Summer Dating on the Cheap

With summer come so many of life’s great pleasures: the warm sun on your back; scantily clad babes on the sidewalk; and perhaps best of all, the ability to woo your girl in fun and creative ways -- without breaking the bank. The possibilities are endless, but to help get you started, we give you our top six picks for summer lovin’ on a shoestring budget.

Date No. 1: Park It Here
Whether it’s your first date or your 50th, your local park is ground zero for easy and inexpensive outings. “On the first date, play Frisbee and go grab an ice cream. That’s enough time to figure out if you want to have a second date,” says Arthur Malov, senior dating coach at NewYorkDatingCoach.com. Other options include taking a stroll in the park at sunset or renting paddleboats by day if your park has a lake or pond. Throw some bread in your pack for the ducks and score bonus points with your girl for being kind to animals.

Date No. 2: Get Your Groove On
Free concerts are a summer mainstay in most every American city and town. This is your chance to check out new sounds -- without the download fee. If it’s a small show and the venue allows, bring a blanket and pack a picnic. If you’re going to see a major artist for free (or a pittance), expect big crowds and forego the picnic. But do bring water for both of you to stay hydrated; she’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness, and you’ll appreciate her not passing out.

Date No. 3: Raise the Roof
When the warm weather hits, restaurants with an outdoor roof deck are a brilliant way to wow your girl. A view equals romance in the minds of most women, even if the chow on offer is burgers and Buffalo wings. Skip the weekend crowds and go on a Tuesday: You and your sweetie will have the place to yourself. No roof restaurants in your hood? Check out patios overlooking a marina or a garden -- there’s gotta be something worth looking at in your town!

Date No. 4: Fairs and Fests
Summer fairs and festivals are the ultimate date venue because there’s so much to see and do, mostly for little or no money. Buy a pair of corndogs and check out the demolition derby. Win something for her from the arcade. (Hint: Nobody loses at the Duck Pond game.) Ride the Ferris wheel and kiss her when you’re stuck at the top. You get the idea.

Date No. 5: Set the Stage
Nothing says you’re a classy dude like Shakespeare, and almost all cities (and many towns) offer some kind of free or inexpensive theatre during the summer. Check your local paper for details, then prepare to bring out your smoothest moves. Pack a picnic of olives, bread and cheese to enjoy before the show (or during, if allowed). Check Wikipedia, and then impress her with insight into the play. Hate the theater? Usually the venue is outside, so pick a cloudy night -- if the show is cut short by rain, you get the culture points without the pain!

Date No. 6: Life’s a Beach
Whether by bus, train, car or a bicycle-built-for-two, get yourself to a beach. It’s the date with the best dollar-to-eye-candy ratio. Bring a blanket, Frisbee, chips and beverages. Offer to help put sunscreen on her back. The rest we’ll leave up to you.

Make the Honeymoon Period Last

Unless you’re getting relationship counseling from Charlie Sheen, you’re probably gonna want to make the heat of a new relationship last a little longer than “The Tonight Show With Conan O’Brien.” How? Just follow these tips and watch the spark of those first few months together turn into a lasting glow.

1. Keep Dating: Let her know you’re still working to woo her and not just satisfied to have her. And be a little open-minded about the kinds of dates you choose. Taking her to every new Adam Sandler movie does not count, even if he does play a different kind of adolescent in each. “Find out what she wants to do,” says Dr. JoAnn Magdoff, a New York City-based psychotherapist and relationship expert. “You won’t only be pleasing her; you’ll be exploring new fun options for yourself.” Make it a regular Saturday night ritual -- or a first-Saturday-of-the-month ritual if you’re broke or cheap.

2. Mix up the Program: Nothing gets you into a romantic black hole like falling into a routine. Get too comfortable with your girl and you’ll miss out on all her signals. And when you become a dull dude, she’ll start looking for Mr. Excitement. Who’s that? Anybody who isn’t you. In fact, it will work better if you actually talk to her about how to make things more interesting. “If you come up with romantic ideas together, you’ll learn more about each other and might wind up trying stuff neither of you would think of doing on your own,” says Magdoff.

3. Wanna Get Away? Don’t fret -- you don’t have to hit Paris or Honolulu to take your baby over the rainbow. Any trip away from your regular surroundings will give you a chance to focus on her alone in a different environment and rebuild the romance. According to Magdoff, you don’t even need to go outside the door to get it done. Instead, construct elements of a romantic trip at home -- a little luau, French love notes hidden around the apartment -- to let your love know you can still work it like Paul Rudd in her favorite rom-com.

4. Co-hobby-tate! Ouch! OK, why don’t you try writing all the snappy headlines? The point is, get into something with your girl that you can learn and grow in together. Whether it’s taking Pilates to get in shape for the summer or an Italian cooking class to keep things hot in all corners of the house, women love it when guys stretch themselves and make an effort to grow the relationship. Yeah, we think it’s goopy too. But it will get you into shape, bring you better meals and make you more attractive to her! It’s a win-win-WIN!

