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    Saying No to Dates and Romantic Entanglements

    Excerpted from
    How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty: And Say Yes to More Time, and What Matters Most to You
    By Patti Breitman, Connie Hatch

    Know What You're Looking For

    Why is it so important to cut down on unsuitable suitors and unsatisfying relationships or, better yet, avoid them in the first place? One obvious reason is to save yourself from the occasional unpleasant evening. But there is a deeper purpose involved: so that you can devote your energy to finding a partner who will fill your needs and so you can create more opportunities to pursue your vision of the person you want to say yes to. (If you're asking, "What vision?" we'll get to that in a minute.) It's not simply about claiming more free time, though that's part of it. It's also about how you use that time, what you might be doing and thinking if you weren't stuck there struggling to make conversation with Mr. Wrong or Ms. Stake.

    When you consider a romantic prospect and decide, "This is not what I want" or "This isn't what I'm looking for," you take a step away from something. But in the meantime, do you know what you are going toward? Unless we know what we are looking for, we're left standing at the crossroads with no idea of which direction to take. Without a destination in mind, we're liable to get on any old bus that comes down the road - and who knows where it may be headed?

    Think of it this way: If you're looking for someone you've never met, it helps to have a description or a picture of the person you're looking for. That's where the "vision thing" comes in. In the context of love and romance, it means having a clear mental picture of the person you want to meet and keeping that picture in your mind as you go through the process of meeting, dating, and relating. We're not talking about your fantasy lover's looks. We're talking about essence. Develop your picture by focusing on the qualities in a romantic partner that are absolutely essential to you. They may include things like kindness, a sense of humor, attractiveness, and generosity. Concentrate on the "nonnegotiable" traits that are truly necessary for you to have a happy relationship. Others, such as being a good dancer, may be appealing but less important in the long run.

    Attracting What's in Your Mind

    A number of ancient-wisdom traditions, as well as many contemporary spiritual teachers, have put forth the idea that by visualizing something in a conscious, purposeful way, you will find it more easily-and it will find you. This is also the basic premise of Shakti Gawain's inspiring book Creative Visualization, an extremely useful guide to the practice.

    The reasoning is that when you invest a lot of energy thinking about something, you will attract it into your life. What you concentrate and focus on will come to you. Each of us sees the world through our own lens. When we create and maintain a vision in our minds, we begin to see it outside of ourselves.

    Does this sound like fantasy? Then consider it another way. We've all known people who are perpetually angry at the world. They're always imagining slights when none were intended and are often heard complaining about others. In stores and restaurants, they're the first to gripe about bad service. Is it just an accident that of everyone we know, these people get into more fights and encounter incompetent fools every day of their lives?

    Of course not. It's because their vision of the world is colored by the vision in their heads. Because they bring hostility to every encounter, they encounter hostility everywhere.

    The opposite is just as true. People who are optimistic and friendly attract other friendly people. Meeting the same set of people as the angry fellow, they'd find everyone perfectly pleasant instead. They're seeing their own state of mind reflected in the people they meet. Are they just "seeing what they want to see"? Absolutely, and that's exactly the point. In the process, they're also attracting what they want to see - warmth and friendliness-because most of us are drawn to warm, friendly people. Aren't you?

    Patti firmly believes that visualization enabled her to meet her husband, Stan. She told herself every day, "I'm in love with a kind, smart, generous, happy, healthy man who loves me." Day after day, the image began to seem more real, and the "fantasy" began to seem more and more possible. Her point of view shifted; instead of wondering, "Does he even exist?" she now told herself, "He's out there. It's only a matter of finding him."

    She then placed a personal ad in a local newspaper, which drew many responses, including one from her future husband. Ironically, Stan almost didn't "make the cut," because he failed to meet two of the criteria Patti had listed in her ad. He lived too far away and was more than ten years older than she. Luckily, he was convinced of their potential together and persuaded her that geography and age were relatively minor in the grand scheme of things. (They are. Anyone can move ... or be young at heart). As she got to know Stan, she saw that the traits she valued most were present in abundance. Once she found someone who was compassionate, smart, and funny, the other stuff just didn't seem to matter very much.

    Use Dates as a Learning Laboratory

    Saying no becomes easier when you know what you want to say yes to. To help yourself zero in on what that is, use the experience of daring as a laboratory for exploration and study.

    Each time you say no, it's because you've recognized something you don't want or something you do want that's missing. With every dare, you can tell yourself that you're getting closer and closer to finding someone who really excites you and feels right for you.

    Even unsuccessful dates can help sharpen your vision and focus on the qualities in a partner that attract and delight you. Make it a practice to look for something to like about everyone you go out with. Maybe one is a good dresser but has terrible table manners. Another may be friendly and warm but unable to talk about anything but sports. To help yourself get through the evening, focus on what you do like about the person and keep those attractive qualities in mind. If nothing else, it makes the dating process more fun. But it's also rewarding to develop the habit of finding things to appreciate in other people. It's not necessary to add all these "'positives" to your list of nonnegotiable requirements. But by consciously looking for things to admire in others, you're training yourself to zero in on a person's best qualities faster.

    Seeking out your life partner is like trying on clothes in a department store. When the outfit clicks, you know it works because you tried on all those others that didn't work. For example, when you know you look terrible in red, you don't need to bother trying on red dresses. The date who is rude to the waitress is showing his colors, too, and nobody says you have to like them. Don't settle-say no and keep shopping.

    The First Date . . . and Saying No

    To go or not to go? Even though one of our basics for invitations is "when in doubt, say no," the dating arena is a little different. It calls for a willingness to experiment. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt could have unexpectedly happy results. You might have a much better rime than you thought or see a new side to the person that surprises you in a very pleasant way. If you're truly on the fence about whether to accept a date, we say go for it.

    Even if it doesn't work out, saying yes to dates offers other benefits. Like going on job interviews, dating gives you a chance to practice your "skills." The more often you do it, the more poised and comfortable you become with the whole process. Going on dates also helps expand your network. While the two of you might not hit it off romantically, you could become friends, and friends are still the best way to meet other really, really good friends! The wider your circle, the more opportunities you will have to meet someone who's just right for you.

    Sometimes, however, there are no doubts to wrestle with. You just need to say no. The best approach is to keep it short. Don't invite debate by overexplaining the reasons for your "no." If the unsuitable suitor doesn't take no for an answer, keep to your point. Many of the responses below can be used in combination with each other and can be repeated until your message sinks in. Don't get trapped into having to justify yourself.

    When Turning down dares or curtailing a relationship, keep the focus on yourself by using "I/me" language (e.g., "I'm not ready to get involved" or "This doesn't feel right to me"). This avoids suggesting that the other person is inadequate in some way and seems less like personal criticism.

    Because people tend to hear what they want to hear, it's important to make your intentions crystal clear. Always begin with an unequivocal statement such as I'd rather not ... or No, thank you . . . that can be combined with one of the responses below.

    (If you find this kind of "no" especially difficult to say, it may help to practice these responses out loud first or even role-play with a friend.)

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