Breaking Up

Dear Elana,

I've been with my partner for a few years and she's great. We're compatible, we get along, we're great friends; I love her dearly and don't want to hurt her. The problem is that I'm not really sure I want to spend the rest of my life with her. I find myself deeply attracted to other women and I long for the freedom of being single again. I've been on the fence for awhile, but my partner wants us to get married. I don't think I want that right now, but I don't know how to break the news to her. How do I say goodbye?


Scared About Departing

Dear SAD,

Breakups are painful, and I commend you for wanting to break the news respectfully. Before you act, you need to gain clarity about your decision. You say that you are “not really sure” that you want to stay with her. You also write that you “love her dearly” and that you are “compatible” and “great friends.” I wonder what is inspiring your desire for freedom.

You say that you don’t know if you want marriage “right now,” which suggests that you imagine being married one day. What is preventing you from feeling ready at this moment?

Carl Jung conceptualized The Shadow, which is comprised of the dark parts of yourself that you cannot accept. Could it be that your desire to be sexual with other women is incongruent with your ideal of a good husband? If so, I would encourage you to separate desire from action. It is normal to find other people attractive even after signing a marriage license, and it is normal to long for freedom at times. You have a choice about whether or not to act on these desires.

If your longing for freedom overrides your desire for companionship, then you are right to end the relationship. Speak with her in person, be direct and kind. Tell her that you love her, but that you want to be single at this point. Be prepared to discuss practical issues regarding the dissolution of your shared life, including rent if you’re living together, custody of pets, and expectations for communicating with mutual friends. If she feels angry or hurt, listen to her supportively and answer any questions that she asks to help her gain closure.

I Want Him to See Me as More Than a Friend

Dear Elana, 

I've known this friend for 13 years. He's two years older than me, and I know him because he's a family friend. We were always close, but I think (pretty sure) that I'm falling for him. How do I get him to see me as a potential partner? 

- Wanting And Needing To Make Our Romance Engage


Before you make a move, you need to decide if it's worth risking your friendship – and creating awkwardness for your families. If you think there's potential for lasting love, then it's worth exploring. But just like dating a coworker or a neighbor, if you break up, you have to be prepared to keep seeing each other. 

Next, you need to clarify your feelings. You say that you are “pretty sure” that you are falling for him. Do you find yourself smiling when you think about him, or hear his name? When you see him, do you feel like you have butterflies in your stomach, or like your heart is bursting out of your chest? If you answered yes, then congratulations, you are officially smitten. 

If you decide to move forward after weighing the pros and cons, you need a plan to help him see you as a potential match. Show him that you’re not a goofy kid, but instead an alluring young woman. If he's used to seeing you in ratty t-shirts, try wearing something that shows your sense of style. Engage him in topics that matter to him, and demonstrate your shared interests. Adjust your posture when you're talking to him, and see if he mirrors your body language. 

Invite him to spend time with you outside of family holidays. After a Thanksgiving feast, ask him if he would like to join you outside for fresh air. If you find yourself laughing with him at inside jokes, tell him that you feel comfortable with him, and that you enjoy hanging out with him.

As your connection grows stronger, you can mention that you are interested in various activities like seeing an independent film or hiking in a local park. If he jumps at the chance to join you, there's a good chance that he sees you as more than a friend. But if he politely ignores your hints, take the cue to safeguard the friendship and set your sights elsewhere.

Is it InstaLove?

Dear Elana, 

I'm falling in love with my online guy friend. We met through Instagram and have become good friends but we've never met in person. I want to have a future with him, but I don't know how to approach things as I have no idea about his feelings and I don't want to ruin the friendship between us.

- I Never Stop Thinking About Crush

Dear INSTA Crush, 

It sounds like you're falling for this guy's emoji game, but you want some face time. 

I'm wondering where you are in the trajectory of your Instagram relationship. It seems like you have progressed through the early stages of Instaflirting: following each other, liking and commenting on each other's photographs, and moving from public communication to private messaging. 

The next step is to move the conversation off of Instagram and into more personal modes of communication: email, phone, or video chat. Once you establish mutual trust and interest, you can plan a date IRL (In Real Life) – so that one day you can post photos of the two of you together, sipping hot chocolate in front of a blazing fire. 

You can figure out if he likes you as more than a friend by watching his reactions to your posts. Reciprocity is key. If you like one of his workout pics at the gym, he should like one of your fitness selfies. You can also scope out your competition. Has he recently followed or liked other girls' pictures? Did he like all of their #instagood posts, but ignore your birthday post? If so, sorry, but he's not that into you. 

If it seems like all signs are pointing to InstaLove, try to communicate with him honesty and directly. Remember, it's easy to hide behind a computer screen, but if you want your connection to grow, you need to show him your real feelings (#nofilter).  

Religious Dating in a Secular World

Dear Elana,

I'm a 26 year old Modern Orthodox guy and I'm feeling frustrated by dating. I grew up in a family that valued travel and humanist education, and I appreciate my upbringing because I was exposed to literature, politics, and history, but I also feel like an outsider in many circles. The women I meet who share my Jewish values don't understand my need for independence and adventure, and the ones I meet in artsy or literary circles don't understand the significance of my Jewish life. Is it possible to meet a woman who can traverse both worlds, or am I chasing a white whale?

Always Hunting, Attempting Bliss

Dear Captain AHAB,

Judaism prizes community and bonding through shared history, rituals, and beliefs. As a Jew, you are encouraged to stay close to community and maintain traditions. But as a global citizen you are exposed to ideas of cultural relativity and motivated to question the privileging of any customs or beliefs over others. Creating a coherent narrative in between these two competing value sets can pose a challenge – especially when you are looking for your soulmate.

