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February 2009

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Ask Our Coaches:
How To Avoid Sending
the Wrong Message on Valentine's Day

"I want to be friends and that's it for now."

This column answers questions submitted by our readers. Submit your questions to who will forward them to our coaches all over the world. Each issue, we'll publish a few answers from our RCI coaches.

Dear Coaches,

I met a wonderful woman at a friend's home over Thanksgiving. We're both divorced, in our mid-forties. We naturally connected and started going out casually right after that time. We have fun together--going out to eat, dancing, different activities--but the relationship is obviously really new to both of us. We haven't discussed any expectations or plans for the future. I don't have any plans for anything beyond a basic dating relationship.

Valentine's Day is right around the corner and it's causing me a bit of concern. I don't love her -- but I like her. At the same time, she hasn't said she loves me either. Way too early for that! My concern is ... how do I handle Valentine's Day? Certainly, I want to go out to dinner and enjoy the evening with her, but I don't want to give her the wrong impression.

What should I say or do, or rather, NOT say or do, to avoid sending the wrong message? I want to be friends and that's it for now. Any thoughts?

Steve from Savannah

Rick and Jo respond ...

We appreciate that you are concerned for your new friend's feelings. It seems to us that perhaps you want to date recreationally.

Recreational dating is when singles meet and date for fun and socialization, with no expectations. It can be a stage in the process of preparing for a new relationship, or it can be a way to socialize while you focus on other areas of life. However, for recreational dating to really work, you must be completely open and honest with your partner(s) about the physical and emotional boundaries you want.

It sounds like you may need to have that conversation with this woman - say what you want and walk the talk --which then begs the question: Why are you seeing her on Valentine's Day if she is not your Valentine?

Whatever the answer, get clear about the benefits of dating for each of you and make your Valentine's Day date the opportunity to have that straight conversation about recreational dating. Finally, Steve, have fun. Here's to your Soulmate Success!

Rick and Jo Harrison | | +613.5420.7366

Randy responds ...

In my opinion, the most important thing is to not feel guilty about the fact that this is still a new relationship.  That is the fact of the matter, and should be known to her as well, if she is wise about relationships.  Sure, Valentine's Day is coming at a somewhat awkward time, but that's life, and it's nobody's fault.
So there is nothing wrong with going out someplace nice, having a good time, and doing whatever is right for the two of you at this point in the relationship.  Just see it as a fun date, slightly better than going to the movies. 

You are not required to say, "I love you," nor are you required to say, "I want to go out for Valentine's Day, but I don't want you to get the wrong impression."  Frankly, you are not required to say anything at all other than what you might say on any other day.
She should understand this also.  If not, she should probably get some coaching, because three months of dating is really too early for much of anything other than continued dating and learning about each other. Have a good time!
Randy Hurlburt | | 858.455.0799

Lori responds ...

It sounds like you have been moving at a pace that is comfortable for you. Since you have not discussed what you are looking for or how you feel about this person, now may be a good time.

Dating is about getting to know someone and seeing if they are a good fit with your values and your lifestyle. Having the conversation regarding how you are feeling can be a bit uncomfortable, but less painful than giving the wrong impression and hurting someone.

Be honest with her that you would like to keep it casual for now and to see where it goes. Discussing this with her will give her the opportunity to tell you what she feels and wants. And, if it's not the same as what you have in mind, it is much easier to end it before both of you invest a lot more time.

Valentine's Day can make dating a bit uncomfortable because of all the expectations; therefore, if you talk prior to that date, you can then decide about going out on that night and not have to feel that you are giving the wrong impression. Being honest about what you want and how you feel is always the best way to approach a relationship and will help attract that right person to you. Good luck.

Lori Josephs | | 248.529.3375

Jack responds...

Steve, I wonder how many of us have been in your situation and not cared enough to think ahead, much less plan ahead. What a great request you've made. Congratulations, you're among the most honorable of men.

Possible solutions for you:

First -- Stop the worry. Chances are you are about to raise your esteem in this lady's eyes by conveying your concern to her.

Second -- Speak. Be up front, be honest. Be sincere. Tell it like your heart feels it.

