Wed., Jan. 5 at noon ET

On Love: Jump start your dating life in 2011

Ellen McCarthy and Amy Schoen
Washington Post Staff Writer and dating coach
Wednesday, January 5, 2011; 12:00 PM

Relationship and life coach Amy Schoen joins The Post's Ellen McCarthy to offer advice to singles on how to jump start their dating lives in 2011.

McCarthy writes about weddings and relationships in Sunday's Arts & Style OnLove section.

Schoen has been a relationship and life coach for eight years based in Washington, D.C.. She helps her clients find the type of life and romantic relationships they truly desire. To learn more about Schoen, visit her website at heartmindconnection.com

For more marital and relationship advice and to see how other couples have gotten to the altar, visit our On Love section.

The transcript follows.

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Amy Schoen: Happy New Year! It's a pleasure to be here with you to help you jumpstart your dating in 2011. I love to help those who are motivated to find love find the right path for themselves to connecting with that special person and to keep that relationship thriving towards whatever relationship goals you have set for yourself. So here I go!

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Alexandria, VA: I'd love to jump start my dating life but I'm not sure where to attach the cables.

Amy Schoen: Yes, starting to date can be overwhelming. When I work with my clients we first start with a values clarification so we get a sense of what is truly important to them in life. Think about what's fulfilling for you. You see, you connect with others through similar values. Then we think about where you can meet people who share your values. This gives you some direction.

For instance, if you have a value around healthy, active lifestyle then finding groups that share this value would be good. I joined a bicycling group in the DC area and met my husband through that. I had a client who was into community service and met her husband through a singles volunteering group. I have a whole list singles groups on my website http://www.DCDatingInfo.com. I also put out a weekly calendar of events of singles groups to get ideas about where to go to meet other singles. I try to give a smattering for each age and ethnic group.

I also believe that online dating is a good way to meet people. So finding a site that feels comfortable for you- in terms of the people. Again, I help my clients express their values in their profiles so they can attract the right people to them.

Good luck in your journey. Let me know if I can help you further.

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Washington, DC: I recently started meeting people through on online dating service. In my opinion, meeting someone for coffee is a bit too "take it or leave it" with regard to saying you want to get to know someone (after all we have probably been emailing for two weeks or more). Dinner seems like a big committment to some, and there isn't good conversation with a movie... perhaps too much like a "real date." So I'm hoping you have good suggestions for how two not-quite-strangers can get together and decide if they might be compatible that is more serious than coffee but less than a full meal (lunch dates are out... unless using the "just lunch" service I think that's worse than coffee).

Amy Schoen: Personally, I always liked doing activities like going to a museum (free in DC) and coffee at the cafeteria or taking a walk along the C & O Canal or the Downtown Mall if the weather isn't freezing. You can go ice skating at the Sculpture Gardens and get hot chocolate. It seems more natural and like you are meeting a friend! I think it's less pressure.

Yes, you want to avoid anything that doesn't let you talk and share thoughts like a movie or a concert. A concert can be good for a fourth or fifth date when you are holding hands!

However, the standard initial meeting is the half hour to an hour coffee interview. I know couples who turned that first date into an all day affair- because when they met - it was instant attraction or knowing. However, I do recommend keeping it to an hour. If the guy is interested, he will follow up.

It's about being creative!!!

Amy Schoen: I just wanted to add that women, you need to keep in mind that it is expensive for men to be dating (and expect to pay). Actually on a first initial date where you are meeting through the internet, each person is expected to pay their own way. However, if a guy offers to pay, it's a nice gesture and taken kindly by the women (for you guys out there). Most guys like a low cost options until they decide they really like someone. It's only fair. So finding low cost activites in the beginning (and not expecting to be taken to a show or anything) is appropriate. It doesn't mean the guys are cheap!

My husband took me to an outdoor concert that was free and brough a picnic on our first real date. (we had met face to face before). He also took me to the Carter Baron free Shakespeare play. Very cost efficient! Yes, I know this is easier in the summer than in the winter. The Arboretum is a nice place to hang out an talk! When he knew that he wanted to spend more time with me- he then opted for the expensive Rock concerts because he knew I liked the group playing.

The key is to have fun. It really doesn't matter where you are when you are with the right person!

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Arlington, VA: I'm a single, fairly attractive woman in my 40s and have lived my entire adult life in this area. I have no problem attracting the attention of men--in social settings, I often get hit on by men, married and single, sometimes in a very aggressive, physical, extremely uncomfortable manner. I have never been in a serious relationship-- the few men I've tried dating did not want anything more than a casual situation. How is it possible to get to know a man who isn't focused solely on fulfilling some personal fantasy?