I believe that if you exist, a match exists, and when the timing is right you will find each other. In my experience, there are lots of Modern Orthodox Jewish women who can hold their own in intellectual circles and who love to travel. In fact, your family is living proof that Jewish home life does not have to preclude adventure. One of my friends moved to Buenos Aires for a year with her husband and children. After figuring out all of the logistics (renting their home while they were gone, transferring the kids to international schools, and arranging a telecommuting gig for her husband) they had a wonderful experience that they will never forget. You can design your marriage to be just as original and unpredictable as you are.

Finally, if you aren't having luck finding a match in Cleveland, consider expanding your search to Jewish communities that attract lots of young, Modern Orthodox, intellectuals like yourself in New York, Philadelphia, or Los Angeles.

Best Dating Profile Pictures

Dear Elana,

What pictures should I post to my online dating profile?

Please help,
Seeking Exciting Loving Feelings In E-Dating


Frustrated singles often call me after giving up on internet dating. They tell me that it's useless because they didn't meet anyone. The truth is that online dating is a great way to connect with a pool of available people that you wouldn't otherwise be able to access. The key is presenting yourself with skill and style. Many profiles contain blurry, grainy, or dated photos that cause them to be overlooked. Your headshot is competing with thousands of other profiles for attention, so if you want to get noticed you need to stand out from the crowd.

I've seen the best results from posting five to seven photographs in the following categories:
1-2 Portraits that show your face clearly
1-2 Full-body shots that show your figure
1-2 Conversation Starters (hobbies/travel/pets)
1-2 Social Proof (evidence that you have friends and sometimes leave your house)


  • Match your pictures to your profile text. For example, if you write about pinball competitions at Gordon Square, then include a snapshot of your amazing score in Medieval Madness.
  • Include casual pictures: cheering at a Cavs game, wearing a goofy Halloween costume, standing next to a sign that says “No Standing” (you rebel).
  • Post recent photographs.


  • Don't use the same photograph for LinkedIn.
  • Don't post pictures where your ex- was obviously cropped out.
  • Don't exclusively post selfies – find at least one friend who's willing to take your picture.

Lastly, get a second opinion. Ask a close friend, your mom, or another trusted advisor to give their honest opinion about your photographs. The free online service can also help you select your best photographs. You gain karma points by rating other user's pictures, and in return you get their feedback on whether you appear smart, trustworthy, and attractive. For professional advice, schedule a couple of sessions with a dating coach to get a polished profile.

Why Do Guys Ghost?

Dear Elana: 

Why do guys ghost? I've had three guys disappear this year. Am I scaring them off? With one guy, we went out on several dates and it seemed like he had a great time. He even introduced me to his friends. Then, he stopped responding to my texts and I never heard from him again. 

- Girl Hoping One Stays True


Guys disappear when they are afraid of communicating. It's so much easier to simply ignore a text than to have a difficult conversation about their feelings. Maybe he wanted a casual relationship, and he doesn't know how to break the news that he's moved on. Maybe he thinks that avoiding you will be less painful than telling you the truth. 

It's confusing and disheartening when a guy who showed interest abruptly vanishes. The experience leaves you questioning his motives and wondering if you did anything wrong. You need to know that it's not your fault when a guy disappears. There's no excuse for the immaturity and selfishness of ghosting after connecting with another person. 

Could you be the spooky one causing men to ghost? I don't know, maybe. Are you saying that you want to move in together and open a shared bank account on your first date? Regardless of your behavior, a mature and emotionally stable man will not simply disappear. He might say that you're not a good match, but at least he'll have the guts to tell you that he's not interested in a relationship. 

Remember that you can't force men to be emotionally aware or honest. However, you can communicate that you can handle the truth, even if it is unpleasant or disappointing. You can also seek out men who are thoughtful, self-aware, and good communicators. Eventually, you'll sort through the ghosts and find a man who maintains a corporeal form. 


Elana Hunter started KickStartLove when she was single, and after years of dating she is now happily married. She provides individual dating coaching for private clients who are ready to change their lives. 

Why Do I Only Attract Girls I'm Not Attracted To?

Dear Elana: 

Why do I only attract girls I'm not attracted to? I'm not horrible looking, but I'm not movie star handsome either. I know I can't get a supermodel, but I want a girl who I'm attracted to. 

- Still Trying Under Duress

Dear STUD,  

Beautiful women tend to want to date handsome men. But, if you happen to be a shorter, stouter, balder man, there's still hope. You might just need to adjust your expectations.

It's human nature to try to attract the best possible mate. Men who want to date women who are more attractive than they are often trade a winning personality, wealth, or status for looks. However, if you don't have these social resources to leverage, then you might need to shift your perspective. If you can't get the one you love, then love the one you can get. When I was a teenager learning to accept my changing appearance, I had a John Cage quote taped to my bedroom mirror: "The first question I ask myself when something doesn't seem to be beautiful is why do I think it's not beautiful. And very shortly you discover that there is no reason."

We tend to think of sexual attraction as being biologically determined, as if there were a hierarchy of sexiness that correlates with better genes and greater happiness. In fact, much of your perception of beauty is culturally-defined. You might think that a woman in a Rubens painting is overweight, but your ancestors would have considered your Tinder crush waifish. Similarly, you might view body modification as grotesque, but the Kayan Lahwi women of Burma and Thailand elongate their necks with copper rings because long necks are a sign of beauty in their culture. Who you get the hots for is greatly influenced by your socialized beliefs about beauty. If you learn a new way of seeing, you can fall in love with a non-traditional beauty. Maybe she doesn't fit your physical ideal, but she has stunning eyes, elegant style, and graceful posture. And who knows, your great-grandchildren might consider her the gold standard of beauty in the future. Whatever you do, don't wallow in vanity for too long. Remember that looks fade, but having a partner and best friend to share your life with is irreplaceable.


