Be Your Own Dating Service: A Step-By-Step Guide to Finding and Maintaining Healthy Relationships

Be Your Own Dating Service: A Step-By-Step Guide to Finding and Maintaining Healthy Relationships

by Nina Atwood


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Where are all the good people to date? Why do I always end up with the wrong person? Why is love so hard to find?

This upbeat and on-target book answers these questions and many more, providing today's singles with a blueprint for creating rewarding dating experiences.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805040975
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 01/15/1996
Edition description: REV
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 797,927
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.69(d)

About the Author

Nina Atwood, M.ED., L.P.C., is a therapist in private practice in Dallas, Texas, where she also teaches dating and relationship seminars.

Read an Excerpt

Be Your Own Dating Service

A Step-by-Step Guide to Finding and Maintaining Healthy Relationships

By Nina Atwood

Henry Holt and Company

Copyright © 1996 Nina Atwood
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-11735-9


Love Myths, the Reality, and the Challenge of Love

Once upon a time, there was a princess ... well, she wasn't really a princess, but she thought of herself as one. She was, after all, waiting for a prince to come and take her away from her boring life.

Day after day, the princess dreamed of the beautiful life she would have with her prince. He would be tall and handsome, strong and brave, yet sensitive to her every emotional need. They would live in a castle (or a very large suburban home) and do romantic stuff every day.

Because she was attractive, many suitors came to see if they could win her hand, or something else. Some of them wanted merely to gaze into her eyes and yearn secretly for her. Some wanted a good time but no commitment. Some wanted a relationship, but since they weren't handsome princes, she turned those away.

The princess was frustrated and complained daily, "I just never meet anyone I'm interested in. There just aren't any handsome princes out there anymore. What can I do?"

Finally, the princess got tired of waiting for her prince, so one day she decided to go out and look for him.

First she went to a bar where a lot of men hung out. But she didn't find any princes there, only a lot of married men, alcoholics, and more of those no-commitment types. Then she tried the personal ads, but that didn't go anywhere.

Finally, she decided that as long as she was out, she might as well do something she enjoyed. She went to a big art show, where she got to see her favorite artists' work. While she was there she met some new people and made some friends. Later, she went to a big dance where she had lots of fun and made some more friends. The next day, she found more fun things to do and made more friends.

After a while the princess forgot about finding her prince. She was having too much fun with her new friends, and her dreams of a perfect life in a castle began to seem less important. She became a lot more outgoing, and she noticed that the kind of men she used to like now seemed rather boring.

The princess began having more dates but found that she was no longer so worried about finding the perfect Prince Charming. Instead, she chatted about her life and her new interests and took the time to get to know the man she was out with. She quickly moved on from the no-commitment type because they didn't fit into her new life very well.

One day while the princess was taking a photography class she noticed a guy who was not a prince but looked interesting. She noticed that he noticed her. After class they talked and then they went for a cup of coffee. A few days later they had lunch, and later that week they had dinner together. She found out that they cared about a lot of the same things, like children being happy and having good relationships with friends. They talked a lot, laughed a lot, and held hands. Sometimes they got mad and had it out, and sometimes they cried. But they tried to always speak from their hearts.

Later, they discovered that they loved each other and decided to stay together. The princess realized that she hadn't felt bored in a long time and that having someone to love and be loved by was a lot better than having a prince. She threw away her tiara, and the two lovers got married.

Fairy-Tale Love and Romantic Love Myths

This story was written like a fable because it seemed appropriate. After all, so much of what we perceive to be true about romantic love has its origins in the stories we read in childhood. And so much of our disappointment has its roots in the inevitable differences between these fairy tales and real life.

How many women (real or imagined princesses) have felt the heartbreak of waiting for a perfect prince to come along and instead found themselves in love with the wrong men? How many men have felt the sting of rejection from women who were looking for an ideal and failed to see the real, available man in front of them?

This story has a realistic ending because that's the way healthy love is. Falling in love may be splendid and glorious, but keeping that love alive is the greatest challenge we face. Falling in love while keeping sound judgment in place is equally difficult.

Perhaps in no other area of life are we so prone to mythology than in the area of romantic love. With no precise definitions, we speculate endlessly on love's meaning. The boundaries between friendship, romantic love, and a dating partnership are often fuzzy. We ask ourselves: "Is this real love?" We want to know what love is and what we can expect from it.

We look to our family of origin for answers and often come up empty-handed. Many of us came from families that were not models of healthy relationships. Our parents may have divorced bitterly, or in a friendly way (which way is right?). Or they stayed together and fought bitterly. Or they stayed together in a dead marriage. We hope that ours will turn out better, but we're not sure of how to make that happen.

To add to the confusion, Hollywood and television present us with their versions of what love is. A popular one is:

Boy meets girl in the midst of spine-tingling adventure. Sparks fly. They hate each other at first, then fall into bed, then love each other.

