We asked three ESSENCE readers—a singleton, a dater and a newlywed—to let our experts have a quick look under the hood of their love lives. What we learned could help all of us sweeten our connections.
THE SINGLE SISTER
ESTHER IMENDE, 33, Washington, D.C.
DILEMMA: MEETING MEN
Where on earth do you find single men?" asks Esther Imende, a vivacious political analyst who has been single and looking since ending her last serious relationship more than a year ago. She has grown weary of a club scene that often involves singles stumbling into each other's arms after a night of too many cocktails. Esther has more in mind than liquor and dancing. She keeps her passport current for trips abroad, she motorcycles on the weekends, she loves watching football, and she dreams of one day swimming with the dolphins. She's ready for adventure, but she'd like someone to enjoy it with.
Advice: Relationship coach Paul Carrick Brunson has connected scores of singles through his service, onedegreefrom.me. Brunson explains that as we get older, "Our social circles shrink and the dating process becomes more challenging." To meet new people, Brunson says we have to be proactive. He suggested Esther target what he terms "the three conduits to marriage"—her friends and family, place of work and online. Brunson told Esther to identify three friends with strong social circles with whom she shares similar values. Esther had to ask each friend to set her up on a date. Brunson also had Esther create a profile on okcupid.com, a free site with more than 3.5 million active users. "Ninety percent of a person's decision to click on your profile has to do with your photo," he told her. "The most effective photo for a female is a fun, casual shot from the shoulders up. And make sure that you're smiling." Once Esther's grin was on display, she was to contact 30 men using what Brunson calls "the shotgun approach": a cursory glance at a man's profile, followed by a quickie one-line note. "If a man finds your photo attractive," says Brunson, "it won't matter what you've written—he'll respond." And when he does, the smartest women know the first commandment of online dating: Cut out all that pen-pal foolishness and quickly get that man's buns into a Starbucks chair. Last, Brunson asked Esther to make her status public among her coworkers. "Tell them you're dating around," he suggested. "When people hear that, their wheels begin turning."
Takeaway: Widening your social circle is the fastest way to cure a case of dating doldrums. Be proactive and willing to try something new.
RENATA WILLIS, 27, AND JERIEL ALLISON, 27, Chattanooga
Verdict: For Renata, even the hint of a conflict can bring on the angst that the relationship itself could be in jeopardy, and that leads her to bottle up her emotions. Now that Jeriel understands that more fully, he is more gentle in his approach to voicing concerns and vows to never again give Renata a reason to doubt that he's loyal. Meanwhile, Renata has committed to expressing what's bothering her before she reaches a boiling point. "Relationships can bring out the worst in us," says Blount. "But they also help us get to our best. Yes, our parents can set patterns in place. But when you become an adult, you can build a new model."
Takeaway: Look to your past to identify your communication style, and work together to change negative patterns.
Advice: Ryeal Simms, a certified relationship coach and marriage educator based in Los Angeles, says this isn't simply a case of misplaced shoes, it's about how well Natalie and John are hearing each other's needs. That's why he presented the couple with a "mirroring" exercise, a tool that can be particularly effective in helping couples who have been together for a while revive their listening skills. "Natalie, you might say to John, 'When you leave your shoes out, I think you see me as your maid,' " advised Simms. Once Natalie expressed her concerns, John was instructed to repeat what he heard and describe to Natalie what key emotion he believed his behavior triggered. Then the couple were to switch sides and Natalie was to mirror John. " This is a way to better understand the needs of your partner," says Simms. "And it's a template couples can come back to again and again during times of conflict."
Verdict: After only two weeks of mirroring, John was putting his shoes away nearly every time he came home from work. Once he even put Natalie's away as well. "He double-dipped!" jokes Natalie. Meanwhile, Natalie has eased up on reminding John to keep the foyer tidy: "I'm focusing on the big picture now."
Takeaway: It takes work to really listen to your partner, but the payoff in a more harmonious union is worth the effort.