So get off the couch and wipe the crumbs off your shirt. You’ve gotten fat and complacent … and to be honest, even we’re a bit turned off. Just imagine how your girlfriend feels! All it takes is a little effort and innovation to let her know you haven’t forgotten why you asked her out in the first place.

The Grudge Report

Ever hear that saying, “Holding a grudge is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die”? It’s harsh, but spot-on. Harboring resentment, no matter at whom it’s aimed, simply drains your own emotional reserves. “A lot of times a grudge is one-sided,” says Jordan Harbinger, a relationship expert and talk show host on SiriusXM radio. “The other person isn’t necessarily even thinking about the problem.”

The Damage
Even so, says Harbinger, a grudge can wreak havoc on relationships. Say you’re pissed at your girlfriend because she didn’t seem to appreciate the IKEA armoire you spent an entire day slaving over. You decide not to say anything. But when she comes home from the grocery store the next day without the item you asked her to buy, you flip. “She’s thinking, ‘My boyfriend is crazy! I buy rigatoni instead of ravioli, and now I’m sleeping on the couch! What’s going on here?’” says Harbinger. “You just cannot have a healthy relationship if you have a grudge.”

Furthermore, the poisonous effects of a grudge can often spread beyond the two people concerned. If, for instance, you’re not talking to one of your pals, your mutual friends are hardly going to feel inclined to invite both of you to the same dinner party. Says San Diego-based therapist Jeff Palitz: “If you choose to hold on to a grudge, those negative feelings stewing inside of you are bound to affect other relationships you have in your life.” In other words, by harboring a grudge, you end up alienating yourself. The same logic can be applied to families, where grudges can get to the point that no one even remembers what the original problem was, and relatives miss out on decades together without knowing why.

Moving on …
OK, so it’s clear that grudges cause a lot of damage. But getting over hurt feelings … easier said than done, right? And yet, says Palits, “Regardless of the circumstances, there comes a point where you have to decide: I either have to let this go, or I have to do something about it.” Choosing which path to take boils down to one thing: whether you want to maintain a relationship with the other person.

“If the idea of taking the high road is instinctively unappealing to you, maybe that’s a sign you’re not that invested in the relationship,” says Palitz. Just be sure to let the grudge go along with the relationship. To get the feelings out of your system, talk to your friends or family or write in a journal, and keep reminding yourself that holding a grudge against someone with whom you have no intention of resuming a relationship makes absolutely no sense. It will only hurt you, not them.

… Or making up
If, on the other hand, you care about the relationship too much to let it go, you’re going to have to confront the other person. But do so only after you’ve had time to cool down -- which could take 20 minutes or 20 days, depending on the situation. Before approaching the person, Palitz suggests writing a letter to him or her, whether or not you intend to deliver it. In the first draft, let out all the vile, nasty, name-calling things you want. Let it sit for several hours (or days), and then write an edited second draft. It will help you process your emotions and give you a dress rehearsal for talking to the person.

Once you’re ready to talk, be honest. Let’s say one of your friends applied for a job you’d told him about. Because you really wanted it -- and he ended up applying for and landing it -- you immediately stopped talking to him, despite his repeated tries to get in touch with you. Now you’ve got a great new job and you’re kind of missing the old ritual of watching the Patriots together every Sunday. How to break the silence? Pick up your phone and try starting off with: “Listen. It’s been a while since this happened. I don’t even know if you’re still thinking about it, but I want to get it off my chest.” Despite being shocked to hear your voice, he’ll most probably be relieved that you’ve called, and apologetic for what he did. Keep things short on the phone, but make a plan to meet up for the next game. “Guys are often willing to let things roll off their back, particularly with their male friends,” says Palitz. Odds are any awkwardness will be momentary and you’ll soon be rooting for the Pats together like old times.

Foto:@iStockphoto.com/gastonlacombe

Negotiate Like a Girl

It’s the oldest story in the world. Boy meets girl. Boy dates girl. Boy ends up watching Sex and The City 2 and hanging out with girl’s friends all night talking about shoes. And boy starts to wonder: How did this happen?

The answer isn’t actually so complicated. Girls are just better at negotiating for what they want. While boys tend to either make demands, or more often than not just shrug and mumble something incomprehensible to avoid the discussion altogether, girls come to the conversation prepared: They know they want to go to the mall to buy that dress, and they have reasons why it’s that dress and not another, and why it needs to happen when they say. As a result, malls are full of boyfriends schlepping around like the “Walking Dead,” while they could be doing something they actually enjoy. It’s frustrating for them. And frustration builds. The longer things stay this way, the shorter their relationships will be.

But there is a way through this. It’s the art of negotiation, possibly the most useful skill a man can learn. And it’s actually quite simple.

Stage 1: Learn
“The main thing to realize is there are two stages -- a learning stage and a solution stage,” says Laurie Puhn, a lawyer, relationship expert and best-selling author of Fight Less, Love More. “In the learning stage, you’re a detective. You’re searching for the hidden reason she wants to do one thing or another. So you ask neutral questions, like ‘Is there a reason for that?’ You want to understand where she’s coming from.”

