Minimum viable dates (and what to expect from them)

Everybody loves Spaghetti

This week I had dinner with some colleagues (mixed Gyoza, Sushi and half a piece of Gateau au chocolat at iimori Gyoza-Bar, in case you are wondering). One of those colleagues at the table was Dennis (this is not his real name, obviously). Dennis is very active when it comes to dating and he also loves talking about it – which I enjoy, since I love talking about that topic too. Last year Dennis and me went to the Frankfurt book fair together and I remembered that he had bought a book that was named something like “How to get some in the digital age”. So I asked him very bluntly – after having checked out pictures of his most current tinder matches – what he took away from the book in order to improve his dating routine. “Well” Dennis replied, “…stuff like: When you take a woman out for dinner, go to an Italian restaurant, since the atmosphere is always pretty romantic there, the food is not too complicated from an how-do-I-eat-that point of view and also: everybody loves Spaghetti. Make sure your date gets a good and comfortable seat, hold the doors for her, let her order first and pay the check at the end.” Then he paused and I used the short break to mention very casually that all of this – except maybe for the not very contemporary fact that the guy is supposed to pay the bill – seems to be pretty basic stuff to me. “Yes” he said, “it might seem basic to you but nowadays this cannot be taken for granted.”

The conversation continued for a while but I somehow got mentally stuck at the question: How the hell is dating supposed to work in the year 2018? What can I – as a woman – expect from an evening with a man I have met somewhere in the real or the digital world? And most importantly: What is the minimum viable date (MVD) I should look out for and what behavior is simply out of scope? (By the way, I found this very adapt cartoon when I was googling “minimum viable date.”)

Romance is required

I guess for me personally all those practical things like holding the doors open, paying the check and letting me go first when the waiter asks for the order are really not what constitutes a pleasant date. Although those things are “nice to have” – what would they help if the guy sitting opposite of me was really boring or showed no interest in me? My minimum viable date would also not necessarily have to take place at a restaurant (although I love to eat, as you might have noticed). It could take place in a park, at an airport, at the gym, in a boulder hall, on a plane, during a dancing class, on a playground or at a funfair. I strongly believe that if two people have a connection they find ways to be romantic with each other everywhere. Plus: Spending time in rather unusual situations right from the start might be good in order to find out how open your date is for trying out new things (which is a very important character trait for my personal taste).

Two of those rather practical minimum requirements for a date, in my eyes, would be punctuality and focus. While “punctuality” is pretty straightforward, “focus” for me essentially translates to “Keep your hands off your phone”. Yes, even in the digital age I strongly hold the opinion that real people who are present at this specific moment in time when a date takes place should be more interesting and more attention-grabbing than all the other people digitally sending likes and beeps and tweets to your phone. The worst case and an absolute out-of-scope-action for me would be if a guy “managed” his upcoming dates while sitting next to me on a park bench. In a world where attention has become a currency there is nothing more flattering than complete and utter focus on the person you are spending your time with. And that includes mental focus as well – I expect a guy to listen to me, remember the stuff I told him and apply that knowledge at our next meeting.

Let’s get physical

Could all this be too much to ask? Is all this way too complicated considering that most people are just looking for a fling, a digital quickie that has been transformed to real flesh and blood for one evening and that can be consumed as easily as it has been set up? Well, in my opinion: no. People seem to forget that a date is a physical meeting between two people and that it differs profoundly from what they do when they continuously swipe left or right (whatever the correct side for “I think you are hot” is) on Tinder while binge-watching Netflix with half their attention. It seems to me that everybody has to define his or her own rules for minimum viable dates – even if they contain requirements that have been pretty standard in the pre-digital days. Because how else are we able to determine whether to give a five or a one start rating for a guy or a girl, considering the sheer amount of dates the average online dating user is going on?

While indulging in our delicious desserts Dennis told me that he is using Tinder less and less these days. “Getting to know someone in real life is totally different and gives you way more information about a person” he answered after I asked him why. “You do not waste days or weeks texting someone who might turn out to be a totally different person in real life. Instead you get a pretty good first impression of somebody’s personality and whether you might like that person or not. So it actually is not only a nicer way to meet people, it is also more efficient.” I smiled as I picked up the last piece of my chocolate cake. Romance and efficiency? Those two things usually do not go together. But hell, as long as the real world overrules the digital world I am happy. So let’s get physical!


Highs and lows in Austria | 2

Day 2: Four pieces of cake and one wish

The weather improved and I went for the first guided hike – finally! We went up Ahornstein, a rather tiny mountain with an altitude of about 1800 meters. The wind blew fiercely and sometimes rain dribbled down on us – but the harsh weather made stopping for a bite to eat at the Zachhofalm even cosier. After a delicious Kaspressknödel and a herbal tea I felt strong enough to keep on walking and luckily we also catched some sunbeams on the way back. Those very few sunbeams were enough to give my forehead a weirdly-shaped sunburn which made me look like a total dork – I would have to wear my bangs straight down over the next couple of days in order to cover-up this facial mishap.