Their instant relationship is now "true love." Often these characters know nothing about each other and have very little in common. Yet we are expected to believe that theirs is a lifetime love. And, sadly, we accept this in some way as a model for love relationships.

The Origin of the Mythology of Love. Our lack of a precise definition of love, plus a lack of role models for healthy love and a good dose of Hollywood, gives us fertile ground for developing myths. In fact, at no other time in history have we been so prone to the invention and preservation of that mythology than now, in the latter twentieth century. Ann Swidler, among many authors, writes about our modern tendency to develop and maintain notions about what constitutes "true love." These notions and ideas powerfully influence our attitudes, feelings, and behavior in relationships.

Often we are not aware of this influence, yet our lives and relationships are being colored nonetheless. Our impressions form the backdrop of our consciousness as we interact with others in our daily lives. Because so many of these impressions are inaccurate, we find ourselves kept from what we want by an invisible boundary. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in the modern singles dating scene.

Myth: Love Is Forever. One of the first myths that we collide with is the idea of true love being forever. If it is real, then it is supposed to last. If it doesn't last, then it isn't real. The idea is that there is one and only one true love in each person's life.

This myth forces us to forever question whatever relationship we're in. Is this "the one"? How do I know? We second-guess ourselves instead of dealing with whatever it is that we have. Or we try to force the relationship into some idealistic mold that it may not fit into. Since I love you, this must be true love, and therefore it has to last.

Reality: Love is whatever it is and it lasts as long as it lasts. One person has the capacity to fall in love many times during a lifetime. Today's singles are often men and women who have experienced the loss of a love (or more than one love) and who find themselves, contrary to expectations, back on the dating scene again. Many men and women are choosing to remain single until later in life. Others are divorcing or ending long-term relationships. Thus dating, once considered to be something you left behind after high school and college, is now commonplace for people throughout their life spans. Needless to say, we weren't prepared for this! And one of our difficulties lies with the abundance of romantic love myths that follow us into our dating lives, making it more difficult for us to get what we want. Let's look at more of these misconceptions and half-truths.

Myth: Dating Is Separate from Relating. This is the idea that dating, an often frustrating and unrewarding experience, is something that we endure as singles in order to eventually find someone with whom we can have a relationship. It's uncomfortable and awkward, but it's the dues you have to pay until you find the right person, and then — whew! — you can relax and have a relationship.

In this view, dating is often a series of maneuvers in which the goal is to attract and "get" the object of our affections. If we wear this, say that, and behave just so, we can win over a desired person. Dating is a game we play in order to get what we want.

Many books and articles have been written on how to do this. Much of the advertising industry targets this wish to win a desirable partner. Once we accomplish our goal — getting the right person — we can then relax and begin a loving relationship.

Reality: Dating Is Relating. From the first meeting, the first phone call, the first encounter, we have some sort of relationship with another person. How we relate with that person and the other people we date, how we go about meeting and getting to know others, how we determine whom to become emotionally and sexually involved with are crucial. These factors determine the kind of relationships we end up in. And the kind of dating relationships we have powerfully influence the kind of marriage we will have and, ultimately, the health and emotional well-being of our families. It looks something like this:

HOW WE MEET others influences the KIND OF DATING RELATIONSHIPS we have

HOW WE DATE influences the HEALTH OF OUR LONG-TERM ROMANCES, which influences the HEALTH OF OUR MARRIAGES, which influences the


If we are prone to falling in love too quickly while letting our rational minds fly out the window, we will find ourselves in skyrocket relationships that fizzle quickly. If we hide our true feelings from those we date, being afraid that we will "scare them off," we will end up in relationships in which we do not feel free to express ourselves fully.

If we date in a manipulative way, revealing only what we want people to know in order to win them over, we will find ourselves in relationships that lack true intimacy or are even exploitative, with both partners feeling cheated out of the experience of real love. If we focus solely on keeping a desired lover, sacrificing our own needs in favor of our partner's, we will find ourselves in addictive relationships, "hooked" on people who can never give us what we want and need.

How we date is how we relate. The two cannot be separated. In order to have healthier relationships, we need to focus from the very beginning on how we date and how we interact.

More Fairy Tales

Myth: Successful Relationships Are Accidental. This is the idea that true love always finds you when you're not looking. This myth says that if we just go about our daily living, then the right partner will find us, magically, and with no effort on our parts we will be blissfully happy ever after. A trip to your local movie theater will reassure you of the prevalence of this notion of romantic love!

Reality: Most Relationships Are Accidental in Real Life. We don't usually make conscious decisions about relating to others. Most of the time we put little energy into considering what we are looking for and what kind of partner we want. We tend to rely solely on feelings of attraction to guide us when we meet someone new. We count on chance encounters. And for most of us this works, up to a point.