Third -- Release. Feel good about not controlling the situation. Rather, lead it to a win-win resolution. She appreciates you, and you have time to determine what your requirements, needs, and wants are. Ask a relationship coach about these.

"It is what it is." Being worried you will say or do something to hurt her feelings causes you to focus on screwing up. And guess what? You will. Honesty, integrity, and the courage to deal head-on with life's "situations" are virtues. Controlling is contortion. Everything about what you are trying to accomplish gets twisted.

Conversation tip. Speak in terms of feelings. "I feel like I want to remain friends for now." If your lady friend is in touch with her own, chances are she will honor yours. Thoughts are arguable, and invite long discussions. For example, "I think we're moving too fast in this relationship." Really? WHY? YIKES! Wiggle through that one.

Your question speaks volumes about who you are. In addition, you don't seem to be shy about demonstrating your sensitivity. Fantastic!

Jack Cook | | 904.312.0693

Susan responds ...

A recent survey showed that when it comes to Valentine's Day, more than chocolate, diamonds, or flowers, most women would choose to receive a love letter. This is a timeless, treasured gift that shows the sender really took some time to think about the recipient.

And a love letter doesn't have to be for a romantic partner. Children, siblings, and good friends can all appreciate the power of a well-crafted message that says, "I value our relationship."

Many men consider this a daunting task, so here are some simple guidelines to get you started. Write about the fun aspects of your relationship, funny things you've observed, and why you appreciate the friendship between you.

Include ways she has made you laugh, or some specific qualities she has that you've enjoyed. Perhaps you can find some good quotes about the value of friendship. Add a little about what you hope for the future of the relationship.

This letter, along with some "friendly" flowers like daisies, will allow you to show you care without going over the top. Then, should your "like" turn into "love" someday, you will cherish these early letters.

Susan Dutton Freund |

Hazel responds ...

Great question! Congratulations on having the integrity and caring to make sure you don't give the wrong impression.

However, that doesn't mean you can't celebrate Valentine's Day with someone you are dating in the "getting to know you" stage. She might also be feeling that it's way too early for anything more serious right now.

You can be totally honest, and say that although you are not ready to take the relationship to the next level yet, you so enjoy her company that you would really like to plan dinner for Valentine's and spend it with her.

If she accepts, plan something that is not overly romantic, yet is really nice. If buying flowers, I would suggest you don't buy red, but instead choose a less romantic color -- peach, pink or even yellow. I'm sure if you are open and upfront with her, she won't have unrealistic expectations. Have fun and enjoy the evening. Have a wonderful Valentine's Day!

Hazel Palache |

Katherin responds ...

Isn't it interesting that a time of celebration can cause so much angst - no matter what a person's relationship status? Even committed couples worry if they're doing the right thing, getting the right gift, etc. And, we all know the stress Valentine's Day causes singles!

For your situation, my suggestion is to have a conscious, courageous conversation with the woman you're dating. Tell her you enjoy spending time with her and invite her to dinner for Valentine's Day. A card would be nice, and maybe a single rose, but certainly a dozen red roses are not necessary in your case.

And, here's where the courageous part comes in. Tell her you like her and enjoy dating her and that you look forward to getting to know her better in the future. Also, let her know that you realize you haven't known each other for long, but that you still want to celebrate Valentine's Day together because she's special to you.

It's important for you to be okay with where you are in this relationship. If you're able to let go of whatever expectations you're feeling, you'll be able to relax and spend a wonderful evening with a wonderful woman.

Katherin Scott | | 425.681.2620

Feature Article:
Valentine's Day: Navigating the Day of Love

Valentine's Day can be a challenging day for some singles. In this month's interview, RCI coach Michelle Vasquez shares suggestions on how to make this a day more enjoyable -- starting with you making the decision to do just that!

Tara Kachaturoff

Tara: Valentine's Day can sometimes be a challenging time for singles. What are a couple ways someone could celebrate this day if they are spending it on their own?

Michelle: First of all, choose how you are going to act on Valentine's Day. For example, you can decide to make it a special day for yourself or you can decide to be miserable.

