Dating school. It sounds weird, right? Makes you imagine a bunch of fully grown adults sitting in a classroom, uncomfortably taking notes while wondering how to possibly interact with the opposite sex. (So kind of like normal school, only without the pain of acne and having to find a formal date.)
In other words, the very term ‘dating school’ implies having to go back in time in order to learn something you really should have picked up from real-life experiences the first time around.
But according to dating expert and psychologist Melanie Schilling, who also runs her own online dating program, there is no shame to having ‘missed’ the ins and outs of dating culture, quite simply because Australia doesn’t really have one.
“It all comes from a bigger picture observation about the dating culture in Australia or, more to the point, the lack of one,” Schilling told The Huffington Post Australia. “We don’t have a dating culture here.
“Compared to the [US] — where people grew up in the 50s and 60s and went on dates and that’s what they did — we just didn’t do that here.
“Now we have arrived at this awkward place in Australia where people go out in packs — guys in a pack, girls in a pack — and it’s very rare we actually approach each other.”
The awkwardness doesn’t end there, either. Schilling rightly points out that, for a nation known for being outgoing and friendly, we are surprisingly cagey when it comes to interactions with strangers of the opposite sex.
“If we are going about our normal business, grocery shopping for example, and someone comes up and God forbid starts talking to us and flirting with us, we think they are crazy and want to get away. We just don’t have that openness to crossing boundaries. We’re very protective,” Schilling said.
“And that’s not even taking into account what’s going on in the digital dating scene.”
Given Schilling’s stance on the Aussie dating culture not being too crash-hot to begin with, it’s no surprise she finds the popularity of online dating has only made things worse.
“It’s just communicating with people online and arranging hook ups,” she pointed out. “Where does the dating happen? What happens to our self esteem? Where does that factor in?
“As a result of all this, I’m seeing a lot adults launching themselves in the dating world without being ready. What [dating school] is actually about is date readiness.”
Okay… so how does one get ‘date ready’?
According to Schilling, the first step is to ‘date yourself’ (and bear with her here.)
“This is all about working out who you are, what you have to offer and what your strengths are,” Schilling said. “It actually really helps with writing a dating profile.
“These are the things you are really proud of and confident about, which is extremely important. It boosts esteem and builds rapport. Well-being is sexy. Self respect is alluring.”
The next steps involve getting into what Schilling describes as “a positive dating mindset” and developing your “personal dating brand.”
“Part of this is letting go of baggage, mastering your self talk, and setting yourself up for a really positive experience,” Schilling said. “Dating can be hard and very stressful. There can be a lot of rejection. So it’s really important to build up your resilience and internal resources.
“In terms of your personal dating brand, this is about who you are in your dating world. It’s defining yourself from the inside out, determining your values and the things that are fundamentally important to you.”
It’s at this stage Schilling says some people come to a stumbling block, as she advises them to focus on finding people with similar values instead of what they perceive as attractive physical qualities.
“People find this tricky as it can mean letting go of your expectations. On the flip side, you’re stepping into something much more authentic,” Schilling said.
“So while you might have to let go of the idea of dating someone tall, dark and handsome, you might instead focus on finding somebody who shares the same sense of family, adventure and health.
“I have experienced plenty of people surprising themselves once they have that mindset shift and focus on internal features rather than external. I hear it all the time. ‘I never wanted to date a redhead! And here I am, in love with this ginger!’
“People find what they thought were deal-breakers are actually preferences, and won’t actually matter at all if everything else in place.”
Finally, Schilling advises people to figure out their dating strategy, and to approach it both online and offline.
“It should be two prong –online and offline — and be a values-based approach. You want to make sure you are fitting in the right pool and going about it in a really positive and empowered way.”
Is dating school for everyone? The short answer is ‘no’.
“It is not for people who are not psychologically ready to date. If you’re still carrying a lot of pain or resentment about past relationships, dating school probably isn’t right for you,” Schilling said.
“It’s very much based on positive psychology. If you are not ready to step into optimism, you will very likely find it to be a frustrating process.
“It’s also not for people who are quite just happy hooking up. This is about really stepping into a serious committed relationship and saying goodbye to the hook up culture.
“The types of people dating school does cater really well to are those who are coming out of marriages or long term relationships and are re-entering the dating scene, or those who are maybe tired of the swiping culture and want to find something more meaningful, but who don’t know where to start.”