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How to mingle at a singles dance and meet someone special

by Janet L. Jacobsen
July 1998 issue

Recently a fellow who's a regular attendee at singles dances expressed exasperation at having been "trapped" talking to a woman he wasn't really interested in. He was asking us for advice on how to keep it from happening again.

Generally I think of this as a female problem. Two friends of mine attended their first singles dance with me. I figured they were assertive enough and had been coached enough to manage just fine. But afterward I discovered that both of them were hesitant to return because they felt they'd been "trapped" by men they weren't interested in.

So let us look first, at how to keep mingling (or simply escape), if that's what you want to do. Then we'll help you be sure you're not the difficult one folks are trying to get rid of!

ARE YOU EASY TO TRAP?

The first and foremost technique to stay "free" at a social event is mingling: move around. The fellow with the problem in question generally sits with a group of friends and visits, only dancing occasionally. It occurs to me that's the reason he had the problem, while most guys don't.

If you claim a spot and hardly move, then anyone who parks themselves next to you can tie up your time.

First, if at all possible, get over the idea that you need a "spot." (For women who claim they need a place for their purses, my advice is to learn to wear clothes with pockets and leave the purse in the car.) If you take root in one place, you are tied down, and nobody else did it to you.

If you've always been one to sit, it will feel very weird to be stand and to move around the first few times, but you'll catch on to it. (The regular random moving around a room is what I call "cruising" and believe me, you will never get stuck with anyone if you know how to "cruise.")

Should you find yourself in a conversation that you want to end _ for whatever reason _ there are several things you can say to make it easy to move on:

_At some reasonable stopping point, say, "It's been nice talking to you, but I think it's time I was mingling." Or use thePolite Reverse and say, "I won't tie you up any longer." And move on.

_Even if you don't know anyone else there, you can say, "There are some other people I need to talk to." There probably are people you'd like to meet and you're entitled to that privilege. This method of extracting yourself from a conversation works especially well if you actually approach other people and start conversations, or ask them to dance.

_"I just arrived (or this is my first time here) and I'm going to take some time to look around."

_"There's something I need to do now." What it is, is your business, of course. If you need a destination, try the bar, the water, or the restroom. Or visit briefly with the cashiers, or request a song from the deejay.

It's nice, if it's true, to end your exit remarks with something like, "Maybe we can talk again later." This keeps the door open, should you decide later that you are interested, and lets the other person feel that you think they are ok, but you just have other things to do right now.

What seems to worry some people are the "repeaters" _ those who come back to talk to you again and again. If you keep yourself busy meeting new people, there's less chance of someone else interrupting. Also, don't feel obligated to "stop to talk" a second time. If they approach you, smile, look away, and keep moving. Eye contact can trap you; learn to keep it brief and then refocus elsewhere.

NEEDING RESCUED

When you're in a place where you know people, you can excuse yourself to go talk to the folks you already know. The psychological advantage of this is tremendous. Harlan tells the story of the time a psychologist he knew came to one of the singles dances and she was obviously very nervous about being there for the first time. Later that evening, however, she seemed much more comfortable and he asked her how it was going. "Oh I'm fine," she said. "One of my clients is here." Knowing someone made the difference.

That's one advantage of insisting on some time to look around when you first arrive; you may discover that there are peoplethere you already know. If it turns out that everyone is a stranger, then start a few conversations with same sex people; in others words, make some friends _ people you find nonthreatening who you can get back to later if you feel "trapped," or neglected.

Make it a point to say hi to the bouncer(s) (if you're in the bar scene), or the "management" at a singles event. Then if someone is bothering you beyond the point of common courtesy, take your situation to the people who can do something about it. This applies at any social function: please speak to the hosts or the sponsors if someone's behavior is out of line. You do a favor to the management (they can't fix a problem they don't know exists) and also to the other guests or customers.

HOW TO SAY "NO"

One of my friends visiting the dance was in dread that a certain man she'd been talking to was going to ask her out and what would she do? "Tell him 'No thank you,'" I said. She considered that inadequate.