Many years ago I had a young client who spent the weeks before Valentine's Day filled with dread, anticipating feeling sad and lonely, and jealous of her friends who would receive gifts at the office while her own desk would remain woefully uncluttered by hearts and flowers. Here was the problem: she thought she had no choice in the matter. She truly believed the outcome was already decided and she was doomed to suffer.

You can avoid this. You can choose to fill this day with good thoughts and fun things to do. Valentine's Day, as any other day, is only as good as you make it. I would love for you to choose to wake up with a positive mindset, determined to create a wonderful, memorable day for yourself.

Have you ever heard the saying, "Never judge a day by the weather?" Your happiness on this day is up to you. Many successful singles get creative on this day. Even if you don't have a significant other for Valentine's Day, you have people in your life that you love, such as family and friends.

Ask yourself what you can do to celebrate this "day of love." Figure out some ways to give to others. Here are some ideas:

1. Throw a party with some other single friends. Girls, you could turn it into a slumber party and have a brownie and movie marathon. Just keep the movies light and funny and enjoy spending time with each other.

2. Treat yourself to an evening out. Be bold and go to a new restaurant. Bring a book or sit and "people watch." Take time to really taste and enjoy your food. If you're too scared to eat alone, order some take-out from your favorite restaurant. Remember, you can do whatever works for you.

3. Spend time with a friend you haven't seen in a while. Valentine's Day can be a wonderful time to renew ties with friends you have been meaning to catch up with. Call a friend today and make plans.

Talk it over with your friends and come up with a plan to make this day a special one for you. It doesn't matter what you do. The important thing is to spend time with people you care about.

Tara: The time of year between New Year's and Valentine's Day is also known as a time when many relationships end. For someone who has experienced a loss during this time, Valentine's Day can be particularly painful as they mourn their prior relationship and dreams of what could have been. What are some helpful ways for someone to deal with their feelings of loss?

Michelle: The breakup of a relationship, especially one in which one or both parties had long-term expectations, can be especially difficult. The grief that accompanies the end of a relationship can be as intense as grieving the death of a loved one. During this time it is so important to get the love and support you need.

Surrounding yourself with loving and supportive friends and family is even more important if you are a widow or widower. If you have lost the love of your life to death, holidays can be traumatic times. You may want to avoid everyone who is in love during this time because the pain is so intense.

I have experienced this myself as a widow. Fortunately, I had a dear friend who looked after me. She asked me to go to dinner with her on Valentine's Day as a way to celebrate my love for my late husband. We chose an Italian restaurant, since my late husband loved Italian food. I ordered salmon, a favorite of his. We toasted his memory and spent the evening reminiscing about his life. He had died six months prior to Valentine's Day.

If your grief is more recent, you might prefer a quiet dinner at home with one or two faithful friends. Whether you have had a difficult breakup or your beloved has died, be gentle with yourself. The grief is real and healing is an ongoing process. Be careful to avoid isolating yourself.

Call a friend who knows your situation and talk about the grief you are experiencing. Grief, according to Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, has five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. You may find yourself going back and forth among these five stages.

The important thing to remember is that what you feel is normal. Don't allow others to rush you through this healing process. Take your time to address the pain and loss, and get professional help with a counselor or a support group if you need to.

Tara: Some people may have recently started dating, perhaps meeting someone over the year-end holidays or at New Year's. Celebrating Valentine's Day so early on in a relationship can sometimes be awkward, especially because of the "message" or "messages" that underlie this day of love.

Michelle: The answer to this question really depends on how long you have been dating. If you have only known each other for a few weeks and had two dates, take it easy.

If you are a man, please don't give her a dozen red roses unless you want her to run for the hills. A single rose might be a nice gesture, but if you're concerned about sending too strong of a message, a humorous card might lighten the mood. If she loves chocolate, give her some in a square box, and stay away from heart shapes if you are worried about coming on too strong.

The same goes for women. You can scare off a potentially great mate by coming on too strong too early. If you want to play it really safe, go to a park or a museum and simply enjoy each other's company. Remember, when you're first getting to know each other, less is more.