Elana Hunter started KickStartLove when she was single, and after years of dating she is now happily married. She provides individual dating coaching for private clients who are ready to change their lives. 

Best Online Dating Sites

Looking for love online? Selecting the right dating site is the first step.

As online dating has grown in popularity, a multitude of dating sites have appeared on the scene. From the major players like Match and eHarmony, to niche sites like VeggieDate or Geek2Geek, choosing the best site can feel daunting. 

Fortunately, created a guide to the top dating sites. They narrowed the contenders down to four finalists, and then sent a tester (a straight, white woman in her late twenties) into the wilds of online dating. She created a profile on each site, uploaded photographs, and answered hundreds of questions. You can read the full review at:


Once you select a site, the next step is writing a profile and posting photographs that will accurately represent your personality, and attract the matches you want to meet. The goal is to strike a tone that is light, yet intriguing. People typically play it too safe by writing generic statements that could apply to anyone such as, "I like to have fun," or "I have a great sense of humor." Or, they pour their hearts out and reveal too much, too soon, for example, "I've had my heart broken in the past. Liars and cheaters need not apply." To write a great profile, you want to share as much information as you would reveal to an attractive stranger you just met as a party. You might mention that you love going to concerts at Blossom in the summer, or that you have a trip planned to Miami next month - but you would probably avoid mentioning your student debt or your gluten intolerance. After you have a first draft, share it with a friend you trust to get feedback before posting it publicly. If you want a professional opinion, contact us to schedule a coaching session

You might also be interested in: How To Write a Great Dating Profile.

Dating with PTSD

Dear Elana,

Do you have advice for guys who want to find love when they have PTSD due to a history of child abuse, sexual abuse or bullying? I’m talking about guys specifically because it seems that guys have to be confident and seductive, yet abuse hinders that confidence.

– Concealing Overly Personal Emotions

Dear COPE,

First of all, I want you to know that you are not alone. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), about 8 percent of the U.S. population will have post-traumatic stress disorder at some point in their lives. I want to reassure you that you can still find love. In fact, support and connection are two of the best defenses against the isolation and self-doubt that often accompany trauma.

After a trauma, your nervous system is on heightened alert and needs reassurance that it’s safe to ease into an evening of candlelight, scotch and innuendo. Practice mindfulness to increase your awareness of the present moment. Focus on the colors, scents and textures in the room. Notice the necklace your date is wearing, the way she holds her hands and the sound of her laugh.

One of the hardest things about dating after a traumatic event is not being able to fully trust your instincts. You might feel jumpy and insecure despite your date’s positive feedback. Remember that your gut reactions might be based on past experiences instead of the emerging relationship. Try to evaluate your feelings about the woman sitting across from you based on her words and actions – not the hurtful actions of other people from your past. 

As your relationship develops, you can start to open up about your symptoms. One of my clients had vivid nightmares that woke him in a cold sweat. When his girlfriend slept beside him, she would reassure him and help him fall back to sleep. After many exhausting nights, they were both able to sleep peacefully.

Your life experiences shape who you are, and your exposure to trauma may have allowed you to develop greater empathy, gratitude and courage. The right woman will admire your strength and honesty.

Get Back Together with My Ex?

Dear Elana,

Some time ago, I started dating this amazing guy. Everything was great and we got along in every way. However, he had finished a two-year relationship right before we started dating, and after a few months he said he wasn’t ready. We concluded that probably not enough time had passed since his previous relationship, and that he could not be emotionally available to me or anyone else. My heart was broken, but as we both really liked and admired each other, we decided to stay friends. Now we spend time together, but I am still in love with him. How do I know if he is ready for a relationship? When that happens, how can I make him see me as a romantic interest once again? P.S. We are gay. Thank you so much!

– Hopeful Underdog Not Giving Up


It sounds like the first question is how honest your friend is being with you. Is he really “not ready” to be in a relationship, or is he hesitant about being in a relationship with you? If you truly believe that your former flame can keep burning, then you need to have a conversation. Ask him how he feels about his ex, and how he feels about you. Remind him of the fun you’ve had together, and tell him you want to keep having adventures with him. However, I would caution you to examine your expectations. It is possible that he will remain your friend, but fall for someone else. If that time comes, make sure that you are open to other matches whose flames are burning brighter for you. 

Help! I'm In Love With My (unavailable) Best Friend

Question: I have this problem and I need your help. I'm in love with my best guy friend. I have known him for over a year, and we're so close we tell each other everything, but he has a girlfriend. We work together in an office where we often work late, and sometimes he sleeps at my place. Lately he has tried to make out with me,  but I refuse. I know he likes me as a friend, but maybe he feels the same way about me? What can I do? How can I know if he has feelings for me?

Answer: I get it. You're falling in love with your best friend. You spend every day together at work sharing intimate thoughts and feelings, and the secrecy is intoxicating. It's exhilarating, and you can't stop wondering if it's meant to be. 

It probably hurts when you see him with his girlfriend, or when he is unavailable because he is with her. You’re confused because you don’t know if you should bare your heart and tell him how you feel, or respect his relationship and back away.

Here's the thing: if he's already comfortable cozying up to you at night, your feelings for him are hardly an unsolved mystery. The truth is, he could end his relationship and pursue you, but he isn’t budging. He seems content cheating on his girlfriend, and leading you on in the meantime.

