I thought of "Top Chef" (the cooking reality show on Bravo) today for two reasons: 1. I saw a preview on my DVR showing that the new season, with COVID precautions, is starting this week. (Yay!) and 2. I took a Passover-themed matzah pizza-making class tonight via Zoom with Spike Mendelsohn, who appeared on the show over 10 years ago and has several restaurants in Washington, D.C. Then, I thought to myself, gosh, the early stages of dating can feel like "Top Chef." Before you tell me that I must be hungry while writing this article, let me explain…
On "Top Chef," even if you’re the most skilled chef in the country, have three James Beard awards, and your restaurant has two Michelin stars, you’re only as good as the last meal you cook on the show. You could be the big winner one week, and the next, you may be asked to “please pack your knives and go” by Padma Lakshmi.
This is not how dating should be, of course. We are people, not meals. And we, as people, should be able to build a solid foundation with someone, where trust and conversations are cumulative, not discrete events. Early on in new relationships, though, people often hang onto the last thing their new significant other said or did. Maybe yesterday you snuggled in bed for three hours discussing your favorite TV shows from the 1980s, but today you didn’t talk until 11 a.m. You’re now worried that the relationship is over!
I remember, about 15 years ago, I met someone at a fundraiser. He asked for my number and proceeded to tell me that he’d be traveling for work for two weeks, but he’d call me when he got back to make plans. And he called. I was happy! The date went well. But, then I didn’t hear from him for a few days. I was confused. Then we had another great date. Happy. He didn’t ask me out again on that date for next time. Sad. I even remember leaving him a voicemail (this is when people still called rather than texted) after the third date and kicking myself afterwards for rambling about who-knows-what. Did I even say my name in the message? What if he thought, “What weirdo can’t even leave a coherent voicemail?” And the kicker was that I didn’t hear from him for a day or two after I had left the message. I was on edge until he finally called back and, lo and behold, asked me out again. It was a roller coaster of emotions — happy, sad, happy, confused — all based solely on the last conversation or interaction.
Even recently, I got a call from a client who has been seeing a woman for a few months. He’s currently on vacation (with bad cell reception), and he asked me what to do because his girlfriend told him that she doesn’t think he’s being open with his feelings. He revealed to me that just a few days ago, they talked about how much they enjoyed being together, and he was on the verge of saying “I love you.” Could so much have changed in a matter of days? Of course not. But that’s not how his girlfriend sees it. She’s basing everything on the last communication they had, or didn’t have. That can get exhausting.
Living conversation to conversation, text to text, call to call, is no way to live. Remember that relationships build over time, and all is not lost if you have one “off” day. On the flip side, when someone likes you, there generally shouldn’t be guessing games. I advised my client to call his new almost-love and tell her that while he’s away, he may not be able to communicate as much, but rest assured that she’s on his mind.
In any dating situation or relationship, we’ll have conversations that don’t feel as good as others. We might even have days that don’t feel as good as others. But don’t let those moments overshadow all the good. Just because it’s the last interaction doesn’t mean it’s the most important. And, if you find yourself getting stressed, wondering where things are, then the simplest and most effective thing you can do is ask. Nothing substitutes good communication.
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