The Science of Single: One Year's Worth of Dating Advice

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Rachel Machacek had gone on dates with all types of men — the awkward guy, the too-touchy guy, the emotionally unavailable guy and, of course, the lied-about-his-height-in-his-online-dating-profile guy. Thirty-three and single, she decided it was time to get serious about meeting someone that was right for her. So, over the course of a year, Machacek tried online dating, singles events, having friends set her up, professional matchmakers, reading self-help dating books, going on dates in other cities and consulting with a dating coach. She documented her dates — the good, the bad and the very ugly — in her new book The Science of Single: One Woman's Grand Experiment in Modern Dating, Creating Chemistry and Finding Love. Machacek spoke with TIME about the lessons she learned, how to be a good date and the worst date she ever had.

Between self-help books and dating coaches, you received a lot of advice. What was the best piece?
Before you go on a date, ditch the checklist. I was holding on for dear life onto this list of things I thought [made up] the ideal person. But that person doesn't exist. It's someone I made up in my head. It doesn't mean that I can't find someone who has qualities that are important to me, but I may not get everything on my wish list. He may not be as tall as I want, he may not have as much hair as I want and he may not live within five miles of me. Those things are nice to have, but they should not be deal breakers.

What's a good tip for once you're actually on a date?
Don't feel like you have to fill in every silence by talking. I would get so nervous when there was silence that I would just talk and talk. I think I read it in one of my self-help books, it said, "Just be there. Just be present." Once you stop talking it gives the other person a chance to think about what you said and ask you a question.

What was the biggest lesson you learned?
I had this template in my head of what life was supposed to be like. It was based on what my parents had. They got married in their 20s and had kids in their early 30s — that's what I was striving for. When you go into a date with that kind of expectation, it's self-defeating. You just can't heap that on someone you don't even know. You're just learning their name, what they sound like, what they smell like and how they act around waitstaff. I had to learn how to have fun and enjoy it for what it was. I stopped planning the wedding.

You say now that you are a very good first date. How so?
I don't freak out before I get there. You'd think that I was going on a death march with some of the first dates I went on. I would get so anxious and sweaty and I would have to do these breathing exercises. It was terrible. Now I'm a lot more relaxed.

I always try to tell myself it's just a drink. Even he's horrible, it's just one drink.
Exactly. It can always be a good story. Although I used to get so mad when people would say that to me in conciliation. 'It's OK — it'll be a good story for tomorrow.' I would think, yeah, but you're not the one who has to live through this date!

Speaking of bad dates, what was the worst?
Probably "The Fan." He got in touch with me after reading an article I had written. In the article I mentioned that I was single and having a hard time dating. He related to that and emailed me to say he wanted to get together. I totally did not want to go but my co-worker said I had to because I was writing the book. So I went and it was really, really uncomfortable. This is terribly judgmental, but he was such a nerd. He had zit cream on his forehead and white high-tops. He was also very socially awkward. He invaded my personal space. He did not take any of my social cues. We were at this group table at a coffee house and I didn't want to embarrass him by saying, "Hey, get your hand off my chair." We didn't have anything in common. I was really disappointed because it was this really great snowy Sunday and it could have been this perfect first love-type of date.

Are you worried about how the guys you wrote about will feel if they read the book?
There are a few that I'm still in touch with that will recognize themselves and that will be uncomfortable. But if I could talk to all of them all right now, I'd say that the issue wasn't them. It was me and my own limitations. And it would be the truth. There's one guy I dated towards the end of the experiment who found out I was writing a book. It was a deal breaker for him and sad for me. I think he felt used and I respected and understood that. It was a long time ago and we aren't in touch, but for some reason I hope that if he does read the book, he realizes I wasn't using him and was quite genuine with my feelings.

Do you think it will be harder for you to get dates now?
Who knows? Technically, it shouldn't be because I think my book is really cool. Most likely, the guys I date from here on out will have to be damn confident and sure of themselves and obviously be comfortable with dating someone who writes about dating. I have a lot of opinions about dating, so they gotta be on board.