There are two things that scare the shit out of everyone—everyone—when it comes to dating: Fear of the unknown, and fear of being hurt (in all its forms—embarrassment, rejection, loss). I don’t care who you are, those two things combined give you and everyone you know chills. It’s amazing anyone does it at all.
And so it’s no surprise that, given a history of heartbreak, disappointment, disillusionment, you and many others like you head into every date with your dukes up, your walls up, and your arms crossed. Thinking that the “right” person will save you from the fortress you’ve sealed yourself in, compensate for past pain, and protect you from future hurt.
Yeah, that’s a tall order. Too tall. For anyone.
If you want to have a better time dating, not to mention lay the groundwork for a stronger relationship later, you must approach each and every date like an improv actor.
There’s one rule and one rule only when you step onto the stage in improv theater: yes and. All the other rules are made to be broken—except this one. Because when you yes and your partner, you don’t resist/question/judge everything that happens, but assume, trust, and accept. You go in on the same team, instead of opposing. Starting from that place of confidence and openness, you give yourself the chance to gain momentum, to do something fun and cool and sometimes hilarious together, however briefly it lasts.
If you negate the other person, you halt all forward momentum and give the other person nothing to work with. You stop the scene cold. Game over.
I’ve been taking improv at the Magnet Theater in Manhattan since last fall. I figured that, being the stagewhore I am, with years of media and public speaking experience and a solid sense of comedic timing, I’d be great at this. Ha! Not so fast. I watched myself walk onto the stage in scene after scene and negate, resist, and push back against everyone. In one scene, my classmate walked on and started ho-ho-hoing like Santa Claus. My response? “Oh no. Not again. What’s wrong with you?” In another, I burst into a scene and declared, “I can’t take this anymore.” My instructor stopped us. “Nope. Start again. Don’t come on saying what you can’t do.”
If that wasn’t enough, I’d try to map out or script the scene in my head the way I wanted it to go, and then beat myself up and wonder who’s fault it was when it didn’t go the way I expected.
For me, improv laid bare two of my biggest issues: My fear of being out of control, and my use of resistance as a default mode. Both work against me in a scene, sure, but also in many other areas of my life. When I started spending every weekend with this one guy a few years ago (who later became my boyfriend), I hit the brakes—just as things were going great. We were in bed on a Sunday, and I said I wasn’t sure if I wanted anything that serious. Well, joke was on me, because he told me he was moving out of the country in less than a year. So rather than continue to resist, I decided I would enjoy his company as long as I could. Once I took my foot off the brake, we had a lot of fun.
Even if you never enroll in an improv class, you can apply yes and wherever you are and with whomever. You can observe your own behavior and default tendencies, and learn to change them. Because dating is improv. So are relationships, by the way. You have no fucking idea what will really happen, and you sure as Hell can’t plan it.
Instead of looking at your dating and romantic life as something that you’re trying to get right, think of it as a way of playing. Of exploring and being in the moment, which in improv is the only thing that matters. You’ll be surprised at how interesting, funny, and memorable the moments of your life can be, if you say yes to them from the start.