Have you ever been on a date, or hanging out with someone in a somewhat romantic sense, but find yourself short of ideas on what to do? What did you do next?
A Very Common Scenario
Let's consider a very common scenario. A guy and girl are on a date, or hanging out, with some kind of romantic 'something' going on. Things start out OK. You go out somewhere, talk and laugh, the time goes on and somewhere along the line the momentum runs down a bit. There is some open ended sense that your closeness might become a bit more physical, but you're not intending to be sexually intimate, just maybe a kiss and cuddle.
This 'running down' effect opens a space in which things could go in a few directions. Commonly the couple will just drift into a 'kiss and cuddle'. But once you start doing that, where do you go next? There is a sexual momentum inherent in this kind of closeness, and there is a lot riding on what you do next. Let's look a bit more closely at what is happening.
Calling a Halt
One option is to draw back and call a halt to this momentum. You feel as though you don't want to go further down that track, but you don't want your time together to end either.
You want to 'recalibrate' and prolong this encounter, but you realise that you've run out of ideas on what to do next.
One option is simply to wrap up the evening and go home. Maybe that's all you can think of, so you do that. Yet that is not really an appealing option, so even though you don't really want to become more physically intimate, you might find yourself drifting back into it for lack of other ideas. This likelihood is increased of course by the fact that there is something enjoyable about it, and it doesn't require any further ideas. And once you stir up those feelings it tends to switch the brain off a bit, and you don't have much will to 'recalibrate'.
Getting More Physical
What happens if you do get more physical? The encounter becomes by stages less satisfying because it becomes less about a full personal encounter. When you were out and about, talking and laughing, sharing your lives while keeping some distance, you were holding open the space in which a properly personal encounter could take place. But now that you have drifted into a more physical encounter the experience becomes diminished.
It first becomes less personal, then less emotional, and then only about physical sensations. It is inherently oriented towards sex, even if you stop short of that. Yet sex is meant to be a fully personal encounter between husband and wife, between two people whose whole lives have been dedicated to each other. The reason a dating encounter like this becomes diminished, including emotionally diminished, is that it is not the expression of something fully personal, but only of a limited part of who you are.
The instructive thing is that when you do go on and get more physical in this way it becomes less enjoyable.
And yet the whole motivation was to gain more enjoyment. So why does that happen? You do gain one kind of enjoyment but at the expense of the whole experience. This is why you can end up feeling flat and disappointed, even though you thought it was what you wanted.
What we have looked at so far are the kind of things that can happen when just 'hanging out' or that can happen in the latter stages of what started out as a formal date. We go on now to look at the situation of a formal date, and how to have a better and more enjoyable experience. Indeed, going on a formal date rather than just 'hanging out' is itself part of the solution. However, there is a characteristic problem that arises even on formal dates, and we need some ideas on how to avoid it.
A More Enjoyable Alternative
So what is the alternative? One approach uses only warnings. "Don't be alone together." Or "No kissing and cuddling." These are basic guidelines that make sense, but they don't elaborate on what the positive alternatives might be. And one of the main reasons these warnings go unheeded is that there is a positive reason to spend time with someone, learning how to be close and share, and working out your feelings for that person. So you don't need many ideas on how to call a halt to the encounter, but you probably do need ideas on how to prolong it so that it remains enjoyable and uplifting.
Just Say 'No'
It is counter-productive then to focus only on warnings and prohibitions. The 'Just Say No' approach doesn't take you very far. The interesting thing is that this approach simply assumes that the physical closeness is the most enjoyable option available and that you need to deter people from enjoying themselves.
But actually the 'physical option' is not the most enjoyable option.
Or at least it wouldn't be, if people had more ideas. When you have a better stock of ideas to draw on you can become more intentional. Of course, you can always be intentional by saying 'no' and ending the encounter. But if you want to intentionally prolong the encounter you need some clear ideas about what to do.
The Space for 'Yes'
So we need to work out how to say 'Yes' to the encounter. How can we do that? The key is to 'hold open the space' for a more fully personal encounter. In order to do that you need to be more intentional, not less. What tends to happen is that we might have some good intentions - albeit with a bit of the 'wobbles' - but our good intentions can fall by the wayside if we don't know what to do.
In the typical scenario a date tends to 'run down' from a more formal and public beginning, in which you are on your best behaviour, to an informal and private ending, where you are not on your best behaviour.
In fact people just tend to assume that's what you would aim for. After all, as people get to know each other better, shouldn't they relax and become more comfortable just 'being themselves' and showing who they really are? Isn't it a sign that a date is a success if the couple feel that they know each other better at the end, and hence can be more relaxed and indeed 'unintentional', as in 'more spontaneous'?
Better at the End
Now we can clarify the key goal: You need to aim to be a better person by the end of the date than you were at the beginning.
That is, you are aiming to be on your best possible behaviour at the end of the date. This does not mean starting out more relaxed and ending up more uptight. Rather, it means that your encounter with this other person has brought out something good in you, and if possible something better. You want to discover - how does this person bring out the best in me?
