Back into Dating Game

Q: After a bad break-up about five years ago, I've barely dated at all. I'd really like to get back in the game but I'm finding it uncomfortable and awkward. For instance, how can you tell if a guy is available? Sometimes I chicken out before I get brave enough to make a move. How do you ask about a man's status without sounding too pushy?

Dr. Susan: Congratulations for being brave enough to take the first step, which is to ask how to make the first move! For the record, I'm a bit concerned that it's taken you five years after your break-up to reach this point. Have you taken some of that time to reflect on what went wrong in other relationships so that you're not carrying a ton of baggage into a new one? Time heals, but it doesn't necessarily make you do things any differently unless you consciously decide to learn from the past. (I'm not suggesting the breakup was your fault. But we can learn all kinds of things from what didn't work.)

That said, let's get to the logistics of meeting someone. Let's say you see a cute guy at work or in a class you're taking (which is a good way to meet men with compatible interests, by the way). The easiest thing to do is to be friendly. Open the conversation any old way - with men, just about any conversational gambit will get their attention. The slightest interest on your part will usually be construed as interest in them personally. Just comment on the work load or say something silly about a boss or teacher (gently though, in case this guy is the head honcho's brother-in-law).

Or mention something about the previous weekend: "Don't you just hate it when you've finally reached the front of the line at the dry cleaners, and then the clerk takes a long phone call?" Then, no matter what he says, try to sneak in a question about his weekend: "Do you bunch up all your chores on Saturday like I do?" or whatever feels natural. By his response you'll be able to judge if he's got a partner - "The way we manage it is..." If so, just smile and move on.

Another tried-and-true method - if you're classmates, for example -- is to ask for his number to go over some homework. Women do that all the time - it's not pushy in the least -- and those men who are interested in you can then move into a non-homework conversation.

If you've got your eye on someone at the local market, just try friendly chit-chat. When a guy is approached by a total stranger with idle chatter, he already suspects you may be interested. He'll take the ball from there, if he's interested too. No need to tackle him and hold him down to let him know you're on the prowl. Most guys "get" it very quickly.

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