Thursday, June 6, 2013

Dating to dignify, part 4 of 5: Laying out the welcome mat

This year I've interviewed dozens of my single Christian friends about dating. I've taken their ideas about the best ways to navigate the initial stage of a dating — getting a first date and moving past it —  and have compiled them in this blog series. 

Check out:
Part 3: "Making a move"

A couple of years ago I spotted an unfamiliar man at my seminary's library. He was tall, broad, and handsome. And he wasn't wearing a wedding ring. What a rarity at my seminary! And lucky me, I was standing just feet away from this hot, single, Christian guy.

And yet, I avoided eye contact and began mumbling to myself as he walked by. Surely he'd recognize my worth and approach me, despite my complete lack of effort to be open and inviting?

I never saw him again.

Story of my life. For awhile, anyway.

My interviews with my single male friends and my experiences dating over the last year and a half have helped me to understand that it often takes guts for a guy to ask a girl out. It means possible rejection, and even humiliation. 

So I learned that, if I met a hunk at the library or a party, it was helpful if I sent him encouraging signals that made him comfortable to make a move. Avoiding eye contact and muttering to myself was no longer an option. 

One of my male friends told me that a female's encouraging signals are like "laying out the welcome mat." They invite the guy to walk on over and knock on the door. My college girlfriends and I called this "Pulling a Ruth."

Today's post is a series of suggestions for laying out the welcome mat. This list is for the ladies, since yesterday's post was for the gents.

But first: Remember my single friends? The ones I interviewed for this series? Most of them agreed that both men and women can lay out the welcome mat to make an introduction more natural. But we were also all pretty traditional. We have no problem with women being proactive, but we liked the idea of the guy asking the girl out, and not vice versa. These lists will reflect our values.

1. When you see that guy you'd like to talk to, smile and maintain prolonged eye contact.  We're talking one full second here, people. This is hard. Very hard. I have timed myself doing this (naturally) and have concluded that I could swim across the English channel in the time it takes to assure a guy with my eyes and smile that he can talk to me. One second is an eternity. But if you can muster up the courage to do it, it will give a guy good encouragement.

2. If his gaze continues to dart your way but he doesn't come up to you, then move closer to him. He may be too shy to walk across the room. And if he's still too shy to say anything once you've relocated, then initiate contact. Ask him which pot luck dish he recommends you taste at the Super Bowl party you're both attending. Ask him what book he's reading as he sits there sipping his cappuccino. Ask him if he's winning the game he's playing on his smart phone. Ask him how his night is going. Be playful. Make jokes. Keep it light. 

3. Once contact has been made, if Hot Stuff wants to talk, then talk! Ask him interesting questions. (Be sure to maintain good eye contact!) Try to go beyond the ol' "Where do you work and what did you study" go-to questions. You're both looking for a spark, for a magnetic connection that isn't created as naturally when you're limiting the conversation to reciting the title of your college majors ten years ago.

So ask him what he'd do if he had a day to himself and could teleport anywhere in the world. If he says he'd teleport to Australia so he can go snorkeling, well, wow, now you have a lot to talk about. Ask him what he loves about snorkeling. Ask him about his most dangerous snorkeling adventure. Use your questions to discover what he values. Maybe you and he will discover shared values — a great start to a relationship, yes?!

4.  Want him to know you're open to hanging out? Figure out what he's good at and ask him to teach you. Does he like to surf? Play the guitar? Is he an avid gardener? Be casual about it: "I'd love to learn how to surf. Maybe you could teach me sometime?" Asking him to teach you the thing he loves is a natural way to show your interest in seeing him again. 

You could also figure out your common interests. Do you both like music in the park? Great. Tell him you're going to an outdoor concert this Friday with a group of friends, and you know what? He should join you! If you're not going to the concert this Friday then just throw it out there that, hey, there's a concert this Friday! If he's hoping to hang, then he'll probably suggest you go together.

5. Adjust your expectations. Unreasonably high expectations when you meet and interact with new men (or women — this is for both sexes) will sabotage your efforts. They did mine, for years. 

Your goal shouldn't be to convey yourself perfectly. You are not working for a marriage proposal and a subsequent wedding and family. You will not be doomed to singleness forever and ever if you don't make eye contact for a complete second and then maintain playful conversation. 

You're working in a yoke with Jesus! So just work on making a connection in the best way you can. Practice being open and approachable, and one day your efforts may reap marital rewards. You're growing and doing what you can; God will use it.

