The Washington Post

On Love: Navigating the dating world

Apr 12, 2011

The Post's Ellen McCarthy is joined by Patti Feinstein, a dating coach who has been in the dating industry for the past 20 years. Feinstein will be online to offer advice on how to navigate the murky waters of the dating world, circa 2011.

Ellen: Hi all,  I'm so glad to have Patti Feinstein with us today.  She's been helping people navigate the dating world for two decades now and can answer all our questions about relationships. Let's get rolling. 

Hi, it's Patti!

Ellen: Patti,  Maybe you could tell us a little bit about how you got into this field and how it's changed -- for better or worse -- over the last 20 years. 

Hi Ellen,  I was a matchmaker for years and I watched my daters like a hawk.  I watched who was successful and who wasn't.  Then, I went to work for a psychiatrist and came up with the idea of being a dating coach!!


Would you say that most of the time, if a man is still delaying engagement after 3 years, it's probably not wise to give him more time? I wish when I was dating that I didn't hold onto my boyfriend and keep giving him more time because in hindsight, he was never going to be "ready." We both wound up marrying others after relatively brief courtships. I'd hate to have women nowadays putting their lives on hold waiting for a proposal that never comes. Any thoughts?

When a man is captivated, he'll ask you to marry him.  That's the cold, hard truth!  If you find yourself waiting, it's simple. He's juts not that into you!  Move on!

So I'm almost 30 and I'm very inexperienced at dating/intimacy. How open and truthful should I be about this? I don't want to scare good guys away by having them think I'm some kind of freak but I also don't want to get into a situation where someone expects something I'm not ready to do. This quandry has scared me away from getting into the dating scene or try sites like Match. Would appreciate your advice. Thanks!

A man that truly appreciates you will LOVE because he'll think he's the first.  If he's a good guy, not only will he respect it but he'll wait til you're ready!!  This is not a quandry at all.

Good afternoon, I recently started dating a friend of mine and things are going great. I almost feel like they are going too great. I'm completely comfortable with him, we talk to each other the same way I talk to my siblings - no pretense, concern for feelings, but still saying what needs to be said, even disagreements. Though we grew up in different parts of the US we have similar backgrounds and interests. We've discussed not everything under the sun, but close to it, and both take responsibility for things that effect our relationship (money, work, birth control measures, family, etc..). We are both right about 30 and have been through good and bad relationships. Should I stop waiting for the other shoe to drop? Just embrace it and go? I do care for him and greatly enjoy time spent, but have never had a relationship start this easily. I know it's cliche but he's my best friend.

As long as the sex is good, you couldn't do any better.  Run, don't walk down the aisle!!

How can you define it?

Chemistry is when you just know because it just is.  Chemistry is an animal based attraction that can't be explained.  You either have it or you don't.

I'd be interested to hear if any readers out there have other definitions of chemistry.  Or examples of how you knew you had it with someone. This always seems to be the hardest part in finding someone compatible. 

I am a young-looking 41-year-old and I am having a hard time dating. I attend dating events, singles events and others, but I am having a hard time finding the right man. I'm starting to get discouraged with what is available out there. How does a woman in her 40's date these days? My friends do not know any eligible single men. Where should I be going? What should I be doing differently? Thank you for any advice you can offer.

If you're good looking then take a look at your attitude?  Do you look happy?  Do you feel happy?  There's more going on here.  If you think you're good looking, isn't that up to someone else?  I would stop with telling yourself how great you look and work on the personality.

Met my honey nearly 3 years ago. We are both middle-aged, no kids. Me - serial monogamist, had some great relationships, unfortunately buried two boyfriends. Him - not much dating experience. He was less sexual and comfortable with his sexuality and I was patient and okay with it. Then we became intimate and he has some mechanical problems. Everything is okay medically, so I figure it's just a comfort/confidence thing. No biggie. We're very affectionate, but haven't really had sex. I moved in last Sept - he's my best friend and we love being together. It's like being 5 and having a pajama party. But now that almost seems like a problem. I've never really seen him sexually and we're learning that we have very different natures. He's completely gentle, sweet and overwhelmed with his own body sensations. I'm looking for the Marlboro man minus the cigarette. We've each bought some card games that get couples to reveal what they like/dislike and to cause conversation and experimentation. It's good, we're both open. I just wonder if we really can find a way to satisfy one another. When he gets in his groove, I feel completely detached and objectified. I also understand how weird it must seem that I'm asking him to detach from his own sensations. Help!

