by Diane E. Alter

Dispatches from the Dating Front

The facts are irrefutable. The numbers are alarming. The statistics are startling, surprising, and just a little depressing. By  now you realize that I am not referring to the unemployment rate, the housing market, or the New Jersey Nets’ 2009–10 record. No, I am talking about dating. And specifically, dating post-30-something when, as the old saying goes, you’re more likely to be kidnapped by terrorists than find Mr. Right. Dating takes guts, and it is much easier to exit than to enter. If you don’t believe it, try these three numbers on for size—50, 3, 3 and 5. Around 50 percent of American singles have not been on a real date in more than two years. Human beings typically decide whether someone’s attractive within 3 seconds of meeting them. And the most common time for breakups is between 3 and 5 months into a relationship. Whether you’re newly unattached or, like me, a lifelong single, the odds may seem stacked against you. However, who’s to say you can’t tilt those odds in your favor? To do so, it helps to have a little clarity about what is—and is not—happening out there on the adult dating scene.

You’ve probably heard these words of wisdom before, but they bear repeating. According to the most recent study I could find, instant dating turn-offs are bad breath, bad teeth and body odor. Followed closely by hair mistakes, raggedy nails, missing teeth, hairy nostrils, burping, flatulence, and goofy glasses. This goes for the guys and the girls—no joke! If you manage to make it past those harrowing first three seconds, remember not to talk too much about yourself or your ex, don’t bring up marriage too soon, and don’t appear to be an overeager beaver. Body language speaks volumes, so uncross your arms.

Look your date in the eyes, and gaze and hold that look a little bit longer than normal. Create an instant link to a person, and say his or her name at least twice during a conversation. Look for clues that your date is interested, and remember bits of information about a person and work that information back into the conversation. Happiness is contagious and hard to walk away from. So try to relax. Don’t worry. Be happy. In terms of gender specifics, remember that a large  majority of men are not confident meeting a woman for the first time. As a rule, men are put off by groups of loud women. So ladies, help these poor guys out and break away from the crowd. And please, help with the conversation. At the same time, avoid clinging, fishing for compliments, serial flirting, being a party girl or a drama queen. Men, stand up straight before you even utter a word—slouching gives a woman a negative first impression. Also, if you cannot decide what to wear on a date, go with blue. Studies confirm women are attracted to men in blue.

We all know how important it is to be in the right place at the right time. Indeed, among the best places to meet other people and do some initial flirting are classes, coffee shops, gyms and shopping malls. And despite what you’ve heard, office romances have a surprisingly good track record, too. Four out of 10 result in marriage. Don’t ask about the other six. No longer taboo, no longer not talked-about, and no longer not admitted to is online dating. In fact, the online dating industry rakes in close to $2 billion dollars annually. Matchmakers and dating coaches pull in another $260 million. Goes to show you, there are a lot of people looking for Mr. or Ms. Right. Right on. The drawback of going cyber, of course, is that what you see isn’t always what you get. Statistically speaking, a woman’s biggest fear in the online dating world is meeting a serial killer. For men it is meeting someone fat. To the men I say hey, prioritize! To the women I say that only three percent of men are technically psychopaths, so the odds are with you until about the 33rd online date. Italian restaurants are the most popular on a first date. Hello—who doesn’t like pasta and pizza? Most people will kiss on the second date and consider themselves in a relationship after six to eight dates. Women feel it is appropriate to get intimate after a month, or two or three. Men feel it is okay on the third date, which also happens to be the recommended time to wait until cooking someone dinner at home. Interesting.

What do the boots-on-the-ground people have to say about New Jersey’s 30-to-50 dating scene? I convinced five friends to recount some recent experiences. Admittedly, it’s too small a sample to be scientific. But I think it’s a fairly accurate picture of who’s out there and how they’re doing.

She doesn’t need a reason to celebrate, but a good date is cause for celebration. Linda likes to go out and have fun, and dating is a night out. The way she sees it, a night out—good or bad—is never that bad. “I go out every weekend with this frame of mind,” she says. “I am out to have fun and if I meet someone, great. If not, I am still going to have fun.” Linda has rolled the dice on the Internet dating site, “I had what I thought were two great first dates, but both turned out to be total busts. All they were looking for was a physical relationship—on the first date. One guy lived in a boarding house in Belmar and ranted on and on about how much he hated his family. I thought about calling 911.”

He’s 39 years young and the most fun guy I know. Dave has sworn off blind dates—they just don’t work, he says. Dave meets many of his dates in bars, where he can make the corniest opening lines sound like Shakespeare sonnets. He also finds Facebook to be productive. First dates are usually dinner, and Dave always pays. “I have found some old flames on Facebook and a lot of new ones, too,” he says. “I also meet a lot of people at weddings, but the younger women kind of get misty-eyed watching the bride. I smell commitment and usually run.”

She was married, a mother, and divorced before turning 30. The years leading up to and after Hannah’s divorce were trying, both emotionally and physically, and when she decided to get back into the dating game it wasn’t as simple as she thought. After many miserable and insufferable dates (almost all the results of set-ups), she tried and had substantially better luck than Linda. “I knew right away Victor was the one,” she says, sounding almost like a commercial. “We clicked. Our first date was coffee. We saw each other often after our first date, and very soon after we became inseparable.” Hannah and Victor, both in their 40s now, just celebrated their seventh wedding anniversary.

He’s what Jersey Girls call an Italian Stallion. Rob is a player—funny, smart, athletic, handsome, curious and, with some notable exceptions, fairly adept at juggling multiple dates. Suffice it to say that a glass of wine tossed in the face, a lap full of spaghetti, and getting his sports car keyed are not rare occurrences for Rob. Still, he lives and dates by a strict code. “I never let anyone I date see, hear, or know about others,” he says. “I don’t flaunt it and I am sensitive about it. Humor, discretion and comfort are very important.”

She has to be the hardest working person I know, and she admits that dating isn’t easy. At 41, Danielle wonders if she will ever marry. Actually, she wonders if she will even date. “Believe me, I have tried. I am going on a singles cruise in a few months, and although I am not looking, it doesn’t mean I won’t look.”

Dating isn’t meant to be, nor should it be, a military campaign. I remember most of my dates, and yes, there are some I would love to forget. Like the time my date and I shared a dinner table with his friend and his friend’s girlfriend one Labor Day weekend. This couple argued throughout the entire meal. Finally, my date asked them to calm down. The other woman threw a drink in his face, he got angry, and then his friend punched him in the face and broke his nose. We spent the evening in the emergency room. I guess, in this case, love really was a battlefield. Most of my dates haven’t been catastrophes. My best, my favorite, and the date I still remember with longing and nostalgia, consisted of a long bike ride around the park, a messy soft-serve vanilla cone, a dinner of pizza and Pepsi, and watching a sky full of fireworks. Sparks flew that night. They certainly did.

Editor’s Note: In researching this story, Diane explored the worlds of dating “events.” Log onto to read an extended version of Love Is a Battlefield and get her take on Lock N Key and 7 in Heaven.