’t set up a friend with her no matter how hot she was. Then there was my friend (who has ample attractive, successful single guy friends from business school) who told me he was universally ignored at a Hamptons party full of socialites until it came up in conversation that he was very close with a much desired guy friend of theirs who went to Princeton (where he also went). From thereon in he had all the attention he could want from the future ladies who lunch club – but by that point their true colors were out and there was no way he was remaining pen pals with this group.**

It’s clear that everyone in this wonderful city we call the Big Apple knows someone who is single who would prefer not to be. So, maybe the guy or girl you’re chatting with is someone who doesn’t come close to meeting your criteria for a long term (or short term) relationship, but he or she may very well know your Prince or Princess Charming. Of course, if you blow this person off with a perfunctory nod and an immediate trip to the bar, you’ll never find out …

* This approach also applies in the one on one dating context. Indeed, there have been instances where I’ve set people up and they have come back to me and explained that, though they didn’t feel any chemistry on the date, they would love to set up the other person with a friend/cousin/ etc. because the other person was just that fantastic. Even if you show up on a date that doesn’t yield fireworks it can be the sparkplug that results in a Kaboom with someone else. Why not be nice and engaging even if you’re not interested? It’s really common sense.

**Naturally, it’s my view that people should be kind and friendly because, after all, it’s a good way to be (and it’s sexy too).