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How to Win at The Dating Game

Danville's dating coach tells a recent divocee to get back into play


Talk about good luck. My assignment was to interview a dating coach: Danville resident Jeannine Kaiser, certified relationship counselor and former matchmaker for Great Expectations, the expensive dating service I wish I could afford. After a failed 30-year marriage and two years of unsuccessful dating, I was ready to give up, cancel my match.com account, and enroll in a knitting class. I had doubts that even a professional like Dr. Phil could help a serial disaster-dater like me. But then Kaiser, an attractive fortysomething with that put-together look that evades me—heels, polished nails, and matching scarlet scarf—arrived at my door. This woman knows how to wear red. And we chatted like old friends while sitting on my Lafayette living room couch.

Who hires a dating coach?
My clients come from all across the board: a 35-year-old woman, never married, who wants to know why men are intimidated by her; a divorced woman in her fifties with very few dates; a handsome businessman, 47, with a waterfront home, 45-foot yacht, and new Corvette—he dates women, but they leave after a month and he wonders what he’s doing wrong.

As a dating coach, I don’t match people up, but I help them understand the process: what is working for them and what keeps them from having what they want. One of the biggest challenges people have is they don’t know what they want. Do you have it down on paper? Almost always the answer is no.

You worked as a relationship coach at Great Expectations. But why do people pay $2,000 for a matching service when they can match themselves online for $19.95?
Services like Great Expectations do background checks to weed out criminals or sexual predators. Also, the high-end dating services take their own pictures, so you know they aren’t over two years old. With the Internet sites, you don’t know how old the pictures are. A guy has his shirt off showing a six-pack, but when you meet him he has a keg.

I found that if his weight says “average” on his match.com profile, that means fat. And one of my dates had an attractive picture, but when I met him he had only four teeth. Who is more dishonest: men or women?
Many men are dishonest about what they do professionally, and women stretch the truth about their physical appearance. They put on old pictures.
I confess I’ve lied about my age. If I said 56 on my profile, I’d miss all the men with a 55-year cut-off. Another profile lie:

I’ve been told that the men who don’t include pictures are married.
Some statistics say up to 60 percent of the men on match.com are married. There are signs. A married man wants to communicate with you from the office or via cell phone or e-mail. And if you don’t meet his friends or family within one or two months, he’s not including you or letting his friends or family check you out. That’s a sign there’s an issue. Another sign is that they are calling you at odd times, like late at night. Or they’re not very available time-wise, like only being free on Sunday.

What about a substance abuser?
A substance abuser will keep it under wraps the first few dates. But if your date puts down three or four drinks or if you’re always going somewhere where he’s ordering drinks, even if it’s one beer, there’s a problem there. Another thing is work history: multiple periods of unemployment.

A red flag for me is when a guy doesn’t have a relationship with his kids.
Don’t buy the excuse, “My ex-wife won’t let me see the kids.” Any court in California will give you 50–50 custody unless there’s a problem.

What makes an Internet profile work?
Of the Internet sites, I like E-Harmony because it has an extensive profile to fill out, and it matches on similarities. Also, they don’t accept married or separated applicants.
When you write a profile, write about what you love, whether it’s going to Raider games, books you read, or drinking margaritas. You want the man or woman to see themselves in your description. One of my clients wrote in her profile that she loved candlelight and long, luxurious bubble baths. OK, so she loves baths, but to a man that says sex—not what she wanted to attract.

A lot of women use very provocative photographs.
Same thing: You’re sending a message. If you’re looking for a sexual relationship, go for it; you’re going to get lots of hits.

What books do you recommend for those of us returning to the dating scene?
Two books: The Rules by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider and He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tuccillo. I recommend my clients read these back to back.

In California, the typical first meeting is at Starbucks, but after doing this 20 or 30 times, the excitement wears off.
First dates don’t have to cost a lot. I know it’s a goofy kid thing, but a first date can be going to Lafayette Reservoir and paddling around in a pedal boat or flying a kite. I love miniature golf; you have a good time and you see how competitive they are and if they cheat.

