How a Bad Date Taught me to be a Better Listener

How a Bad Date Taught me to be a Better Listener

“This evening is all about you,” he said as I took my seat at the restaurant. “I’m here to be charming.” He then spent the next couple hours telling me his opinions on life, the universe, and everything. I posed some clarifying questions, but eventually noticed his monologue didn’t require prompting. Sporadically, he would ask me a question, but even on those rare occasions he would interrupt to insert his own thoughts on the matter before I had spoken a few sentences.

The thing I found heartbreaking was that he was genuinely interested in being in a relationship. He expressed how much he wanted companionship and how he was ready to commit for the long-term. He talked of his friends’ marriages and bemoaned being the only single guy in the group.

But his focus remained almost solely on his own wants and needs. Aside from mentioning that he was attracted to me or discussing what we would do on our future dates, the conversation didn’t involve me at all. Somehow, the experience seemed very clinical. I was a part of his goal rather than an actual person with thoughts, feelings, and ambitions of my own.

After we finished our drinks, I thanked him for his offer to get some dinner but declined. We bid each other farewell. The night was young, and my mind felt overburdened with thoughts. And so, I joined the people meandering through main street, out enjoying their night while I contemplated my own.

Had I ever pursued my own objectives with this same singular focus, unaware of the impression I was making? Had I approached a new relationship treating the other person as a means to an end and not investing my energy into getting to know them as an individual?

As I looked back over the last several months of my life, I realized it was quite possible I had. I’ve prided myself on my ability to pursue a goal and doggedly follow it. I’m experienced at championing a cause and expressing my passion in such a way that others get involved in seeing it to fruition. Although there’s nothing wrong with that, this date made me question whether I had also spent time reinvesting in others who had supported my ideas along the way. For a long time, I hadn’t considered the yin-and-yang of connections; the natural flow that comes from being part of a holistic and reciprocal relationship.

Sometimes, we can be so focused on our destination that we treat others as a stepping-stone on our path. We behave as if they are there to support us and we walk over them without thinking twice. But as thoughtful, emotional, and spiritual beings, we as humans were made for more.

The experience of being on this date served as a reminder for me to pursue goals, passions, and interests while still making personal investments in others and honoring their individuality. It even helped me to look at my date with more compassion and not be frustrated by being talked at for an evening. Although he and I won’t be pursuing a romantic relationship, I recognize there are still other sides to him, and I do truly hope he finds what he is looking for. I’m grateful that I got to know a little bit about him and that our brief time together taught me a powerful lesson on goals and relationships.


Jacquelyn Adams, an IEEE Senior member, is a nationally-recognized leader in employee learning and development. Jacquelyn is the CEO and Founder of Ristole, a consulting business that transforms corporations through engaging employee training. Find more of her Lessons on Leadership columns here.


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