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  • How to Talk to Anyone

    How to Talk to Anyone

    By Lola Augustine Brown

    Sometimes breaking the ice on a first date can be tough, especially if you are naturally shy.

    “I find first dates horrible,” says Bob, a fortysomething Seattle native. “I was married for 15 years and now I’m single I find talking to the opposite sex nerve-wracking. I get sweaty palms, the whole deal.”

    Luckily for the likes of Bob, you can learn to improve your oral and aural appeal. Confidence expert Leil Lowndes, author of many books including How to Talk to Anyone, Goodbye to Shy and How to Make Anyone Fall in Love with You, shares her tips for saying the right things and coming across great on a first date.

    Drop the Lines
    Unfortunately, there is no sure-fire winning opening line that will guarantee that you charm the pants off your date the second you open your mouth. Making a good impression is a tad more complicated than that and is dependent on the situation as well as the person you are talking to, says Lowndes. That said, there are certain types of ice-breaking questions that work very well.

    Lowndes’ favorite question to ask a new person is, “What is your average day like?” This is an interesting, thought-provoking question that shows you are interested and is fun to answer, because most people like talking about themselves. Another good one, if the person you are meeting is from somewhere else originally is, “What brought you to the city?” Answers to both of these questions should deliver enough information to fuel further conversation.

    Getting gender-specific, Lowndes suggests that men ask their dates questions about themselves and how they feel about things. “Ask why questions, not what questions. Women however should never ask their dates anything about feelings, as this doesn’t work well on guys,” she says.

    Take Your Shy and Shove It
    “The first thing you need to realize when you are nervous about talking to your date is that they are probably just as shy as you are,” says Lowndes, “The trick is to think confidently, because if your thinking is that you are shy then your body just folds up.” You need to keep good posture, display open body language (no arms folded etc.) lean in towards your date, and make sure you look your date in the eyes (as shy people often have difficulty making eye contact.) These things may sound obvious, but they are things that too many of us forget when dating and may often require practice until they happen naturally.

    Lowndes advises that guys nod while their date is talking to them, as it shows that they are listening and absorbing what is being said (this takes effort as men usually only nod when they agree with something, while women nod more naturally in conversation to show that they are paying attention.) For women, Lowndes advises touching their date, though very gently. “A wonderful trick is to touch the man’s shoulder or pick an imaginary piece of lint off their shirt,” says Lowndes. “This creates more of a connection.”

    Self-Examination
    If you are worried that you come across as not very interesting, take some time to figure out why. “Energy level has a lot to do with whether or not people find us interesting to talk to,” says Lowndes. “If you inject energy into your voice, anything you talk about will come across as interesting, but using one flat tone will make you sound dull. Try taping yourself in conversation then playing it back to find out how other people hear you.” Practice speaking more energetically and you’ll automatically become more interesting.

    The same goes with gestures, as these really add to conversation. While you don’t want to be practicing semaphore or throwing gang signs as you try to win your date over, making bigger gestures will add sparkle to your conversation. Lowndes advises watching people at parties who do this well, then trying to incorporate their gesture styling in to your own interactions.

    Enlist your friends to help you enrich your conversational style. Hold a group critique of where you think you could all improve, then remind each other when you slip up and do things you shouldn’t, such as slouch or use sloppy slang. You’ll want to point these things out discretely though or else you risk bruising egos.

    Become More Interesting
    Lowndes says that it doesn’t take much to become more interesting to the opposite sex. This may involve learning about things you are not necessarily yourself — or don’t yet know that you are interested in. She advises that guys pick up Psychology Today magazine to read up on touchy-feely subjects that will make good conversation starters (reading fluffy women’s magazines won’t do this!) and women should try to learn about sports or other typically male things. “Any woman that can talk about sports is in like Flynn,” Lowndes says.

    (Before you start sending letters we KNOW these are generalizations, OK? They’re also quite often truths. Now we’re gonna go talk about our feelings and maybe eat a cheese sandwich — EDs)

    Don’t Even Go There
    There are definite conversation no-go zones if you are trying to connect with someone for the first time. “Just don’t talk to guys about their feelings,” says Lowndes, “and guys should avoid talking about other dates or making any kind of sexual innuendoes or jokes. Men often say things about their sexual preferences on a first date and most women find that really off-putting.”

  • 5 Ways to Boost Your Dating Confidence

    5 Ways to Boost Your Dating Confidence

    By Nick Krewen

    When he said, “The greatest barrier to success is the fear of failure,” Swedish soccer coach Sven-Göran Eriksson may have had more sporting fare on his mind.