Next, think about how your actions could hurt his girlfriend. How would she feel if she found out that you are allowing her boyfriend to spend the night at your house? 

I have to believe that you are reaching out to me because deep down you know that you deserve better. You deserve a man who will make you a priority and will move mountains to be with you. You are worthy of requited love.  

In psychological terms, you are operating from a scarcity mentality: you are willing to pursue a man who is taken because you believe that eligible men are in limited supply. In reality, there is no shortage of single men. There are plenty of smart, funny, dashing men, but you are oblivious to them because of your infatuation with your unavailable guy friend.

This beau of yours is getting his emotional needs met without offering you anything tangible. My advice? Expect more. Research shows that when you expect more from a relationship, you get more. Embrace an abundance mentality. Open your eyes, get dressed up, go to an art gallery, chat up a stranger, cheer at a baseball game, and when you catch the eye of a handsome gent, make sure to raise your standards for character before getting attached. 

Despite all my warnings, if you can’t imagine moving on without an answer – proceed with caution. 

Tell him that it hurts to be just friends because your feelings for him are deep. Listen carefully to his response and accept his answer. If he says that he shares your passion, tell him that he needs to end his relationship before he can be with you. You can celebrate, but don’t be surprised if you find him sneaking around with another woman behind your back. If he chooses to stay with his girlfriend, then you will likely need to stop socializing with him until you can tolerate being in his life without being intimately involved. In that case, focus your attention on meeting someone new, someone honest, loyal, and unattached. 

Dating after 50

More mature singles are turning to the Internet to find love – and with good reason. While Internet dating is popular for singles of all ages and sexual orientations, it has proven even more valuable for singles who have a thin partner market.

According to 2012 research by Rosenfeld and Thomas, mature singles and singles from religious minorities are using online dating to find matches more efficiently by fine-tuning the search criteria.

Karen Katz and Allan Licht met on the dating site Plenty of Fish in 2009 when they were 54 and 56, respectively but their love story began years earlier at Cleveland Heights High School.

Karen remembers vividly, “I met Allan when I was a sophomore and he was a senior, and I had a mad crush on him.” Allan admitted he liked Karen too, but “she was so shy that I didn’t feel I could approach her.”

Years passed, and their lives took shape in different directions. The stars finally aligned years later when Allan saw Karen’s profile online, although he didn’t recognize her at first.

“All of a sudden I saw this picture, and it was the cutest picture of her. I just knew she was Jewish by the way she looked. There was something very familiar, and I just had this good feeling inside that this is the person I need to contact,” he said.

They met at Sushi Rock in Beachwood for their first date, and Allan realized who Karen was as soon as she walked in. Karen knew right away that she had found her match, “I had this I’ve been waiting for him all my life feeling.” Allan agrees, “I was looking for someone who felt like home, I needed a connection to the past.”

I asked Karen to offer advice to women over 50 who are searching for love. She said that she had been single for nine years before meeting Allan. She went on lots of dates, but none developed into serious relationships. She says, “It’s a numbers game – never give up, and try to make it fun. Even dates that were duds, I always tried to learn something from the experience. I knew I would meet someone.”

Here are the best dating sites for singles over 50. Match and eHarmony remain the dating site giants. The free dating sites Plenty of Fish and OkCupid are also popular. Niche sites that cater to senior singles include Senior Match and Our Time

If you have your heart set on finding love the old-fashioned way, follow the lead of Ossie and Carole. Ossie, 78, and Carole, 74, have been married for a little over a year. She caught his attention when they were volunteering, and he needed a reason to talk to her.

He recalls, “I asked her if she liked butterflies, and she said ‘yes.’ I bought a butterfly pin, and I presented it to her. I just kept talking to her, and I made excuses.”

She started wearing the pin whenever she volunteered. Carole remembers, “It was just such a nice gesture, just to show him that I did really like him.” Ossie invited Carole to dinner, where she cut to the chase and asked him what his intentions were. He said that he was looking for a serious relationship, and they became a couple. Six months later they were married.

With all of these avenues to find love, singles over 50 have reason to be optimistic. A 2013 poll of more than 2,000 members of the dating site, Our Time, revealed that singles between 50 to 65 years old have the most positive outlook of any age group when it comes to finding love. Ninety-four percent of the 50+ singles who participated in the study stated that they are more confident in knowing what they want in a partner than they were in their 20s or 30s, 89 percent reported feeling more comfortable with themselves, and 87 percent reported being less willing to settle. Singles over 50 also know what they want: They are searching for partners who are financially stable, healthy and attractive.

As far as intimacy in relationships, older adults have varying expectations and desires for sex. According to a study presented at the Gerontological Society of America in 2011, about 59 percent of married individuals 65 and older who reported no sexual activity in the last 12 months said they were “very happy” with their relationships. For others, sex remains an important and meaningful means of connecting. A National Council on Aging survey reported that among people age 60 and over who have regular intercourse, 74 percent of the men and 70 percent of the women find their sex lives more satisfying than when they were in their 40s.

Finally free to create their own rules, mature singles are approaching relationships with more self-acceptance, more clarity and more optimism. 


Elana Averbach is a dating coach who hopes to be just as in love with her husband-to-be at 70 as she is now. Learn how coaching can help you find romance and companionship. 

Breaking a Pattern

Dear Elana, 

I’m almost 40, and my relationships never last more than one to two years. I am seeing someone right now, and I was really excited about him when we first met, but now my interest is waning. This seems to be a pattern for me. I’m always the one who leaves – and then I feel regret and loss – but I don't know how to break the pattern because I start to feel stuck, and I wonder what I am missing out on by being in the relationship. I don't know if I'm falling for the wrong men or fleeing before the relationship solidifies. How can I break the pattern? 

