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It might take you 121 first dates to find the love of your life

The cover of “121 First Dates: How to Succeed at Online Dating, Fall in Love, and Live Happily Ever After (Really!)” by author Wendy Newman. (Courtesy of Wendy Newman)

Single and ready to quit dating after one too many disastrous dinners? Wendy Newman, author of “121 First Dates: How to Succeed at Online Dating, Fall in Love, and Live Happily Ever After (Really!)” feels your pain. The 48-year-old San Francisco-based dating coach reveals her dating low moments and how she ultimately met her current partner, Dave, in her memoir/advice tome, out today from Beyond Words.

Along the way, she recounts cringe-worthy dates and shares practical tips for women on everything from pre-date strategies to how to know whether he’s your soul mate. Leading up to Newman’s book tour, she told Solo-ish what’s so great about online dating, when to take a dating break, why masturbation before a date is helpful and how to narrow down your partner must-haves.

Bussel: It took you 121 first dates before you met your current partner. How did you handle discouragement?

Newman: How did I handle discouragement? Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey and Law & Order” reruns. But when I put the ice cream down, how I got through it was I focused on what was working, and ignored or let go of what was not working. There are a lot of things about online dating that makes a good person want to scream “Why?” But I didn’t ask why. I knew asking why was futile, so instead I’d find my workaround and keep moving forward. Did I get my feelings hurt? Yup. Were there disappointing moments where the attraction wasn’t there for him? Of course. But I knew that was part of the package, just like having to say “no, but thank you” is part of the deal.

During those times where I questioned if I’d ever find someone right for me, I’d turn to my best friend. She’d hold the vision for me on the days I couldn’t hold it for myself. The thing that ultimately kept me motivated was the realization that in the sea of millions of single men out there, I only needed one.

Bussel: 102 of your 121 dates happened via online dating. What are the pros of online dating?

Newman: I love online dating because it gives us access to people we’d never meet otherwise. I’m a professional workshop leader and a coach, which means I work from home. Or I’m in front of an audience of women. In my world the only men I had access to were my UPS driver, the check-out clerk at Whole Foods and the random person sitting next to me on a plane. I turned to online dating because I needed access to single men and that meant men outside my town. Dave is a Silicon Valley executive; I would have never met him without online dating. Our paths just wouldn’t have crossed, and the same can be said about nearly everyone I dated.

Bussel: You encourage readers to make a list of their wants vs. needs regarding dating. What can single people learn from this exercise?

Newman: They can learn what their deal-breakers are before they ever meet anyone. When chemistry is overwhelming it’s easy to overlook things that are vital to a happy life for the sake of nailing this one down. You don’t really need him to be kind, do you? You can live without that if he’s hot, right? Oftentimes women don’t realize that their wish lists contain characteristics that cancel the other one out; they can’t figure out why he hasn’t shown up yet. It’s because she’s looking for two different people. For example: highly driven, financially successful and makes me and our family his top priority. These are two different men. Pick one.

Bussel: You write that women often rely too much on sexual attraction when selecting a mate. What should single women look for instead?

Newman: Sexual attraction should be there, but there’s more to look for, starting with does she like him? I mean honest-to-God like him. Besides wanting to bed him, does she respect who he is, and what he does with this life? Do they see the world in similar ways? Does she feel seen, known and understood by him? Can he comfort her? Does she feel safe with him, like he has her back? If the two were accidentally locked in a public laundromat for three days with access to a vending machine for water and snacks, when they came out 36 hours later, would she still like this person?

Bussel: You emphasize being your authentic self. How can daters balance authenticity with putting their best foot forward?

Newman: You can be [do both] at the same time. On a first date I recommend talking about the things that work in your life. What do you love about your life? What are you passionate about? Who or what’s your favorite underdog and why? You could sit across a café bistro table with your date taking turns going back and forth answering these three questions alone where by the end you will have learned something unique about this stranger. These questions don’t require revealing accomplishments, status, how much money you make, or history not appropriate for a first date.

Bussel: You advocate masturbation before a first date. What are the advantages?

Newman: The main advantage is it will put a woman solidly in her body. It draws out our zinginess, that yummy sexual and sensual energy. It changes us from our go-go-go driven work mode back into an ever-so-slightly chill, receptive woman. The second advantage is that zinginess that got stirred up lingers around, and it can cause sexual attraction; it’s in the air, so to speak.

Bussel: You always had a friend with benefits (FWB) when you were single, and you think that kept you single. Why?

Newman: Over ten years I had a four-year, a three-year and a two-year FWB deal in place where in each case everyone was clear this relationship wasn’t going anywhere. I think this may have been my longest, hardest lesson to learn. I’m not sex-negative, yet I believe that because my FWB situations were all rich, frequent experiences, it did interfere with finding my mate. I saw my friends at least once a week; I considered them to be like a “boyfriend light.” Maybe men who were looking for something long-term could tell a little piece of my heart belonged to someone else. We could call it a coincidence, but after I ended my last friends with benefits relationship, #121 showed up.

Bussel: You’re in favor of taking breaks from dating as needed. When’s the right time to take a break?

Newman: When you have three or four bad dates in a row and they all seem the same. Or when you feel like you’ve turned into a hunter, and you’re doing more pursuing than you’d like. Feeling burned and bitter are good indicators it’s time to recalibrate. Get a dating buddy; they can tell you when it’s time for you to stop, and let you know when you’re in decent enough shape to return to the ride. On your break, do something you love that has a beginning, middle and an end, like baking, or a craft project. Then get back to dating. A couple of weeks off can do you a world of good.

Bussel: You were your own dating guinea pig. What’s the biggest piece of advice you wish you’d followed when you were single?

Newman: I did follow my biggest piece of advice: Don’t wait to date, and don’t give up! A lot of people wait to date. They wait for the holidays to be over or for work to slow down or to lose the weight. I’m super-glad I didn’t wait until I lost enough weight that I’d be fit for dating. We’d all still be waiting.

I dated when it wasn’t the right time because I realized there was no such thing as the right time. I knew I’d always be busy. I came to grips with the fact that I’d always love a cupcake more than a carrot. Even when I wanted to stop, I just wasn’t willing. I knew it was possible that the very next first date could change everything, and one day it did.


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