Typically -- and much less successfully -- men just skip the learning stage altogether and announce what they want and when they want it. Commands and demands. No one likes to be talked to that way. “You negotiate so people like you,” says Puhn. “It’s very important. And by learning what it is you’re actually negotiating, you gain the high ground. You have the information.”

So, first, take a breath. Don’t just assume that she wants you to do A because she doesn’t want you to do B. And don’t say, “Sure, whatever” or “Hell no, I’m watching football on Monday night.” Instead, use your questions. For example: “Is there a reason we need to go to the mall when the game is on?” Or: “Why would you like me to be there?” The answers may surprise you.

“It may come down to ‘We don’t do enough stuff together’,” says Puhn. “So it’s not a football issue; it’s an attention issue. You wouldn’t know that if you didn’t ask. And just by asking, you’ve shown that you’re concerned about her needs and goals. That’s very important to girls.”

 

Stage 2: Find a Solution
The second stage -- the solution stage -- is trickier. It requires tact and calm and some measure of forethought. But the first thing is to actually know what it is that you want. You’ve asked her what her goals and needs are, so be clear on what yours are too. Then you’re ready to start offering solutions.

“You can make trade-offs,” says Puhn. “While you’re learning where she’s coming from, you can put your own interests together and say: ‘You’re right, we don’t spend enough time together, so how about we go out on Tuesday instead?’ That way you’re solving her real problem. Then explain what you want: ‘I’ve always watched football on Mondays, that’s all. I’d like to continue if I can.’”

A common mistake is to assume that she knows what you want and is just stopping you from having it. And that misunderstanding goes both ways. “A lot of girls think that a guy should just know what she wants,” says Puhn. “It takes some women till they’re in their 30s before they realize that he actually doesn’t -- they need to articulate it!”

Finally, says Puhn, watch your tone. “Speak in a kind way. Stay calm and manage your emotion.” When talking solutions and trade-offs, it’s possible to get a bit exasperated, but it won’t work to fly off the handle. “Remember, your goal is to find a solution, not to win,” explains Puhn. “Because if you win, she loses, and that means she’ll be motivated to win the next time. So you both lose, really. It leads to a rollercoaster relationship with a scorecard.”

In other words, try to remember that she’s your girlfriend, not your opponent. And if she’s determined to watch some dismal chick flick with you, then consider it an opportunity to negotiate for something you want … like renting Jackass 3-D next time. It’s only fair!

How to say you're sorry

We Brits are infamous for apologising -- you’d almost think our third word after “mama” and “dada” were “Sorry!” But the casual apology, repeated umpteen times per day, can become a bit meaningless, if not outright tedious. What about when we need to apologise for real? “Learning how and when to apologise is an important life skill,” says Nigel Summerton, an experienced relationship councillor and the senior partner at Plymouth-based Personal and Relationship Counselling. We spoke to Summerton and other relationship councillors about how to do it right.

Tip no. 1: Say it like you mean it
A quick, off-the-cuff apology can sometimes do more harm than good. For it to mean anything to the recipient, it has to mean something to you. “It starts with acknowledging and genuinely regretting a transgression,” says Summerton. “You should want to put things right, rather than simply apologising to keep the peace.” On the other hand, says Mo Kurimbokus, a supervising relationship counsellor with Relate (a national federated charity with over 70 years’ experience supporting the nation’s relationships), you don’t want to mull over your feelings too long before speaking up. “Sometimes people need some space to calm down, but if you know you’re in the wrong, apologising quickly can stop a situation in its tracks,” he says. Either way, make sure it’s sincere. Otherwise, regardless of when you say it, it will fall on deaf ears.

Tip no. 2: And if you don’t mean it, don’t say it!
Apologising to make another person happy may cool things off for now, but over time it inevitably leads to resentment. A better tactic is to engage the person -- find out what they’re feeling and why they seem to expect an apology. Says Annie Wilson, a partner at Norfolk-based Family and Relationship Counselling and a practising Relate councillor with over 16 years’ experience, “Ask for clarification about where the other person is coming from. In that way, you can at least begin to understand what is happening between you and try to build from there.” You may even find you agree with their position and feel that an apology is in order -- only now, you can give it genuinely.

Tip no. 3: Get your apology accepted
Even with the best of intentions, a simply apology often isn’t enough. Of course it depends on the nature and depth of the transgression, but assuming you did more than accidentally step on someone’s toes, you need to give it your heartfelt all. Wilson offers a four-point plan for ensuring that your apology is virtually impervious to rejection.

  1. Listen carefully to the other person’s complaint.
  2. Say you’re sorry without implying any blame. In other words, take responsibility for what happened and use "I" rather than "you" statements.
  3. Offer a strategy for change.
  4. Listen to the other person’s response and follow through on whatever is agreed upon.

Tip no. 4: Give forgiveness a chance
At this point, you’ve really done all you possibly can in the apology department. But, warns Kurimbokus, don’t confuse acceptance of an apology with forgiveness. The final step in the apology process, forgiveness, has to be earned, and it can take time for the other person to regain their trust in you. “Depending on the dispute and the amount of pain caused, you may need to put together a game plan to begin to repair the hurt,” Kurimbokus says. “Talking things though with a trusted third party can often be a good way to start.”