Ask What Your Friends Can Do For Your Love Life

Want to improve your love life, but don't know who to turn for advice? Here's our step-by-step guide for getting honest feedback from those who know you better than anyone else… your friends.

By Amy Klein

ating advice can be maddeningly confusing. One dating expert says "be mysterious," while another says "don't play games." A third insists that women like tough guys, while yet another says they prefer sensitive men. So who's right?

The truth is that when it comes to dating, one-size-fits-all advice doesn't apply. You wouldn't see a doctor who made the same diagnosis for every health
Opinions, they say, are like a certain body part; everyone has one.
issue or a mechanic who only knows how to change a carburetor, right? That's why depending on dating advice from strangers can be dicey… but who better to get advice from than your friends?

Your friends have been with you through thick and thin, and they know your best and worst qualities (well, maybe not absolute worst…). Chances are good, then, that they also know something about you that might help improve your dating life. Here's how to find out:

Step 1: Find the right person
Opinions, they say, are like a certain body part; everyone has one. That's why you want to make sure to approach the right friend for advice. "If you have a loving friend who thinks you are great in general, it would be a wonderful thing for you to ask that person for honest feedback about what you are doing to sabotage yourself in terms of dating," says Dr. Diana Kirschner, author of Sealing the Deal: The Love Mentor's Guide to Lasting Love. "Sometimes your friends can be spot-on in their feedback, because contrary to a professional, they see you in action with the people you are dating."

Step 2: Ask for help
Friends are the first ones to tell you "Wow, she sounded crazy" or "He's a real jerk!" when you want to vent after a weird date or painful breakup. But the very same friends probably have a more honest opinion of the situation — if you're ready to hear it. At the end of Chapter 10 in their book, Much Ado About Loving: What Our Favorite Novels Can Teach You About Date Expectations, Not So-Great Gatsbys, and Love in the Time of Internet Personals, Jack Murnighan poses this question to his coauthor, Maura Kelly: "I know it seems kind of emasculating when a guy likes you that much, but isn't that better than one who doesn't like you enough?" The two take turns analyzing classic works of literature for lessons in love, and even though Kelly finds an ardent pursuer like the fictional Jay Gatsby to be just as "creepy in the real world," Murnighan disagrees. "To my eye, calling an extra-good boyfriend a wet blanket is a minor variation on the not-wanting-to-be-in-the-club-that-would-have-you complex. You'd be well served to change your mind on that one."

Step 3: Learn how to infer someone's opinion without asking for it
In life, we are always getting subtle (and not-so-subtle) feedback. The waitress will scowl at you if you're not polite enough, your sister will tell you that your shirt's too tight and your boss will tell you to "look alive." All interpersonal issues come up in dating, too. "I was
I wonder if the distractedness that bothered my friend also bothered my dates.
out to lunch with my girlfriend," says Robin, 32, from New Hampshire. "And after I checked my phone for the third time, she took it away from me and told me I had a problem." Of course, Robin had always kept her BlackBerry addiction in check during first and second dates, but she never seemed to make it past the third date. "I wonder if the distractedness that bothered my friend also bothered my dates," she says.

Step 4: Realize that you never know where good advice might be lurking
Sometimes, good advice comes from the place you'd least expect to find it. Joel W., a lawyer working in downtown Chicago, didn't really think his childhood friend, Sari, would understand his plight. After all, she was a suburban mother of three who had married her high school sweetheart. "I was obsessing over my latest crush — another lawyer who wouldn't give me the time of day outside of work — and Sari just looked at me perplexedly and said, 'I don't understand why you are trying to go out with all these women who aren't interested in you,'" Joel recalls. It was his friend's tone that got Joel to listen, because he finally saw that it really didn't make any sense. Even though he hasn't found true love yet, "I've stopped wasting my time on people who aren't interested in me," admits Joel.

Step 5: Be careful what you wish for…
Some people forget the "constructive" part of "constructive criticism," and if you give them an inch, they'll take a mile. While Marni M., a 29-year-old TV executive in Los Angeles, complained to her best friend about her perpetual state of singleness, she said rather rhetorically: "Why can't I find someone?" Her friend started to list (in alphabetical order, it seemed) what she thought Marni's problems were. "I realized that was more about what she didn't like about me, so I just laughed and made sure never to complain to her again," says Marni.

Step 6: Be gracious, even when you don't like what you hear
Advice is like a birthday present: you might get something you won't like, but it's still important to realize that it's all coming from a good place. "If someone does give you feedback, make sure your express your thanks, even though it might hurt a bit," Dr. Kirschner says. "And definitely try on what was said for size — see where there may be a nugget of truth in it. It could be one of the most valuable things he or she ever gives you."

7. Take everything you're given with a grain of salt
Gather up all the advice from your nearest and dearest, and then take stock: Which advice was helpful? Which should be ignored? You're the only one who can judge: After all, the person who really knows you best is yourself.

The most important thing to remember is that, in the end, we are all imperfect. And it's these very imperfections — like her loud laugh, or his color-blind fashion sense — that make us endearing to someone who's in love.

Amy Klein writes the weekly “Fertility Diary” column for The New York Times’ Motherlode blog. Her website is
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