Tara : What do you suggest for those who don't want to send the wrong message about their level of emotional commitment to the relationship? How should they go about celebrating this day with their date? How do you manage expectations without hurting feelings?

Michelle: When you are just getting to know someone who might possibly be a long-term partner, lower your expectations for Valentine's Day. If you are a woman who expects a gold necklace from a man you barely know, you are likely to be disappointed.

Since, in general, women tend to glorify this day, while men, in general, tend to approach it with fear and perhaps loathing, it's a great idea to talk to each other about your views about this emotionally-charged day. Bring up the subject of Valentine's Day in a casual way. You could be direct and simply ask, "What do you think about Valentine's Day?" If you want to add to your question, you might say, "I know we've only known each other for a short time. Since Valentine's Day is almost here, I would like to spend time with you on that day. What are your thoughts about that?"

Be clear about your expectations. Again, I caution you to expect less. You could talk about how much you love/hate/laugh at/fear this day. Be honest. If you would like to spend time with your date, talk about it. If you are concerned about expectations, speak up.

Copyright © 2009 by Michelle Vasquez. All rights reserved in all media.

Michelle Vasquez
Michelle E. Vásquez, MS, LPC, is an RCI Relationship Coach who helps singles and couples attract the life they want and create the relationships that bring them joy. She specializes in working with couples who are experiencing relationship difficulties as well as with singles who want to find the love of their life. | 714.717.5744

Bonus Article:
Smart Dating Tips

By Tara Kachaturoff

1. Plan for success.

Why do you want to date? What type of relationship do you want? What's the vision for your life? What are your relationship requirements, needs, and wants? These are just some of the things you need to explore before you begin the journey of finding the love of your life. The clearer you are about who and what you want, the easier it will be for you to find it. A Certified RCI coach can provide you with helpful guidance throughout this process.

2. Communication is key.

Communication is the underlying dynamic of all successful and unsuccessful relationships. Cultivating an open and honest relating environment, from the beginning, will help to mitigate misunderstandings, while at the same time create an atmosphere that can allow your relationship to grow and flourish.

3. Set boundaries.

In any type of relationship, whether personal or professional, it's important to set boundaries. Not only does this provide you with a solid foundation for living your life, but also it conveys to others who you are and how you expect to be treated. Boundaries are like an "operations manual" - for you and for others.

4. Have fun.

Dating should be something you enjoy. I'm not saying that it will always be fun and exciting, but if it's not, you need to spend some time finding out why. You might not be ready or available to date. If you're not, that's okay. There's nothing wrong with being single and not dating. In any case, keep up with your friendships and acquaintances. It's important to nurture some aspect of socialization in your life - especially around activities that bring you enjoyment.

5. Comfort is not always a good thing.

It's nice to be comfortable in your dating experience, but if things are always singing along and you never disagree on anything, and everything is "perfect" as in a "Stepford Wives" version for singles -- watch out. One or both of you may not be acting authentically, living fully into your vision, or truly aligned with your values.

6. Manage dating expectations.

How do you manage expectations in a dating relationship? How do you avoid misunderstandings that can lead to disappointment and unhappiness? You do it by engaging in open and honest communications right from the start. And, just as important, you need to make sure that your actions are aligned with what you communicate. When your thoughts, speech, and actions are in alignment, you'll have the best results - both for you and with others.

7. Take your time.

Finding the right relationship takes both time and patience. Conscious singles don't rush into committed relationships because they know that it takes time to get to know someone else and that, in haste, they may miss important things - like red flags -- which can lead to dating disappointment. Also, any new relationship is an opportunity for further exploration and insight. You need time to digest and understand who you are individually and as a member of a couple. Take your time. Enjoy the journey.

Copyright © 2009 by Tara Kachaturoff. All rights reserved in all media.

Tara Kachaturoff, a Master Certified Coach for Singles, works exclusively with single executives who want to create great dating relationships. With over 15 years in corporate finance in the tech industry, she works as a business consultant and personal branding strategist, produces and hosts a weekly business TV talk show, and is the editor for the Relationship Coaching Institute. | 248.723.1926

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