Move on, my darling!  Sex is critical to a successful relationship.  This is a friend, not husband or boyfriend material for you.  Perhaps you can keep the friendship after this blows over a bit.

I'm the kind of person who tends to do what others are doing (though not infringing on my boundaries). When I started dating "Joe" I tended towards his diet and lifestyle. We've been living together 6 months now and while it's mostly lovely, I feel like I want to change what I eat. The good news - he does his own meal prep. The bad news - he loves to share food. I mean if he's eating a watermelon he saves half for me. How can I change without being abrupt. I kind of feel like I misled him. It wasn't intentional - and I didn't mind eating how he does. I just think long-term it's not working well for me.

Life and love are about comprimise and meeting in between.  If you can both find a happy medium for this situation it's a good sign for other things which will come up down the road!

I'm at my wits' end. No matter what I do, I can't seem to meet and attract men with whom I actually have any common interests. Occasionally I meet and attract men who have a lot going for them -- but with whom I have very little in common (i.e. his only hobby is golf or his favorite thing in the whole world is science fiction, while I want to be out traveling, going to concerts, movies - not sci-fi one!, museums). Meeting guys in the real world has never really worked for me, but when I'm online - the men with whom I have lots in common rarely if ever respond to my messages. Suggestions?

Have you tried and travel clubs?  These are both good places to meet people with similar interests.

I heard a voice from behind me saying: "I know you". I turned around, but didn't know the guy. He didn't know me either. But later he said his mind went blank, and felt he had to say something. When I turned around and looked at him, it was like slow motion. As soon as we looked at each other, we connected in a way that neither of us could explain. For the next three years, we could not be separated. This was high school. We played the same sports. Looked alike. It felt as if we had known each other in another life or something. Then school ends. Off to college and we are still close and it is actually still love, but the intensity is gone... or we have learned to manage it. Anyway, we look back and wonder how or why that connection occurred. I've read that first impressions are key. Perhaps if the environment, music, energies are in some way positive and good... that first impression can be elevated to love?

Love at first sight.  I don't know that anyone will ever fully be able to explain the mystery of these occurances. Perhaps it's the environment, but maybe you're recognizing something familiar in each other.  What do you tell your clients about love-at-first sight, Patti?  And do we know if it can last?


I completely believe in love at first sight and it is unexplainable but it works.  Just ask those couples that have been married for more than 50 years and this is exactly what they say.  

On a first date, within 15 minutes, how can women decide the "chemistry" is not there and walk away saying, I don't feel a connection? It takes time to know someone. First dates are awkward and should not be used to make that quick a decision.

I don't think it's only women who do this.  But I agree we can all be quick to judge sometimes.  Do you coach your clients on keeping an open mind, Patti?


Always keep an open mind.  The old saying comes to mind, "love will find you and he won't be who you expected."

Do you view relationships that don't culminate in marriage as lesser than those that do? I don't mean break-ups, I just mean unmarried couplehood.

NO!  All relationships are created equal.  Love is love and what you do with it doesn't diminish it in anyway.  Many find people they are in love with but simply not life time compatible with at the same time.

First of all, is it normal for a 31 year old man to feel heartbroken after ending a 5 month relationship with someone they truly care about? I have been seeing a female I met online for 5 months. Things have been wonderful, talk every day throughout the day. She tells me she cares about me and has feelings. Lately though, I feel she has been distancing herself from me. Last night, she cancelled on dinner plans we had made last week. Her reasoning was she had to attend her bosses birthday party that his wife decided to put together at the last minute. When I ask her why things are changing, she blames it on work saying she is really busy now and wants to focus on getting a promotion. I wrote her an email telling her how I feel, that I care about her and that cancelling on dinner at the last minute really hurts me. I never got a reply from her, but she did text me the next day to tell me she is thinking about me. When I asked if she received the email, she said yes but was too busy at work to respond. My gut tells me she just isn't into me anymore, or has found someone to replace me. It hurts to think everything we had is now over, hurts even more to know she is sharing those same experiences with another person. Am I right to feel this way? Should I just walk away or stick around and see if things change?

