BOYFRIEND UNIVERSITY: Dating and Self-Awareness

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

by: Alan Robarge

Dating is work! A lot goes into getting ready to date. Most of us focus on our appearance – new shirt, shoes, underwear, etc. Maybe it’s time for whiter teeth or a trip to the salon. However, the real preparation is internal as we prepare to take risks. When dating, we risk exposing ourselves to new strangers. We risk being judged. Worse case scenarios, we prepare for awkward dinners, bad conversations, and occasional rejections. “You’re a nice guy but… there’s no chemistry.” It’s no wonder many of us hate dating.

Dating for me has felt mostly contrived. It has been like mixing together a job interview with a beauty pageant while running for class president and simultaneously taking confession at church as I sit through complicated dental work. Perhaps you can relate?

My dating history is not very impressive. I remember a time once in Chicago when I joined a dating service. I went on a blind date with a guy who looked like a cross between Kenny G and Fabio without the alto sax or the muscles. Over a conversation-strained lunch, Kennio says to me, “Well, the dating service only calls me when they can’t find anyone to go out with somebody.” Needless to say, there was no love connection. I did however reclaim some of my dignity, after receiving a full refund from the service along with a written apology. Now imagine reading that letter: “Dear Alan: We are sorry that we couldn’t find anybody for you.”

Despite all the horrors of dating, it can also be full of promise. There is a thrill and mystery to meeting a new man. It’s fun to flirt. It’s fun to anticipate outcomes. It’s fun to make-out in his car and fog up the windows. Also dating can bring a welcomed change of pace to our otherwise ordinary routines. It livens up the week or brightens our weekends. Dating offers the prospect of companionship, friendship, and sometimes sex.

Mostly, I think dating affirms our core beliefs about relationships and fortifies our desires to love and be loved. Regardless if a specific date is boring or if you find a particular man annoying, the fact that you put yourself out in the world as available affirms a fundamental confidence that one day you will meet a lover. If you never date or never try, then chances are you don’t really believe in relationships. Perhaps you don’t believe you’re ready, capable, or worthy. Maybe you don’t believe in love.

So like all relationships, dating (as a kind of relationship) serves as a profound mirror, reflecting back to you who you are. Your experience of dating tells you something about yourself or about your relationship to yourself. Let’s test my theory. Do you remember the letter I mentioned above? It read, “Dear Alan: We are sorry that we couldn’t find anybody for you.” Now all humor aside, this sentence reveals how I felt about myself at that time in Chicago.

For sake of brevity, let me share with you in shorthand that I was suffering from extreme loneliness and fear of being unlovable. Although on the outside I was charismatic, gregarious, and friendly, inside I was hiding. I was emotionally closed-off and living disconnected from knowing me. So the letter as a mirror speaks not only to other’s experience of me but it reflects back my own relationship to myself. If I rewrite the letter, it now reads “Dear Alan: We are sorry that you cannot find yourself!” It is no wonder why I didn’t meet a man at that time in my life. The truth is I didn’t want to meet me either – I couldn’t find me.

So to apply this theory to your life take an honest inventory of your dating history and then contemplate how those experiences reflect back core beliefs about dating, relationships, and love. Chances are it will be revealing. Also keep in mind this exercise doesn’t have to reveal only painful emotions or limiting beliefs. It can highlight positive qualities as well – like the one affirmed for me on my first date with David!

After eating pizza at David’s apartment, he asked me to spend the night. I answered no. My reason included paraphrasing the film Like Water for Chocolate. I referenced a moment in the film where passion was compared to a candle burning too intensely. I told him according to the film a passionate flame might glow brightly but only briefly – a steady flame radiates longer. Translation: I was holding out for a relationship.

When it was time to say goodbye, David and I stood at his doorway. He leaned forward to kiss me but then hesitated. Before continuing, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a book of matches. He struck one match not looking, keeping his eyes fixed on mine. As the match burned at his fingertips, he leaned forward and gave me the most passionate, knee-buckling, get-out-of-town, fantastic kiss ever! When the kiss was over, he said, “Alan, you’re a passionate man. Your fire will always burn brightly!” Then he extinguished the burning match. In short, he helped me recognize my own passion for relationships.

Now go out there and date each other!

Alan Robarge is a Philadelphia-based Psychotherapist in private practice. Learn more at or send an email to

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