    But he could have just as easily applied his quote to the world of dating. It’s a jungle out there, where the terror of rejection can be a traumatic intimidation factor when meeting someone new, while telegraphing that insecurity to your date could easily jeopardize your chances for a second meeting.

    While confidence isn’t an exclusive component to staging a successful date, it can be an important one, argues Chicago-based Patti Feinstein, self-described as America’s Dating Coach who has counseled hundreds of clients and appeared on ABC, CBS and MSNBC.

    “Confidence equals happiness, and happiness equals success,” she says. “Not everybody has a lot of confidence in dating,” she states. “Dating is a world of rejection, so it’s very hard to get the confidence. It’s more important to get the connection.

    “But confidence is important, and you’re not going to get it unless you try.”

    In her experience, Feinstein has found the fairer sex to be the most confident. “I would say women tend to be more confident than men,” she confirms. “I have a ton of male clients, and they always have confidence issues.

    “But I can take a guy who has no confidence, throw him into an activity, put him online, and he’ll find love.”

    Which brings us to five surefire ways Feinstein recommends for boosting your ego:

    Immerse Yourself in Something Passionate

    “Throw yourself into something that you can get absolutely lost in,” says Feinstein. “I’m not talking about books. I’m talking about activity, because then you’re not thinking about it.”

    Being consumed with something that you love tends to shift your focus away from almighty you. That leaves less time to think about your own insecurities.

    “When you’re shining and doing something that makes you happy, that makes you approachable,” she counsels.

    Feinstein recalls one client who had always wanted to purchase a motorcycle but had denied himself the pleasure.

    “I encouraged him to do it, and once he did, all of a sudden he started dating,” she says. “I do think that happiness contributes to confidence.”

    Keep the Conversation Focused On Your Date

    “Everybody’s favorite subject is themselves, so you want to talk about the other person,” says Feinstein. “It shows that you’re genuinely interested. It also shows that you have a certain amount of confidence because you don’t need to share all of your stuff on the first date. You know you have something to offer.”

    She says says that when it comes to the art of conversation, there are notable differences between men and women.

    “Men don’t talk — they’re visual. So for men, I would advise talk, ask open-ended questions and get it out there. Guys are so compartmentalized that it’s very difficult to make conversation with them.

    “Women have a tendency to talk too much, and that would show a lack of confidence. They over-analyze everything under the sun.”

    Tying in suggestion No. 1 — a passionate interest — also makes you a more engaging conversationalist for your potential date. Just don’t be overconfident. “You don’t want to do that, because it’s a turn-off,” notes Feinstein.

    Play Host

    Whether you’re at a club, at a social gathering or even one-on-one, Feinstein recommends that you try putting everyone around you at ease.

    “When you’re out there and you’re dating, forget about the rejection,” says Feinstein. “Pretend that you’re hosting a party wherever you are, and that it’s your job to make everybody comfortable, and to learn everybody’s name.

    “This way, you get to meet everybody that’s there and you don’t have that pressure on you. Take the dating part out of the equation and make it easy for yourself.”

    Visualize Your Date as A Pet

    Come again?

    “For guys that are really intimidated by women — and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but just to help with the confidence thing — pretend the woman is a dog and you need to come back to me and tell me what kind of dog she is,” says Feinstein. “That’s your exercise, so you’re not intimidated by her.”

    If you’re a guy, Feinstein says this controversial exercise will help you relax and put the date in perspective.

    “Women will kill me for saying that, but it does take away some of the nerves. Men will go out and they’ll tell me, ‘She was like a poodle’ (high-maintenance) or ‘She was like a Labrador’ — she wants to do this and that and this.

    “They’re judging the date better, instead of thinking, ‘I hope she’s going to like me.’”

    Women can also employ this device, and if the Fido visualization doesn’t do the trick, Feinstein suggests entertaining another substitution that is equally soothing.

    “I turn it into something not as threatening, as a person who isn’t going to reject them,” she explains. “You have to change your thinking.”

    Always Go For the Kiss

    Providing, of course, the evening wasn’t a disaster and that your date isn’t sending signals indicating that such action would be unwelcome. If the date went well, the vibe seems right and you seem to be getting the non-verbal green light, bear this in mind:

    Guys

    “Flirting is like auditioning,” says Feinstein. “You know you’re going to lose, so you may as well go all out anyway and have fun with it.