At today’s walking-tour there was one very peculiar moment for me: At the summit cross our hiking-guide asked us to make a wish. I felt uneasy at first but after pondering this task for a while I realized something really fabulous: I like the way things are at the moment. Life is good. I couldn’t think of any specific great wish that I would want to be fulfilled. It sure hasn’t always been this way.

What would I have said one year ago, I wondered, if somebody had asked me to make a wish?

I probably would have wished for more than just one specific thing: A better job, more time for my hobbies, more energy to do all the things that are on my mental bucket list…to name just a few. And now? It somehow all came true as a package due to my new job. At this moment at the summit cross it became clear to me how lucky I was and that instead of always wishing for more I could also take some time to be thankful for what I have right now. And so I did exactly that and saved my wish for later. I would surely need it some time in the future.

Back at the hotel I drowned my worries about tomorrow’s weather forecast in a big cup of coffee accompanied by four pieces of cake (chocolate cake, marble cake, a cream puff and apple tart, in case you’re wondering). In the spirit of making the best of suboptimal situations I must really say that staying at Vital Hotel Post is the best choice – their great cooking and baking skills will make you forget that you came to Austria for hiking and biking in the first place.

So what did I take away from this day?

  1. You can get a sunburn even if there is no sun.
  2. After the third piece of cake all your worries will have vanished into thin air.
  3. Having to wish for nothing is a blissful state and you should remind yourself more often of all that is good in your life.

The magic of the seventh second

Science tells us that it takes only seven seconds for us to decide whether somebody is boyfriend or girlfriend material. For me this is a fact that is hard to digest: How can a possibly life-changing decision be made upon a vague and highly superficial impression of a human being, whose character is composed of a multitude of interests, opinions and experiences?

After pondering this question for a while I realized that – being a hopeless romantic – my train of thoughts had a major flaw: The seven-second-phenomenon is not about the character of a person, it’s not about what somebody thinks or does or loves. It’s quite the opposite – a rough assessment of a person’s appearance based on the most primal instincts that have been governing our brain since the stone age. In those seven seconds we form an opinion about the looks of a person (“Is she hot?”), about the level of self-confidence and impact on others a person has (“Could she as my girlfriend enhance my self-worth as well as the way others perceive me?”) and about how “available” a person is (“What would it take to get her to go home with me?”). If what we perceive in this first impression of somebody leads to satisfactory answers for our inner questionnaire (with a special focus on the hotness factor, obviously) our brain seems to tick a little checkbox that is labeled “This could be my future girlfriend”. So what do we make of this regarding our day-to-day dating routine?

It was pointed out to me recently that the app Tinder perfectly picks up on the implications of the seven-second phenomenon. What might seem superficial (Is her photo hot? – No, I’ll just swipe to the next one) is essentially a technical implementation of what our brain does anyway. It’s an assessment of a person based on a minimum of criteria, except for the fact that we pick up on some body language clues in the real world as well. So why have I always been so upset about apps like Tinder, when all they do is provide an efficient platform to act out on our most basic instincts?

I guess I am missing the magic of it all. Having to accept that everything that becomes less important in a long-term relationship (looks, self-confidence, being easy to get) is what counts when it comes to falling in love is hard and strikes me somehow as illogical.

Sure, being asked whether I have ever fallen in love with somebody who did not appeal to me at first glance I had to think hard. But there were people who did certainly not make the cut during the first seven seconds. It’s usually the more quiet ones, the ones that do not stick out in a crowd but thrive when you are one on one, who become appealing at second glance. And it also works the other way around: People who seemed great at first turned out to be horrible after the first date. So how much can we really rely on those seven seconds, when we are looking for more than a one night stand?

I have to admit, the last major crush I had, had been a crush from the first second on – although our first encounter happened on the phone and in an environment that could not have been less flirty. According to science the most important factor for assessing this person was missing (the looks!) but I enjoyed getting to know him in kind of the wrong order: voice first, writing second, looks last. I can’t say how I would have reacted if his looks had turned me off, but I am sure that, having fallen for his personality already, the pressure on an appealing outer appearance was reduced. Through this gradual immersion into a state of being in love I learned that we can stretch out the magic of falling for somebody to more than seven seconds; that we can oppose ourselves to the fast-forward dating culture brought to us by Tinder – if we want to. And maybe things last longer if we take more time and effort to get to know somebody.

Maybe it’s worth to keep counting after the seventh second.