Importantly though, you are also trying to bring out the best in the other person. You are trying to leave him or her more uplifted, happier and more enriched by the experience. You want to find out - What brings this person 'alive'? What is it that increases the vibrancy of his or her 'presence'? If you set your mind on this goal at the start of the date it takes your attention off yourself and what you are trying to get out of the date. It elevates your sense of what you are doing there. It gives you intentional momentum that preempts the tendency to drift. Instead of thinking of the date becoming less and less formal as it goes on, plan to introduce a new kind of formality at the end. What does this mean?
An End-of-Date Idea
Consider a typical scenario. I will consider it from the man's perspective since he should provide a certain kind of leadership on a date. You have gone out for dinner and now you are bringing your date home. Let's assume that there is an opportunity to 'have coffee' before you leave, and that this is a simple and genuine thing and you have reasonable expectations that you can do this without it becoming problematic. What do you do differently?
Planning for the End
How many men in planning a date would think of planning something for this last stage of the date? Probably few to none. You would think your job was done when you had planned the public aspect of the date, and that you could leave the rest to look after itself. Yet it is precisely during this last stage that the difficulty we explored earlier arises. So you should not be looking to relax and taper off your efforts but in fact to be at your very best by this stage, most sensitive and alert, and most ready to lead things in the right direction. In most cases it is probably not enough to rely only on good intentions, but to have some ideas as well.
Let's look at one idea you could try, the 'end-of-date card'.
*Note: Although there might possibly be occasions you could use this idea on a first date, in general it is the kind of thing that would only be appropriate a bit later. On a first date, or the first few dates, there is wisdom in establishing a clear boundary by taking your date home, and saying goodbye outside.
The 'End-of-Date' Card
The 'end-of-date card' is a very simple idea. Before you go on the date you buy or make a card to give at this last stage. We usually only think of giving a gift at the beginning, usually flowers or chocolates. These are touches of formality that help to give 'form' to the encounter. They are well known symbols of romantic intentions, and can work well as something formal, or as something more personal as the relationship grows.
How does the 'end-of-date card' work? What do you say in it? Before making any detailed comments it's worth noting that, just because you prepared the card in advance it does not mean you have to give it to your date. It is an option you have up your sleeve if it seems appropriate. However, you might realise that something about it might not be appropriate in light of how the date has gone.
Since it has to be prepared beforehand you need to be careful not to presume how the date will work out. So first you can have a general 'Thank You' of a formal kind expressing your gratitude for the opportunity to have your date's company. Then, since you are not presuming things about your date, it gives you an opportunity to say something that gives some insight into how you think and feel about the search for love.
Indeed, this desire to share something of your own thoughts and feelings about the search for love provides the 'pretext' for presenting the card to your date. Before you give it to her you could say something like:
"Amy, I want to thank you for this opportunity to be with you and learn more about the special person you are. I'm so grateful you accepted my invitation for this date, and I want you to know how much it means to me. I hope you will accept this token of my gratitude."
When she opens the card, what will she find? As a suggestion you could write something like this (remember, this is something you have written beforehand, so it is important not to be presumptuous):
"Amy, I wrote this in anticipation of our date tonight, hoping to get to know you a little better, and feeling a little trepidation as I try to put my heart out there so you can get to know me a little better too. At the moment I don't know how it will go, but I want to assure you of my honourable intentions, and my great respect for you. I don't presume to know how each of us will feel after we have spent this time together, or what this short time we share will ultimately mean. As a man I believe I should treat every woman with great respect and reverence. If I am fortunate enough to have the opportunity to spend more time with you, I want you to know that I am committed to becoming the best man I can be. Please forgive any awkwardness on my part. I'll admit, when it comes to this kind of thing I'm definitely a 'work in progress'. I know too that this date does not commit either of us for the future. If the time comes, now or later, that you would prefer that we just be friends, you would do me a kindness if you just tell me that in a simple and straightforward way, and be assured that I will still be grateful for the time that I have had to spend with you. David."
You might hope that your date will read this straight away in your presence, so that if she wishes it can lead on to a time of more elevated sharing. Ideally it could provide the 'conversation starter' for the final stage of the date in which a degree of formality has been reestablished to provide the context for a more fully personal kind of sharing. Something like this makes it more likely that you will both come to the end of the date feeling uplifted, and ready to say goodnight without feeling that something is missing. It is this kind of feeling that is more enjoyable than the diminishing returns you would get by finishing the date with a perhaps prolonged period of 'making out'.
The aim is to finish the date feeling the elevating effect of goodness.
It is easier to achieve this elevating effect by using a formal device such as a card than trying to do it only through conversation. The injection of a degree of formality assists in helping you clarify the appropriate physical boundary between you, while also opening up a space in which you can share something more reflective of your best aspirations.
You might also like to read the related article: "Does Kissing Lead on to Conversation?".