Dating Is Really Just Practicing Improv

I caught the acting bug when I was pretty young, I think I must’ve been 7 or 8. I was obsessed with my favorite movies, The Wizard of Oz and Annie. I memorized the entire movie and would act out the scenes along with the movie. I did this for many, many years until I started watching movies with people other than my family (anyone else would be really annoyed by my reciting every line of The Labyrinth).

I took acting and improv classes for as long as I can remember, I loved it. I acted a lot in college, but I really fell in love with improving in clubs. My friends  were pretty brilliant and witty, and I think I always knew I couldn’t compete with their one liners so I just got good at building a scene and a character.

Because so many people were interested in improv we convinced a professor to start a class, and we even performed at a bar a few times. After graduation, I joined a group and performed on a monthly basis. Those were some really happy times for me.

A friend of mine is a professional actor and told me I had potential. I had always wondered if I should run off and join Upright Citizens Brigade or one of the other famous acting troupes. But moving to New York or Chicago or Toronto seemed so expensive, and I was a little too practical.

Here I am years later, catching the improv acting big all over again and I am rereading the famous texts of the greats.

As I read Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare. Just Show Up, Patricia Ryan Madison shows how important it is to use improv skills in your every day life, how it all bleeds together and can help lead you to richer interactions. And then it all clicked.

Improving is what makes a date good!

The first rule of Improv is always say Yes. Obviously, in dating, it is implied to always be true to yourself.

How often do I catch myself turning my nose up at an idea that someone else is suggesting?! How often do I think that I have the better idea, instead of excitedly accepting what has been offered?

Iam quick to the no, it feels like I am protecting myself. But really what happens is it shuts down the momentum. Saying “no” or “but” or “I better not…” just kills the energy right on the spot.

In improv we are taught to say “yes, and…” so that you are always adding something to the situation. I bet you can’t help but think of what a nightmare this could be if a girl is on a date and the guy is trying to take things too far. Yes, one option is to shut him down entirely and you will probably never hear from him again, which could be a good thing if the guy is a doofus. But what about the guy that is trying to find the boundary and is just using the charm he’s always used in the past? Maybe you like this guy, you’re into him but you don’t know how to turn him down but let him know you’re still into him? Try the concept of “yes, and…” Try something like “I like where things are heading, how about we save something for our next date?”

It is a flirtier, softer approach, and I wouldn’t recommend it every time. But how many times have I let things go farther than I probably would have liked just because I didn’t want to reject a guy I was into. (Judge me for being weak and boundary-less if you’d like, but I bet many women can relate to this)

In improv, you must always be adding to the situation. Just like in dating, no one likes the guy (or gal) that sits back and makes you do all the work! It should be a partnership, like ping pong. I hit to you, you hit back. Don’t grab the ball and then just hang onto it for a while! Contribute and add things to the time you’re spending together, it will make for a richer experience all around and you are less likely to describe your date as dull.

On that same vein, there is a misconception about improv that it is all about being funny. Many people think that they are no good because they’re not funny enough, they can’t think of a funny line that fast. I am here to relieve you: it is NOT AT ALL ABOUT THE ONE-LINERS.

Just like dating. No one wants to be with the date that is all about themselves- what is the funniest thing I can say, how can I one-up my date? Ughhhhhh, don’t be the one-upper! Not in improv, not in dating, not ever! I bet you remember those great dates where you are both contributing- someone says something, the other person responds and it continues that way back and forth until suddenly you’re laughing so hard and you have an inside joke to share with each other.

Everything out of your mouth is not required to be brilliant or witty or hilarious. Listen. Listen. Listen. Be in the moment and contribute as necessary. The best conversations happen without any planning, you don’t plan each thing that will come out of your mouth and in the exact order. It doesn’t work that way, you just listen and add.

One of the final rules is actually a piece of advice that my uncle gave me about how I will know when I’ve met a man I want to keep around. My uncle told me, “One day, you will find someone that you look after and he will look after you. You put each other first, and it will be equal.” That’s a principle of improv. Take care of your partner. If you’re taking care of them and they are taking care of you, everyone is taken care of!

In improv and in life, we have to know that it is ok to make mistakes. We have to make missteps, and sometimes we don’t know how to fix that. That is where the partner steps in. They are just outside of the mistake to take care of fixing it for you and rolling with the punches. He/she makes the mistake something that can become a fun turning point, an adventure.

It really does take two sometimes. Solo improv is hard, it is a technique but everything rests on your shoulders. Working with someone else makes it a little bit easier.

Perhaps thinking of dating as improv will make it a little more like play, and a little less stressful.  It clears away a little bit of stigma, and it can just be fun!


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