He’s pretty cute, and you’d like to see if he’s interested in going out on a date. But there’s only one problem: How to start the conversation? What to say so he responds and is interested?
This is an exceptionally common problem for both sexes. Unless you’re a woman and adhering strictly to the traditional rules of dating (the rules where the man must initiate ALWAYS), there will come a moment when you want to make a connection with someone and don’t know how.
The first step, as outlined in my video with dating coach Greg Schwartz, is finding something about the person that you can use to start the connection and show them why they should be talking with you (“showing value,” to use Greg’s phrase). You do this by reading what they wrote in their dating profile, or in observing the clues from their dress, body language and words when talking with them in person. Then you talk and ask questions around this shared topic.
But what if you don’t have any clues about what matters to the person? Or worse: What if you know what they like, but there is no natural connection between you and them?
Let’s get this out of the way: Honestly, your chances are slim if you and the other person do not have anything in common.
That’s because there are no natural connecting points if you can’t tap into a shared interest or experience. You’re reduced to two people randomly coming together, and that’s not a lot to keep the two of you talking or engaged. There’s just not much recommending the connection between the two of you, and others who do share more with the person have a much better chance.
You also can’t show value if there is no connecting points with the other person. You might be a foodie par excellence, for instance, but that doesn’t mean much if your potential date has little interest in food. Or you might be energized by combatting global warming, but the person across from you has never thought seriously about the topic or given it much weight.
So if you cannot find something to connect with in the person’s profile or during that first meeting, the odds are not in your favor. You probably won’t be dating this person, and if you date them it has a smaller chance of lasting.
That doesn’t mean you are out of luck if you run across someone and can’t find any place to connect. That just means you must go deeper and engage the other person on the human level.
You may not have any known interests or beliefs in common with the person, but there’s always one thing you do share: You’re both humans sharing the human experience.
And that’s actually sharing a lot.
We tend to focus on the surface things about ourselves and those around us, but we are more similar than we are different because all of us wake up in the morning and have pain and pleasure, hopes and dreams, the need for things like food and shelter. We share more than we think if we go deeper.
So if want to connect with someone when there’s no obvious connection, focus on this deeper human experience. That’s how you build a deeper connection with someone anyway, so focusing on the human experience is not a bad approach even if you have other connecting points.
I was coaching a client from Shanghai recently, a high-powered executive who had gone from strength to strength. Except in one area, that is: She was single and not meeting anyone.
At first we talked about her approach to dating, because she wasn’t meeting any guys. Quickly it became apparent that meeting guys wasn’t actually the problem, however; she was quite the catch, and men were all over her. The problem was that nothing was going anywhere because she wasn’t connecting with the people she met.
This executive THOUGHT she was being social and connecting; she was talking about her day and the details of her life with the person across from her. But really she wasn’t connecting because she was focusing entirely on facts and surface details to the exclusion of anything truly personal.
She was not connecting on the human level, in other words.
The big idea that I told this client, and one you’ll also need if you want to connect with someone where no natural connection exists, is that emotional response is everything and details don’t matter at all.
Details and facts are just the backdrop; they aren’t really what the conversation is about. What the conversation is REALLY about is your emotional life as a human, and the emotional life of the other person.
You need things like where you went and what you did so the conversation has structure. The details are props. But what you’re really trying to do is share who you are on the inside, and find out who the other person is on the inside. That’s because love and connection comes from this place of shared humanity, not from details and surface elements even if you have them in common.
There’s a reason why relationship coaches and therapists frequently talk about vulnerability. The facts don’t matter! Your job doesn’t matter! What matters is how you felt at your job when the boss dumped an impossible deadline on you. What matters is how you’re working to have money for a family some day because you want to support them, or that you’re working because you’re afraid of poverty.
Or take surfing.
That you surf doesn’t matter. That you are planning a trip to Cloud 9 in the Philippines definitely doesn’t matter. What matters is that you surf because you feel in touch with the world around you when you’re riding those waves, or that you need a tiny dose of danger because your day-to-day reality feels just a little too plastic.
These are the human connections, because these tap into something beyond the details. These are things we all feel or could feel. So even if the other person has never experienced what you’ve experienced, even if the surface details are entirely alien to them, they can relate because these are deep human things. This is what it is like to be human, and we all share that common core.
So if you’re not able to find a connection with someone, go deeper. Go to the emotions. Go to what’s really going on for you. And take them deeper, too, asking about what they think and feel. Everything else is just a backdrop.
You still might have low odds with the other person, of course; it can be hard to find a hook to get at the human issues, and you might not get enough time to find them before they move on to someone else.
But you have a shot. And if you can reach them at the human level, truly connect with them at that deep level, you can survive and thrive despite having almost no other similarities. All you really need is that deeper connection with someone for a happy relationship.
Peter is founder of Kowalke Coaching. He also is founding director of the Philia Mission, a small charitable organization. Contact Peter.