    “It’s also expectation and guts — women like guts. So you always go in for the kiss, because that shows confidence: ‘I don’t care if you like me or not, I’m still kissing you!’

    “You look wimpy if you don’t.”

    Gals

    “Women have to understand that men have to be the hunters,” says Feinstein. “So let them make their moves. They need it for their egos.”

  • 7 Things to Do Before Your Date

    7 Things to Do Before Your Date

    By Kelly Jones

    You’ve only got one chance to make sure your first impression isn’t a last impression.

    So show up prepared — mentally and physically. Think of this groundwork as some pre-exercise stretching. It keeps you at the top of your game and stops you from pulling anything if the action gets heated.

    Go In The Know
    First dates, especially blind dates, require a host of practical preparations. Get to know a bit about your date through Internet research. Vivien W. from Oakland admits, “I verify my date’s info through excessive Googling, particularly if it is a blind date. I can find anyone online, either through their work, Facebook account, sporting events, charitable stuff, etc. I want to make sure that the guy is respectable and associated with a real place of work.”

    Not only will this enable you to feel at ease about your date’s outlook on life, but you’ll also have some conversation-starters having peeked through their public past and peccadilloes.

    Pump It Up
    Doing something active before hooking up with someone new has many benefits, which may explain its popularity with singles. Dancing around the bedroom to the Priscilla, Queen of the Desert soundtrack has worked for me for years, and another — perhaps more agile — friend does cartwheels down her hall to connect with her quirky inner child.

    Carl M. from Toronto confesses, “I like to get some exercise before a date because it wakes me up, gets me energized and feeling happy through endorphin release.” The message here is to do whatever you need to do to feel fun and full of life, as this attitude will give you a glow and solidify your sense of confidence.

    Come to Rest
    If you suffer from a case of the jitters, best to enjoy a few minutes alone before you go out and share yourself with someone else. You only get to make a first impression once, so it’s important to deal with or work through any pent-up nervous energy. Meditating, drinking tea, reading fiction and massaging your hands or feet are all good ways to deal with that case of nerves.

    And speaking of massaging, masturbating before meeting other singles provides the benefits of that calmer sutra of a great O. The research backs up this practice. It is well documented that masturbation releases endorphins into the bloodstream (causing a sense of well-being and acting as a natural pain reliever) and causes the body to produce oxytocin (akin to valium), which stimulates relaxation and calms nerves.

    Safety First
    Going on a date with someone new can be thrilling and invigorating. But it’s important to keep that rush in perspective and to always be alert and prepared. Don’t assume that Mr. New Guy will be Mr. Nice Guy just because your coworker knows him from the gym. So put your safety first, and tell a friend where you’re going and with whom. Promise to call your pal the minute you get home.

    Supply Your Demand
    Rubber, prophylactic, sheath, blob, scumbag, Frenchie, flunky, glove, Johnny, raincoat, safe, condom. Whatever you call it, pack one in your pants or purse before embarking on your rendezvous. You just never know what you’ll feel like doing.

    It’s a Plan
    Nothing worse than that first in-person encounter that gets off to an awkward start with, “So, what do you want to do?” Followed by, of course, “I don’t know. What do YOU want to do?” The solution, says Colleen K. from Seattle, is a few minutes of prep: “I always check concert, event and movie listings in case there’s nothing to say and you need something to do.” It doesn’t have to be set in stone (spontaneity is much more fun and doesn’t run the risk of you looking too eager or of feeling disappointed because things didn’t go as you’d expected), but it’s good to have an idea or two in waiting.

    Prime Time
    Looking your best ensures you feel your best. Make sure to set aside enough time before your date to work through your body prep routine — trim, shave, pluck, wax, exfoliate, moisturize… whatever it takes so that you feel sexy. My friend Lina G. from Toronto once gave me the following great advice: “Take one close-up look and one from-afar look in the mirror before stepping outside.” In the hours leading up to your outing, remember to eat foods that you know agree with your tummy and don’t cause uncomfortable bloating and gas.

    No one likes a tooter.

  • Can This Simple Trick Improve Your Life?

    Can This Simple Trick Improve Your Life?

    By Shawn Conner

    Who’s on your vision board? The brooding, bat-eared Christian Bale?

    The generously upholstered Kim Kardashian? Cute ‘n’ saucy Katy Perry?

    Sandra, single and 36, placed a picture of Chris Martin on hers. Not because she wanted a copy of the new Coldplay album, but because, she says, she has “a little crush” the Britpop singer.