– Serial monogamist seeking long-term romance

I’m so afraid of losing something I love that I refuse to love anything, maybe that would have made the impossible possible. Maybe, but I couldn’t do it, I had buried too much too deeply inside me. And here I am, instead of there.
— Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close


It sounds like you want a lasting relationship, but something keeps pulling you away and you can't quite put your finger on it. It is a force that is powerful enough to drive a wedge between lovers. I wonder if the force is fear. 

If you have been hurt in the past, you may have developed defenses to protect yourself, and your behavior of engaging in relationships that have an expiration date could be your own clever security system. The problem is that your defenses create a self-sabotaging cycle. When you push your partner away because you anticipate that he will hold you back, you prevent your budding relationship from developing into a secure and stable partnership. 

The scientific literature on attachment theory can help shine light on this behavior. According to attachment theory, there are three styles of bonding: anxious, avoidant and secure. Based on your letter, you may have an avoidant attachment style because it sounds like you have a tendency to avoid conflict, to prize your independence and freedom, and to plan an escape when the stakes get too high. Your boyfriend may have an anxious attachment style if he craves closeness, intimacy, and connection – and if his attempts to engage with you sometimes make you feel trapped. 

Fortunately, your attachment style is fluid and changes over time in response to your life experiences. The goal is to become more secure over time. Individuals who are secure feel comfortable giving and receiving affection. They don't take problems too personally, they express their feelings directly, and they are responsive to their partners' needs. If their partner feels suffocated, they give them space; if their partner feels needy, they give them reassurance. 

Because relationships are easy for secure types, they tend to leave the dating pool early, and they rarely re-enter it. That leaves a lot of anxious and avoidant people who try to date each other. The anxious people chase the avoidants, and the avoidants run away because they are afraid of being rejected. 

If you want to break your habit of fleeing from commitment, you can start by communicating your needs clearly – no matter how frightening or uncomfortable it might feel. If you crave freedom, independence and the ability to pursue your dreams, then articulate your needs to your boyfriend and ask whether he is on board. If the answer is yes then, congratulations – you may have met your match! Find out what he needs from you to feel secure and accepted in the relationship. If he needs reassurance, attention and support, try to figure out how you can meet his needs without squelching your own. Expect ongoing negotiation in any lasting relationship. Roll up your sleeves and open your heart. 

Communicate with your anxious boyfriend by asking directly for time alone when you need it. Recognize that your desire for space may be about you, not him. Remember that you were crazy about him when you first met, and that you can keep those feelings alive if you nurture the relationship. Be patient with him, and show him that you are planning to stick around for the long haul. Over time, both of you can become more secure. Once he realizes that you love him, he will be willing to let you go away, knowing you will return. When you learn that he will respect your space, you will feel more comfortable being close and affectionate.

If you are interested in learning more about romantic attachment styles, I recommend reading the book, Attached, by Amir Levine, M.D. and Rachel S.F. Heller, M.A.  

What to say on first dates

Everyone has expectations for first dates. Some singles expect Hollywood levels of romance with a tangible feeling of electricity in the air, magnetic sexual attraction, and a sense of having been made for each other. Others expect disappointment, a lack of chemistry, connection, or excitement.

The reality is that although most first dates fall short of both these high and low expectations, they can be time consuming and tiring. Fortunately, a research team at Stanford University (MacFarland, Jurafsky, and Rawlings) has identified the key ingredients for a successful date through scientific analysis. 

The researchers recorded and examined 1,000 speed dates between graduate students to learn what flies and what flops. Here is what they found: 


Advice for Men

Pay attention to her. A common mistake is for men to think that they will win women over by impressing them with their accomplishments. In fact, the women in the study elected to go on second dates with men who let them speak and who showed interest in what they said. The men who scored the most dates expressed support, empathy, and interest. 

Interrupt her. Obviously, don't overpower the conversation, but men who interrupted women to voice agreement or understanding fared better than those who listened passively. Some men were so in sync with their dates that they even finished their sentences. Here's an example:

Female: I’m feeling a little silly. This is like— 

Male: A little silly. It’s fun. 

Laugh with her.  Women are often instructed to laugh at men's jokes, and it turns out that the opposite works just as well. If you think she's funny, let her know. Also, pay attention to your environment on the date, and find humor in situations together. 

Compliment her. Unsurprisingly, the women in the Stanford study liked when men made flattering observations about them. On a first date, try to compliment her appearance and her personality. Don't overdo it, but a few well-timed remarks can go a long way.


Advice for Women 

Speak with confidence. A common mistake is for women to act passive and agreeable. In fact, men in the study chose to go on second dates with women who spoke with authority. Men were less interested in women who seemed hesitant and used verbal hedges, such as “maybe,” “sorta” or “kinda.” Women who expressed enthusiasm seemed more engaged in their own lives, and in the date. 

Talk about yourself. Yes, seriously! Don't spend the whole date tooting your own horn, but do share your interests, like playing a wind instrument. Men and women agreed that they clicked best when the woman took the lead in conversation and used words such as “I,” “me,” and “myself.” Definitely spend time learning about him, but don't shy away from sharing stories from your life or filling him in on your passions and hobbies. 

Raise and vary the pitch of your voice. The researchers found that men and women vary the pitch of their voice on a good first date to highlight their gender – women alter their pitch to sound more “feminine” while men deepen their voices to sound more “masculine.” This vocal change is subconscious, and serves as a subtle indication of attraction. 

