Monday, April 26, 2010

What is a healthy approach to dating?

The question what is a healthy approach to dating and courtship has been on my mind in the last year and a half more than at any other time except perhaps the first couple years of college. Alas, I'm not sure I have any more wisdom today than I did as a freshman or sophomore at Dartmouth. Who has all the answers that seem to elude me?

As I've mentioned before, I spent most of my 20s and a good start on my 30s obese. I'm sure there are obese people who have very active, romantic, social lives, but I don't know any of them. I did have an active social life, but I feel like I'm coming back to the dating world after a long break. Honestly, I do not know what I'm doing, and it's driving me crazy. I often feel like I'm on an emotional roller coaster, and there is nobody in the seat next to me. I'm doing it to myself.

Is this just normal? I've attacked these questions in the same way I attack all questions - I research. I've read advice articles (and even books) on dating and talked to many friends and my sister about it. There is a lot of conflicting advice out there, but my feelings do seem to fall under the broad umbrella of "normal". I do hate how adversarial or uncertain it all can feel and how the typical advice feels like game playing. What has helped the most is applying some of the same lessons I learned in my attempts to lose weight: be Zen like and have no expectations while still being aware of what I'm doing and how it effects me. I even reread the chapters in The Zen of Eating on "Attachment to Desire Causes Suffering" and "Suffering Ends By Letting Go of Attachment to Desire."

So, it's probably apparent I don't feel like I have much wisdom to share on this topic. Do any of you have good advice? What are your thoughts on dating and courtship today in real life (as opposed to in novels or in comparison to romance novels if that's what you are the most interested in)? What is important to be aware of and to do?

Michelle Butler has made becoming a healthy writer a priority. She lives, works and writes in the Washington, DC, area. You can follow her on twitter at


Elise Hayes on April 26, 2010 at 8:14 AM said...

I'm no longer in the dating world, but I do think I can speak to relationships and I can add in a few of the things that set off warning signals for me back when I was dating.

1. You can only control your own actions, not someone else's. That means you can't demand that someone else change: the right question is whether you find someone's odd quirks endearing or annoying, liveable or a deal-breaker. PAY ATTENTION to these things--and don't feel guilty about them. If you can't stand someone who slurps their soup, so be it.

2. Don't have a list of things you're looking for in a prospective mate. I NEVER would have pictured myself with my current hubby (one example: I love to talk about literature and films; he HATES such talk--actively refuses to engage in it), but we really work together.

(And how did I know that? Because all the things that had annoyed the heck out of me with prior boyfriends just seemed endearing when he did them. I tell you, love is a strange, strange thing.)

3. Warning signs (for me): someone once brought me a dozen red roses on a second date and it freaked me out. A single flower would have been nice, but a full dozen said, "what I'm really interested in is a relationship, and we had one good date so it's going to be you!" (versus what I wanted to hear, which was "I want to find out about you as an individual before we take this any further." I wanted someone who was interested in ME, not just desperate for a body to fill a perceived void in his life.

And, of course, anything Carolyn Hax (an advice columnist in the Washington Post, for those of you who don't already follow her) says is pretty much right on. It's amazing how she gets to the heart of matters.

Can't wait to see what others say!

Michelle Butler on April 26, 2010 at 11:13 AM said...

Thanks, Elise! #2 kind of goes against what other people say, but it seems much more realistic and openminded.

I really understand #3 - on both sides. I think a lot of the single people I know are desperate for a relationship and see NOT being in one as a sign of their diminished value/even self-worth. I was actually talking about it at dinner with some on Saturday. There can be a lot of subtle social cues that a single woman of a certain age, even today, is of less worth - and some of the guys felt like it was the same for them.

Trish Milburn (Tricia Mills) on April 26, 2010 at 11:20 AM said...

I think dating is difficult for anyone. There's always something that makes us feel like we're not date-worthy -- weight, intelligence level, economic status, physical attractiveness, etc. I'm not downplaying any of these being an obstacle, just saying that there's always something.

I think Elise is right about not having a list of what you're looking for. Perhaps have some deal-breakers. There are types of people or people with certain types of viewpoints that I know would never work with me. But you know my hubby -- we are very different in many ways, but we've been happily married for going on 17 years. Prior to meeting him, I didn't have a lot of dating experience. A few here and there, but only one semi-serious boyfriend. I just got lucky.

Good luck out there in the dating world. Remember, you're awesome and any guy who doesn't realize that isn't worth having. :)

Michelle Butler on April 26, 2010 at 11:34 AM said...