It's time to walk away.  One of the problems both men and women face is communication when they aren't "feelin it."  They are afraid to hurt you so they say they are busy and it hurts even more than just being straight with your feelings.  Worry not, time passes and heals all wounds.  Just be sure never to do that to someone else.

I'm asking because of your comment, "when a man is captivated, he'll ask you to marry him." I find that to be a bit close-minded. Granted, I'm not talking about a relationship with kids (or want to have kids), but I don't think it's as cut & dried as no proposal=no point. I think you'll see that society is moving in this direction and that your rigid values aren't totally in keeping with the times.

Fair!  I'm not always right.  These are based on my observations over the past 20 years.  But there is always an exception to every rule.

Patti, what are some of the things that keep clients from being more successful in their dating lives?

Attitude, attitude and more attitude.  Think it and you will be it.  Confidence is key for both men and women.  Not to be confused with arrogance.  Happy, confident men and women are hard to find.

I met a guy online and we have gone out a couple times. We really click. On Sunday, we had a relaxing day followed by a casual meal with great conversation. I describe Sunday as going from 0-100, he described at 0-200 during a recent conversation where he said there is too much pressure in dating that he would rather we just hang out. I know I need to get specific clarification from him but what is the difference between casual dating and just hanging out? I don't see a big difference.

This is the way a guy is saying he's not interested.  If you need more clarification, he won't want to be your friend.  Women overanalyze and this is why men think we're psycho!

I wish I could find a woman who's most deceptive act is not eating what her boyfriend eats. If her change in diet upsets him for some reason, he's terrible and dump.

Amen, sistah!!  Variety is the spice of life!!!

I've been doing online dating off and on for a few years now, and I'm thoroughly convinced it's tantamount to gambling in a casino. The reason: in order for an online dating site to be financially successful, it has to be the antithesis of a matchmaker. The last thing they want people to do is find their soul mates quickly and efficiently - otherwise they'd go out of business. It's similar to the way credit card companies couldn't exist if everyone paid their bills on time. Online dating sites are constantly trying to get you to look at other people's profiles and to write more people. On every site I've used, immediately following the sending of an email to another user, the site will show several other possible mates for me to check out. They want to distract us and turn us all into playas and hos! It's in their best business interest to keep its customers in a perpetual dating cycle rather than finding the "one" - which means they won't need the site anymore. Like a casino, they stack the odds against you so that you won't win, but you won't lose so badly that you stop playing. Of course they need some success stories to attract people to the site in the first place – just like a casino will happily dole out the rare jackpot win so they can say see - it can happen to you.

I think there is some truth to what you're saying.  Many dating sites do employ tactics that could be considered deceptive -- often they count people who haven't logged on in months among their "registered users."  But I think you're painting with too broad a brush stroke.  There's a reason EHarmony commercials feature happily married couples -- not just swinging singles on another first date.  Many of these sites factor the number of couples created into their success rate. 


Let us not forget all those people that DO meet on dating sites though.  You have to spread those eggs out in many baskets.

Hi, I spent a good part of 2010 going to speed dating events and seeing the same guys. I didn't find much success there. I tried online dating and noticed that men do not seem to take it seriously. I'm attractive, intelligent, and I asked a male friend to review my profile. Still, I'll email men who I think are good matches and I hear nothing. I'm starting to wonder if paying a match maker is worth it. Thanks!

Spread the dating love and use as well to widen the network of people you meet.  Also, volunteer events are very good places to meet new people that share your interests.

Hi Ellen and Patti: Really enjoying your chat today. I have an exgirlfriend who continues to text and call. She's a nice person but she's told friends she is waiting for me to come back to her. I'm not and I don't want to hurt her feelings. What do make of these situations?

The only way she'll get the message is if you have an honest chat with her and then you must stop communication.  It sends mixed messages.  PLEASE!!!  Women suffer from this all the time.

What do you say to friends who are bitter about the dating world? I have a few female friends that complain about men and their failed dating experiences all the time. To me, they have an unhealthy outlook on men and dating and I think some of their choices are leading to these "failures," but they don't seem to get that. What do you say to that?

Again, attitude is everything.  Bitterness doesn't work in dating, friendship, mental health, etc.  If they can't get over something, you need to clean out your friend closet.

Why do people make such a big deal about having everything in common? Sometimes liking the same things can cause conflict (i.e. did you eat all my mint chip ice cream?). Besides, what can you really learn from someone who knows all the same junk you do?