Find connections and shared values. Men seek out partners who share their interests and values. For example: 

Male: I play the guitar – 

Female: You do? Me too!

Male: That's great. Let's start a band.


If you follow these four simple guidelines, your first dates will lead to exciting second dates! 

Elana Averbach is a dating coach and licensed therapist who teaches private clients how to date more effectively. She helps people optimize their online dating profiles, overcome approach anxiety, challenge negative self-concepts that are holding them back, and hone skills for building attraction. Learn more at


Online dating dilemma

Dear Elana,

I’ve had it with online dating! I was corresponding with one man who seemed promising, but he disappeared after a few email exchanges. I have no idea what happened, but I imagine he met someone else and didn’t have the courtesy to tell me. I’ve sent a few messages to men I’m interested in, but I haven’t heard back from most of them. The emails I get tend to be from men who are young enough to be my son, old enough to be my father, or are just plain creepy. Am I doing something wrong, or is online dating only for the lucky few?

Thanks in advance,

Lost in Cyberspace


Dear Lost,

Online dating is a great way to meet single men – but it’s not magic. You have the opportunity to expand your social circle, but you run into the same kind of guys you meet in the non-digital world. You’ll find the handsome lawyer your co-worker keeps telling you about, the self-obsessed musician you just know you could fix, and the shameless guy at the bar who keeps staring at your legs. They’re all there, glowing and glowering through your computer monitor: the dreamboats, the bores, and the pervs. You’ve got to wade through the pond of frogs to find your prince.

At the end of the day, online dating is a numbers game. According to Walter Hickey, reporter for Business Insider, both men and women tend not to respond to most of the emails they receive on dating sites. On average, women on dating sites respond to emails only 4% of the time, while men respond a little more at 18% of the time. Sure, a witty profile with great photos can increase your success rates, but you still need to be persistent and smart.

Here are some tried and true strategies to increase your dateability online:

First, create a memorable username that describes an aspect of your personality. Don’t include your real name, or any numbers. For example, Sam0207 suggests little effort or creativity, while QuantumMechanic is a clever username for an auto enthusiast who moonlights as an amateur astronomer.  Similarly, Rachel440 will elicit less attention than ItTakes2ToMango for a tropical horticulturist who likes to dance.

Once you’re satisfied with your username, you’re ready to write the text of your profile.

Step 1: Include details that appeal to the senses and connect to your matches emotionally.

Instead of the cliché phrase, “My family and friends are important to me,” try, “Sharing stories on Friday night around the dinner table is one of my favorite traditions. I get a kick out of watching my two-year-old nephew gnaw on a slice of bread while my dog tries to catch all the crumbs. It’s the most peaceful way to start the weekend. I would love to invite you one day.”

Step 2: Keep it light, don’t advertise your flaws or baggage in your dating profile.

Instead of, “I’m a busy professional with limited time to date,” try, “As a pastry chef at a major Cleveland restaurant, my evenings and weekends are filled with pies, tarts, and custards. I’d love meet a guy who I can spoil with delicious brunches while we complete the Times Sunday crossword puzzle together.”

Finally, select photographs of yourself that accurately represent your appearance (on a good day, with soft lighting). Include the following snapshots: a close-up of your face, a full body shot to show your figure, and a couple of images to start a conversation such as vacation photos or hobby shots. A photograph of you playing the clarinet on stage, or skiing down the slopes will elicit more interest than a collection of selfies in your bathroom mirror.

Lastly, don’t give up. If you keep searching, you will find love.

Should I call him?

Dear Elana, 

I am a 34-year-old woman who has been single for two years. Last week, I finally met a great guy, but he hasn’t returned my phone calls. I texted him after our date to tell him that I had a good time and didn’t get a response, and then I called him three days later to invite him to a friend’s party and haven’t heard anything yet. I’m feeling frustrated. What should I do? 

- My Phone’s on Vibrate For You

Dear Phone’s on Vibrate,

Despite the fact that you don’t hear your phone, I hear you, loud and clear. After two years of missed connections, you finally found a guy who might be a match, and you can already imagine your future children playing catch in the backyard. The problem is, he isn’t picking up what you’re putting down.

First – and I say this with care – stop contacting him. No calling, no texting. Find something else to do with your thumbs. If he wants to find you, he knows how to get in touch.

The fact that he didn’t respond to your text or call tells me that he is either not interested, or he’s pursuing someone else and hoping to keep you on the hook. Give him space. If he calls you, there’s a chance that you could develop a relationship, but if you keep running after him you could chase him away permanently.

Right now, you should be less concerned with his call, and more interested in how to establish power dynamics that build a lasting relationship.

Whether he comes to his senses and realizes that you are the milk to his cookies, or you decide to meet someone new, here’s how to avoid moping around in sweatpants while you wait for your iPhone to buzz.

I’m going to share a secret with you from behavioral psychology: guys aren’t “great” or not “great”. They are people, and they respond to reinforcements. If you teach a man that he can navel gaze while you call, and write, and swoon he’ll learn that he can maintain your affections without lifting a finger. This is not what you want.

You need to establish power dynamics in the beginning of a courtship that will be in place throughout the duration of your relationship.

If you are always the one calling, arranging dates, and texting him selfies, then you are showing more interest than he is. You’re giving away your power which makes you feel vulnerable, and ultimately makes you less attractive to him.

Consider the balance of power that you want in a relationship, and then act accordingly from your first interaction. If you want an equal partnership, then make him feel secure and loved, and hold him to the same expectations.

The key isn’t to stumble upon a man who is “great,” it’s to find a man who has good character and who likes you so much that he wants to match your level of affection and attraction. Put down that phone, and get out there.

