Some Simple Dating Advice from Dr. Rob (Talking WITH as Opposed to Talking AT)

A few weeks ago I was talking with a client about her dating life.

“Another bad one, Rob,” she said as soon as she sat down.

This woman, I’ll call her Kim, is bright, attractive, well-educated and what I would consider to be a good catch in many ways. She’s not into Asian threesomes, nor does she own a liquor store, but I think most men would want to date her. The problem is that she’s a bit rough around the edges and doesn’t always play well with others. She’s strongly opinionated and has low tolerance for alternative points of view. Sometimes both she and I find her quirks humorous, but at times she really needs a little guidance and tutelage when dealing with other people. Shrinks need a fancy name for everything they do, so this type of therapy is known as “Social Skills Training.”

“He really pissed me off by coming late,” she said.

“How late was he?”

“I don’t know. Five minutes, maybe. He’s all ‘so sorry, I got stuck in traffic.’ I told that asshole,” she said, lifting one index finger in front of her face, “Asshole, I don’t care what your reason is for being late. Tardiness is a form of disrespect. My time is just as Goddamn important as yours.”

“Okay, let’s take a closer look at…”

“So I start talking to him about the election and he’s all like, ‘I’m voting for Obama.’ I said,” and again she lifted the index finger, ‘let me explain something to you. Obama is anti-America and Anti-Christian. McCain is what you want.'”

“Let’s analyze that more…”

“Then I told him that, as a Christian woman, I don’t date Heretics and he’s like, ‘well I’m Agnostic.'”

“Is that really fair to label him…”

“I told him Agnostics were people who couldn’t make decisions and he better decide how he likes his steak right now, and if it’s not medium-rare then we should just go our separate ways right now. I hate indecisiveness and overcooked meat.”

“And then what?”

“He was very polite actually. He said that I would make a great wife for a very headstrong man but that clearly wasn’t him. He’s damn right about that. So we decided to part ways before dinner because we clearly were wasting each other’s time.”

“Kim, do you remember when we talked about how aggressive you can be toward men? And how that aggression can prevent you from getting to know someone?”

“Yes, you said it was a way to protect myself from getting close to people who could hurt me.”

“Not exactly. I offered that as a possibility and asked you to consider it. You later said that you agreed.”


“Is this another example of that?”

“I don’t know. I guess so. But that doesn’t mean I know what to say on these dates. Men like strong women.”

“That may be true, but you’re confusing strong and attacking. Why don’t we look at what you said that might be construed as aggressive?”

“Such as?”

“Well I can understand your take on tardiness, but it was barely five minutes, and you didn’t give yourself a real opportunity to consider why he was late. You also called him an asshole, before you probably even said his real name.”


“You also immediately went into two topics that are generally frowned upon for date conversation: religion and politics. That in and of itself isn’t catastrophic, but you insulted his position in both of those areas.”

“But he…,” she protested, lifting that finger again.

At that moment Kim’s behavior reminded me of a personal experience, years ago, when I had a date with a woman who kept lifting an admonishing finger at me whenever I said something that she didn’t agree with. It took three glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon to not strangle her. I could feel myself reliving those memories and getting a bit angry.

Therapist Rule # 1: Use your personal reactions (sometimes known as Countertransference) as a therapeutic tool.

“And finally,” I said, my voice getting louder and more manly. Or possibly just higher and more girly. “You kept lifting up your finger and putting it in his face! Do you realize how disrespectful that is?”

Therapist Rule # 2: Try not to yell when applying Therapist Rule # 1.

“It…it is?”

“Yes! It’s completely invalidating. You’re telling someone, with your finger, to shut up and listen, that what he is saying isn’t as important as what you have to say. You’re also giving the message that screams ‘I’m about to talk at you as opposed to talk with you.'”

She paused. “That’s pretty interesting. We do that in our family all the time.”

Was I just yelling at her?

“If that’s what you and your family choose to do with each other that’s fine, but I think most people, myself included, would be put-off by that.”

“That is worth a thought. Are you an expert on first dates?”

“I wouldn’t say that, but I was interviewed for a book,” I said, feeling a brief moment of pride.

“Did anyone buy it?”

Probably not. The brief pride fleeted even more quickly than usual.

“I don’t keep track of book sales.”

“Regardless, that’s actually some pretty good advice. I’ll try that next time…if he’s not an Obama backer.”

At this point Kim isn’t the world’s greatest conversationalist but she’s made some improvements. For a short while she was sitting on her hands during dates to make sure she didn’t put her finger in anyone’s face, but that problem is pretty much solved now, so we’re making progress.

The lesson learned:

Keep your fucking finger down when you are talking to someone.

It took me only six years of post-graduate education and one horrible date to learn that.

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19 Responses to “Some Simple Dating Advice from Dr. Rob (Talking WITH as Opposed to Talking AT)”

  1. Rhett says:

    I’m still laughing at this one. Dating in general is such a PITA. This girl would have had me running after 5 minutes. Good story!

