The 4Cs of a Meaningful and Lasting Romance: Chapter 4.5: The Art of Communication

I begin with the assumption you’ve subscribed to an online dating site, drafted your own written profile, uploaded a few tasteful, candid photos of yourself, and made a personal commitment to invest some time and effort in this new endeavor. Like almost everything else in life, you will only achieve as much as you’re willing to put forth. A concise profile with an honest portrayal of yourself and the type of person you would like to meet will enhance your chances of success.

From here, the process begins when you find a profile that draws your attention the way a book cover catches your eye. The primary photo, the one your potential match used to promote himself, plants the hook and prompts you to read his profile—hopefully. Assuming you like what you see—and read—you start to imagine what he’s like in person. At this point, you know only as much about him as he wants you to. Despite how the pictures portray him—shirt off with muscles flexed in the mirror or well dressed in a handsome setting—you have no inkling if any chemistry exists. Don’t fixate on the pictures and try to surmise a dream date with a knight in shining armor. For all you know, the pictures aren’t even his—happens from time to time—and his online description, despite the strong prose, could be rooted in half-truths. Remember, at this stage, you’re dealing with one-dimensional communication, which provides limited information from which to draw an accurate conclusion about this person and whether you share any chemistry or not. Nonetheless, he’s piqued your interest and brought you to step 2.

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In step 2, you enter what I refer to as The Zone of Disillusionment. To some extent, this artifact of the online dating process is unavoidable, like trying to cross a shallow stream without getting your ankles wet. Fortunately, you decide how long to persist, or not, in this zone of disillusionment. What exactly do I mean by this? Keep reading. It all makes senses in a moment.

You send a short email to your match to introduce yourself and maybe compliment his profile. Assuming you receive a response, you start an email dialogue to get a sense of your match’s style. You can learn a lot in a few short email exchanges. Can he spell? Does he use proper grammar? Does he write in a light-hearted manner or convey a more serious tone? Does he ask questions or volunteer personal details about himself? Are his emails abrupt and lack sincerity, or are they long-winded and hint of desperation?

Listen to your intuition, but try to refrain from making snap judgments about his personality type based solely on his written correspondence. Some people would rather talk than type. Others might be less inclined to share via email and more open to a candid dialogue in person. Worst case, you learn a little more about each other as your email exchange continues but ultimately decide to end your potential love connection for any number of reasons. Best case, you learn a little more about each other and agree to continue corresponding.

Granted, everyone has a different comfort level with online dating, and some people will spend more time in this email phase than others. But be careful. At this early stage of the online dating process, it’s easy to languish in email. Assuming you feel some initial sense of romantic chemistry and a genuine interest in getting to know this person better, you build an emotional investment as the email exchange continues. Pretty soon, every day starts to feel like TGIF. You believe you have a real connection with the man you’ve met online. With every email exchange, the illusion of a love connection grows stronger. You start to imagine what a future together might entail. You develop a false sense of intimacy and ignore the reality that you don’t really know this person at all. You’ve been engaged in one-dimensional communication with someone you perceive to think, act, and behave in a certain manner. As the email exchange continues, you let your guard down further and share more personal information.

If you’re not careful, you’ll linger in this cycle of endless emails, content to perpetuate the illusion of an authentic connection with someone you’ve never met in person. If you elect to persist in this zone of disillusionment, a high probability exists for one of two things to happen:

you solidify a new pen pal relationship with someone you’re unlikely to ever meet—or your new online beau grows weary of the never-ending email and abruptly breaks off all communication. Instantly, the ties are severed without explanation. Suddenly, you feel deflated, sad, and emotionally exhausted from a perceived love connection that never really existed in the first place.

No one knows your comfort zone better than you. And everyone progresses toward a new relationship at a different pace. With online dating, you have to adjust your way of thinking, somewhat, and progress to Step 3—the first phone call—before you let yourself become too emotionally involved with what amounts to a mannequin on paper. This means moving beyond the email exchange as soon as you can. I’m not saying drop your number on every guy who sends an email your way. Hopefully common sense and intuition prevail. Remember, email and text messages are only one-dimensional. You can read what someone sends you, but you learn very little about their personality or whether any authentic chemistry exists. For some women, as well as men, the jump from email to an actual phone call can be a nervous leap. Think about it this way: if you struck up a conversation with a cute guy you met in person, would you give him your email address?