There have actually been studies done about how important/unimportant it is to be similar to your partner. I wrote about one recently and found that it's not all cut and dry.

What if you've been dating someone for several years and there just isn't anymore chemistry between you. Is it time to move on?

No!  Try working things out.  Chemistry comes and goes in all relationships.  If you have a solid foundation of friendship, it's worth working on.  If you had chemistry once, you'll have it again.  Try to go back to the days when you did, what you did, etc.  Chemistry is like a tide that comes in and out.

the 31-yr-old guy's post made me wonder -- how much of these misunderstandings and uncertainties could be solved by having an actual conversation instead of communicating via email or text? Is there ever a time when these less personal modes are acceptable or even better than real-time conversation? p.s., for the 31-yr-old guy, you've been dumped.

If you can, always have meaningful conversations in person as tone cannot be picked up in e-mail.  Getting dumped by e-mail is the most cowardly of them all and any girl or guy that does it,  did you a huge favor.

How do you know when it's time to make the leap and move to be with someone? I've been dating someone who lives half way across the country for 7 months. We have never lived in the same place. Trying not to pressure anyone but internally I am asking when or how those answers should or will come. Thank you.

Until you try living together, you will never know if it's going to work.  Long distance relationships are fun because you don't get the day to day "yuckiness" of the person.  They are heightened because you see one another much less.

What are your thoughts on online dating in general, Patti?  Is it something you urge your clients to do?

I want my clients to be very social first.  Online dating second and then, third.  You've got to meet as many people as possible but you have to be in the right emotional place first.

How can couples come together and figure out the seriousness of their relationship/dating? I feel like my girlfriends have been dating guys and things are going well, but once they have a conversation to define their relationship (several months into dating), they seem to freak out and insist that they want to keep things casual. What's the point in making plans and actively seeking out these women if, at some point, they don't intend to move into a relationship stage? Also, more often than not, these are the same guys who come back to these women five months later saying they made a mistake and would like to try again.

Keep this general rule in mind.  When it comes to committing, men move very, very fast and you it seems crazy to you.  Women tend to overanalyze everything and anything.  Let it be the man's idea and if it's fast, he's serious.  Men that take a long time are still shopping. 

does your answer change if the 2 people are in their 50's and have been married before and one of them isn't ready (single for the first time in 20+ years) and is afraid of failing. Oh, we are 5+ years, I think I'm getting tired of waiting

My answer get worse if they are in their 50's.  What's in it for a man to get married?  There are two reasons men marry.  One, to have a woman in the proximity.  Two, they want children.  Otherwise, they are happy to live together or they don't want a commitment at all.  This is a very common behaviour with men in their 50's. 

I'm a mid-20s guy who's also fairly inexperienced. Started seeing a girl I met online about a month ago, and we get along really well...but I'm just not sure I feel that spark people seem to talk about. Should I keep seeing her and see if something more develops, or am I just holding out hope because I like the idea of being in a real relationship?

Not only are you holding out hope but you are leading this poor woman on.  Let go, get secure and keep looking so she can move on.  It's the right thing to do.

One question that seems to come up a lot: How do you know when you've found the one.  How would you answer that question, Patti?

There is a voice inside you that tells you.  It's your intuition talking to you.  Listen to it.  

I'm about 50 lbs overweight and know it. I'm otherwise very confident -- I'm smart, have a good career, my guy friends love me and I have a pretty face. I feel like my weight is the one thing holding me back from dating more, but it obviously isn't a quick fix. How do I find guys that would be interested in me in the meantime?

Look around you!  Notice how many heavy couples are holding hands and falling in love!  It's not your weight, it's your excuse.  

I was just wondering if you found anything interesting throughout the years about interracial relationships. I'm in one now and it's still in the early stages. My parents are against interracial marriage/dating and I never realized it would be so hard to deal with them. I appreciate any insight thanks.

New world, new President, new thinking.  It's time for your parents to be more accepting.  Try having a nice chat with them and have them get to know him.  Most parents, in the end, want you to be happy above and beyond anything.  Don't worry, they'll get used to it.

I'm sorry - I should have been clearer. I meant that when the women come to men about defining the relationship, it's the men who freak out and insist on keeping things casual. Not the women. And then the men later change their minds, which seems a little opposite from your previous answer. Should women be waiting for guys to make the move? How long should they wait?