  2. Taephit says:

    This client/patient/whatever is pretty damn funny. I hope you keep us updated on her wacky adventures!

  3. goats says:

    I want to slap her through the screen! What the hell is wrong with women from the tri-state area!!?? She seems like a Nazi to me!

  4. the truth says:

    I would have put up with her nonsense for a date or two, then bang the living hell out of her just to prove a point

  5. The “talking at” v. “talking with” is a huge relational issue people seem to have not only in dating but just in life. People often cite having a , “connection” with someone….and I’m pretty sure some of that is due to the “talking with” as opposed to the much more common “talking at”.
    In the world of social skills training, I’d rate the finger waving right below outright POKING someone in the chest/shoulder/face repeatedly.
    ps. Bringing up politics on a first date…lol. I met someone AT a political function, and we knew enough to not talk about that on our dates.

  6. T.J. says:

    It always astounds me that people put up with that kinda shit just to get laid … I’ve had friends in the past with girlfriends like that, and needless to say, I was always the “asshole friend” who wouldn’t put up with any of that finger-pointing or cutting-me-off crap. I guess that’s why I didn’t usually see said friend until he finally woke up and realized that pussy ain’t worth all that.
    Another good post, Dr. Rob. Keep kicking ass and billing names.

  7. Mel says:

    I think by the first finger-point, I’d have clocked that lady.
    It should be common sense that religion and politics are two big no-no’s on a first date.
    Good job on the yelling, Dr. Rob.

  8. Rob, sounds like you got through to her pretty fast when you started yelling.
    Maybe some clients just need to be yelled at?

  9. Dan James says:

    I think she sounds feisty, but would probably be unable to keep from saying a variety of impolitic things to her in person. Of course, I’m a perpetually-tardy atheist Obama fan, so I’m guessing I’d have to work very hard to restrain myself from snapping that finger off entirely for the amount she’d be sticking it in my face.
    Probably a good thing I live in the UK, eh?
    PS: Given how much she was cutting you off in your session, maybe you should keep a tranq gun handy, just in case.

  10. Amber says:

    I don’t think I’d consider her a “strong” woman. I’d say she’s a bitch. Really, it’s great to have a strong opinion about something and even to get into heated debates over it, as long as it’s clearly stated that it is YOUR opinion. Once you start telling people that they’re wrong, stupid, indecisive, etc; you HAVE to know you’ve blown the date. Was she really that blind? Oh, of course, she thought she had no fault in the destruction of the date. Right.

  11. Colleen says:

    Rob, I’m interested in your take on social intelligence. Do you think that social intelligence has a “set point” where there is only so much improvement (or regression) a person is capable of? Does the person’s age factor in to how hard “social skills training” will be for them?
    I think everyone knows a person or 12 who lacks social skills – the person who brings up inappropriate topics or introduces awkward non sequiters and is just generally off putting. What do you think leads to a person behaving this way? Is it from a lack of direction growing up or do you think that there is maybe a neurological component (like trouble reading body language or facial expressions on a subclinical level)?

  12. Joe says:

    I have to disagree with your assertion that she could be a “catch.” Someone who could put up with her aggressive personality through an ungodly amount of patience or perhaps deafness might end up with her, but I think the root of her problem is really her personality, not a few peripheral quirks.

  13. Maris says:

    Well, she’s obviously quite rude, but on the other hand, if a guy puts up with such behavior in an effort to get some fun in the sack, this guy also completely deserves every raised finger and attack he gets from such a woman. Nor should women put up with boorish men, just because they are well off. And now that I’ve delt with the grim realities of gender stereotyping I will move on to this question:
    why Not talk about politics on a 1st date? If some nitwit is actually backing McSame, I need to know this.

  14. Maggy says:

    I agree with Joe there. 100% Oh, and Maris, I’m with ya there about the politics. I don’t think I could date someone who was voting for McCain. I’d think it’d be a good first thing to know.
    Great post Rob!!

  15. Maris says:

    Maggy, exactly so! Why waste time w/a McSamer? And don’t even get me started on the Barracuda.

  16. Wayland says:

    Top Quote from Rob: “Keep your fucking finger down when you are talking to someone.”
    You rock man.

  17. Jim says:

    I’ve been reading your column for a few months. I’d actually found out about it through the link section Philalawyer and since I’m studying to become a clinical psychologist — or psychiatrist if I change my mind — I thought I’d give you a look.
    I think your stories are great to read and hilarious most of the time, planned or not. Please keep up the good work.

  18. jackmo says:

    wow she is almost as entertaining as your client Jack. I particualy like how she opened the date:
    “Asshole, I don’t care what your reason is for being late. Tardiness is a form of disrespect.”
    Solid gold :p

  19. suzy pepper says:

    Hahahahaha this made me cry with laughter