Amy Schoen: What I suggest is that you get clear about what you want from a relationship - and set some boundaries for yourself. If you want a serious relatonship then you need to communicate that to the people you are meeting. Some men (and women- sorry guys) are slick and tell you what you want to hear. The next thing is to express expectations around what you want from a relationship. Another boundary you have to set is when to get physically involved. I suggest waiting at least 2 or even 3 months of regular dating and to express what you want from that relationship in order to be exclusive. If a guy is serious, he will not push the sex thing. He also wants to get to know you and see where things can lead before complicating it by getting physical. A player will get frustated and move on to his next target.

However, you really can't tell until you get to that place. So trust your gut. If you are hearing in your heart that this guy is not sincere, then listen to it! There are many seriously minded people- you just need to find them. I have a marrige minded meetup group in the DC area!

I would also examine where you are meeting these men. You need to go to places that you will find someone who is serious. If you are associated with a Church or temple, then I suggest you start frequenting it again. There are online sites that cater to more serious people. Or try a dating service. If a guy is paying big bucks, he's serious!

I would also look at what vibes you put out that attracts these kind of guys. Something may need to shift in you. I am not sure how you dress and such. Image is also a way to convey that you are a woman to be respected and not taken advantage of.

Good luck with finding a true life partner.

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Washington, D.C.: I'm a 37 year old woman with wonderful friends, great career and a supportive family outside of the stray "will you ever meet someone?" comment. I want to get married, but never stressed about being single. However, I had a meltdown over the holidays. I found myself constantly crying because I felt so alone. It was like everyone was involved with someone, but me. I was blaming myself for not having a boyfriend. I'm a little better now that the holidays are over, but I'm afraid I'll have another meltdown. How can I stop this negativity I feel towards myself so I can find love?

Amy Schoen: Yes, the holidays are very difficult for singles. It's okay to be sad- however, proactive daters pick themselves up move forward.

First is to visualize what you want for your life. Can you see it? Have you heard of a vision board? Take a big blank poster and start with a load of magazines. Cut out pictures that call to you. What kind of house do you want to have? Where would you vacation. I have a couple holding hands on the beach on mine. Stay focused on what you want to attract into your life. Put couple things on your vision board. What activities would you want to share with a life partner?

I had one that showed me skiing and dancing with me life partner. The funny thing is my husband didn't really ski or dance- he did (and still does) take lessons! So we have done those things together.

Next is to focus on what you have to offer to relationship. I developed a model called the THRIVE model that stands for Talents-Heart-Reasons-Interests-Values- Energy. (This is explained in my book, http:www.GetITRightThisTime.com). When you fill out this - you see who you are and what you offer to a relationship. Use this as your positivity tool- to remind yourself what you do have to offer to a relationship.

Just remember, there are thousands of people in he same place you are- you just have to find them. Also, get involved in activities that you enjoy and you will meet nice people.

Surround yourself with like minded people- join a meetup group or two- again, you can see some great groups at www.DCDatingInfo.com.

It's a New Year- what outlook do you want to go forward with?

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Washington, D.C.: What is standard for turning someone down in Internet dating (after a few emails... presumably you just wouldn't reply otherwise)? Do you just say you don't think it will work out? Do you get more specific? Lie and say you decided to date someone else? Any guidelines you have related to Internet dating would be helpful (for example, if someone expresses interest is it up to you to send an email or should they do it as they said "interested" first).

Amy Schoen: Lying is never a good thing. Online people can see when you have been on last so saying you are in a relationship- they can still see you have logged on recently.

People really want you to be honest with them. What's hard about saying the truth for you? I recommend saying I don't see there is a fit- you can go further- I don't see that we want the same things in life (like you want kids and he doesn't), or I don't see that we share the same values -

Or you can say, that you have found others that you are more interested in. Really, I would keep it short and sweet. He should get it! If a guy or gal doesn't respect your wishes, then it shows there is a personality problem and it's best you disengage. If a person is making a pest of themselves, then I would inform the online dating service.

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Baltimore MD: Hello, I recently graduated from college and have a hard time transitioning from the easy way to meet people- in class or in a college bar. Can you help?

Amy Schoen: Yes, it's hard to leave the cozy social world of college. There is a whole social world out there though.

Going to bars may not be the best way unless it's a neighborhood bar that attracts 20 somethings.

I recommend checking out www.Meetup.com and find groups that cater to your age bracket and interests.

Perhaps your church or synagogue has a young professional group for you to explore.

Of course online dating is big- and especially through Facebook now. There are several big aps like Scout on Facebook. the 20 somethings are all into Social Networking. Try joining a couple of Facebook groups- perhaps your friends are already members.

