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Tough Love

Five reasons it's difficult to date in Denver—and what you can do about it.

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No. 1: Lack of Dating Know-How
Few things about dating are more apparent than this: We are just plain bad at it. It’s not that we’ve learned the rules and tossed them out the window; it’s more what we aren’t learning in the formative years of relationship development. Hooking up? Yes—in the most literal of senses. Dating? Like good old-fashioned courtship? ‘Fraid not. We’ve forgotten how to date in a traditional sense because we’re instant gratification junkies (thank you, modern technology). We simply aren’t acquiring the skills to successfully start and maintain adult relationships.

Cue Dr. Jennifer Oikle, a Denver psychologist and founder of the online dating-help site Mysoulmatesolution.com. Here, Dr. Oikle’s four fundamentals to step up your dating game:

Train Your Date: Don’t Be Shy With Preferences
From the beginning, teach your date how you like to be treated by accepting only great behavior. When the first warning signs crop up (off-color remark? Jekyll-Hyde syndrome around the friends?), voice your concerns.

Use Smart Tech-iquette: Stop Dating Your BlackBerry
Do not let cyber-chat become a substitute for face time or use it as an easy way out of hard discussions. Too much digi-talk sends mixed messages and causes unnecessary hurt feelings. And when you are out with someone, make sure your device isn’t getting more attention than your date.

Be Self-Aware: Decide, Don’t Slide
We tend to progress through relationships, daze-like, without making conscious decisions. (This may come as a revelation when you wake up one day and wonder how you share a house and a dog with someone to whom you just can’t commit). Step back at major junctures and be honest with yourself; being unsure of the next step most likely means: Don’t take it.

The Good-bye Sandwich: An Easy, Explicit Ending
When you want out, own up to your feelings; never just disappear. Try the good-bye sandwich: something positive (“I haven’t laughed this much in a long time”) + it’s over (I get the feeling we just aren’t the right fit”) + well-wishing (“you’ll make someone lucky really happy”). Voilá. Graceful exit, sans bad rep.

No. 2: The Colorado Effect
Ever glance around to find a sea of sun-kissed faces that look like they don’t have a care in the world except how to choose which breathtaking mountain resort to visit this weekend? Yeah. Welcome to Colorado—the twilight zone of perpetual soul fulfillment and inner happiness.

Think again, says Dr. Howard Markman, codirector of the Center for Marital and Family Studies at the University of Denver, and cofounder of couples therapy organization Loveyourrelationship.com. Markman says Coloradans actually aren’t so radiant in the relationship department. In fact, Colorado’s divorce rate is 20 percent higher than the rest of the country’s. What gives?

To begin with, says Markman, our standards are skewed because of what he’s dubbed the Colorado Effect: “Generally, there are higher expectations for happiness here,” he says, “because people think, ‘I’m in a beautiful place, therefore I should be happy.'” In other words, if something’s not perfect, we’re less likely to work at it than those who live somewhere less inspiring. “We have a tendency in relationships to move on too quickly.”

To relieve this pressure, Markman says, you’ve got to understand the dynamics of your relationship in the context of where we live. First, take advantage of Colorado rather than letting it hamper your relationship. “We have a tendency toward inertia,” he says—and when we feel like we’re missing out on what Colorado has to offer, it’s easy to be disappointed or blame your partner. Make a point to plan dates that are inherently fun and let you experience Colorado together, like biking or cooking a farmers’-market meal. And second, embrace the differences that arise from such activities. “There’s a whole set of findings that show pretty conclusively that it’s not the differences between people that matter,” Markman says, “but rather how those differences are handled.”

No. 3: The Peter Pan Syndrome (Confessions of a “Colorado Lifestylist”)
In a state full of young-at-heart folks who view recreation as religion, pursuing love might seem less enticing than pursuing a powder stash. How does that shake out in matters of the heart? To find out, we caught up with Colorado native ski legend and Vail resident Chris Anthony, veteran of 19 Warren Miller films and the ultimate ski-toting, jeep-driving, adventure-seeking bachelor at 39 years old.

5280: Has settling down taken a backseat to playing in the mountains?
Chris Anthony: I did date this girl once who got me one of the first bound copies of the Peter Pan book. Lots of girls give me self-help books. I had like five copies of The Celestine Prophecy at one point.