    Now is the perfect time to take a New Age step and envision your ideal year ahead, and the perfect person to share it with. And the best way to do that, according to the power-of-attraction gurus behind The Secret and various bloggers with a lot of time on their hands, is by constructing a vision board.

    A vision board is, basically, a physical manifestation of your dreams or a visual and verbal articulation of goals. The principle is simple: by figuring out what you want most in life, and then focusing daily on your goals, you can reprogram your brain. Instead of thinking of, say, a cranberry-pecan muffin first thing in the morning, you’ll look up at your vision board, gaze upon a picture of some magazine model’s rippling abs, and reach for that apple instead.

    Martha Beck, appearing on the Oprah show, said she sees two reasons the vision board works. One is something called “selective attention.”

    “If you repeat the word, ‘blue, blue, blue,’ and you start looking around the room, all the blue things will start popping out.” The other reason is, uhm, quantum physics.

    “We know now, scientifically, that consciousness brings matter into being where there was energy,” said Beck. “So it’s not even necessarily that it draws it toward you. The conclusion is you’re literally creating some of this stuff.”

    An O Magazine columnist’s expertise on quantum physics notwithstanding, maybe there is something to this vision-board thing. At least, it doesn’t cost anything to make — although that hasn’t stopped a few people, like The Secret‘s John Assaraf, from trying to make money off the idea (with his Complete Vision Board Kit).

    For your dating vision board, start by collecting a stack of magazines, catalogues or any other visual aids that stir your imagination. Don’t limit yourself to what you have lying around the living room, though, or your board, like ours, might be full of nothing but pictures of the female cast members from Battlestar Galactica. You want to stay focused, but not that focused.

    Once you have your stack, cut out the pictures that most appeal to you, while keeping in mind the type of person you want to attract. Knowing the gender of your ideal partner is a good start, as is a ballpark age. And if you’re fundamentalist Mormon, before starting the project you might also want to figure out the number of life partners you want.

    Then start asking yourself more specific questions. Is she a blonde, brunette or redhead? Is he tall, short, with a full head of hair and a soul patch, or does he have a tattoo of praying hands on his bald skull? Does she have her own business, or does her job involve a pole? Does he front one of the world’s most successful rock bands, or is he currently in a maximum security institution?

    Getting more detailed, blogger Sherrie Hay suggests listing the four qualities your perfect mate must have, along with four qualities that would be the icing on the wedding cake. To that end, find pictures of people who embody those attributes highest on your list.

    For example, this could mean a picture of a fireman for bravery, Mickey Rourke for muscles and hair extensions, and Larry King for style. Or Sarah Silverman for laughs, Michelle Obama for strength, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck for loony rightwing opinions.

    Imagine your life together. Are you living in a deluxe apartment in the city, or a house in the country? Are you partying in a Hells Angels clubhouse or on your way to Burning Man in a motor home? Are you enjoying sun-drenched resorts or snow-packed mountains? Are there children, a surrogate mother? How many cats? Can your mother-in-law find you?

    Once you’ve decided on the pictures that best represent your soul mate and your happily-ever-after, arrange the images on a piece of poster-board. When you have them sorted in an aesthetically pleasing manner, start gluing.

    Blogger/musician/women’s retreat coordinator Christine Kane suggests putting a picture of your smiling, happy self smack dab in the middle, though this might mean moving Tricia Helfer to the sidelines.

    After completion, sit back and admire your handiwork. Congratulations! You’ve just spent an afternoon avoiding housework.

    But more than that, you might be on your way to meeting the man or woman of your dreams.

    Place your dating vision board somewhere you’ll be reminded of your goals daily, like a workspace. (Though probably not the office, unless you want your co-workers to know about your desire to appear on Dancing with the Stars). Hopefully you’ve chosen pictures that bring you a relaxed, happy feeling rather than those that would stress you out, or make you feel like an underachieving loser.

    You should feel, looking at the board, that you’re ready to go to your high school reunion, not like you’ve thrown away your early promise. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to thank the universe, er, Universe, in advance, as though you already have what you desire.

    Apparently this will smooth the transition so you’re ready when the publisher of The Secret pulls up in a truck and starts dumping cash onto your lawn.

    Yeah, the whole thing sounds a little flakey, even to us (and we believe Anderson Cooper is an emissary from the future). It also sounds almost criminally self-absorbed. After all, it’s easy for us, living in a part of the world where we don’t have to worry about falling bombs or blood-thirsty dictators, to cut and paste pictures of homes in Malibu and a reserved table at the French Laundry.

