Dispatches

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In 2005, Neil Strauss revealed the mystery of pickup artists to the world with his book The Game. Last year, Mystery, took things further with The Pick-Up Artist, a show pitting socially hopeless men against each other as he trained them in the ways of manipulation and seduction. This month, Bravo got into the act, giving Millionaire Club owner Patti Stanger her own reality TV show: The Millionaire Matchmaker.

But do these shows provide any practical insight into how to make a good first impression? Not according to Shula Melamed, whose company, First Impressions, provides consulting services for both business and dating. Instead of providing a treasure map to guaranteed booty, Melamed meets her clients for one-on-one faux dates and analyzes her findings.

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In a conversation with Nerve, Ms. Melamed shares her own secrets for successful dating, including parallels to the business world, the importance of sincere flattery, and the necessity of just chilling out. — Steph Auteri

How did you get into this line of work?

Ann Demarais, a cognitive psychologist and the founder of First Impressions, contacted me at the suggestion of a friend of mine, who knew I had experience in the dating industry and was getting my master’s degree in psychology. I used to do consultations back when I was working with a matchmaker. She contacted me and auditioned me with her friend; I went out on a date and he reviewed me, and it was good!

These consultation dates — how do they usually unfold?

We meet up, and we don’t talk about the fact that we’re on this "date." We have a regular date, maybe two hours. I grade the date. I give them a self-evaluation, where they can tell me how they think they did and were they comfortable, and then I tell them how I think they did. Did they let me speak? Did they go off on tangents? Did they do this? Did they do that? How did they handle a pause in conversation? I’ll inject pauses purposely.

People ask me, "why is it that every time I go out with someone, this happens?" One guy asked, "why is that every time I go out with someone, I feel as if their eyes just glaze over?" And I went out with him and he was a totally nice guy, good-looking, had a great job, had interesting hobbies, but he was so completely terrified of a break in conversation that he would bring up a topic that was kind of interesting and then run it directly through the wall. If he was on a date with a woman who was insecure, she would think that this guy didn’t care what she had to say.

It seems that it would be exceptionally difficult to be yourself on a date where you are, literally, being judged.

I pay attention to certain cues. If they sit down and their speech is rapid, they’re moving around, it might be magnified by the fact that they’re facing an evaluation. When we get to the evaluation section, I ask them how they think they did, and how they usually behave on dates. We have a meta-conversation about the date that they sort of lose themselves in.

     

  

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Shy people are often advised to remind themselves that other people are also worrying about their own image, often too much to place too much judgment on others. Is there truth to this?
I tell people that the other person is worried about being evaluated as well. If you direct your attention on them, and see how they’re doing, kind of checking in on them, you’ll be comforting the other person and engaging the other person, which in turn will make the other person comfortable too. It’s the same with acting. When you concentrate on the person you’re talking to onstage, instead of worrying about all the people watching you and whether or not your slip is showing, that’s when you have a real moment, because you’re not acting.

So what are your clients’ most common issues?
The balance in conversation is a big thing. People want to hear about your pastimes or your hobbies, but nobody wants to hear about work. I’m sorry. Self-deprecation.

An extreme amount of self-deprecation works for comedians, but on a date it’s not appealing. Complimenting the other person. I went on a date with this guy, and at the end, he asked how he did, and I said, "You didn’t make me feel like I was pretty." And he was like, "What!?" And I’m like, "I didn’t even know if you thought I was attractive or not." People like to be told they’re cute, you know? I know I’m just a dating consultant, but I’m still a woman!

When you go out on a date, what are dealbreakers for you?
I don’t like anyone who takes themselves too seriously, number one. Somebody who doesn’t let me speak. I once met this woman who told me that her friend went out with a guy for six months to see if he would ask her one question about herself. And he didn’t. When dating someone, you definitely want them to be attentive and engaged, but you also don’t want them to be trying too hard, so it’s like walking a high wire. When it comes down to it, at the end of the night, could you spend more time with this person? That’s what you look for.  

  

     

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©2008 Steph Auteri and Nerve.com