Do you think this adventuresome spirit is a legitimate stumbling block?
I read once that the highest levels of ADD are in Colorado and the mountain communities. People take that energy and put it into adventure and outdoor activities. Unfortunately, I think that kind of prepackaging you bring to a relationship as you get older carries more weight than the relationship itself.

What does this mean for your dating life?
It’s horrible. Not healthy. For women, I think the sense of adventure might be there; the thought of it is attractive and romantic. But the reality feels a little unsafe.

Are you optimistic about meeting “the one?”
When a girl finally drops her guard, it’s amazing how fast things go. It freaks most guys out. When girls decide it’s game on, it’s pretty much game on. I haven’t been able to move that quickly. You want to take care of them, provide, do the things you’re supposed to do. But if you’re still kind of winging it yourself, that becomes a scary situation.

Words of wisdom from Never-Never Land?
In the end, it’s super-important to have somebody in your life. You could be standing on top of a mountain, but if you’re doing it by yourself, it’s definitely not as fulfilling as doing it with someone else.

No. 4: Transplant Troubles
By Ashley Inman

So you left your family/job/church/sports loyalties—your life—in another state to move out here. You’re not alone. Metro Denver’s population is rising significantly, and has been growing at a pace quicker than the national rate since the 1930s. About 53,000 people migrated to the Denver-Aurora metro area between 2006 and 2007 alone. What that means for singletons is a tougher time connecting; with a reduced network, you’ll need to start fresh to rebuild your tribe. The best way? Find something to love, and someone to love may follow. But you knew that. To help, we’ve rounded up a list of not-so-obvious groups where you’ll find your passion, your people—and maybe a terrific date.

Common Tables
Take turns hosting dinner at home for a prearranged “table” of four to eight people organized on the basis of their different religions, spiritual beliefs, philosophies, cultures, and geographic residences. www.commontables.org, $35 annual fee

Marquee Club
Join other theater buffs for VIP events and open-bar pretheater soirées before the four Denver Center Theatre Company shows included in a subscription. Bonus: a discount at the Rialto Cafe, which might come in handy for dates. www.denvercenter.org, $500 per membership ($368 tax-deductible)

Team Evergreen
Colorado’s largest cycling club hosts weekly mountain and road bike rides, social events, special trips, and general bike-related forums. Ride recreationally or compete with the racers. www.teamevergreen.org

Museo de las Americas
Denverites keen on Latin culture or improving their Spanish skills rendezvous for tapas and drinks at Spanish Happy Hour at the Museo the third Friday of every month. www.museo.org, $8 per happy hour

Irish Snug Running Club
Group runs (a manageable 5K) leave from the Snug on Colfax every Thursday between 6 and 6:30 p.m. More than 2,000 members make the free post-run pasta buffet a buzzing social scene (one time we’re sure we brushed elbows with Travis, from The Bachelor). www.irishsnugrunners.com

Green Drinks
No, the drinks aren’t green. But the growing crew of biz owners, academics, and nonprofiteers who imbibe at Double Daughters the last Thursday of every month (check the website for other Colorado locations) do toast to all things sustainable. www.greendrinks.org

Tango Colorado
No need to bring a partner to the weekly tango practices and milongas hosted by one of the largest tango clubs in the country. Don’t sweat it if you’re no Julianne Hough—it’s strictly social. www.tangocolorado.org, $8-$10 per class

No. 5: A Brave New (Online) World
By Cara McDonald

The point, click, date phenomenon of eHarmony, Match.com, and other dating sites has made casting a wide net easier than ever—which is both a blessing and a curse. “Online dating gives the illusion of infinite options,” says dating consultant Rachel Greenwald, a Denver native and author of the bestselling advice tome Find a Husband After 35: Using What I Learned at Harvard Business School. Greenwald, who also coaches clients through the online profile-writing process, admits that having a lot of candidates can be a good thing, but warns against dating with the mindset that someone better is just a mouse-click away. “Online dating forces you to make superficial judgments,” she says. “It’s harder to get beyond the first date. We now date to rule people out. We need to approach dates looking to rule them in.”

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