One of the hardest lessons I've had to learn is that when declining an invitation, "making excuses" is deadly. The other person can debate your excuse. They can make the case that you do not really need to wash your hair. They can offer alternatives to get around the excuse ("Ok, then how about Wednesday?"). If what you want is for them to take no for an answer, then you have to make clear that the answer is no.

This is the sentence I've found works best for me when someone asks for something I don't want to give them (phone number, date, my life savings): "I don't think that would be a good idea right now."

Of course some people then ask why not and my reply is "Because I don't think that would be a good idea right now." (In assertiveness training, this technique is known as "broken record": you state your position as many times as necessary until the person "gets" that you mean it.)

It's important to me to include the "right now" in the statement because there have been times in my life when I burned these bridges and then later decided I was interested; I don't want to do that again.

HOW TO GET OFF THE DANCE FLOOR

A variation of how to say no is how to say stop, particularly in how to get off the dance floor once you've accepted a dance. Remember that you didn't accept their invitation forever more; you accepted one dance. At the end of a song, simply say, "Thanks for the dance," turn, and begin walking casually off the dance floor. (Fleeing in haste is very rude.) If they say, "Oh, just one more," and that's ok with you, be sure to say, "Ok, but just one more," and emphasize the one.

And what if you're dancing a slow tune with someone who wants to dance closer to you than you want to dance with them?

There's no need to let someone invade your space, but you must act as soon as you feel uncomfortable. Simply stop, right there mid-song, step back, hold your arms up at the desired distance, and restart the dance. You can say, "I think dancing like this would be more appropriate."

If the person gets too friendly again, stop, step back, and walk confidently off the dance floor. No need to say a word.

The first time I saw a woman do this (in a bar, with a man who was obviously drunk), I thought, "Wow, how come I never figured that out?!" A brilliant strategy.

HOW NOT TO WEAR OUT YOUR WELCOME

As we've learned, both guys and gals can feel trapped at a dance by someone they don't know how to escape. Let's call theperson who's difficult to dislodge the Clinger. Will the trapped person be glad to see the Clinger next week? Not a chance.

Believe me, you do not want a reputation as a Clinger, or its more aggressive equivalent, the Pushy Person. Not only will your past targets shun you, but they will also spread the word.

"But I'm not being pushy!" people will say. "I met someone interesting and I want to talk to them! What am I supposed to do?!"

Think, first off. This is a singles dance, most people are there to meet people, most people only want to meet other people who are polite and considerate. Latching on to someone and not letting go is not polite or considerate.

Some folks, of course, really are not polite and don't care. They think muscling their way around is the way to win. Theyare not reading this article; when encountering them, we will apply to techniques mentioned earlier and ignore such people from now on.

HOW TO CONNECT WITH SOMEONE SPECIAL

From literally decades of both observing and participating at singles events and dances I can tell you that the best way tomeet someone interesting, and have them get interested in you, is to mingle. A lot.

Dance with as many people as possible. This shows you are considerate and polite; you dance with everyone after all, including people old enough to be your grandparent. This demonstrates clearly that you are not a Clinger and are therefore Safe to Dance With. This is a very important reputation to have.

So how do you ever connect with the person you think is special, you are asking at this point. Simple.

Keep going back to that one. Dance two songs with them; then mingle for several songs. Dance two songs with them; then mingle. Visit with them a little; then mingle. At some point give them your personal card with your phone number (jotted on a piece of paper, if necessary), and suggest coffee some time if they get a chance to call you. Remember, no pressure! '

Of course, they may right then suggest a time for coffee (after the dance perhaps, or another time). If it's another time,ask for their number after they've offered to meet.

Ironic, isn't it, that the best way to avoid being trapped at a singles dance is also the best way to meet someone special.

Don't sit. Mingle. Dance with everyone.

Live happily ever after.

If what you want is for them to take no for an answer, then you have to make clear that the answer is no.