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Dating Maze #342: Fielding Suggestions

September 15, 2011 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

“Come on, what have you got to lose?”

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

As a 28-year-old single woman, I have been dating for a number of years and find myself always changing and learning more about myself with each experience. I have learned that while it is very painful to be single this long, I have been blessed with the chance to stay in school as long as I wanted. I travel, volunteer, and mature with each experience.

I feel that while my life is missing that which I want most, God is giving me the chance to enter marriage as a more giving and wise person. I try to stay positive, happy, and appreciative of the things I have, and after years of bad experiences, I have taken charge of my dating life. I have analyzed past experiences, and made a short list of the 3-4 character traits I don’t wish to compromise on.

I have learned to trust my instincts about a guy who I am dating or who is suggested. But invariably, if I nix a suggestion, people try to convince me otherwise. They’ll comment, "What have you got to lose?"

Actually, I’ve got a lot to lose. When I date someone who is completely wrong for me, that takes an emotional toll. Being criticized for turning down an inappropriate suggestion also takes its toll - I'm made to feel as if I should desperately jump at any suggestion that might help me escape my "pitiful" singlehood. So my question is: How do I handle these well-meaning people who pressure me to date a guy that I know is not for me?


Dear Jill,

Thank you for your beautiful letter. Your appreciation that marriage will take place according to God’s schedule, not yours, is something that can benefit anyone who feels frustrated about their inability to achieve a goal they strive for. You've viewed this period in life as a gift, and used the time to develop your character and grow from your experiences. And you recognize that you've changed in a way that will enable you to have a more rewarding marriage.

You want to be seen as a full human being, not an object of pity.

We understand why you want more people to embrace this positive perspective. You want to be seen as a valuable human being who enjoys a full life, and not to be seen as an object of pity because you haven't yet found the right person to marry. It's similar to someone who is hunting for a job and wants to be valued for her personal qualities, rather than simply labeled as "unemployed.”

Unfortunately, many of us can fall into a trap when trying to help a neighbor find a job, or to be a matchmaker for an unmarried friend. We're so intent on our "mission" that we see only that dimension of the other person. This is why you sometimes feel that people see you as "The Single" – rather than as the capable, successful, optimistic woman you are.

So while it is important to encourage others to think of you as a multi-faceted person with a rich life, it is helpful to understand where they’re coming from. They simply want to help. That’s why it’s so important to focus on their positive efforts. If you can demonstrate true appreciation, you may be able to let go of the resentment that you feel. And then you would be in a much better position to remind them, in a non-critical way, that you’d like them to see the bigger picture.

Our advice is that you force yourself to thank anyone who suggests a prospective date – no matter how ridiculous it may sound. You can simply say: "You can't imagine how much it means to have you thinking of me." This validating statement encourages your friends to keep thinking of ideas for you, because it's entirely possible that in the future, they'll have a great suggestion. In addition, by verbally expressing appreciation, it can help you internalize the message and truly appreciate the other person's thoughtfulness and efforts.

Out of the Box

Now to your question: How do you let them know that this particular suggestion is off the mark?

Try not to reject a suggestion outright, unless you can say something like, "You know, great minds must think alike. Someone else suggested him, and we've already gone out. It was a good idea, but we weren't right for each other." Instead, ask a few questions to communicate that you value the time and thought that went into presenting the idea. "I want to think about your suggestion, but I'll need some more information. How well do you know the man you've suggested? Why do you think he's a good idea for me? How would you describe his personality and what he wants out of life? Is there someone else who knows him well who can tell me more about him?"

Even if your friend's initial description didn't sound like a good idea, take a few moments to ask these questions. You may discover that the man she has in mind actually has a number of traits you'd favorably consider. Sometimes, a good dating idea may be a little "out of the box" but still has those essential qualities. But you'll never know if you immediately turn down the suggestion. Or, you might confirm your instincts that this man isn't right for you, but he may be a possibility for someone else you know!

She may be hurt that you don't value her insight.

Even though you shouldn't have to offer a reason why you're rejecting a particular suggestion, we think it is a good idea to explain that you have a good reason to turn it down. Bear in mind that sometimes, someone who tries to make a match can get so caught up in the thought that her suggestion could be "the One" that she already imagines the two of you walking down the aisle – even though she may not know enough about the man or about what you are looking for.

She may think that if you reject her idea, it’s because you're being picky, or are inflexible, or need to be more open-minded, and she may be hurt that you don't value her insight. Don't beat around the bush in explaining why the idea wasn't right for you – be honest and direct. This is a chance to let her know more about the criteria she can look for the next time she has an idea.

If your friend doesn't understand why you won't take a chance on an iffy prospect simply because "It's just a cup of coffee" or "What do you have to lose?", you can calmly enlighten her about how difficult the dating experience is for you:

"When I go out with a man who seems to have the important qualities I'm looking for, I feel good about myself – even if the date doesn't lead to anything. But when I agree to date to someone who doesn't have those qualities, I feel as if I’m acting desperate. That ends up hurting my self-esteem. And it usually hurts his, too."

Finally, offer encouragement and appreciation: "Even though the man you suggested this time doesn't seem to be what I am looking for, I hope that you'll keep thinking of ideas for me, because your next idea might be perfect." It may well be!

We wish you success in navigating the dating maze,

Rosie & Sherry

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