Dana Torpey-Newman is a licensed clinical psychologist and dating expert who specializes in couple therapy. The following is the first interview of our Dating Advice Series, featuring Dana.
Tell us about yourself (your background, what you do, what makes your dating advice stand out).
I am a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in couple therapy and I have private practice sites in San Diego and in the Denver suburbs.
I have been doing couple and relationship therapy since my 3rd year of grad school, which was about 15 years ago. Most of my individual clients focus on their romantic relationships and dating as well.
I didn’t get married until I was in my mid 30s, and was actively participating in psychotherapy while doing so, so I consider myself super experienced both in the dating world as a single person and because of the discussions I have every day with my clients.
What do you think about dating apps? Do you have some advice for our readers using them?
Not to date myself, but I was using match.com throughout the early aughts and loved the opportunities sites like that offered to meet people I would not have encountered in any other way.
My clients talk all the time about dating apps today and I feel that, although I still really value the diversity they add to one’s pool of potential dates, there are some pretty significant obstacles to meeting people with whom to start a more serious relationship.
A large part of the problem is that we have an extremely dysfunctional view of dating in our society.
We seem to believe that, as long as someone does not do something objectionable, like cheat or engage in physical aggression, that we should “try to make it work.”
Instead, finding a partner should be about meeting someone, continuing on, as long as your attraction to them and interest in getting to know them at a deeper level persists, and ending things at the point at which it seems like there are significant differences between the two of you that seem inconsistent with the life you are trying to build.
We are not obligated to hold on to relationships with people who are “fine” or “nice” or “haven’t done anything wrong” if we aren’t feeling it anymore.
That being said, another drawback of dating apps is that it seems like there is always someone even better than the person you are with because there are infinite choices.
The flip side of staying in blah relationships that do not bring out the best in us, is the avoidance of getting to know people at a deeper level because it is easy to reject them for superficial reasons. And we do it by telling ourselves that there is some perfect date out there just waiting for us to find them.
Another difficulty with dating apps is that people can be disingenuous about who they are and you really have very little way of knowing what is and is not true.
This is a unique challenge that people in the past did not face — they typically met through mutual friends or work or some other way in which there were other sources of information about a date and not just what they have written online.
There is an artificiality in meeting someone for the first time and immediately expecting a romantic connection.
There are plenty of people who are desirable partners that you may not feel instantly attracted to but there is no space to get to know each other more casually and then pursue a romantic or sexual relationship once your attraction increases at a slower pace.
And there is this belief that you can basically look at someone as soon as you meet them and know whether or not you will want to pursue something more with them.
That is just really unrealistic. Finally, dating apps, particularly the ones that are geared primarily towards hookups, deny people the opportunity to learn how to get know potential romantic partners.
So many of my younger clients do not actually know how to have deeper, more meaningful conversations because their experiences are meeting people, hooking up with them, and never actually getting to know them.
This would be totally fine, but they end up failing to develop the skills they need when they are ready to date more seriously because of this set-up.
I do want to make it clear that there are ways to address the majority of these problems and dating apps are still great for expanding your dating pool.
Recommended read: 9 Relationship Red Flags You Should Never Ignore
What are some dating tips you would give to someone who has to go on a first date?
It is easy when you are going on a first date to have the goal of making sure the other person is attracted to you and wants to have a second date with you.
However, that often results in presenting an inauthentic version of yourself, which will not be sustainable if things work out. I would recommend that if you are looking to find a partner, do not start off with the goal of being who it seems like the other person wants you to be.
Being who you actually are, not pretending to like things you don’t like, not pretending to be interested in topics you are not interested in, is the key to meeting people who are actually a good match for you.
If you don’t know who you are well enough to do this on a date, please go to therapy so you can figure that out.
Remember, the more authentic and true to yourself you are, the fewer people you will feel an actual connection with; however, the connection with those few people will likely feel more rewarding than a larger number of superficial relationships.
Everyone wants to be seen, acknowledged, and cared for for who they truly are. You will not feel this way if you don’t let people know you.
What are some great conversation starters for a first date? Why?
As a psychologist, I am in everyone’s business as soon as I meet them, but I am going to try to provide more reasonable advice here rather than diving right into asking about someone’s relationship with their parents, even though that is what I want to know.
First, know what you value. Values are different than interests and hobbies. Values are about who you are deep down and what kind of life you are working towards. Asking things like, “what types of things do you feel really passionate about?”
Be prepared to tell the other person what you are passionate about — is it learning, is it caregiving, is it pursuing challenges, is it social justice — these are examples of values. People often ask what the other person is looking for.
