Whoa Is Me

Last year, after I split up with my girlfriend, the law firm I worked for went belly up. I haven’t been on a date all year. Friends try to set me up, and I keep giving excuses for why I can’t go, but the truth is, I’ve totally lost my nerve. I’d like to change that. Money isn’t the issue. I work here and there and still have severance pay left. But despite interviewing heavily, I have yet to land a full-time gig and feel kind of like a failure, and I don’t want to discuss that on dates.

—Romantic Stage Fright

You lost your girlfriend and were thinking, “At least I have my job.” Then you lost your job and were thinking, “At least I have my confidence.” Whatever happens, don’t say, “At least I have my penis.”

After a series of big setbacks, it’s understandable that you’d feel most comfortable hiding under the bed. Unfortunately, you won’t get a whole lot of dates there unless you have a tiny tea set and are sexually attracted to mice. You likewise are unlikely to find your lost nerve under there, perhaps hiding out from creditors. But, like many people, where you go wrong is in thinking that you need to find your nerve to take action. You don’t. You just need to decide that being afraid to do something isn’t a good enough reason to avoid doing it.

Of course, you’ll do better on dates if you don’t arrive feeling like a cow patty in nice shoes. The good news is, you can give yourself a boost pretty easily — without standing in an open field during a storm and hoping to get struck by a bolt of confidence. A growing body of research finds that “walking the walk” (in your case, just making the body movements of the large and in charge) is actually transformative. For example, social psychologist Dana Carney had both men and women pose for just two minutes like fat-cat executives — feet on desk, hands behind head. These simple acts raised their testosterone (the dominance hormone) and made them more willing to take risks (a sign of confidence), and they reported feeling more, well, “Wolf of Wall Street” than “Chihuahua of Skid Row.”

In other words, when you have a date, you need to get to the place early and do a little bathroom-stall yoga. Ridiculous as it seems, a little powerbroker-cise should help you feel and act like your peer group is great white sharks instead of small brown smudges. And though your inclination is probably to shove all your negative thoughts about your job loss in some mental drawer, research by clinical psychologist James J. Gross finds that this tends to backfire, making you feel worse. Instead, try “cognitive reappraisal” — reframing your job loss so it works better for your mojo. This would just take emphasizing to yourself what you already know — that you’re jobless because of others’ bad business decisions and a tough economy, not because your lawyering skills rival those of a plastic fern.

When you’re on the date, don’t worry about selling yourself. We tend to believe we can talk people into liking us, but we’re actually more likely tolisten them into it. And by listen, I mean listening from the gut, not just nodding your head while trying to remember whether you left a load of underwear in your apartment building’s washing machine.

Obviously, the easiest way for you to feel better is to start working again, which would give you a sense of purpose. The thing is, you don’t have to wait for somebody to hire you. Consider donating at least a few hours a week to provide free legal counsel to people in need. I explain in “Good Manners for Nice People Who Sometimes Say F*ck” that we can happy ourselves up for, oh, a few weeks or a month by chasing happiness — buying a new car or a new set of boobs — but happiness with staying power comes from pursuing meaning, like by making the world a better place because you’re in it.

Making the world a better place has the side benefit of making it a better place for you to go on dates. Women look for men to show signs of generosity, and pro bono lawyering stories are way better than hoping she notices that you left a 24.6 percent tip. And ultimately, dates and job interviewers alike should find the natural excitement that comes out of “I’m helping an elderly widow save her home!” far sexier than your current conversation starter: “I like wearing a paper bag over my head and crying myself to sleep; what are your hobbies?”

Categories: Advice, Advice Goddess