Anyone who's dated for any length of time can rival the best cocktail party conversationalist with tales from love's battlefield (thank you, Pat Benatar – and also "13 Going on 30" for the reprisal). Gather round, ye partygoers, and get gobsmacked by the one about the dude who waxed on about colon cleansing or the woman who meant to seduce someone by throwing down the gauntlet, and her clothes, and telling him to do better this time.
But there's a happy ending here. Even the most romantically challenged of daters can find the perfect match, and soon, according to Janet Page, an Atlanta psychotherapist who for 22 years taught an Emory University course to that effect. The misguided stripper is one of her examples. (The colon guy, who marveled that "you can't believe what they find in there!" and went on to discuss what they found, was a date of mine, who also seems to have partnered up – not with me.)
If you really want to get married, and 70 percent of people claim they do, then you've got to think hard about how you come across to prospective mates, Page says, explaining that "getting married is getting into self-marketing." But often, people lack the awareness of how they look and seem as they hurry into Starbucks for that first coffee date, slicking on a last-minute swipe of deodorant or lipstick. If that's you, by the way, listen up: "Harried is not a good date look," Page says.
These and other tips are neatly wrapped up in Page's Tiffany-blue book emblazoned with a Tiffany-looking ring around its title: "Get Married This Year." But don't get too caught up on the time frame, though it's emphasized in the subtitle: "365 Days to 'I Do.'" That's more about marketing, as is the book's angle on finding Mr. Right, she says. The lessons are gender-neutral ones culled from years of working with marriage-minded singles and her own experience. The point of the timeline is to set goals around the process so you can get successfully married. "If I said get married in two years, [daters] wouldn't start for one," she says.
[Read: How to Claim the Love of Your Life.]
For her part, Page says she married too quickly during a time when she was still grieving over becoming a widow. Only many years later, when she was writing this book, did she decide to take her own advice and married a man about a year and three months after meeting him online.
A big part of what she's learned is the importance of being ready for marriage, and the book begins by asking readers to take a quiz to determine if they are prepared to take the conjugal leap. Several other quizzes abound as do myths and facts like, "the right person will complete you" (myth) vs. "the right person will be a good match for the person you are" (fact). All are meant to bolster self-awareness so that daters can feel empowered to recognize the values they seek in a mate and possess, or aim to, themselves.
Among the key lessons:
Get going. "If you needed a job, you'd be hungry if you didn't go get one, but needing love is a different type of hunger – and you don't absolutely have to make it happen quickly – and it's more frightening," Page says. Going out on bad dates, as many can attest, can wind up very depressing. But the alternative, waiting for "the one" to drop in your lap, is not an alternative, she says. It takes work to seek out top prospects and cut loose the ones who don't cut muster. "This is about taking action, and if you're sitting around daydreaming about somebody, do something, or move on to the next one."
Get rid of the naysayers. You know all those people who wring their hands over the lack of quality men and women, or the ones who lament the dismal ratio of men to women in your city. Well, even if that is the reality, it doesn't have to be your reality. Jettison the killjoys, if only temporarily. Page likens this strategy to losing weight, when you have to avoid the people who seem bent on wrecking your new diet. "If you say you want to get married, it can be shocking how some people think that's laughable," she says. "Hasn't everyone gone for at least something that the probability was not super high they would get it?" she asks. "This is marriage. You only need one."
[Read: How to Make Love Last.]
Get online. While Page thinks getting introduced to someone is the best way to meet a potential spouse, online dating affords a world of opportunity – and it could actually make marrying in a year possible, she says. "Both men and women lie about age, height and weight," she says, "but if you take the basics of describing themselves, for the most part, people are honest." Just be careful to meet up in a safe place and only once you know someone.
Get your game face on. Smile. No one wants to date Debbie Downer. "Both men and women want somebody who laughs and smiles and has a sense of humor and can be playful, and the men, in particular, do not take criticism well," she says. So, go with a lighter, kinder touch. "I think everything can be wrapped up in a more positive way, and one of the talents in a good relationship is to be able to know big from little, so that you're giving in to all kinds of little things, but on the big ones, you work them out."
[See: 8 Ways to Become an Optimist.]
Get it right. What happens after all that work to get hitched? More work. The last section of the book, "Keeping Love Alive," is devoted to what comes next because, as she says, "What's the point of marrying somebody if you can't enjoy it ?"
Getting it right hinges on good communication. "You're not going to be able to have a good match if you don't feel understood, and you can't feel loved if you don't feel understood. And you can't be understood if you're not willing to communicate and be self-revealing," she says. "And to give that type of love to somebody, you have to be able to hear them and listen."
[Read: How to Be a Good Listener.]