Just be yourself?

The most common piece of dating advice has to be, “Just be yourself.” It’s something we’ve all heard our friends say as we grab our coats and race out the door to meet a new man or woman. But, does it work?

What does being yourself really mean?

Is there a true self that we can choose to perform or conceal? Or do our personalities shift and transform depending on our environments?

We have multiple selves.

The side of ourselves that we reveal at grandma’s dinner table, is drastically different from the self that we present at a concert with friends. Yet, both versions of ourselves are authentic.

The question becomes, which version of yourself should you present on a first date to attract a match?

If the version of yourself who appears on first dates is nervous, sweaty, and stammering, then you need to rethink your presentation. Try channeling the way you feel around your closest friends, to help you make a great first impression on a date. Think about how you feel in the company of your best friends: self-assured, secure, and relaxed. You don’t need to brag about your accomplishments, or prove your worth, because they already know and love you. You can crack a joke, handle a silence, and interpret non-verbal cues seamlessly. Sharing this comfortable side of yourself is attractive to matches.

Well Elana,” you might be thinking, “this is all fine and good to tell me to act confident and relaxed when I am on a date, but my date is out of my league, and I’m intimidated and afraid of rejection.”

OK – got it. You really like this person, and you want the date to go off without a hitch.

Here’s a game plan for presenting your best self on dates:

1) Get in the mood. Pull on that one outfit that shows all your best features, listen to a song that energizes you, and call a friend who thinks the world of you.

2) Do your research. Learn about the venue where you are meeting in advance, so you know what to expect, where to park, what to order, and how to get the best seats.

3) Come prepared. Think of at least five interesting conversation topics to avoid any awkward silences.

4) Enjoy yourself. If you’re having fun, there’s a high likelihood that your date will have fun too.

5) Keep a healthy perspective. Remember that this is only a first date, and it will not determine the rest of your life. If you’re a match, you will have the luxury of time to fall in love and build a life together. If not, then you get to meet someone new.

A quick and dirty guide to speed dating

Q:  A friend recommended speed dating, and I’m thinking about trying it. I wanted to know if you have any advice. What should I do to get the most out of the experience?

A:Thanks for your question. Our speed dating events have an average 95% match rate for romance and friendship, meaning that almost everyone walks away with at least one match.

At our Speed Dating for Book Lovers event, something impressive happened. Something that turned heads.

One man matched with every single woman at the event.

Now, to understand how impressive this is, you have to know who was at the party. There were 20 women who ranged in age from 21 – 39. They represented a broad range of educational backgrounds, religions, and political views. Some of the women were locals, but many had migrated to Cleveland from all over the world and spoke multiple languages. Nonetheless, this guy was able to snag all 20 of their email addresses.

So what did he do? What was his secret? I decided to interview him to get the inside story.

He agreed to meet me at Dewey’s Coffee, and when he arrived he was wearing a wool cardigan and he ordered a slice of quiche. So no, if you’re reading this and thinking that the guy in question is a macho alpha male, think again. On the contrary, he comes across as polite, thoughtful and intelligent. We’ll call him T.

Here is his advice.

Each time T sat down for a date he asked, “So how’s this going for you?” It turned out to be an ingenious opener. It worked every time because it gave the women an opportunity to describe how she was feeling, and that helped to establish trust. It also showed that he was was a good listener, and that he was interested in hearing what his date had to say.

Although T happens to have an impressive career, he did not discuss work unless it came up organically in conversation. Speed dating is about flirtation and connection. It’s not a job interview.

T’s success also stemmed from his genuine interest in getting to know people. “I asked a lot of questions. If there was something she was excited or passionate about, I tried to learn more about that,” he explained.

He’s right. If you watch your date’s body language carefully, there will be a moment when his or her eyes light up. That’s your hook. Show interest in that subject, whatever it is, and you will have plenty of conversational fodder to consume your four minutes together.

T added, “Don’t worry about what you’re ‘supposed’ to discuss. Let the conversation flow naturally.”

Each date will be different because the chemistry between you and your date will be different. You don’t have to force it. Most speed dating events also have ice breakers or themes that you can use as go-to conversation topics. If there is a moment of silence, don’t panic. Silence can be sexy.

Finally, T matched with all 20 women because he wrote down “yes” for all of the women at the event for either romance or friendship.

The way speed dating works, you only find out who is interested in you if you also write down that you are interested in them. If you want to increase your chances of getting a match, mark down “yes” (at least for friendship) for each person who sparks your interest – even a little bit.

Remember, speed dating is fast. Four minutes is not enough time to determine if you are compatible. It is enough time to see if you have a mutual attraction. If you both feel a spark, you can set up a real first date to learn more about each other.

Here’s a Quick and Dirty Guide to Success at Speed Dating:

  • Share talk time with your date – try to each talk an equal amount.
  • Ask questions to show interest in your date’s passions.
  • Refrain from focusing on career – speed dating is not an interview.
  • Enjoy yourself – if you’re having a good time, your date will too.
  • Dress to impress – a little effort goes a long way.
  • Cast your net wide and mark down yes for many matches.

Fake it until you become it

Watch Amy Cuddy's presentation on the power of body language to boost your dating success. Learn how to adopt a high power stance to project an image of confidence.

It’s no secret that confidence is sexy. Confident people radiate strength and power. They like themselves, and they are assured that you will like them too. They take risks, and they believe in their ability to win. You can spot a confident person from across the room because of their expansive posture and open stance.