    But, like chicken soup, it probably can’t hurt. And might it not also be used to make us contribute more to society? That is, once we’ve snagged our versions of Chris Martin and Katee Sackhoff.

  • 6 Things to Have on Your Dating Resume

    6 Things to Have on Your Dating Resume

    By Shawn Conner

    In a lot of ways, a first date is like a job interview.

    Both are stressful, intense minefields of potential gaffes. You’re trying out for a position for which you feel grossly under-qualified and someone with way better credentials than yours is always waiting in the wings. You’re often unprepared and you are, quite likely, hungover.

    Both come with some basic guidelines. You don’t want to look like you got dressed in the dark. You want to ask questions and nod at the appropriate times. You want to appear interested but not too interested. And it’s important to have a good resume.

    Not on paper, necessarily, but in your head. When on dates, people look for certain qualifications. Here are six things that you should have on your dating resume:

    Charity work. This demonstrates selflessness, and an ability to not think about yourself 24/7. Perhaps you’ve been a Big Brother or Sister, or run for breast cancer, or served food at a soup kitchen at Christmas. If so, it’s always good to casually — and subtly — drop this into conversation. If you can’t think of anything remotely charitable in your past, then you can say you’ve been seriously considering one of the above options (don’t tell them that just thinking about it made you feel so good you decided not to bother). And, who knows? You might even inspire yourself to actually do something charitable. The Big Brother/Sister is a good one — the time requirement is minimal (a few hours a week) and you might make a new friend. (And where there’s a kid in need of a Big Brother or Sister, there’s often a single parent.)

    Friends with your exes. Exes make the best references, especially if they haven’t taken legal action against you. (And if they have, well, it was a case of mistaken identity and anyway, your date doesn’t need to know about any of that). Try to drop in the name of an ex or two and mention that you’re still buddies. This can be tricky, though, because if you go on at length about your ex, your date might wonder if you still aren’t carrying a torch. So don’t tell him or her about the long weekend away that the two of you have also planned. But, it mightn’t hurt to gently imply that you think the ex might still have a teeny thing for you, particularly if you’re a man, as women are scientifically proven to be attracted to the things others want. Bonus points if you’re friends with an ex-fiancé: this shows that at some point, someone liked you enough to consider spending the rest of his or her life with you.

    Social skills. Having a group of friends demonstrates that you are capable of human interaction and not some kind of cave-dwelling troglodyte stuck in a World of Warcraft. And the more friends you have — real friends, meaning people who actually know you, not names you’ve collected on Facebook — the more likeable you appear to be. A mixture of both same and opposite sex pals suggests that you are well rounded while having only opposite sex friends suggests you’re an eternal flirt and perhaps competitive with your own, and having only same sex friends suggests an inability to relate to the “other.” Talk warmly about the people you know and say nice things about them. Liking others makes you likeable.

    Education. Most of us in the singles market can proudly say we’ve graduated high school, if not community college. Some of us may even have gone on to university or, in the case of those in the Intimate section, graduate school. On a date, this usually doesn’t matter as much as being able to say you’ve gone out of your way to grow as a person by taking a class in, say, pottery or fire-dancing. If you’ve taken any kind of course in the last few years, it would be good to drop this into a conversation — exceptions being work-safety and/or court ordered sexual harassment/sensitivity training seminars. Bonus points if it’s got anything to do with cooking or French.

    Family relations. Guys, it helps to let her know you like and respect your mom; how you treat your maternal parental unit says a lot about how you’re likely to treat her. DON’T make fun of your mom’s cooking, no matter how bad it is (I had one ex tell me, after one too many jokes about my mom’s mashed potatoes, “I’m sure she did the best she could,” which made me feel like a heel). Ladies, do try to be on speaking terms with all the members of your family. Feuds and longstanding grudges look bad; if you haven’t talked to your sister for 10 years because she made fun of your potato salad, this bodes ill for the future should things go wrong between you and your next boyfriend. It certainly doesn’t make family visits seem very appealing.

    Survival skills. At another time, “art appreciation” or “other languages” might have filled this space. But today, when recession, pandemics, and Nancy Grace threaten our very way of life, it’s a facility with a Swiss army knife that counts. Now is the time to drop references about your Boy or Girl Scout experience into the conversation; to mention that fallout shelter you’re building, and that earthquake preparedness seminar you’ve signed up for. Do you know CPR? Do you have a basement full of canned goods? Can you build a fire? Yes? Congratulations. How soon can you start?