“So what’s your story?” your date innocently asks. The question seems so simple, so delightfully inquisitive even. I’ve been asked it on dates, at networking events and family reunions. Yet I happen to find the question infuriating! I feel as if I’m being asked to neatly summarize the events of my life, including my professional life and personal growth trajectory, into a few easily digestible sentences. I’m tempted to snap back, “You want a resume, the URL of my LinkedIn profile or my mission statement?” But of course, this is my problem. The asker is simply saying, “I’d like to know you better. Would you tell me a little more about yourself?”
The questioner isn’t asking you to take stock of your entire existence and frame it into a compelling narrative on the spot. Nor are they looking to hear what you might be thinking at that moment when you walked into the wine bar, such as “I put on a few pounds since I posted my photos, and this dress is really tight, and I’m hoping you won’t notice.” or “I’ve been single a while, and I’m really terrified about being back out there. So please don’t reject me.”
Most likely, if you’re on a date, here’s what the question is really getting at:
- Why are you doing online dating?
- What are you looking for?
- What’s your past relationship experiences?
- What’s your readiness for a relationship?
- Do you have a negative view about your past or dating in general?
No doubt you’re selling yourself. But the good news is that your story doesn’t have to be a shiny version that you think people want to hear. It just has to show you’re a regular person with a slightly messy past but resilient spirit. Most important, your story reassures them that there’s room in your life for them. You are someone they’d like to spend more time with.
Here are some tips on how to shape and tell your “story”:
1) Don’t limit yourself
You’re not your job title or hobby. You’re not your relationship status, either. So don’t limit the full range of what you’re about. What do you enjoy? Where are you going? What matters to you?
Of course, your date knows a little bit about you already, especially since you wrote a profile and exchanged a few emails. He probably already knows you’re a kindergarten teacher who moved from Minneapolis to Miami last year. So offer some big picture perspective along with your biographical info and key dating facts.
Examples: “Well, I’m new to the area and have really been enjoying discovering Miami’s Cuban restaurants. I’ve been trying eHarmony for a few months and have met some nice people. I was married out of college and have been single a few years and feel ready to meet someone.”
“I’m a dad to two great boys. My divorced was finalized a year ago, so it’s taken some adjustment. But I’ve got every other weekend to myself and want to welcome a significant other into my life.”
2) Make it positive
You should always keep your communication positive, but it’s especially important when recounting your “story,” which is an encapsulated version of your worldview. Are you dissing online dating? Do you add cynical comments when mentioning your divorce with a sinister laugh, such as “Well, I never thought the love of my life would betray me”?
They’re not just asking about what you’re saying – but how you’re saying it. And whatever you do, please don’t say that you’ve gone on a lot of disappointing dates lately. It’s an unfortunate part of dating, but it’s not part of your story.
3) Account for the past with a light touch
It’s tempting to want to articulate “how you got to where you are today” with the same thoroughness you’ve applied to figuring it out yourself. But your recipients really don’t want the full personal growth report of how you’re working on creating better boundaries with people or that you finally figured out your ex was a narcissist and you made a vow only to date people who care about your feelings.
And absolutely don’t apologize for where you are today! It’s a fact of life that all relationships don’t work out. Sometimes people stay single longer than they’d like. Never begin your story with “I’m embarrassed that … “ or “I never thought I’d be in this place in my life.” Own where you are. What’s important is where you plan on going.
4) Be hopeful about the future
You always want to communicate that you’re headed somewhere great and looking for someone who wants to join you on your journey. Don’t conclude your story by saying, “So I guess I’ll give dating another try” followed by a heavy sigh. Who wants to sign up for that? Tell your date that you’re in a good place in your life and seeking a wonderful partner. Your date will be more likely to think, “Oh, maybe that could be me!”
What do you think is important to include when telling your “story”?
About the Author:
Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate, and Salon.