If Benjamin Franklin Had Been a Dating Coach . . .

Many of us remember Ben Franklin’s advice for right living from a high school English or civics class. Ben outlined a list of character qualities necessary for being a “good person” and some are so simple as to be obvious – yet many singles who are active on the dating scene could benefit from a reminder about how these rules can help them achieve better results in their dating lives. Not all of Ben’s rules apply to the active dater, but here are the ones worth highlighting:

1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. I interpret this one as: Don’t eat so much that it makes you sluggish or moody. When I overload on carbs, I crash. You won’t be a fun date if you feel heavy and weighed down. You need to maintain your mental focus and keep your energy up if you’re going to make interesting conversation and flirt, right?

At the other end of the spectrum, don’t drink so much that you embarrass yourself. Maintain some inhibitions. Some people are sloppy drunks, some people are angry drunks, some people are sad, emotional drunks, and some people are slutty drunks. (Franklin had a very clear opinion about chastity, but that’s a whole other subject for a whole other blog!) Whatever kind of drunk you are, your date shouldn’t have to see that side of you until you’ve decided you’re dating exclusively!

2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation. We women are especially guilty of this: we gossip or talk about the inconsequential annoyances and details of our lives ad infinitum. It’s safe to assume that the guy you’re dating doesn’t care as passionately as you do about the celebrity rumor-mill or what’s going on with the reality shows you faithfully watch. Try to keep the conversation light – but not so light that you seem to have no depth. This means no eye-rolling, no complaining about your ex, and no high school girl back-stabbing or dramatics. Try to keep your words kind and your tone positive.

3. Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time. (Franklin has a whole separate dictate on cleanliness as well, but I’ll lump these two together!) If you bring a date to your house, make sure the living room and main bathroom are at least moderately tidy. At the minimum, make sure no food or clothes are on the floor and make sure you have a soap dispenser and clean hand towel available. You may think, “Well, I’m not a neat-freak, it’s just as well she find that out now,” but don’t give her a reason to write you off forever over something that doesn’t necessarily have to be a deal-breaker. Most women aren’t expecting your home to look like a page out of House Beautiful, but they don’t want to imagine themselves the future Mrs. Queen-of-the-Pigsty either. You can learn new tricks such as picking up dirty socks and stained coffee cups. And, if you’re inspired by a woman who amazes and thrills you, you’ll probably learn new tricks quite readily.

4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve. If you say you’ll call/text/email the day after the date, then do it. If you don’t really plan to do it, don’t say that you will. People tend to believe what you tell them on or after a first date. If you acted as if you liked the person, said you had fun, and told them you wanted to go out again, they probably took you at your word. If something changes and you lose interest (or your attention is shifted elsewhere), have the courtesy and decency to send a polite but brief message. “I’m afraid I’m swamped with work…” “I enjoyed our date, but I didn’t feel it was a match…” “I’m sorry I haven’t followed up, I’ve been sick…” Follow through means a lot. And, unfortunately, it’s so rare that it will really set you apart from the rest.

5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; waste nothing Dating is expensive. When you add up all the personal care products and services single women invest in (hair, cosmetics, nails, waxing, clothes, etc.) and activity expenses single men incur (dinner, movie, tickets to a concert or sporting event, etc.) it can seriously add up. If you’re spending money on online dating site subscriptions, books about dating, or the services of a dating coach, you know that the whole process of finding a great date or mate is an investment.

While I always encourage people to try to make a good first impression and to be generous with a date, it’s a smart idea to set a dating budget and follow it. If you spend money you don’t have on salon services you can’t afford or exotic weekend trips that leave you feeling a financial hangover on Monday, you’re putting forth an inflated image and aren’t being your authentic self. And you’ll end up resenting the object of your affection when your credit card bill arrives.

Remember, debt is not sexy. Be fiscally responsible so that if and when you meet the person you want to share your life with, you can do so without bringing along a suitcase full of letters from debt collectors.

6. Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions. Being busy and involved is attractive. Being so busy and involved that you don’t have time to date is unattractive. Here’s the thing: people who have a rich, full life are more appealing than people who sit at home feeling bored and being boring. It’s cool to have outside interests. But don’t over-commit. Then you’re too hard to pursue.

The trick is to strike a balance. I often hear from guys who complain that the last gal they took out was so booked that when they asked for a second date, she had to pencil him in for two weeks from next Thursday. That makes him feel unimportant. That makes him feel like you’re blowing him off. And if he has to wait too long to see you, he’ll lose interest. So, be busy – but only a few nights each week. Reserve some free time in your schedule so that when a great opportunity falls into your lap, you can leap at it!

7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and if you speak, speak accordingly. This one seems so obvious, I feel awkward at even having to mention it. Don’t lie and don’t hurt people’s feelings. DUH! First of all, it’s wrong. Second of all, if you live in a smallish city, it will most certainly be found out and come back to bite you in the butt.

It can be hard to come to the end of the date and find that the person you went out with is in to you, but the feeling isn’t mutual. You don’t want to hurt their feelings, so you indicate that you might be interested in them or go out again, even if you don’t really mean it. There is a way to end the date in which you don’t have to set yourself up to over-promise and under-deliver. Using kind eye contact and a warm tone of voice, say, “You seem like a great guy (or gal) but I’m not sure we had much chemistry. I had a nice time though, and I’m really glad I got to know you. Thank you so much for dinner!” It’s a soft rejection sandwich: compliment-let down-compliment.

8. Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty. First, see above. Ladies: Even if the guy is a rude, arrogant, self-centered jerk, that does not give you license to be a baracuda back. Gentlemen: Even if a woman is a self-absorbed, elitist bitch, that doesn’t give you license to be mean. Rise above. Perhaps the jerk-wad has a really cool, kind, interesting cousin. Perhaps the diva has a really sweet, attractive, fun-loving office mate. The dating pool in a small-to-mid-size city can feel rinky-dink small, so don’t burn any bridges just to make a point and let off some steam. In other words, don’t let his or her bad behavior bring yours down to the same level.

Try to find something good in every person you go out with – or at least in every date you go on. Even if it’s “That waiter was really knowledgeable about wines, I should go back to that restaurant again” or “The carriage ride through the park wasn’t awful – maybe I should take my niece on one for her next birthday!” try to find something redemptive about it.

Just be good to others. It’s good manners and good dating karma.

9. Tranquility – Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable. Ladies, here is an opportunity to be the calm, cool, collected chick with the guy you’re going out with. He has probably already been out with girls who cry if they break a nail, scream if a spider scampers across the table, and whine if their latte isn’t a perfect 121 degrees. There isn’t a guy on the planet who hasn’t had his feathers ruffled and his peace disturbed by that girl. That girl makes a scene. That girl is a pain in the butt and a public embarrassment. So, don’t be her. Shtuff happens. Things don’t always go according to plan. Boats tip over, waiters spill soup, skirts blow up in the breeze. Don’t take yourself so seriously that you can’t have a little self-deprecating laugh at the foibles and flummoxes of dating. He will so appreciate you for it.

So, there you have it: Ben’s rules (and mine) for better dating! He was so ahead of his time!

Have you been on a recent date where one of Ben Franklin’s tidbits of advice could have applied? If so, I’d love to hear about it! Drop me your story at suzanna@thedatemaven.com.

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