Love & Sex

I Did It For Science: Dating Coach

Pin it

imageI Did It For Science by Grant Stoddard

To have my romantic acumen assessed and repaired by a dating consultant.

State your hypothesis in the form of a prediction that can be verified by the results of the experiment.

Since I started writing this column, "normal" dates have been relatively hard to come by. Every day I’m bombarded with invitations to sex parties and dildo seminars, so I’m never short on things to do. Problem is, my friends now think that fixing me up on a date is akin to recommending Michael Jackson as a babysitter. I started using online personals to meet people but soon discovered that selling myself to a stranger isn’t my strong suit. My dating life is going down the pan, and I’m about to pay a professional for some relief. But it’s not what you think: a three-hour tête-à-tête with a dating coach might be just what I need to release the charm and charisma of a young Warren Beatty.

Please list all the materials required for this experiment (including, if applicable, how they were obtained).

Check (1)
Dating coach (1)
Blind date (1)

In this portion of your report, you must describe step-by-step what you did in your lab. It should be specific enough that someone who has not seen the lab can follow the directions and recreate the same lab.

First Impressions Consulting is based in downtown Manhattan. For $275 one of their staff members — all of whom hold Ph.D.s in psychology — will take you on a simulated date, evaluate your strengths and weaknesses, then come up with solid psychological explanations for your gargantuan porn collection and chronically callused right hand. After I faxed over a signed agreement that effectively said DO NOT TOUCH THE PSYCHOLOGISTS, I was told to show up at a downtown coffee shop at eleven a.m. that Saturday — a full two hours before I’d typically get up and think about brunch options.

Bleary-eyed and dazed, I made my way to the meeting place, where an attractive redhead in her late thirties was waiting outside. “Grant?” she asked. “Yes!” I replied, thankful to be spared the indignity of picking my fake date out of a crowd. “I’m Susan. Pleased to meet you,” she said, extending a gloved hand. “I just love the cold, don’t you?” “Yes,” I lied, kicking off ten seconds of excruciating silence.

Over coffee and a croissant, Susan and I went through the usual preamble of awkward blind dates. During the next hour, we swapped the usual demographic information (where we grew up, went to school, traveled, etc.), then inexplicably went off on a huge tangent about paranormal activity in Connecticut.

I was nervous. Not only was my date fifteen years my senior, but I was acutely aware of being evaluated. Susan noted every move, gesture and comment I made, and she certainly didn’t go out of her way to make me feel at ease. During lulls in the conversation, she’d just look up at me expectantly with raised eyebrows. I filled the gaps with furtive gulps of coffee, as the Rolodex of my mind flipped around in search of an appropriate conversational nugget.

I managed to make Susan laugh a few times, but toward the end of the hour we began to recycle topics. I felt like a radio DJ struggling to fill dead air while straying further and further from the script. Finally, Susan stopped the madness. In a motion reminiscent of an unmasking-the-villain scene on Scooby-Doo, my interrogator produced a clipboard from her bag. “Let’s break out of this,” she said. “I’m Dr. Anne Demarais.” I had to restrain myself from hugging her, so great was my relief at being let off the hook. Dr. Anne asked me to complete a questionnaire and swing by her office in thirty minutes. I scribbled down answers to questions like, How do you feel you came across during the date? and Did your date with Susan feel awkward? and made my way over to meet Anne, the psychologist formally known as Susan.

First, we reviewed my questionnaire. I told Dr. Anne that being evaluated made me a nervous wreck. “But whenever you meet anyone, you’re being evaluated, aren’t you?” she countered. I thought about that as the good doctor reviewed her notes with a knitted brow. I was convinced that I was about to be cut off at the knees.

“You are what I’d call . . . ” began Dr. Anne, ” . . . a high-level performer.” She showed me the score sheet. The things I did “exceptionally well” included “introducing topics,” “not appearing excessively concerned with impressing Susan” and “discussing interests and hobbies passionately.” Things I did “satisfactorily” included “not expressing neediness,” “showing honesty and integrity” and “not denigrating self.” (Yes, the results may surprise some people.)

But the real point of this venture was to pinpoint exactly where I’m shooting myself in the foot with the ladies. According to Dr. Anne, I took little interest in “Susan.” I didn’t use her name in conversation and, aside from cursory questions about her schooling and where she’d traveled in Europe, I missed several opportunities to ask what she liked to do, her hobbies and interests, hopes and aspirations, yada, yada, yada. I also failed to offer any compliments whatsoever.

I think that’s because I felt like I was hitting on a friend’s mom. How could I take an interest in someone who’s pretending to be someone else for money? I knew I could do better in a real-life situation with a girl I was interested in.