The question is, how can you exude confidence when you feel insecure and unattractive? How can you stand tall, ask for dates, and flirt like a pro when you don’t believe that you have a chance? It turns out that body language has a lot to do with how others see us, and it also affects our self-perceptions. Standing in a posture of confidence can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even influence our chances for success.

This TED Talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy entitled, “Your body language shapes who you are”, explains how to radiate confidence even when you don’t feel confident. As a child, Amy Cuddy was identified as gifted and placed in special classes for bright and talented students. In college, when she suffered severe brain damage from a car accident, she lost her identity as a person with a high IQ. Lying in the head injury unit of a hospital, she was told by her doctors that she had been withdrawn from her classes and that she needed to figure out a new life plan. She was devastated, but she didn’t give up. She worked, and she worked, and she got lucky, and as she challenged herself her brain began to heal. It took her four years longer than her peers to finish college, but she did it.

Next, she managed to gain acceptance at Princeton for graduate school. On her first week, she was asked to give a small twenty minute talk to a roomful of her peers. The lecture seemed so intimidating that she called her adviser and told her that she was dropping out. She said that there had been a mistake and that she didn’t belong. Her adviser told her that she was not allowed to quit and that she was going to give that speech even if she threw up, even if she felt so dizzy and uncomfortable that she had an out of body experience. She told Amy that she was going to keep giving speeches at venues all around the country until she became masterful.

Years later, after Amy had given hundreds of lectures, she was teaching a course at Harvard. One of the female students in her class came to talk to her privately. The girl said, “There’s been a mistake. I don’t belong here.” Now it was Amy’s turn. She realized that she no longer felt that way. That after all these years and all these lectures, she finally felt that she belonged. She told her student that she did belong. That she could fake it until she made it. She told her to come to class the next day and give the very best comment that she could imagine. The girl gave the best comment in class, and she kept faking it for months until she herself changed and became self-confident.

The message of this inspiring video is to not only fake it ’til you make it, but to fake it ’til you become it. When you feel terrified and anxious, you prevent yourself from taking risks. You neglect to ask for a date with the guy or girl you really like because you think they are out of your league, or you stop yourself from taking your relationship to the next level because you don’t believe that you deserve love. Faking it ’til you make it means pretending, through verbal and non-verbal behaviors, that you are worthy of the date, and that you do belong in the loving relationship. After you “fake” confidence for long enough, you won’t have to fake it anymore. One day you will look at yourself – and everything that you have accomplished – and realize that you have become the person you wanted to be.

How to approach women

This is a guest post by Nate C., a dating expert in Los Angeles. I asked Nate to share some advice for guys who want to learn how to approach women and strike up a conversation. I want to extend my gratitude to Nate for sharing these great lessons from his years of experience.

The main thing that holds men (and women) back from meeting new people is Approach Anxiety. It’s really the same thing as stage fright.

So a few (or more now) years back I was working on overcoming my own Approach Anxiety. Here’s what I did to get out of that frame and some good things to keep in mind.

1. Set a goal of approaching new women each day and meet it. I started with five and gradually moved upward. At first it doesn’t matter how good these approaches are. They can be as simple as saying ‘Hello’, ‘Good morning’, ‘Good afternoon’ etc. The idea is just to get in the habit of talking to new people all the time. Keep a log too. It helps to be accountable.

2. Force yourself to do the first approach and don’t hesitate even if you have nothing to say. Half the time I start a conversation I don’t have anything. I just push myself into it and hope something comes. Usually it does, but I’ve also had spectacular flame outs. A good way to recover if your mind goes blank is to just say, ‘I actually didn’t have a question or anything, I just saw you walking by and had to come meet you…’ Usually by that time something will come up.

3. Related to the above, have a few good comments or questions to talk about.I usually ask something about their appearance, but also have some other questions I ask. Like I said though, I’m not a routines kind of guy. I usually am off the cuff. If you have problems coming up with stuff there are a lot of good openers and lines to say online. Just stay away from the boring ones like, ‘What do you do?’, ‘Where do you live?’, ‘What car do you drive?’ Make it creative and challenging.

4. Don’t assume the guy she’s with is her boyfriend. I don’t mean that hitting on a woman in front of her boyfriend is cool, but that guys talk themselves out of talking to women who are in groups or with a guy friend. Besides you’re just meeting someone for the first time. You’re not expected to know the relationship wedge yet. It’s 50/50 whether that guy is her boyfriend or not.

5. Building on above, as part of the daily exercise, make it a habit of approaching women in groups too. DO NOT wait for the perfect opportunity to talk to her one on one. It probably will not come. Open up the whole group and start a conversation.

6. Have a good attitude and smile. A lot of this is just having a great attitude and good body language. That’s why I don’t worry so much about what I’m saying, I’ve found that the what is not as important as the how.

7. Don’t worry too much about interrupting someone. Unless its a heavy conversation they’re in most people don’t mind. As a side note, mastering graceful and not annoying interruptions is really powerful – it demonstrates value. This has to be done correctly though. Not apologetic, but not arrogant either.

8. Stay in the conversation as long as possible. If she wants to talk she’ll talk. Stay with her as long as possible.

9. Finally don’t wuss out. If she’s talking, grab her number or get her on an insta date. The key is to make your intentions clear. That’s how guys are supposed to be. Don’t hint, ask her out on a date. Even say ‘I want to take you on a date.’

The biggest things you need to remember are:

1. It’s not easy to get into this habit. It will be hard at first, but a huge amount of fun.
2. Don’t expect it to always work, especially at first. It takes some time to get calibrated and you may find the first few days with a lot of rejections / ignores.
3. This should be fun – play the game the way you like. Positivity comes across in the conversation and is a turn on.