I would recommend being honest if you are looking for a hookup versus a more serious relationship, because you then give the other person the opportunity to decide if what you are looking for is compatible with what they are looking for.
I like to ask about previous relationships, if it can flow smoothly in the conversation — whether it is about experiences on the apps themselves first, which is a relatively light topic, or about more serious relationships, both of these give you a window into how someone interacts with and interprets the world around them.
If someone tells me that all of their exes are crazy, I am on high alert because that person is the common denominator there. Ask about topics that are important to you!
Religion, politics, you name it.
Everyone has deal-breakers — figure out if the person you are with holds values that are so antithetical to yours that there is no way in hell you would ever have a serious relationship with them.
One thing I see in couple therapy over and over again is that the failure of having those uncomfortable conversations early on leads to people getting serious with partners they should never be with because they had fun engaging in enjoyable activities together and never talked about foundational differences between them that should have been a red flag.
For the record, if your date says things like, “I don’t talk about those things,” that is a bad sign.
Someone who shuts down communication about hard topics is not someone who will be willing/able to have hard conversations. Dating is about figuring out if someone is a good match for you — this stuff matters!
What are some original date ideas? What’s your dating advice on this topic?
For a first date with someone from a dating app, I am typically of the mindset that you plan for a 30-45 minute cup of coffee or drink and/or a walk.
I think this allows you the opportunity to determine if you’d like to get to know someone better and then, if things are going well, you can always extend the date.
Another option is to participate in an activity that elicits interesting conversation that allows you to get to know someone’s values at a deeper level.
In my free time, I am super into politics, so I love the idea of going to a debate or political forum and having coffee or a drink after while discussing the contents of what the candidates or elected officials said.
Alternatively, there are always local meetings, like City Counsels and Boards of Education, going on. Go to one of those and figure out really quickly what is and is not important to the person you are with.
I think we need to do more things that inspire meaningful discussion rather than just entertaining and distracting activities if your goal is to find an actual partner.
How long should someone wait before entering a more serious relationship with someone? What’s your dating advice on this?
I don’t have any set timelines but I do have emotional benchmarks that one can use to determine the level of seriousness they would like to have in a romantic relationship.
I think you date causally, meaning you keep the door open to the possibility of other dates, until/if the point at which you and the other person prefer to be sexually monogamous.
If/when that happens, you may agree to stop having sex with others, although you may still be getting to know other people on an emotional level.
Often, people agree to sexual monogamy before they agree to emotional monogamy.
Emotional monogamy is often accompanied by a realization that you are no longer emotionally available for a connection with someone else because the person you are dating is that interesting to you.
Remember, the purpose of dating is to continue to get to know someone until the point at which you either realize that you are no longer pursuing the same future, meaning your values/future goals are actually not in alignment, or you realize that you are not the best version of yourself in the relationship.
I would recommend not becoming super serious with someone until you feel like you really know them.
Being serious with someone based solely on superficial qualities like how much fun you have together or how attractive they are is probably premature.
In your opinion, what are some personality traits men find irresistible in women?
Men prefer women who are confident, both in terms of their attractiveness and their personalities. Unfortunately, many women are extremely self-conscious. Likely because our society encourages them to shape themselves to fit any situation, rather than to be themselves. This leads to extreme insecurity.
It is challenging to feel confident in yourself when you are not connected with who you are. Especially if you are trying to fit society’s definition of perfect. Confidence does not mean that you are not aware of and open about your limitations and vulnerabilities.
It does mean that you are not always self-critical and are not held back from new experiences because you are afraid of failure.
What are some personality traits women find irresistible in men?
Women prefer men who are direct and able to talk about their emotions and the woman’s emotions.
They also find it to be extremely attractive when men act like they are genuinely curious to know her and are not only interested in her as a sexual partner. Women also like confidence — this doesn’t mean being being a dick, but it means being sure of what you want and pursuing your goals fully.
Many, but not all, women want men who understand the societal obstacles women experience and are open to talking about them.
Too often, relationships end because women feel like they have to do way too much of the emotional labor and they become exhausted.
Men who are actively trying to figure their shit out and not looking for a woman to do that for him are much more attractive.
How can people find you?
My website is foothillsips.com.
Do you have a dating advice book/online course/app you would like our readers to know about?
I am not advertising anything — I just love helping people find romantic partners because a good partnership is really helpful for mental wellness.
I also would love to see a reduction in couples coming to my practice who should have had hard conversations before progressing in their relationships and recognize that our society does not promote how to do that in helpful ways.
It was amazing having you as first guest of our dating advice series, Dana. Thank you for your time!