I maintain that when men are REALLY interested, they move faster than women.  Don't wait more than six months if you're over 35.  If you're 22, wait about 10 years.

I have young kids and will not live with him, so it's either married or not living together

Everyone's situation is different.  It's impossible for me to answer without doing a whole session of getting to know you!

How do you recommend talking to your kids (teen and twenty yr olds) about my dating, after a divorce?

Your kids want you to be happy because when you're happy, they're happier.  Otherwise, they worry you will be alone.  The key is finding someone they're comfortable with as well.   Be straight with your kids, it just comes to haunt you later because they are very, very perceptive little human beings.

Is it harder to meet people nowadays than it used to be? As technology plays a greater and greater role in our everyday lives do we lose the ability to "connect" with other people in meaningful ways? Do you foresee a time when people will move away from using dating sites and revert to more traditional ways of meeting people?

No, it's easier.  We have more people to choose from now.  The only thing is, you have to meet and have real time fun and conversation.  Try using technology for making plans but not creating an online romance.

Hi Patti, I wanted to follow up on your response to the person asking about finding the one and that there's a voice inside you, telling you. I would agree with this. I had two serious relationships and thought both were the one. After the last breakup about 5-6 years ago I went on a number of bad dates and relationships and thought maybe 'the one' isn't out there. I was feeling pretty cynical but that's what bad dates do you to you. And when I dated a good guy I was hoping he would be the one even though I knew he wasn't. Well, fast forward to Oct when I met my now boyfriend and he is totally the one. So it's true, you just know. To the person who originally asked, just hang in there. It is true that you'll know.

Thanks so much for chiming in.  And congrats! Sounds like it was worth the wait. 

You meant 10 months I think...

NO.  I meant 10 years.  22 is way too young to get married and I"m sticking to it!!

Wherever I go to meet women, I notice women never make eye contact to express any interest. I don't like approaching someone who is not looking up and smiling. What can I do?

I know, I know!  Women are sooo hard to read.  It's a tall order to just go up and ask a woman out.  I try to teach them to send a body language invitation.   i.e. swinging their purse.  


I know..............send those woman to me and I'll straighten them out ;)

I think chemistry is a red herring. That spark that people are searching for is an immediate attraction and acts like a kind of drug. After that initial spark wears out and you see him/her for who they are you keep trying to get the spark back, you keep searching for that "fix." And it's never the same. When I met my husband I thought he was a nice person and we had a slightly awkward beginning. There was no spark. But he was a good guy and I knew that so I was willing to allow things to unfold over time and let that spark develop. After 5 yrs still have a great physical relationship! Much better than any other relationship I had that started with great chemistry.

It's interesting that you talk about it in terms of being "like a kind of drug."  Neuroscience studies have shown that the same areas of our brain fire up when we're newly in love as when someone has taken cocaine. And that a breakup mimics the physical  symptoms of an addict going through withdrawl. 

I've found that this isn't really that hard. Some people you just can't stop thinking about. Everything reminds you of them and every time you see something remotely funny or interesting you feel the instant need to share it with that person. When you see something beautiful you wish so and so were there to share it with you. When you eat something delicious, you want them to have the last bite. When you think of dancing, you picture yourself with them. Conversely, if you find that you're seeing someone who's not always on your mind, and you can easily get caught up in something like a game or TV show and forget to call them - they're probably not the one.


Yes, they are called pheromones!  It's exciting to fall in love.   It's keeping the spark that's the problem.

Patti, thank you so much for taking the time to be with us today. Your insights and advice are much appreciated! 

Thanks for having me!  Good dating, everyone!!  Remember one thing, STAY IN THE MOMENT.  Don't look back and don't think forward!!!

In This Chat
Ellen McCarthy
The Post's Ellen McCarthy writes the On Love column in the Sunday Style section. Her stories touch on everything from dating advice to marriage to how to keep the love alive.
Patti Feinstein
Patti Feinstein has been in the dating industry for the past 20 years. She started her career as a matchmaker before going into business for herself as a dating coach 11 years ago. Since then, she has attained national recognition as one of the foremost dating coaches. Feinstein has been quoted consistently in the New York Post, Cosmopolitan, and all major network news.
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