08/10/2012 08:19 am ET Updated Oct 10, 2012

Openhearted Dating

It's a cold, hard world, and that includes the dating world. Meeting a total stranger I've contacted for the first time online makes me feel anxious. There's no trust, and far more questions than answers. None of this puts me into an openhearted space, but I push past that feeling because I've discovered it's worthwhile.

How can I connect openheartedly, even minimally, with someone with whom I share no history? What would that leap of faith look like? Why does it feel all right to offer a woman a small window into my heart, a glimpse into my persona? Talking about how we feel about our lives, and not just what we think about them, helps each of us gain a deeper insight.

Telling a woman how I'm feeling about my work, friendships, relationship needs, passions and interests, on a deeper than surface level, tells her, "Know enough about me to decide if a second date is warranted." Even if this is our first and last date, we have decided based on honest and authentic shared information.

But even before a first date, I try to make the kinds of choices that make being openhearted feel less risky. I try to interpret what women write about themselves in their online dating profiles. I accomplish this by actually reading their profiles, not just scanning them. Sure, I look at the photos first. I'm a guy, and that's what guys do. But when I take some time I frequently discover relevant information. If I hope to meet my soul mate, I have to be circumspect.

I'm not much of a drinker, but I enjoy an occasional glass of wine, usually with dinner. When a woman posts that she never drinks in her profile, I consider the possible reasons for her absolute avoidance. Some women simply don't like alcohol. Some are allergic to sulfites in wine. Some have addiction issues. I respect a woman's boundaries around drinking, and at the same time, hope that my occasional glass of wine isn't a deal killer. Rigidity isn't conducive to openheartedness.

Extreme religious attitudes preclude me from feeling openhearted, particularly if the same level of zealotry is expected in return. I feel more openhearted with a woman who describes herself as spiritual, but not religious.

I grew up in Boston in a drafty, old house, so the thought of skiing sends a familiar chill up my spine. Compromise is a part of every relationship, but having to negotiate how we spend our winters before we even begin dating, seems counterintuitive. Enough will come up in the course of a relationship that will require compromise without entering into a situation that necessitates it before it even begins.

I work out and take pride in being in shape and healthy. I don't feel openhearted about a woman who describes her physicality as having "a few extra pounds." I don't have any personal animus towards her. I just don't feel inclined to date an overweight woman. Whether or not that's shallow is irrelevant, because chemistry and attraction, particularly in the beginning, are critical.

There's a fair amount of confusion, and no protocol regarding dating manners. For instance, a man or woman not attracted to their coffee date might behave in an emotionally distant manner, hoping to suggest a lack of interest in a second date. There's no end to the comments I receive from women about men who say they'll call, but don't, even though men's reasons for not being interested in a second date are likely valid and reasonable. Hurt feelings result when those reasons remain unspoken, and that's entirely unnecessary.

The woman on that coffee date might have felt attracted and openhearted about that man, but when he says he'll call and doesn't, she'll likely develop the attitude that men just aren't open to relationships. This is where emotional honesty plays an important role. I know it's extremely difficult, and I struggle with it too, but telling a coffee date that you've enjoyed the conversation, but aren't feeling any attraction, would help that person believe you did in fact show up with an open heart.

Taking some of the sting out of dating would make it less difficult. If men and women express their true feelings about a second date, it would spare some hurt feelings later. I've felt badly when a woman was open and honest about not having any interest in moving forward with me, but after a few moments, I've always appreciated her truthfulness. Emotional honesty and openhearted dating are linked. It's kind to be emotionally honest, no matter how difficult that feels in the moment, because it allows the other person to remain openhearted the next time they meet someone.

Openhearted dating is possible, but it requires thoughtfulness and integrity. While dating manners are virtually non-existent, I'm trying to develop some that reflect how I'd like to be treated.

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