Life Advice



Erika Ettin: How to explain a bad date, with help from psychology

Erika Ettin, Tribune News Service on

Published in Dating Advice

What went wrong on your last date? The way you answer could change everything about how you approach your next one.

Psychologists Martin Seligman and Gregory McClell Buchanan have studied how people explain life events. How might we explain the man who was rude to us on the bus? Or the results of the “cutest dog” photo contest we answered? Or the date that ended in awkward silence?

We might gather input from past events, our knowledge of the people involved, or friends and family members. But when it comes down to it, Seligman and Buchanan developed three parameters in which we explain certain events. Together, they make up our “explanatory styles,” which determine the way we reflect on failure, success, and the occasional awkward date.

(Interested in reading more about this? The books "Learned Optimism" and "Explanatory Style" are two great places to start!)

According to the parameters Seligman and Buchanan have developed, we make assumptions about what the next event, i.e. date, will look like. Let’s take a look at these explanatory styles. You may find that shifting your perspective makes your next date a lot more exciting.

Stable vs. unstable (permanence)


Let’s say you go on a date and it ends poorly. You text friends, who aren’t encouraging. They say things like, “dating sucks.” “Dating is never fun.” “Men will always be immature.” You’re not going to look forward to the next date if you’re always going to run into bad dates!

We can see an event as stable, meaning that it’s permanent. Or, we can see an event as unstable, which means it’s temporary. People who believe situations are stable may have a fixed mindset, in which growth is limited and things rarely change.

In reality, your dating life can change as you grow and learn about yourself. So really, is the status of your dating life ever permanent?

Global vs. local (pervasiveness)


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