Yes, we do eventually meet new people and have dates. We do fall in love and have relationships. What we don't often do is create healthy love relationships that have the potential for lasting a lifetime. Just having a relationship is not enough. To experience true success, we need to feel that with a partner we've made a special connection that carries the possibility of a lasting commitment, and this does not happen by accident.

Myth: Finding the Right Person Guarantees a Successful Relationship. Hand in hand with the last myth is the idea that all we have to do to have a great relationship is find the "right person." Again, this myth says that somewhere out there is the one and only perfect partner for us, and when the time is right we'll meet him or her. We'll fall in love, everything will fall into place, and we'll live happily ever after.

The problem with these two myths is that they leave everything to luck, chance, and fate, with no real power or control in our hands. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Reality: Successful Relationships Are Created. We are only able to have healthy, successful love to the degree that we have put conscious effort toward this goal. Only by consulting ourselves about what we really want, on an intellectual, spiritual, and emotional level, are we able to choose the right partners. Accidental love is often unhealthy love. Successful love is created and is a direct result of how we go about meeting and dating potential partners.

This view is very much to the contrary of the expectations we have by virtue of living in today's culture. Erich Fromm remarked that most people see loving as easy, while finding a partner is viewed as difficult. This belief is the source of much of the frustration that singles feel today. "I'm ready for love," we say. "I know how to love and be loved, I just need to find the right person to do that with. Where, oh where, can I find Mr. (or Ms.) Right? That would be the solution to my problems."

The truth is that finding someone to love is the easiest part of love, if you are willing to take a few steps to increase your social exposure and improve your social skills. Finding someone with whom we are basically compatible, creating a healthy relationship with that person, and being partners in a lasting love is the greatest challenge that we face today. The good news is that we can do something about it.

Singles feel out of control of their love lives because they are looking for answers in the wrong place. The answer isn't in the people we meet and date. No one out there is going to make romance easy or right for us. The real solution lies within, not without. It lies in our willingness to question ourselves about the problems of love and to diligently search for meaningful answers.

It's too easy to brush off our past mistakes in relationships as being 0a simple matter of having chosen the "wrong person." It is much more challenging, and infinitely more rewarding, to look to ourselves for the source of the problem. After all, what is the common denominator of all your relationships? You are, of course!

We can realize that regardless of how our past partners behaved (certainly we have lots of evidence about their flaws), we chose them and we entered into relationships with them. We can face the inner forces that influenced those choices, and we can make changes within so that we make better choices. We can question and challenge the romantic love myths that govern our attitudes and behaviors, replacing them with ideas that make sense in today's world. Most important, we can become more conscious of each step of meeting, dating, and relating, increasing our level of awareness and choosing appropriate behaviors.

In so doing, we are looking to ourselves for solutions, growing and becoming better partners for our future mates. Our lives and our relationships are in our own hands, not in the hands of some mythical perfect partner who may or may not come along someday.

Why Is Love So Challenging?

"But wait," you say. "This is beginning to sound difficult. Isn't love the most natural thing in the world? Can't we just sit back and let love find us and unfold the way nature intended it to? Why must love be so difficult to find and to keep? After all, our grandparents and their parents didn't have to read self-help books to find love."

In one of the seminars I lead on dating and relating, I asked the men and women in my audience to talk about what they wanted and expected from their relationships. We wrote the responses on the blackboard, and the board was filled very quickly. What they wanted included:

love honesty
acceptance open communication
romance commitment
nurturing doing things together
great sex a loving family life
companionship listening
friendship sharing
understanding intimacy
support personal growth

Then I asked how many of them believed that their parents expected these kinds of things from a marriage or love relationship. A few hands went up. I queried further as to how many of them believed that their grandparents expected these things from marriage. Only one or two hands went up. Great-grandparents? No hands went up.

Even though this isn't a scientific survey, I think it indicates how dramatically our expectations of relationships, particularly the marriage relationship, have changed from those of previous generations. We want so much more than just a mate with whom to raise children and help with the chores or the family business. We want all the goodies that a loving, intimate relationship seems to offer.


Excerpted from Be Your Own Dating Service by Nina Atwood. Copyright © 1996 Nina Atwood. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Part I. Your Dating Game Plan,
1. Love Myths, the Reality, and the Challenge of Love,
2. Stages of Love,
3. Who's Doing the Choosing?,
4. Looking for Love,
5. Successful Dating: A Journey, Not a Destination,
6. Be Your Own Dating Service,
7. Better Choices, Better Relating,
8. Who Makes the Moves?,
9. The First Three Dates,
10. Changing Roles, Changing Rules,
Part II. The Relationship,
11. Communication: The Fertilizer for Relationships,
12. Courtship Versus the "Settle-for" Relationship,
13. The Northbound Train,
14. Attachment: The Most Powerful Force in Love,
15. Sex, Love, and Communication,
16. The Exclusive Relationship,
17. Breaking Up Is Hard to Do,
18. Are You the One for Me?,
About the Author,

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