The Bar Date or the Coffee Date?

First date coffee or first date drinks? One of them is better than the other. The answer depends on where you are right now.

*Samantha and *Matthew are good friends. Both are divorced, though Samantha is 10 years post the end of a marriage and Matthew is in the embryo stages of life after divorce—a few months shy of a year. Friends since college, there is an ease between them that can only come from a combination of time and knowing each other in their formative years.

Since Matthew’s divorce, their friendship has morphed into an unspoken mini therapy group of two: sharing each other’s trials and tribulations in the dating world. Matthew wants to get laid; Samantha wants to experience a romantic relationship. Their different goals cause the other to shake their head.

“Why are you wasting your time on a coffee date?” Matthew asked.

“I want to get to know the person.” Samantha said.

“But you can’t make out with a person in a Starbucks.”

“I don’t want to make out with a total stranger. You do?”

“Uh, yes! That’s the whole point of meeting at a bar.”

Both have approached me separately, telling me how foolish they think the other person is. They are both right…and wrong.

Matthew is newly divorced and still licking his wounds from his ex’s desire to end the marriage. “I was happy,” he tells Samantha. Married for almost 19 years, the only roles that remain constant in his life are father and business consultant. Overnight, he’s gone from living in their family home to residing in a one-bedroom bachelor pad. 

“What are you looking for on all those dating sites?” Samantha’s asked.

“I don’t know. Nothing serious. I’m all messed up now. But I’m still a guy.”

So, Matthew meets women at bars. For now, this works—for him. He doesn’t want a relationship now; he wants to “make out” and wake up the next morning and drive his daughters to school. He wants physical intimacy without emotional intimacy; he wants easy sans—for now—self-reflection.

Samantha wants to get to know someone without alcohol coursing through her veins. She doesn’t want the commitment of a meal with a total stranger. She wants to pay attention to the person she meets without the distraction of loud music or the subterfuge that comes with a smoky, dark bar.

“Meeting at a bar just sets up a different set of expectations,” Samantha says.

“Exactly,” Matthew says.

                        Again, they are both right…and wrong.

                        Both Matthew and Samantha are dating the way that works best for each of them. They’re both honoring what they need. The issue between them is wanting the other to live through their lens; the dating diet that works for each of them is a prescription that works for them and them alone.

                        Matthew is hungry for physical intimacy; Samantha is hungry for emotional intimacy. Both have different ways of acquiring what they want. Both are good people figuring out what works best for each of them.

                        When it comes to dating, honor the journey you are on. Decide what kind of dating style works for you. There is no right or wrong when you heed your intuition. 

*Names have been altered to retain the privacy of individuals.

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Earning Vulnerability

Excavating and exploring the painful parts of ourselves with self-compassion is needed before we offer our vulnerability to another.

It was a second date. The first one involved coffee and the kind of conversation typical of strangers: What kind of work do you do? Only child or one of many? Cat or dog lover? Do you prefer beaches or mountains? But *Mike, recently divorced with two girls under the age of 10, felt the questions lacking. He hadn’t wanted his twelve-year marriage to end yet felt lonelier in the marriage than on his own. He felt an urgency to get past the seemingly trivial “get to know you” questions and delve into “the stuff” of intimate relationships.

“I was low-hanging fruit. This was my first date out of the divorce gate.”

So, on this date, hungry for affection and connection, Mike didn’t waste any time on the second date. Before their appetizers arrived, he told her…well everything but the kitchen sink: his low testosterone level, the frequent verbal put downs he experienced from his ex in their marriage, his belief that his ex-wife treated their daughters like pawns to “get at him.” 

“I thought our date went well. I gave her a respectful kiss on the cheek and a hug. But she’s not returning any of my texts, and her phone goes right to voicemail when I call.”

Poor Mike. 

“I don’t understand. I thought women like it when a man is vulnerable. Did I scare her off? Am I supposed to act like some Alpha male? What do women want?”

There’s a famous quote by the late and great author, Dr. Wayne Dyer:

“You do not attract what you want. You attract what you are.”

Vulnerability has two sides: the willingness to look within and the willingness to be seen or known by another. Both involve risk. To look within, to possess the courage to self-reflect and look unflinchingly at our beliefs opens us up to potential emotional pain. Getting “real” with ourselves is no journey for the faint-hearted. 

Mike knows the surface facts of his recent past. He’s:

  • A recently divorced father of two young girls
  • He was married for 12 years.
  • The divorce was not mutual.

The remainder of his story is highly subjective and requires Mike to excavate the cracks in his (currently) unsteady foundation. For example: Was Mike’s ex abusive or is that a story Mike tells himself? If Mike’s wife was abusive, what brought him to experience an abusive relationship, and why was he against divorcing someone who abused him?

 Before Mike can experience vulnerability with another potential romantic partner, he needs to be vulnerable with himself. When we look under the figurative hood of our own life, when we are willing to see the parts of ourselves that aren’t so shiny, something changes from the inside out: we discover our self-worth, we remember that we matter and can distinguish between wanting a romantic partner and clinging to someone just to have a someone. When we explore the slings and arrows of our past with a willingness to see it in the broad daylight of self-reflection and compassion, we aren’t so quick to be vulnerable with others. After our soul’s journey into the wilderness of vulnerability (thank you, Brene Brown:-) our perspective has altered: a potential romantic partner needs to earn our vulnerability. Vulnerability is no longer a by-product of low self-esteem; vulnerability is now an invaluable gift to share with the right person on YOUR timeline.

   *Mike, in his desperation for affection and loneliness, attracted what he was: the absence of a potential partner and a greater sense of loneliness. This pattern of women leaving him is likely to continue, so long as he continues to perceive himself as “low-hanging fruit.” 

    Vulnerability is both a gift and a wound. When we are willing to go within and explore our wounds with an open and compassionate heart, we receive the greatest gift: self-love.

*Name has been altered to protect the privacy of the individual.