In my early 20s, I prided myself on being the “cool girl” when it came to dating. This required that I remain unfazed and unenthused about everything. Always keep things casual even when if my feelings were anything but (and they always were). Appear “not to be into it” so as not to get hurt.
While playing the cool girl, I would typically see a guy for a month, who would break it off because his job apparently transferred him to Ghost City (the only explanation). I would mourn the relationship for a reasonable amount of time, about 18 months. Over the course of five years, I saw three guys … four if we stretch the definition of “saw.” After we inevitably broke up, I convinced myself that I loved each and every one of those goobers.
It turns out my dedication to being a “cool girl” shot me in the foot. Nobody wants to date someone who’s not into it. Dating is expensive and exhausting. It’s not worth doing unless both people are invested.
Four years ago, I signed up for an improv class. The first thing I noticed was that improvising was uncomfortable. I found myself worried that others in my class and in the audience would be laughing not at my jokes or impressions, but at how I was making a fool of myself. What was this gibberish, and why was I being told to talk like a baby making up sounds? What if the thing I said wasn’t funny? How could I remain the “cool girl” in such a setting?
Spoiler alert: Nobody cares. Everyone in a beginning improv class is more focused on what they are going to say than they are on what you are saying right now. Once I figured this out, I began to loosen up.
I stopped worrying about saying something funny and instead, discovered the second universal truth of improv: communicating something — anything — that is true. For example: “I’m unhealthily obsessed with ‘Anne of Green Gables.’ ” “Going off ADD meds is liberating and crippling at the same time.” “I’m afraid that I’ll never have a functional relationship.” People relate to the truth. That’s what they find compelling. And that last statement? Yeah, that’s the type of vulnerability you can sneak into a scene without people realizing it’s about the real you and not just a character you’re playing.
In improv, you’re making it up, which is both always true and never true. Worried about being found out? That’s not going to happen. Instead, you’ll be met with either uproarious laughter or hushed attention as the audience thinks, “How does she know my soul?”
That’s exactly how people react when you say vulnerable stuff on dates. And I found that out during an epic year using everything I was learning in improv when I went out on dates. In that year, I dated more people than I had in the previous five put together.
It started by accident. There was a funny guy in my class. I said, “Let’s go see a show,” only to realize, when I showed up, that it was a date. Turns out that it’s pretty easy to ask guys out. Previously, asking a guy on a date fell into the same category as lighting my whole body on fire. Because I hadn’t had time to obsess over the date, I didn’t feel as strongly about this guy as I usually did. What a perfect time to try out my new party trick: being vulnerable.
“You’re kind of cute,” I told him. Boom. Knocked it out of the park.
As a recovering “cool girl,” I can tell you that I was floored when it worked. It worked so well that I decided to try it again, this time on somebody I really liked.
Soon, I fell in love with a cute Swede who was leaving at the end of the summer. As a fellow improviser, he too was experimenting with emotional honesty. Upon his departure, he wanted to stay together while I assumed we would break up. I relented. I was a girl in love. I could not be stopped. We Skyped daily, texted constantly … until we didn’t.
One day, I received an email. The subject line was, “Not a Good. Email.” The Swede was breaking up with me. I was gutted.
Regressing into the “cool girl,” I emailed back: “Okay. Understood. Appreciated.” But 24 hours later, that new vulnerable self reemerged.
“I’m gonna have to respectfully disagree,” I told him the next day on Skype. “I’m really sorry, but we’re, like, not breaking up.” For days, we went back and forth as I fought for the relationship. In the end, I couldn’t change his mind.
Everything is temporary. When you do an improv scene, you know your work is disposable. So to with dating. You might as well be honest and real. If it’s terrible, you never have to see that person again. If it’s good, you might get laid. If it’s great, you might get a boyfriend.
With the men that followed, I conducted more experiments, applying the lessons I learned through improv.
I have since fallen in love with a great guy who treats me well. When he asked me out, I followed the Golden Rule of Improv. I said, “Yes and” invited him over to watch a movie. He’s become my ultimate scene partner, emphasis on partner. We don’t have all the answers, but we’re happy making it up as we go.