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In my opinion, and I suspect the majority agrees, you will learn more about a person in a few minutes on the phone than you will after weeks of endless email. The human voice reveals much about our personality and our character. Unlike email, a phone call makes it hard to hide one’s true self. Though not an ironclad assessment of who we are and how we act at different times, a phone conversation paints a picture of our personality and the way we perceive ourselves. After a short phone call, you will have a stronger indication of your potential partner’s general demeanor. Does he talk fast or slow? Does he sound nervous or confident? Is his voice deep or shallow? Does he use proper grammar? Diction? Does he seem upbeat or depressed? Introverted or extroverted? Laid back or aggressive? Soft spoken or gruff? Aggressive or passive? Articulate or speechless? Polite or arrogant? Sympathetic or uncaring? Indifferent or desperate?

You might talk for minutes or hours at a time. Women tend to talk more. Men tend to talk less. If you don’t feel the right chemistry—and a short phone call will quickly confirm or dismiss any chemistry you thought you felt during your email exchange—consider moving on to your next potential match. Our first instincts about someone are usually on target. The first time you spend two months in an email exchange only to lose interest on the first phone call, you’ll begin to appreciate what I’m trying to say about moving expeditiously through the zone of disillusionment toward a face-to-face introduction.

For now, let’s assume you both like what you hear. When this happens, you reach a decision point: continue with more phone conversations or plan a first date. There’s nothing wrong with spending time on the phone to get to know one another through several conversations; however, just like the endless email loop, at some point you either fish or cut bait.

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Phone conversations will only reveal so much about the chemistry you feel for someone and whether they share the same interest in you. Don’t spend forever in the loop of endless phone calls or you’ll persist in the zone of disillusionment. Plan a first date. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. Most women prefer the man to take the lead and plan something special. In today’s modern world, more women should feel empowered to suggest a first date as well. Maybe coffee, tea, or drinks somewhere casual. Dinner is always an option, but I advise both parties to move ahead with cautious optimism. In other words, don’t plan an extravagant evening until you’ve had a chance to connect in person and determine if any mutual chemistry exists. There’s nothing more disappointing than setting high expectations only to have them shattered when you realize in the first few minutes of your date you’d rather bolt for the exit than endure the next few hours counting the seconds before an awkward goodbye. Remember, verbal interactions account for only seven percent of our communication bandwidth. This implies nonverbal interactions account for the remaining ninety-three percent. Think about it: how much nonverbal communication do you perceive through a phone call?

Online dating is a trial and error process. You might meet the man of your dreams the first time out, but most likely, you will cycle through many profiles to find someone with whom you share a mutual chemistry and a strong desire to see again. This means moving as efficiently as possible through the zone of disillusionment to meet in person.

On one extreme, I’ve met women who insist on indefinite phone calls with no desire for a first date. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve met women who insist on meeting ASAP and refuse to engage in anything beyond a curt introductory conversation on the phone. These women have been through the zone of disillusionment so many times they’ve grown weary of the endless cycle and want to establish up front, in person, whether any real chemistry exists or not.

You have to decide what works best for you based on your own comfort level. If you can avoid, or at least minimize your time in the zone of disillusionment, you’ll enjoy a more rewarding online dating experience. If you can’t bring yourself to move through the zone of disillusionment, than online dating might be a page better left unturned at this point in your life.

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Once you’ve entered Step 5 and engaged in a first date, you’ve made it further than many singles do. By this stage in the online dating process, you’ve survived the zone of disillusionment. Now that you’ve met someone in person, you reach another decision point because one of two things has happened: either you’ve been duped by a bait and switch, where the hunk you coveted from online pictures looks much different in person, wears a rug, has breath worse than Dracula, dresses like a slob, drives the same jalopy his grandmother left him in her will, or for whatever reason, doesn’t rock your world; or two, you feel a nice sense of chemistry and look forward to a second date.

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You enter Step [6] high on life as you see your online match in an angelic light, a gentlemen or bad boy or a little bit of both you’ve always dreamed about. A man who holds every attribute you could want. He’s a perfect representation of his profile and every bit the smooth-talking, funny, articulate, compassionate, caring person you’ve grown fond of over days or weeks of emails, texts, and phone calls. If you’re lucky, the attraction’s mutual, and you’re off to a splendid start. Unfortunately, there’s always a chance your McDreamy doesn’t feel the same way. And now, whatever chemistry you felt after days or weeks of correspondence that finally brought you to a first date has evaporated like a drop of water on a hot skillet. Welcome to the reality of online dating. Unlike meeting someone on the street where you have the immediate advantage of nonverbal communication, and either feel a certain spark or not, online dating requires you to navigate the zone of disillusionment in hopes that the person you’ve found online lives up to your expectations and vice versa. It’s not a perfect system, but statistics show it works for many singles. It can also work for you, if you let it.

