The optim St's
guide to dating
Dating can be a minefield of disappointment, yet a new book suggests a
think-positive approach can make all the difference to finding true love
TAKE OUR 2011 i
BY SUZY GREAVES PHOTOGRAPHY JAMES CANT
y name is Suzy and I am a dating
pessimist. Why? Staggering out of a
16-year marriage a couple of years ago,
I decided to start seeing men again.
It began brilliantly. In the midst of the
hell that is divorce paperwork, somewhere between
the supermarket and the school run, I met a wonder-
fully glamorous American.
On our first date, we laughed, teased each other,
even held hands. I was hooked. The only problem was,
he lived across the Atlantic. We conducted the most
romantic relationship of my life via Skype. He wanted
me to fly to New York to meet at the top of the Empire
State Building, like Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant in
An Affair To Remember.
'But didn't that film end badly?' I asked.
'Oh, you're so funny,' he replied.
I should have listened to my instincts. A week be-
fore I was due to fly out to meet him, he had a sud-
den heart attack and died. I was devastated. And that
was my first date in 17 years.
So forgive me for being less than enthusiastic
when Meeting Your Half Orange — An Utterly Upbeat
Guide To Using Dating Optimism To Find Your Perfect
Match by Amy Spencer (Running Press) landed on
my desk. The title is taken from the Spanish phrase
'mi media naranja', commonly used to describe one's
perfect other half.
Spencer's philosophy is simple: 'You must believe
that your love life will work out for the best. That's it.
All it takes is a commitment to changing your attitude
so that you are feeling so positive about your love life,
you end up attracting exactly what you want.'
She suggests I start using the techniques
developed by Martin Seligman, founder of the positive-
psychology movement and proponent of 'learned op-
timisml Seligman's breakthrough research over
20 years revealed that rather than being a trait, opti-
mism is a skill that can be learned and developed
through practice. One of his main antidotes to pessi-
mism is learning to reframe so-called negative life ex-
periences so you view them in a more positive light.
It's not possible to be too picky
But applying this strategy to your love life is easier
said than done, particularly if you have had your heart
broken repeatedly or been deeply disappointed by a
string of dubious internet dates. One solution might
be to practise what Jeremy Sherman, a professor in
evolutionary epistemology at Berkley, California, has
dubbed 'romanticynicisml 'Either romanticism or
cynicism alone is dangerous,' he says. 'Romantics >
< are easily hurt. Cynics are readily hurtful. But if you
can stretch yourself into a deep commitment to the
romantic and a firm commitment to the cynical, even
if the tension imposes some pain and unresolvability,
the resulting state is bittersweet, vivid and true.'
Spencer, unsurprisingly, does not see the merits
in holding on to cynicism, although she points out that
optimism shouldn't cause you to put a positive spin
on unsuitable partners. 'You can never be too picky
when it comes to finding the love of your life,' she says.
'In fact, you have full permission to stop dating men
you don't find interesting or physically attractive or
compelling or funny or smart or compatible.'
'The trick is to protect yourself with the three-date
rule,' says Francine Kaye, author of The Divorce Doc-
tor (Hay House). 'Three dates are your dating armour.
Use the first simply as an opportunity to discover if
there is any chemistry or you want to take it further.
On the second, take more time to get to know each
other and spend a good six hours together — do some-
thing at the weekend or spend a day walking or going
to an event. Notice how they treat waiters, and look for
behaviour you may or may not like. On the third, ask
yourself: Does this person honour my values? Are they
honest/creative/fun/positive/kind — whatever you
value in a human being? This way, you protect your-
self and engage your brain as well as heart and libido.'
Other experts agree. 'Research shows that when
we have strong passionate feelings and "fall in love",
we become blind about whether someone is really
compatible or not,' says Robert Epstein, contributing
editor for Scientific American Mind, currently writing
a book about the psychology of love based on scien-
tific studies, interviews with couples in happy arranged
marriages, and his own research and experiences,
Epstein believes a healthy dollop of realism is es-
sential for assessing potential long-term partners and
that it's simply not enough to blindly think positive.
'You need to find what the "deal breakers" are in the
relationship,' he says. Common issues include alco-
hol and/or drug use, health and obesity, moral and
religious choices and educational background.
'If these are not sorted out, there is a massive
potential for pain,' says Epstein. 'However, start out
with someone who is compatible — and learn some
basic intimacy-building skills — and you can build long-
term relationships that last. But we need to use our
intellect in the process of finding our mate.'
The other downside of dating optimism is that it
creates the illusion that there is someone out there
who is 'perfect', which could lead the love-shy to have
unrealistically high standards. Andrew G Marshall,
author of The Single Trap — The Two Step Guide To
Escaping It And Finding Lasting Love (Bloomsbury),
says, 'Searching for perfection is a defence. It allows
you to reject others without looking at yourself. A "per-
fect" mate would be dull — instead, look for one you can
learn from and grow with. Relationships are not per-
fect, they are complex and complicated, but I think
those kinds of relationships are the most rewarding.'
Dating is surely the easy bit, anyway. Once you've
used your optimism to find your 'perfect' date, doesn't
the real work begin? When the fantasy of the perfect
relationship fades, you have to get down to the nitty-
gritty of loving someone warts and all, learning
to argue in a healthy way and of compromise when
necessary. And that's probably when we really need
every ounce of optimism, as our 'perfect partner'
starts to get on our nerves and leaves their underwear
on the bathroom floor.
Spencer has an answer for all my misgivings. 'What
I'm saying is, don't settle for less than you deserve,'
she says. 'If you really, truly want to have an amazing,
crazy, great love in your life, then hold out for it. Don't
settle out of fear that you won't find it. If you are
already feeling a flatline with a guy now — imagine,
imagine really — what it's going to feel like in five years.'
If I couldn't quite manage it, Marshall volunteered
to be optimistic on my behalf 'You've been divorced
two years now; you're on the other side of grief and
are healing,' he says. 'You've already been in a long
marriage, so you know the relationship skills of
compromise and negotiation. And you can probably
accept the ups and downs of a real relationship.
I am very optimistic that you will find someone — and
will be very happy.' Maybe I'll allow myself
to be cautiously optimistic.
Suzy Greaves is blogging about her one-year experiment tofind
love at bigloveexperiment.com