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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > The Phone Call

Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.


From Online Dating to the Phone Call

Quick Access:
Nervous about making "the call" - any advice?


I do fairly good communicating with women on online dating services, but when it comes time to call them, I’m all nervous and don’t know what to say. Do you have any suggestions?

 

I frequently hear about this problem, especially when a dater is ready to meet someone offline for the first time. From my research with actual online daters, nervousness about communicating with another person in this respect often boils down to one of three possible issues. Let me present these issues as rhetorical questions, and then you ponder how you might answer if forced to be  completely honest with yourself:

Have you been honest with other online daters?
First “face-to-face” dates, in particular, tend to be disappointing because of exaggerated expectations. Sometimes those exaggerated expectations come from our own unrealistic views of others. However, sometimes we outright or unwittingly lead others to believe things about ourselves. For example, studies on profiling indicate that people modify their behavior in two primary ways. First, people can give honest but inflated self-descriptions reflecting a lack of insight and an unconscious bias toward favorable self-portrayal ("self-deception"). This is a variation of social desirability bias. While it is important to promote candor and truth in personal profiles and communications, it is important to understand that virtually everyone exhibits social desirability biases to some extent. Here individuals are often acting naturally out of a healthy self-image and are expressing a need to be liked and accepted (as opposed to being insecure).

The second and more serious form of social desirability is what social scientists refer to as "impression management." This term applies when people consciously use inflated self-descriptions, faking or lying due to a hypersensitivity to situational self-presentation demands. This behavior speaks to someone who is grossly insecure or who is what we might call a “player.”  

Both behaviors (self deception and impression management) are likely at work in online dating profiles and communications, and even in offline dating, to some degree. Still, there is no excuse for deception. It is easy to see why someone would be apprehensive about talking or meeting someone in real-time, if they that person had been dishonest in previous online conversations and now are worried about being caught in a lie.

Have you become too comfortable “communicating” via the Internet?
While cyberspace has exponentially broadened our capacity to correspond with people who otherwise would have been outside our social circles, it has, on the other hand, put some people at risk for limiting their social skills when it comes to some forms of interactions – such as on the phone or face-to-face chats. Talking over a computer is a buffer in many respects; it is a wall that allows people to respond and interact in more calculated, less spontaneous ways. If someone sends an email or an Instant Message, the receiver doesn’t need to respond immediately. Instead that person can take some time to carefully craft, revise or recall a reply. This can’t happen with conversations or interactions that are spontaneous and truly in real-time. So, while we become comfortable with these “delayed” forms of communicating with others, we must be sure we are not using them as a crutch to protect us from learning true social skills and dealing with others in real-world environments.

Have you not fully come to understand your motivations for using online dating sites? This issue is often overlooked by newcomers to online dating sites. Specifically, people use online dating for a myriad of agendas – such as finding platonic friends, casual dating partners, sex mates and long-term relationships. And for every motivation I listed here, there are likely twenty more that could have been mentioned. Sometimes daters have multiple agendas. For instance, many sites ask users whether they’re seeking (a) short-term relationships, (b) long-term relationships or (c) either. Option (c) is typically the most popular response. This means most people are open to various experiences on sites. However, anxiety can easily arise if you are unsure of your own reasons and motivations for using a site, striking up a conversation with a particular person and now taking that communication to a new and more personal level. The apprehension can become worse if you suspect there’s a substantial disconnect between your motivations and this person to whom you’re about to talk over the phone or in person. Frankly, confusion leads to awkward situations, like a dater seeking just sex hoping to “persuade” someone for a weekend rendezvous who’s really only interested in a long-term relationship.

So, what is a person in one or more of these dilemmas to do? Well, here are some sample “remedies” to get you started thinking about what is best for you:

Take advantage of the resources available to online daters.
For example, legitimate compatibility tests can help you not only screen for potential partners who share your motivations for using a site, but they can also help you become more self-aware of your own personal needs and wants. Social scientists have long documented that the general public is typically horrible at self-assessment, so tests and assessments can help individuals get to know themselves better -- and that goes for both the positive and negative. The process of getting to know and accept oneself (all of oneself) is the goal here. And yes, online dating services should be among the first providers of such services if they truly care about helping customers succeed. Moreover, some sites offer supportive education in the form of e-books, webinars and articles by credible relationship experts. Of course, Online Dating Magazine is an excellent, comprehensive and free resource that exists to help daters understand, communicate and manage their relationship needs.

“Virtual dating” is an excellent way to reduce the nervousness that comes with meeting some offline for the first time.
Before using webcams and other such tools with your romantic prospect, practice with a platonic friend who can role play with you. In this way, you can feel more comfortable with being yourself, manipulating the technology so the virtual date goes smoothly.

One of the best ways to make great conversation is to learn to become a great listener.
Not a good listener, but a great listener. Men and women alike respond to someone who cares about what s/he is saying. Learn to ask pertinent questions, and allow the other person to carry the bulk of the conversation at first. Some of the best questions to ask involve “challenging” the other person to share something personal but not embarrassing. For example, “Share something surprising about yourself that you left out of your online profile?” or “I wonder how similar our childhoods were?”  The idea is take pressure off yourself to have to come up with funny, witty or romantic phrases. Instead, the goal should be to have a good time getting to know someone – wherever that leads. It is always fun talking about similarities early on in a relationship!

Finally, persistent anxiety might best be tackled by working with a professional date coach.
There are several legitimate and effective coaches (both men and women) who can work with you to reduce nervousness, build your confidence and work with you to build on your strengths. In this way, your confidence is boosted and you’ll feel sexier, more relaxed and ready to mingle, shall we say!




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