By Sara Eckel
In her memoir, Bossypants, comedian Tina Fey explains how performing improvisational comedy made her a stronger person: “What I learned about ‘bombing’ as an improviser at Second City was that it doesn’t kill you. No matter how badly an improv set goes, you will still be physically alive when it’s over,” Fey writes.
This is one of the most interesting things about human resilience: Very often the best way to deal with your deepest fear is to have it realized.
In January, online dating sites like this one see their highest level of traffic—because it’s a new year, and because Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Lots of people are boldly venturing into the coffee shops and wine bars of America and saying Hi, nice to meet you. Let’s see if we can start a life together, shall we?
It’s a lot like improv. You’re required to perform in a situation with many unknown variables, and the stakes feel very high—no one likes to bomb.
And yet, we all do sometimes. Despite our efforts—the selecting of nice clothes, the telling of (what we think are) amusing stories—sometimes our performance falls flat, and we sit across from a silent, mirthless audience of one signaling the waiter for the check.
It feels terrible, but as Fey might say, it’s not fatal. No matter how badly things go, you live. Spill soup on your date. Make a wildly insensitive comment. Tell a bad joke. You don’t die. Even if you get your heart broken, you find that your body refuses to expire.
When you know you can survive a bad date, you’re able to go on another—and another, and another. And you can start to notice that each one is different. You may not have been wildly attracted to the guy you saw on Tuesday, but he was nice and had interesting things to say about your city’s mayoral race. As opposed to Monday’s dude, who monologued about himself for forty minutes and stuck you with the check. You start to see that everyone walks into that coffee shop or brew pub with a complicated history that has nothing to do with you.
Even when you’re completely blindsided by a bad date or failed romance, you still recover. It may take some time, but at some point you find yourself absorbed in some project—preparing the company’s annual report, painting the dining room. You’ll go out with friends and realize you’re having a good time
Each time you do this, you build strength. It’s like going to the gym—the resistance of the weight builds the muscle. Progress happens slowly—the result of a zillion small decisions to forgo the cronut or take another step on that god-awful treadmill—but if you stick with it, you’ll see results.
Learning to manage the emotional challenges of dating won’t make you drop a dress size or win an Oscar. But it can enable you to develop an internal sense of confidence and dignity that is independent of other people’s opinions. That’s a skill that has applications far beyond the coffee shop.
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