Thanks, Trish! :) It's interesting that you're against the list too. The idea of making a list always made me uncomfortable - but it's a big idea out there, especially with online dating.

Sally Kilpatrick on April 26, 2010 at 12:01 PM said...


I don't know if I'm overqualified or underqualified to answer your question. I've been married for 12 years. A lot of what Elise said really resonated with me, especially the old adage about not wanting to change someone. You can either live with it or decide to find someone new, but there's no need to waste your time thinking someone will change.

My only other piece of advice is to tell yourself that you aren't going to look for a relationship and to focus on yourself. And mean it. My most meaningful relationships--especially my marriage--all came about at "bad times." It seems that the expression "falling" in love seems to refer to finding people at the weirdest times or just "falling" into the right situation to meet them.

Michelle Butler on April 26, 2010 at 12:36 PM said...

Thanks, Sally! I like the dating advice of just focusing on living your own fabulous life and if it's meant to be - it'll happen when/if it should. I guess we all resist giving up control on stuff that may be important though. :)

Diane Gaston on April 26, 2010 at 12:58 PM said...

Ah, Michelle, I've probably been married longer than you've been alive! And I hardly dated before I married so I can't give any advice.

Years ago there was a dating book, The Rules, which got lots of buzz. I read it out of curiosity and, although I thought the specific rules (e.g. refuse any date that occurs at the last minute; a man must phone you a certain number of days in advance) were misleading, what I took from the book was the importance of valuing yourself highly. You, your time, your energy, your affections are so valuable they come at a high price - respect, consideration, placing you and your needs first.
I don't think it is so black and white as the book explained it, but I do believe that the more a woman values herself, the more a man will value her. Or her friends. Or her coworkers. Or her boss.

Michelle Butler on April 26, 2010 at 1:07 PM said...

Thanks, Diane! I have a friend (single woman) who LOVES the book THE RULES. She goes around quoting it all the time, but she's very into the specific rules.

I like the bit about valuing yourself highly. She doesn't seem to dwell on that enough.

Michelle Butler on April 26, 2010 at 1:42 PM said...

I just saw this on twitter from Psychology Today - the one dating trait you should look for. Kind of interesting - and appealing to nerdy me. :)

Tawny on April 26, 2010 at 3:42 PM said...

Great question, Michelle.

I've been married forever and ever *g* but I dated a lot way back when and the one thing I found that mattered most to me was if I liked myself when I was with this person.

Did he make me feel good about myself- both me as a person, and me as the person sitting across from him (for instance, Elise's example of him slurping soup - would that make me feel embarrassed if he was doing it across the the table from me? Would it then make me judge him, or myself for judging him, and would that bother me?)

I want to be with someone who makes me feel great about myself. Because, in a way, thats a reflection of how I feel about them, isn't it?

Michelle Butler on April 26, 2010 at 4:16 PM said...

Thanks, Tawny! That's a good one. :)

Sally Kilpatrick on April 27, 2010 at 10:13 AM said...

Tawny, you really hit the nail on the head. I think hubby and I have been together for as long as we have because I feel he helps me be a better person. He's said the same about me. Be wary of anyone who puts you down in any way or who makes you feel inadequate--your man should make you feel like a goddess who can do no wrong. Even when I have those low self-esteem moments, hubby will stop me and say, "I would beat up anyone else who talked about you that way!"

Oh, and I'm a huge proponent of geek love. We are geeks, and we know it.

As for places to look, I found my hubby at church. Accidentally. Still, at least we agree on all the important things: religion, politics, and college football. : )

Michelle Butler on April 27, 2010 at 6:46 PM said...

Thanks, Sally! This is helpful, and I'm pretty positive I'll look at this again in the next year or so. :) I like "geek love" and meeting folks accidentally. I guess that's like being open to possibilities but not being obsessed at looking for opportunities.

What's your team? the Vols? Georgia Bulldogs?

Sally Kilpatrick on April 27, 2010 at 7:40 PM said...

We met at the University of Tennessee Wesley Foundation--so we're Volunteers. Of course, now that we live in Georgia we are strangers in a strange land which is a euphemism for sadly outnumbered.

Michelle Butler on April 28, 2010 at 9:13 AM said...


During my year and a half in Nashville many years ago now, it was such a learning experience to see how into college football folks could be. I remember asking folks, "What's the SEC? Why is it such a big deal?"

(Now, I'm in the land of the SEC is a govt agency that is getting a lot of criticism and is made fun of a lot right now because of a handfull of stupid guys.)

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