Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Dating Fundamentals: Self-Disclosure
(This is a re-edit of a Suicide Girls article that ran in 2009)
Successful dating is like basketball. It’s all about fundamentals (*).
Too many people are looking for a trick or secret weapon to dating success when ninety-five percent of the time, all they need to do is refine what they already have. Today we’re going to talk about a basic conversational building block called self-disclosure.
I know what you’re thinking: How dumb to you have to be to screw up talking? The answer is, you don’t have to be dumb at all. Often some of the smartest people I know have the most trouble talking to people. This is because they’re the type of person who is always trying to “win“ the conversation. They want to be the one with the most knowledge or the most trenchant comeback. Many times they are successful--and many times it doesn’t do them a bit of good. The prize for these conversational victories is the title of social imbecile. Instead of a blue ribbon, they get a scarlet letter (I am a trained professional writer. Do not attempt this imagery at home.).
I don’t blame these people. Our culture seems to assume social ability is somehow innate. The truth is, conversation is a learnable skill, just like long division or the challenge levels in Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Which brings us back to self-disclosure, which is to conversation what X-Wing fighters are to the Rebel Alliance--effective, adaptable, and ubiquitous.
How do you self-disclose? Easy-Peasy. You pick a subject--ANY subject--and relate it to yourself by talking about your feelings on the subject. Then you shut your gob and give the other person a chance to talk. Rinse and repeat.
It looks something like this:
GUY: My favorite animal is the wolf. I like them because they’re tough, but they’re also social creatures. And they howl, which is what I’m told my singing sounds like in the shower.
GAL: I love singing in the shower too! My boyfriend hates it.
GUY: I don’t have a boyfriend, but the woman I’m sleeping with does. It’s a real pain in the ass.
Pretty simple, right? The two biggest mistakes people make are lack of emotional content (“The new Transformers movie opens this summer” vs. “I can’t believe what those fuckers did to Soundwave in the last one.”) and not tying the content to themselves (“Many cultures consider suicide a noble ending” vs. “I hate myself and want to die.”).
The secret is to talk in the first person. Not only will you sound more confident and expressive, it will help you avoid sounding judgmental, which is the conversational kiss of death. “I‘m a fan of good driving” is a far more effective connection-builder than “People should learn to drive” or (God help you) “Your driving sucks.”
The important thing to realize about self-disclosure is you aren’t talking about yourself for the sake of talking. There’s no showing off, defending yourself, or rationalizing. The goal is to lay down how you honestly feel. When you do this, people become more comfortable opening up right back, and in dating, comfort is the name of the game.
Don’t believe me?
Good. If you‘re smart enough to know not to believe everything you read, then you‘re probably smart enough to realize the best way to find out if something is true is to try it for yourself. It’s counter-intuitive to accept that the best way to connect with others is by talking about yourself, so a little skepticism is perfectly natural.
Here then is your challenge. Your job is to have a conversation with someone. Over the course of this conversation, you are to learn as much as you can about them using ONLY self-disclosure. You are not allowed to tell them what to do. You are not allowed to ask questions. All you do is a) talk about your own experience and b) listen.
Post your results and questions in the comments section below.
(*) All of which are covered in my book Dating for Shy Guys, available in slush piles of finer Literary Agencies everywhere.
-May All Beings Be Sexy
Check out this link for information on how to get Dan's Dating for Shy Guys ebook.