School is out, and with that comes “summer lovin.” With more free time, warm weather, and less clothes, romance and the legendary summer fling are upon us.
Yet, as the 2016 movie “The Dating Project” portrays, ours is a time defined by strange romantic extremes. On one end are those who shift from initial meeting to highly emotive, sexually charged relationships in the course of a few days. On the other are the hapless incels, “involuntary celibates” who, unable to crawl out from their parents’ basement and engage in real human interactions, find themselves unable to find romantic partners.
Both of these poles are unhealthy ways to perceive romantic relationships, and, unsurprisingly, are often characterized by depression and emotional volatility. In the aim of encouraging healthier, more stable “summer lovin’,” here are five tips for those seeking romance.
1. Forego the Controversial Stuff
One summer I met a girl at church who seemed to share a lot of my religious and political convictions. On our first date, we started talking about politics. She was studying Arabic in order to do counterterrorism work for the federal government. I was a high-school history teacher with a deep interest in international relations.
Once the topic of the Iraq War came up (this was 2007), I realized we were on opposite poles of conservative opinion on U.S. foreign policy. We both offered our opinion, and things pretty much went downhill from there. Lunch ended awkwardly, and she had no interest in a second date. Oops.
In 2018, we live in one of the more polarized, politically contentious moments in recent American history, evidenced in the recent expulsion of a Trump administration official from a Lexington, Virginia restaurant. Some observers believe these political tensions are making it less likely to date “across the aisle.” Even if one falls within the same broader ideological camp, a “never Trumper” may deem it reprehensible to consider dating someone willing to sport a MAGA red hat. This is all the more reason to avoid controversial subjects early in a dating relationship.
Those first dates are typically not for controversial subject matter, be it religious, political, or anything else. Relationships where there is significant shared opinion on these matters probably have a stronger shot at success, but you don’t need to know your date’s thoughts on immigration or gun control to have a good time and get to know the person. Those early dates are for getting to know the person apart from “hot-button” issues — things like your date’s personality, communication style, and personal interests should take priority.
2. Don’t Jump to the ‘Girl of My Dreams’ Stuff
A friend recently went on a few dates with a nice young woman. He was overwhelmed with excitement, sharing with friends how amazing she was. Although I never met her, I presume she probably was someone quite special. Yet my friend immediately transitioned into calling her the “girl of my dreams.”
I can understand that kind of romantic exhilaration, something I felt early in several dating relationships in college and my 20s. Yet it’s a manner of thinking and feeling that is typically unhealthy.
Unless you are a very poor judge of character, the people you date and get to know probably are interesting, intelligent, virtuous, and emotionally attractive. But to call someone the romantic interest “of your dreams” probably says more about you than it does that person. All too often, we create an image in our minds of the perfect romantic partner, and when we meet someone who seems to match those criteria, we place all of our hopes and dreams on that person.
Can any finite, flawed person carry the weight of that? No matter his or her virtues, that romantic interest will eventually expose himself or herself as a flawed human being like the rest of us. If we’re attached to that idol, rather than the real flesh-and-blood person in front of us, we’re likely to give up.
It’s easy to allow emotion and passions to drive our dating experiences — and to some extent, they probably should. As biblical scholar Scott Hahn comically observes, when Adam saw Eve in the Garden of Eden for the first time, his response was “Woah, man.” Yet speaking from personal experience, we must not allow sentiment to reign supreme, lest we hurt not only ourselves, but our romantic interests.
In dating, we must give people time to share their true selves, “warts and all,” then decide if we are able to appreciate, accept, and love them as they are, rather than the fictive ideal we’ve hoisted upon them. Furthermore, if there are really are “too many fish in the sea,” then there are likely a good number of great matches for you within your city, county, or region. That nice young woman will only be the “girl of your dreams” until she dumps you and you meet someone else six months later.
3. Restrain the Impulse to Emotionally Unload
Recently on a business trip to Chicago I overheard a young man and woman on a first date. They had met on Tinder. The woman kept complaining about her ex-boyfriend, his insensitivity, his careerism, his arrogance, on and on and on. The man attentively acknowledged and confirmed all the woman’s complaints, filling his responses to her with clichés and platitudes. It was obvious he was willing to put up with all of the nonsense for some action. It was comical, if not also a sad reflection on the nature of contemporary dating.
First and second dates are not the place for transferring your emotional baggage to some other hapless soul. Nor are they an opportunity to share one’s greatest life struggles, needs, or crises. Your date doesn’t need to know about your eating disorder in high school, that abusive relationship you were in a few years ago, or that you regularly see a psychologist to talk about some vice or problem. In a committed relationship, these are all things your partner will need to know. But a first or second date is not such a relationship.
To excessively share intimate details about your life with an almost complete stranger is unwise, both for you and for your date. You have no guarantee that person will maintain confidentiality. Nor is it fair to your date to burden him or her with such information. It places far too much pressure on the person at the very beginning of a getting to know her. Moreover, many people (the sane ones) will be a little uncomfortable if a stranger is sharing his life story with them. Normal people don’t want to be some stranger’s psychologist.
4. Choose Socially ‘Conservative’ Dating
The dating errors described above can be categorized in one sense as “liberal.” Not liberal politically, but more in that they represent an urge to progressively, perhaps radically, usher in a romantic paradigm.
Implicit (or explicit) in these dating heresies is an impulse to circumvent the natural methods of romantic pursuits, the methods that require time, patience, and energy. Instead, the “liberal” dater seeks to get to 100 miles per hour — relationally, emotionally, and typically sexually — as quickly as possible. Vive la revolution!
“Conservative” dating, alternatively, is less a revolution, and more like gardening or farming. When cultivating any plant or crop, one proceeds cautiously, carefully, and prudently. A garden or field cannot be grown in a day, let alone a week or month.
When a novice green-thumb tries to force something too quickly, he risks wrecking everything. Similarly, a “conservative” dater allows relationships to develop organically, proceeding with intentionality and intelligence, yet with a special care both for himself and the person he is dating.
5. Take A Lesson from Karate Kid
In the new YouTube Red series “Cobra Kai,” resurgent Cobra Kai sensei Johnny Lawrence provides dating tips to his pupil, the shy Miguel Diaz, a once-bullied kid who has developed into Cobra Kai’s best student. Miguel wants to ask out a new romantic interest, Samantha, who in a great plot twist is the daughter of Johnny’s rival, Danny Larusso, the original “karate kid.” Johnny urges the timid Miguel to “strike first,” and to “not take no for an answer” in asking Samantha on a first date.
Such masculine assertiveness seems at odds with our egalitarian age, and will be perceived by many as unacceptably aggressive and masculinist. Yet what Johnny means is not that men should seek to dominate or abuse women. Indeed, he praises his first girlfriend — whom Larusso had stolen in the original movie — as a “firecracker” who could stand up for herself.
Rather, Johnny expects his star pupil to exhibit confidence in a world increasingly intolerant of testosterone. Moreover, he rejects Miguel’s suggestion to go sit under the stars and eat chocolate (way too intense for a first date) in favor of a more leisurely night playing putt-putt golf and arcade games at the same place Johnny used to go with his high-school sweetheart. The carefree, less intense date, where Miguel and Samantha simply enjoy spending time together, is ultimately a huge success.
Karate Kid’s dating wisdom, although packaged in a way that will insult many progressivist sensibilities, is precisely what young, single Americans need. For all those guys eager for “summer lovin’, follow Johnny’s advice: show some mettle, ask a girl out, and go have a good time. You can save the emotive and sexual intensity for when you’re willing to “put a ring on it.”