I complained that I found “Susan” a bit chilly. Anne said that because I had good interpersonal skills, she had decided to raise the bar by adding a few clunky silences; in doing so, she was giving me an opportunity to draw Susan out more. Faced with my slightly quizzical expression, the doc broke it down for me. “You seem to relate your life in a series of anecdotes which are all very funny and interesting,” she said. “Like your story about being the singer in a rock band. Susan asked you several questions about that. Susan may have been a concert pianist, but you really didn’t think to ask her.” She went on to say that although I had all the charm of a grade-A mack, my lack of interest (in “Susan,” at least) put a serious dent in my game.

Dr. Anne said that creating a great first impression is based on two things: the entertainment value you provide by offering information about your own life; and, more importantly, how you make other people feel about themselves: appearing to give a shit about their dreams, laying the groundwork, making them feel special, etc. etc. Once you’ve done all that, she explained, you can move to “the next stage.” (Although she didn’t specify, I assumed this was the make-out stage.) For the most part, the evaluation boosted my ego, and I left the office with an extra spring in my step.

Little did I know what was to come.

Quantify the effects of the experiment.

Well, the proof of the pudding is in the eating, so I set up a blind date for the next day. I agreed to meet Katie at a bar. I got there a little early and stood around practicing the wind-up. The good doctor said the only part of a date you should fake, if necessary, is the initial greeting. Even if my date had a mug like a slapped ass, I was going to give her a big toothy smile (the only kind I know, as my teeth look like those miniature bars of hotel soap), use her name right off the bat and generally act like I was having my mind blown by her insights on growing up in White Plains.

Katie was punctual and had a pretty face. I stood up, sporting a shit-eating grin, and greeted her. “Katie?” I beamed. I thrust out my hand, but she went in for the peck on the cheek. Trying to make amends for my stuffiness, I pulled her in and kissed her. The awkwardness was palpable. I offered to get her a drink, but she’d already been to the bar. Continuing to grin like a simpleton, I tried to cover all the conversational bases: the topical (her weekend, the continuing cold snap, the impending transit strike), the demographical (the town she grew up in, her siblings, her schooling) and the anecdotal (recent dates, “this one time at band camp,” etc.)

No one was taking the lion’s share on the mic, and everything seemed to be going swimmingly. Although the old Grant may have drifted off (I have an ADD problem that I haven’t quite gotten around to seeing my doctor about), new Grant laughed at all the cute things that she said, made sympathetic noises in all the right places, and nodded convincingly whenever she mentioned that something that Mayor Bloomberg was doing was “in actuality, total bullshit.”

She asked me about my band, a now defunct power-pop trio. I rattled off a long list of esoteric groups that in some way shaped our sound, look or raison d’etre. “Cool,” she said after each one, including two that I totally made up. Forgoing all of my dating sensei’s teachings, I then launched into a ten-minute monologue about an ill-fated, Spinal Tap-esque gig at a Bennigan’s in Virginia. A prolonged silence ensued. Katie raised her eyebrows and gave me an embarrassed smile. “You know, I was in a choir that toured North America and Western Europe. I also play the flute.” I didn’t even think to ask. Dr. Anne was right. I was no good at the hand-off.

I also began to notice something else: I was not attracted to Katie.

As Katie continuted to tell me about musical accomplishments that far surpassed my own, my mind furiously scanned through every lackluster liaison with every girl that I’ve ever met, trying to pinpoint the precise moment when she realized I couldn’t care less. I felt wretched and took a swig of my Coke, hoping it would sweeten the self-loathing that was coursing through my body. “Are you feeling okay?” Katie asked. “Sure,” I lied.

She then proceeded to make everything worse by saying that I was cute and funny and that she loved my accent. I squirmed a little but returned the compliment. Out of the blue, she decided to up the ante: “What’s the best blowjob you ever got?” My jaw dropped. Dr. Anne hadn’t prepped me for this. “Really . . . ” Katie said, leaning in like a slurring Cujo. “What’s the best you’ve ever had? Tell me.” Apparently, Katie was a tad drunk. Atypically, I was not in the mood. Blushing, I told her the sketchy details. “I bet I could do better,” she smirked. “Ha ha!” I replied, utterly discombobulated. “You’re silly!” This had never happened before. We drank up, I walked her to the subway and kissed her goodbye, not exactly sure if the offer of oral sex was a direct result of my consultation.

Summarize your findings. Don’t forget to attempt to identify possible variables that could result in different findings for others trying to recreate your test results.

Are guys who give a great first impression liars, or are they just intrigued by anyone and everyone? Although Dr. Demarais gave me props for showing honesty and integrity, possessing such “skills” could well be my Achilles heel in the dating world. I thought my lack of interest in “Susan” was due to the fact that she seemed more like some dotty aunt than the snotty young girls I typically go for. But I had the same problem with Katie. She was young and snotty enough — and certainly willing enough — but I just wasn’t feeling it. As trite as it sounds, there’s something to be said for chemistry. If someone could teach me how to create that, I’d sign up in a heartbeat.

First Impressions: What You Don’t Know About How Others See You will be published by Bantam Books in 2003.

Do you have an idea for Grant’s next I Did It for Science? Let him know here.


© 2002 Grant Stoddard and, Inc.