There’s nothing worse than that awkward silence on a first date.
Be prepared with questions to ask. A good question is, What do you do on Sundays? I find out if they go to church, to brunch, read the paper, or if they’re a couch potato watching football all day. Another one I like is, what was the best birthday present you ever gave your mom? Ask them what was their best relationship and why. Their most disappointing relationship and why.This is important: Why aren’t you in a relationship now?

What are your safety tips for a first date?
I always recommend using your own car until the third or fourth date. And never let a date lure you into their car to go to another location. Also, let someone know you’re on a date and when you’ll be home. Give them your date’s name and phone number. And don’t drink too much; it impairs judgment. Two drinks max. And make sure all your drinks come directly from the bartender or waitress.

I once dated a 30-year-old. I knew it wouldn’t work when he kept calling me “dude.” How do you deal with a bad date?
I get this question a lot. Cell phones are great because you can excuse yourself and go to the bathroom and call someone and say, I’m having this date from hell; please call me in five minutes with an emergency. Remember that dating can be harder for men because they have to do the asking, and they have issues around rejection. I work with reframing that for them. Instead of offering misleading excuses, say, “I think you’re a great guy and I wish we had more of a connection, but that’s not happening, and I really want that for you.”

I know men have dates from hell, too. I hear about� the woman who’s looking for a free ride. Any warning signs?
These women expect a lot about where they want to go on a date. And they bring up
going to Las Vegas or say, “My birthday’s coming and I want this Prada purse.” There’s always this extravagance. It’s a red flag, but there are men who are pleasers who dish the gold to catch the gold digger. He’s setting up his own relationship. You’ve been through a divorce.

Did you have problems dating afterward?
After six months, when I started dating again, I got negative feedback from people who said, “Who’s going to want a woman with three young children?” Then I got into relationships too quickly. Like I heard on Dr. Phil, “It was easier to get into a relationship with me than a community college.” I didn’t know what I wanted. My best friend from high school suggested dating for fun, and I came up with a goal to date 100 men in a year.

A hundred men in a year! That sounds exhausting.
A hundred first dates. I saw it as a fun project. About 25 dates in, I began a list on paper of what I wanted in a life partner based on the positive qualities of my dates. It turned into seven pages. I learned a lot about myself and the dating process. Four months after I stopped the 100 dates, I met Keith, my husband.

Give me an example of what you put on your seven-page list.
I was specific about a mate that wanted to be with children, to be a dad. And I wanted someone who could have a partnership around money, and we could make decisions together. I also wanted a traveler who would show me his photographs of the places he loved the most.

Isn’t this list the same as writing about “our ideal date” on the Internet profiles?
On Internet sites, there is a limited word count. Most people put more thought into their ideal car than their ideal mate. They list things like honesty, integrity, and appearance, four or five things, then go into a laundry list of what they don’t want. Create a crystal clear list about what you do want that expands and becomes clearer as you date. And a second shorter list of 10 to 15 deal breakers, like being an alcoholic, sex addict, or for some, not believing in God.

I’m told there are two kinds of middle-aged single women: Either she is happy being by herself or she’s looking for a man.
The hunter.

I don’t want to be the hunter. But I admit it’s very competitive out there. And draining. I didn’t expect dating to be such hard work. Looking at profiles, sending e-mails back and forth, impressing someone on the phone, then the first date. I think I have Internet dating fatigue.
It does become tedious if your goal is getting the date and filling the role. If you have to have another person in your life, it means you don’t feel complete. But you can use the dating process to work on that. You want to find a guy who adds to your life experience but without him you’re still just fine. Start having fun with the entire process. Even if you have war stories, you can laugh about them.

When I last dated back in the 1970s, if a guy said he would call me, he really meant he’d call.
And today it means maybe, or sometime,
or never. Remember, when a woman hears “I’ll call you,” our expectation is he’ll call in the next two days, and the guy is thinking sometime in the next few months.

About sex. So many men in their Internet profiles talk about giving massages, wanting sensuous, passionate women. They say their best feature is a sweet spot not on the list, and I’m thinking, ick. I can’t hit the delete key fast enough. Am I being a prude?
The guy wants sex, and if that’s not you, press delete. My thoughts are, OK, the guy is spending $19.95 a month. Isn’t that a lot cheaper than paying a prostitute? Does that happen? Yeah. If a woman wants to sacrifice who she is to have a relationship based on sex, that’s her choice. Then there are men and women who know they just want a sexual interlude, and that’s OK, too.

