Nina, a 27-year-old anesthesiology resident in New York City, met a man at a bar recently. After some flirtatious small-talk, he asked her what she did for work. “I told him I was a health professional, and he assumed I was a nurse. It’s so smooth when I tell guys that I’m a nurse. They smile and that’s the end of it,” she said. “And when I tell them I’m doing anesthesiology, they say, ‘Why aren’t you in pediatrics? Don’t you like kids?'”
Mark, a 32-year-old investment banker, said he is hesitant to tell women he first meets about his job. “I feel like they light up with dollar-signs in their eyes. I want to know that they are interested in me for me, not the job title or the career.” Instead, Mark steers the topic away from work-related or school-related topics and tries to engage potential dates with funny stories and common interests.
Remember that Sex and the City episode where Miranda goes speed dating? She’s a high-powered lawyer, but tells a man she meets at a speed-dating event that she’s a flight attendant. He tells her he’s a doctor. Both of them are lying-she to diminish her status, and he to inflate it. It’s a common reaction.
According to a Harris Interactive poll that I commissioned for my book, Why Smart Men Marry Smart Women, 32% of single high-achieving women and half of high-achieving single men report that they tend to minimize their career or educational success in conversation when they first meet someone they might be interested in dating. Why?
Alexis, a 35-year-old lawyer in San Francisco, said postponing the career conversation was a lesson she learned early on. When she lived in Arizona, she said she started deflecting questions about what she did because she wanted to avoid the lawyer jokes and questions seeking advice about “their friend who got arrested for DWI.”
When Alexis joined a friend of a friend for a Fourth of July escape in Lake Tahoe, there were eight people sharing a small house, most of whom had never met before. On the first night, one woman suggested that instead of introducing themselves to each other in the usual way-by asking what each did as their career-the group should try to get to know each other by learning about each person’s other interests and passions. “We had a great time. At the end of the weekend we guessed before we told each other what we did for work,” Alexis said. “It was great for me because I don’t identify primarily with my job. But there were people who were visibly uncomfortable not talking about their job.”
Keep Him Guessing
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What counts as a date? (SELECT ALL THAT APPLY)
a) going out with a group of friends, including the person you are interested in
b) a spontaneous drink or coffee after work
d) dinner just the two of you
e) it only counts as a date if they specifically ask you to do something one-on-one
How old were you when you went out on your first date? (AGE)
You are single and you meet someone you are interested in dating. Do you:
a) Ask them out
b) Wait for them to ask you out
Is it OK for a woman to ask a man out on a date? (YES/NO)
What was the best date you’ve ever been on? What did you do, and why was it so great? (SHORT ANSWER)
After three dates, it is appropriate to: (SELECT ALL THAT APPLY)
a) kiss passionately
b) snuggle on the couch
c) hold hands
d) have sex
e) be sexually intimate, not including sex
f) none of the above
When is it appropriate to bring up “exclusivity” (i.e. the suggestion that neither of you date anyone else?):
a) after three dates
b) after two months
c) after six months
d) never-you’d prefer to wait for the other person to bring it up
Talking about music, sports or just about anything other than a 30-second resume synopsis is a great way to spin success, counsels relationship coach Christian Carter. Making a joke about her or not telling a man what she does is a way to “keep him guessing” and avoid the “predictable, emotionally unengaging, and rational conversation about your real jobs.”
Just about anything does not include talking about your faith, says dating guru John Moore, author of Confusing Love With Obsession: When You Can’t Stop Controlling Your Partner & the Relationship. He puts religion as one of the top five topics you should never discuss on first meeting or first date. “There will be plenty of time to discuss theology and the roles of religion in your life, but on date number one, avoid this topic like the plague!” I don’t totally agree but the general advice is clear: keep it light and funny in that first conversation, and don’t talk about boring/intimidating things like your job, or sensitive/personal things like religion.
According to recent research, it’s actually men who are more likely to use deceptive strategies in dating like evading what they do for a living, inflating or deflating their success and creating a false self-image.
Cowboys with Big Hats
Women seem to be less likely than men to inflate their accomplishments. Marley, a 35-year-old married entrepreneur in Los Angeles said neither men nor women should play down (or talk up) what they do: “You don’t have to prove to them that you are legitimate. It’s much more interesting to come across that sort of information than to perceive that someone is giving you a resume lecture,” she said. “People who brag about their
careers, it’s like the cowboys with the big hats, no cattle. If you show off, you’ve got nothing.”
But at a recent book club meeting, Kim, a 29-year-old attorney, and Jill, a 28-year-old non-profit manager, said they worried that their choice of careers sent an immediate message about their personality that wasn’t quite what they wanted to represent-and that they gloss over what they do for a living when they first meet someone. “I won’t say I’m a lawyer. It’s not something I volunteer. I feel like some men immediately type me,” said Kim. “I don’t think it’s true that men are threatened or intimidated, but they do stereotype you. Still, I hate games, and really, what’s the point of hiding what you do?”
Previous research has suggested that when we expect to meet someone for a possible date-like first interaction, we will change our self-presentation to adapt to what we think the other person would like us to be. If you think she’ll be more attracted to you because you’re not the typical “suit,” you’ll show a more rugged side.
Do you lie about what you do on a first date? Do you downplay something else about yourself? What topics are too taboo for that first meeting? Share you thoughts by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Take the Survey!
I’ve received several great letters recently asking me for adult dating advice for folks who didn’t date much in their teens or college years. When you decide you want to meet your special someone, but feel unexperienced in the dating world, where do you start? What should you do in that initial encounter? How do you ask someone out on a date? And what happens after that? Take my survey above to share your thoughts for this upcoming column.