If your goal is to expand your network- then, start friending people of your friends.

I am also a big believer in creating what you want. So perhaps you can start a meetup group for recent college grads and pick places you want to meetup and activities you would like to.

Really the world is your oyster! Have fun- in your carefree days- expand your network and you will meet the man or woman of your dreams!

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Washington, D.C.: I've met people at work that I like, but it seems like it's complicated seeing someone at work. Any advice?

Amy Schoen: One has to be careful about work relationships. First do you work together and in what capacity? If you work closely, that can get tricky. What if you get promoted and you are that person's boss?

If you work tangentially- and have no power over one another-or say about promotions and such, then alot depends on the culture of the work place. Are their HR rules about relationships among employees? You need to find out. If it's not against any company policies, is it frowned upon.

If this get serious, then some decisions have to be made. Can you get transfered to another group and it being a positive move?

Definately take things slowly and carefully. You don't want to jepardize your career future. Relationships doen't always turn out they way we hoped. You have control over career and need to make a living.

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DC Lady: I have had several relationships with men that were long distance or involved highly irregular schedules for the past 2 years. In a new relationship I'd love someone to be more consistent and present, but I'm now pretty comfortable with autonomy, independence, and not spending every moment together. How much time is reasonable and expected to spend with someone when you are just starting to date? (Backstory: I had a minor freak-out with someone who asked what I was doing the following day, during the middle of the ongoing date!)

Amy Schoen: We all have different degrees of needs with regards to spending time with a significant other. This causes a lot of issues in relationships- I have seen this with my own clients.

So you see there are people who expect to spend 24/7 with someone on one side of the spectrum, and others who only eat and sleep with their spouse (I actually know a couple like that!) So you have to figure out where you fall on that spectrum.

I do believe in some pacing at the beginning of a relationship. Also, you need to have a full, active life and have your partner respect that about you. It sounds like you do.

About the freak out, perhaps you can prepare for that next time by say, "I have plans with a friend". Short and sweet! Also, was he asking you out- or just trying to see what you do on your spare time? I can't tell.

You get to set what is comfortable for you. Then it's your job to commuicate it to those you are dating. You need to find someone who is aligned with your time orientation. You need to look for a busy person as well!

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WDC: To what extent should a woman allow a man to pursue her? Is it okay for a woman to ask for a date after the first couple of meetings?

Amy Schoen: Even though I tend to be on the more traditional side, I have seen examples of women making the effort and having positive results.

A couple I know, after the first date, she followed up and said she had a good time and would he be willing to go out. He said yes. They are now married.

Not all men are comfortable with being the pursuer. Especially if they hate rejection. Some men really like that a woman would show interest.

I always say, nothing ventured, nothing gained! Do what you feel comfortable doing- sometimes going out of your comfort zone pays off!

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Washington, DC: I'm thinking of starting online dating, but don't know which sites have the best reputations- there seem to be a lot of them! Are there specific sites that you would recommend for a fortysomething dater?

Amy Schoen: go to my website: http:www.heartmindconnection.com/resources.html. There are tons!

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Philadelphia, PA: If you can take a comment from a long-time (15 years) happily married man: Find a friend first. Even though I was fairly young (mid-twenties) when I met and married my wife, she was my first. I was always the polite, nice guy who was quickly designated as "friend" material. The first few times I did things with my now-wife, they were "friend"-ly things. When we both quickly realized that we would be perfectly happy doing those things together for the rest of our lives, the dynamics of the relationship changed immediately. The rest is history. There was no instant physical chemistry. We created it as we went and still do today -- better than ever.

Lessons: Don't overlook your friends. Make friends first. Then don't overlook those you've made as friends. You can together make the physical chemistry if the other stuff is there.

Ellen McCarthy: Thanks for chiming in.

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Washington, D.C.: Life's responsibilities and stresses have taken over ... BIG TIME!!! How can my husband and I put the spark back in our relationship? ... on a limited budget I might add.

Amy Schoen: Show your appreciation to each other every day

Take time to go on a date at least once a month- get a baby sitter or trade with a neighbor

Say no to some things you are taking on and make your relationship a priority.

I think I need to take my own advice :)! It's challengging- isn't it!

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Amy Schoen: Thank you for the opportunity to share my thoughts with you. They were great questions and ones that gave me the chance to share my top ways to jumpstart your dating this year. If you want to learn more about jumpstarting your dating this year, you can read my most recent blog posts: http:www.motivatedtomarry.com that is for seriously minded singles who want to be in a committed, exclusive relationship and we can continue the conversation!

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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