Dear Dr. Yael,
A secular acquaintance recently relayed the following experience to me. She had gone on a series of unsuccessful dates, when it occurred to her that she might not be presenting herself in the best light possible. So she got in touch with an advertised therapist who helped her present herself differently.
I was wondering if you felt this type of therapy could benefit someone with the following profile: She is pretty, fun, nice to be around, responsible and intelligent. She’s been dating for a while, and although there have been times when she’s gone out more than once or twice with the same person, and there have been times that she says no to the boy, many times she is the one being told no after one date – often for no apparent reason. I’m wondering if there’s something in the “First Impression” area, things such as eye contact, etc. that she should be working on to get past that first date or that would help her when she meets with a shadchan. Perhaps there are some general tips related to social conduct that might have escaped her and that someone who doesn’t know her could spot and identify. I was also wondering if you know of any group seminars that would teach these “First Impression” skills in lieu of individual sessions.
By the way, I would not label this person as socially inept. I am talking about a regular girl with a delightful personality who has been rejected too many times. Thus, it strikes me that maybe there is some nuance in her behavior that is causing the rejections.
I think most people could benefit from such a seminar or some light tips on how to present one’s self in the best light, not just for dating but for life in general.
A Concerned Friend
There are many “perfectly normal” singles who may have problems sustaining someone’s interest long enough to get a second date. There can be several reasons for this, and sometimes they are social skill-related. As you mentioned, for example, eye contact is important on a date, because people want to feel as if you are listening to them.
Additionally, your friend, like many others, may not have any social problems with other women, but does have them when it comes to men.
In theory, a group/seminar would be helpful to this population, but practicality speaking, it won’t work.
Some people will be embarrassed to reveal their “weaknesses” in a public setting, as they wouldn’t want other people to know they have a problem. Thus, the singles that would actually come to the group would probably not be entirely honest. Also, people would be afraid that if other people found out they went to a seminar it would hurt their chances of getting a shidduch.
I honestly believe that these “paranoid” feelings reflect the reality that the shidduch scene engenders in many. Therefore, I believe that a group situation for such a dilemma would not be optimal.
Second, there can be underlying reasons why one is not as socially competent with the opposite gender and this is not something that can be dealt with in a group forum. Your friend may have some issues from her childhood that is causing her problems – conflicts with her father, for example, that she may be projecting onto the men she dates. Not having met your friend, I don’t know which of these, if any, pertain to her.
In the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology (Allen, et al. 2002) there was an article published a number of years ago about “Attachment and Autonomy as Predictors of the Development of Social Skills.” The authors found that adolescents whose parents give them autonomy and whose attachment to their parents is secure had greater social skills than other adolescents.
A secure attachment organization should enable adolescents to process and integrate their experiences in social relationships more accurately and with greater erudition. This, in turn, should allow the adolescent to better read the subtle emotional cues in interactions with peers and adults in order to develop better social skills over time. Insecure adolescents are more likely to misperceive or self-protectively omit information about attachment experiences. This, in turn, may lead to warped judgments and negative expectations about others, expectations that have been strongly linked to problems in social functioning.
Parents must encourage their children’s independence and allow them to develop their own relationships so that they will be able to become socially adept. It is incredibly important that children are given the space to be individuals. The other side of the coin is for them to feel more secure with you. This means their having a sense of trust, as well as the self-belief that they are competent people and worthy of a positive response from others.
As indicated by attachment theorists, parents who are able and willing to recognize their infants’ or toddlers’ emotional signs, who take into account their children’s viewpoints and who respond quickly and appropriately to their children’s needs, help their children develop a belief system that includes their parents as those who can be relied on for protection, nurturing, comfort, and security (Belsky & Cassidy, 1995). High-quality social skills will take our children far in all aspects of life, such as marriage, employment, parenting etc.
I once conducted an informal study in my own practice that showed that the relationship one has with Hashem (ahava vs. yirah) is related to the relationship one has with ones parents. Thus, children who have a healthy loving relationship with their parents generally tend to transfer these feelings to their spiritual relationship with Hashem. Sometimes children with problem relationships with their parents can develop an excellent relationship with their rabbeim and teachers (which could substitute for their relationship with their parents), and that helps them in their relationship with Hashem,
The ideas I offered here may or may not be applicable for your friend. And it may be possible that some social skills training may be appropriate for her.
Finally, let us all daven that the many singles in our community find their right zivug and be able to build batim neemanim b’Yisrael. Hatzlacha!