6. Okay, this one is super duper cliche, but it's surprisingly difficult: be yourself. Don't lapse into uncharacteristic monotone, or talk more quickly than normal due to nerves. Don't converse about things that normally bore you because you think it's what you're supposed to do. Just relax. Be animated. Talk about things that make you laugh and get you fired up. Try to find the things that make his eyes light up. You are attractive. You. Confident, interesting You. 

Yesterday I wrote about how guys can make their "first moves" in a way that dignifies us. There are a few things we can remember, too, as we welcome men's interest in a way that dignifies them.

1)  It's easy to welcome a man's interest because it feels good. Gosh, we often struggle with insecurity, and it's nice to feel attractive and appealing. So it's tempting to lay out the welcome mat, not because we're genuinely interested in a man, but because we want male attention to make us feel better about ourselves. 

In order to fight this temptation, I've learned to observe myself when I'm around men. Am I laying out the welcome mat because I'm really interested in getting to know them romantically? Or am I just craving attention?  

When it's the latter, I'm learning to roll the welcome mat back up, and invite the Holy Spirit to step in and remind me of my worth. 

2) Let's say you get that first date and want another. Then let him know. Tell him you had a great time. If you're feeling super confident, then let him know you'd like to go out again. Be direct with him the way you want him to be direct with you. 

One of the men I interviewed for this series told me he took a girl out once whom he really enjoyed. He'd hoped to see her again, so he texted her a couple of times after their date to try to feel out her interest. 

Her responses didn't indicate interest, so he didn't ask her out. Later he found out she'd really liked him, but was going to "let him pursue her." 

My friend could have been much more direct about his intentions on the front end, which would have given the gal more confidence to be equally direct about her interest. 

But ladies, if a guy isn't as direct as he could be, we can still be intentional about encouraging his continued interest. The gal my friend liked didn't have to ask him on a second date in her texts, but she could have expressed what she liked about him and the extent to which she enjoyed their first date. 

This sort of directness makes us really vulnerable which is probably why we avoid being direct, and instead "let the guy [blindly] pursue" us. Our ambiguity or lack of effort is a shield to protect us from rejection and disappointment. 

But, as I wrote yesterday, being direct can be like putting guardrails along the dating "cliff." The rails don't eliminate the possibility of getting hurt, but they do give you and your potential guy freedom to explore without being paralyzed by the fear of falling. It's counterintuitive, but making yourself vulnerable by being clear about your interest will actually protect your burgeoning relationship to an extent.

Buuuut, let's say one of you isn't interested in date #2. Ay. This is where things get sticky. So tomorrow's post will suggest some helpful ways to navigate rejection. 

© by scj


  1. Sarah - I've loved reading your thoughts on the subject of dating and relationships! As I've just moved back to America I'm experiencing a pressure from within telling me, "Now you're back in the land of possibilities. You speak the same language. Everyone around you is already on their 3rd kiddo and 2nd mortgage...Get to it!" And yet I'm feeling hesitant and nervous to reengage again. So thanks for the encouragement and great thoughts on giving dignity and honor to one another.

    1. Lauree! You are so witty, fun, and lovely — the guys are going to be banging that door down once they're confident they have a chance with you. :) Good luck re-engaging the American dating experience. I hope it's encouraging, refreshing, and FUN!

      Thanks for your encouragement. Talking and writing about dating has helped me immensely as I figure out how to navigate this experience. I'm glad these posts could encourage you in some way, too.


  2. Hey Sarah! Just wanted to say how much I look forward to getting off work so I can come home and read that day's post about your dating adventures! So much of the time I've been reading and you'll say something like "pulling a Ruth" and I'll be thinking "Yes!! Thank you!! Why are all the girls I meet doing this wrong??" Next line will be something like "Skip talking about your college majors." Dang. My B girls... Admittedly time machines are way cooler! In summary Sarah, thanks for sharing yourself in your words. God has given you an awesome gift for conveying sentiments via the written word, and Blogese is among your strongest. Everyone taking the time to seek will find something that relates to them! I'm hooked. Keep it up :)


    1. This made me smile, Kyler. :) I'm glad you enjoyed the series! And I will say, I like hearing about your college major. Seriously. Because when you talk about your studies you're talking about something that excites you. The problem, I think, is when you limit your first interaction to robotic, "expected" conversation that doesn't ever arrive at the things about which you're passionate and excited. So keep if your studies light your fire, then fire away, fire away. And then move from studies to time machines. Better yet, merge the two. You can't go wrong there. ;)

      Thanks for your kind, encouraging words, K. :)