I have a client who says he has a three-month rule. He tells every woman he dates that he won’t cross the line into physical intimacy until after three months, when they can examine where they are in the relationship. It works very well for him.

I bet it works very well for his date, too. Absolutely! You aren’t waiting for the relationship to move past that point because you’ve already set the three months out there. As soon as you get involved with the sexual aspect, the other parts of the relationship slow down. You stop getting to know each other because you’re more interested in the next sexual interlude. But a lot of women have sex early in the relationship because they’re trying to seal the deal.

If a man is too attentive, calling every day, I run.When a woman gets too close, guys head
for the hills as well. If you want to slow things down you can say, “Gosh, I really like spending time with you, but when you call every day I feel a little overwhelmed. Things are moving too fast. Why don’t we talk every other day so we can enjoy the process of getting to know each other and not rush it?” That’s a different approach. It puts the brakes on it and allows you to sit back and evaluate. We’re talking about relationships being negotiated rather than left to default. You get to choose. And if the relationship doesn’t work out, you had the experience of negotiating, true? And healthy relationships are negotiated.

Don’t women typically rush a relationship more than men?
Both. In fact, abusive men do this as their MO. Sealing the deal, buying gifts, charming the heck out of you, and getting you to buy the package so they can maintain their elusiveness about their problem. I worry when a person wants to move too fast, male or female. If you don’t have anything to hide, you can let a relationship take its course.

I assumed for a relationship to work, I had to be madly in love, waiting for his call, and thinking about him every minute. It didn’t occur to me that by putting on the brakes, I’m finding out if he respects me.
No question about it. You’re going to get the same answer if you do it now or do it later.

I don’t like to talk about this, but after being left for a younger woman, I feel like I’m damaged goods. I’d love to be able to talk about the hurt with a date, not because I want him to fix it but because I hate having to pretend it isn’t there.
Giving people information about ourselves at that level of intimacy should be earned. When I’m asked why I divorced my ex-husband, I say it was part him and part me. That has allowed us to move on, and I leave it at that. A way to rephrase that is to say that we outgrew each other. Saying “He left me for a younger woman” says you’re not uncoupled.

How do I know the next man won’t cheat on me? You don’t know. If you go into a relationship saying, I want this relationship to be cheat-proof, then you’re probably going to end up with a cheater, because your focus is on what you don’t want. But look at what you do want: Someone who loves you, honors you, and holds your heart in a sacred place. Wouldn’t that keep someone from cheating—if they really honored your heart?

Being not uncoupled, as you call it, isn’t that the same as having baggage? I admit I’ve got so much baggage, I need a bellhop.
I love it. One person calls it baggage, but dealing with your emotional past is really about gaining wisdom. It becomes baggage only if you’re dumping your past on someone else. Men don’t want this stuff dumped on them. On a first date, I recommend that you don’t talk about your ex. Make the first date about knowing someone new.

I look back and miss being married: coming home and having someone to share my good news with.
What you’re saying is that you’re missing the relationship rituals. This is a great time to create some new rituals for yourself that you didn’t or couldn’t do when you were married. One of the things I did with my kids was going to Max’s and having dessert for dinner. You can also change your geography, even in your own home, with new furniture or paint.

Speaking of rituals, Valentine’s Day is coming up. Can you share your plans?
My husband has planned a three-day trip to Las Vegas. We were married on Valentine’s Day. We’re celebrating our anniversary. Seven years.

OK, so I started my list of ideal mate traits, like having an interest in basketball, having kids, having teeth. I based the list on the men I’ve dated in the last two years, and I was surprised that cumulatively, they had so many positive qualities. They weren’t dating disasters after all.
You’re experiencing a shift in perspective. Each date has brought you closer to your goal. You may have even met the right person already, but you won’t know him until you’re clear about what you want.

There’s always someone out there. Multiple someones. They are out there looking for you, waiting for you, and ultimately, you’ll find each other. And, boy, is he going to be lucky.

For information on Kaiser’s coaching service, visit www.yourdatingiq.com . Lafayette-based writer Barbara Flores has authored two plays, three books, and has written for the San Francisco Chronicle and More.

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