Take a chance and see for yourself, but be mindful of the subtle hazards as well. Case in point, several years ago I gave online dating a try for the first time and made more honest mistakes in my approach than I care to admit. Looking back, I can laugh about one of my most embarrassing phone calls with a lovely woman who reached out to me online a few days after my subscription went live.

This misadventure began when she introduced herself with a short email. I read her profile and glanced at her pictures, all two of which were taken at dusk along the beach, slightly out of focus and a little too dark to make out specific details in the photo—mistake number one for me. From the photos, I perceived an attractive Asian woman in a sundress and sandals standing along the shore.

Within a week or so, we exchanged several emails, and eventually she offered her phone number. On the following day, I called her on my cell phone from an outdoor mall with loud construction nearby and poor reception, which made it difficult to hear one another clearly—mistake number two for me. I pressed the phone to my ear, wondering why she sounded different than I thought she would. Instead of ending the call and proceeding to a quieter location with stronger cell coverage, I persisted in my attempt to discern what she said between an intermittent, garbled connection and noise from the construction workers—mistake number three for me. Long story short, when I asked her what she did for a living, I thought I heard her say, “I’m a nurse in training. Is that okay?” In reality, she’d replied, “I’m a nurse tranny. Is that okay?”

By tranny, she meant transvestite. And since I thought I’d heard nurse in training, I’d replied, “That sounds exciting.”

Our conversation continued for a few minutes before I finally put the pieces together and acknowledged the communication gaffe. I made a mental note to delete our email correspondence. Then I made an appointment to have my eyes checked. Honestly, I’m not judging that person’s lifestyle, but she, or rather, he, was not going to fulfill my needs for female companionship. In the end, no harm, no foul. A lesson learned on the road of life.

Communication in Summary

Communication touches every aspect of our lives, and within the province of this book, our romantic relationships. In many ways, communication represents an art form unto itself, as no two individuals—regardless of gender—communicate exactly the same. The essence of open, honest communication has less to do with a particular communication style and more to do with our willingness to be ourselves, to express our own thoughts and feelings without expectations. Communication helps us share who we are with others, and in turn, gain a better understanding of ourselves in the process.

The late Peter Drucker, a prestigious author of management theory, wrote, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” This management philosophy applies equally well to romantic relationships. Yet ironically, the seven percent rule of verbal communication remains the hardest nut to crack for most couples. With the marvels of modern technology, our communication preference has shifted in favor of email and text messaging. Through our mastery of these nonverbal tools, we’ve diluted the value of more personal phone conversations. This diminished capacity to verbally articulate how we feel and what we’re thinking remains a systemic roadblock to achieving a meaningful and lasting romance. To counteract this, we should focus on conversation skills. These are critical and often undervalued, as the human voice provides a powerful communication tool. In many ways, it conveys a lot about us. It hints at our personality. Quiet or extroverted. Loud or soft-spoken. Articulate or tongue-tied. Friendly or abrasive. Pleasant or rude. And yet, ironically, verbal communication can only take us so far.

In this chapter, I’ve touched on a number of ways to improve both verbal and nonverbal communication, starting with a look at proxemics and the importance of body language, in addition to various communication styles and specific gender differences to help bridge the communication gap between the sexes.

Online dating brings a new frontier to the dating world, one some might be reluctant to experience for themselves without a little prodding. If you’re single, and your schedule demands prevent you from pursuing traditional dating means, the Internet offers a robust alternative to meet single people in a safe, controlled environment without expectations beyond your own comfort zone.

We don’t have to be mind readers to communicate effectively, but research overwhelming supports the advantage of face-to-face communication, where both verbal and nonverbal cues help us determine our level of romantic chemistry. Yet despite the significance of communication and the critical role it plays in our quest to sustain a meaningful and lasting romance, communication remains but one part of the equation—for without the third ‘C’ of compromise, even a romance with the best intentions will eventually lose momentum and stall.

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