Eight simple rules for dating fellow flawed humans

Dating is hard. Not quite trying to give a cat a bath hard, but difficult to say the least. There are no clear-cut instructions. Much of it is left up to instinct, guesswork and desperate grasps at any semblance of headway. Like calculus, or being a Cleveland Browns football fan (ooh, burn).

On a date, you have to read and analyze every gesture and comment and movement like the Terminator and scan for signs of intelligence or selfishness or ax-murdering tendencies so you don’t end up a movie of the week subject. Or at the very least, married to someone who picks their ears with their car keys.

Why subject yourself to such hardship? People like to pair up. Lots of things are better with someone you care about, not the least of which is paddling a canoe, filing joint tax returns and, according to commercials, sitting in a bathtub outdoors while staring at the sunset. Love is a many-splendored thing, but it can be such a pain in the butt.

Dating requires a certain amount of vulnerability. And whenever one is vulnerable, common sense and everyday way of thinking goes out the window. No matter what you do, you do a mental eye-roll like “Boy, THAT was pure genius.” But we trudge on, hoping for that moment of kismet.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, I offer some simple tips for dating that will help you at least get your foot in the door, as well as some etiquette. Most of this comes from experience. Terrible, terrible experience.

For starters, don’t Facebook stalk someone you like. Sure, it’s OK to peruse photos, assuming you are Facebook friends. You can also check a profile for common interests and stuff to talk about. But most people can tell when you sit and “like” 48 photos in a row. Don’t comment on every single post to show your interest. That stuff is creepy, male or female. It also leaves the impression there’s three or four other people you’re vetting, it’s so methodical. Instead, maybe leave one witty, clever showstopper, then walk away, leaving them thinking “Wow, what a cool person. They could write for The Onion!”

Next, be yourself. It’s much easier than trying to invent some fake personality on the fly. Your brain can’t scan for the perfect response that some hypothetical perfect person would say fast enough to avoid an awkward silence. Unless you’re a dictator of a small country or a reality show cast member, your actual personality should be fine, and there should be someone out there who finds it just spectacular. Besides, if you lie, Google or your conscience will betray you in the end.

Also, don’t lose sight of yourself. No matter how much you like someone, make sure they respect you, and that you keep doing what you do and stay who you are.

Don’t obsess over their past. If someone happens to bring up an ex, just listen, and if it seems OK to ask about them, do so, and be supportive. Don’t constantly compare yourself to their ex, or assume that if they used to date some supermodel or test pilot that they won’t like you. Everyone gets insecure, but keep it in check. Confidence pays dividends. Don’t wonder how many, or who they were. The important thing is that they’re spending time with you; make it quality time.

Go someplace conducive to getting to know each other. If you go to a movie, do the dinner first, so you’re not sitting in silence for two hours next to a stranger. Avoid those wacky date ideas like go-karts or skydiving, at least in the beginning it’s hard to read their reactions when you’re wearing a helmet and goggles.

Also, no need to overspend. One of my most memorable dates was at the Kmart cafeteria the guy was a disaster, but the meatloaf on a little tray was cute. Fancy gifts can come later; in the beginning, keep it simple. Anyone with integrity won’t lose your number if you don’t show up to their door with gifts or take them to fancy places. Weed out those gold diggers; all those rappers can’t be wrong.

Don’t overjudge. Not every small mannerism speaks to their core beliefs. Biting their nails doesn’t mean that someday your date will cash in their 401K for a sports car and leave you broke. Odd mannerisms can be quirky, even cute. Don’t be all “Seinfeld”-y about people.

And lastly, have fun. Life is better without an agenda. Don’t be on marriage-material patrol. No matter what you want in the end, just enjoy the present.

So, everybody enjoy your Valentine’s. I know, Hallmark holiday, blah blah, but I plan on making heart-shaped eggs and toast and you can’t stop me.

Got any love advice? Share it with me at ssepanek@tribtoday.com, or comment on this story at www.tribtoday.com.