Ask Helen: Dating

Dear Helen:

I’m once divorced, then single six years after another long-term relationship in which I repeated all the mistakes of my first. Now that I’ve taken the time to do my emotional homework, I’m ready for something healthier and happier. I’ve made “The List” for what I want in my next (and hopefully last) mate. But I don’t know how closely I should cling to it. Is “settling” just a setup for another failure?

One Toe Near the Water

Dear One Toe:

Everyone should have a List. For readers who haven’t made one, consider important variables to be clear about before serious commitment: communication styles (both when things are good and after a fight); emotional accessibility; lifestyle compatibility; social values; intellect; financial equity, values and style; humor; spirituality; and sensuality. Also important – deeply liking one another. One very good indicator of a potential relationship’s good long-run potential is visceral: Do you feel natural and at ease when you’re together? At a gut level, are you comfortable being you? Or do you feel either like you’re trying to impress or you’re reflexively critical of the person across the table? If you’re more often squelching your response than speaking easily, or don’t feel heard when you speak from the heart, recognize the bad danger signals.

Here are my three simplest dating rules. One: Don’t be with anyone who doesn’t want to be with you. That eliminates folks still in love with their exes or lusting for someone else and those who aren’t present and attentive when you’re together. Two: Don’t be with someone just because s/he wants to be with you. There’s nothing as unattractive as desperation, on either side of the dating equation. You’ve waited a long time, so do this right. Three: You get to decide. Grant yourself the luxury of choice, rather than being charmed or overwhelmed by someone else’s needs or the illusory pressure of time. See where your list and their list intersect. There are lots of eligible singles, but many to be sifted through. Network with friends; tell them what’s on your list. People love to help others find a good connection. Don’t judge too quickly, but don’t be afraid to bail if it doesn’t feel right.

Dear Helen:

I need job hunting and interviewing tips. I’m a few years out of college and need a full-time job, hopefully one that will lead to a real career. I’ve been busy with part-time gigs, mostly working with at-risk youth and disabled kids, plus volunteering at a crisis line. I have lots of research and writing experience from my college days. Anyone who reads my case studies and reports comments on how insightful and articulate I am. People of all ages like me and seem to trust me. I’m a good schmoozer and have considered sales. But I don’t know how to get my foot in the door. Tips? Ideas? A job you can hand me?

Ready For Prime Time

Dear Ready:

After good connections, nothing substitutes for a good resume and cover letter. Without a piece of paper that highlights your experience and skills, you’re unlikely to get interviewed. In your case, organizing it by skill set rather than as a list of jobs will serve you best. Think about categories of work you have done: case management, crisis intervention, interviewing and report writing, etc. Summarize your know-how in each category. Include all your computer and office skills and your volunteer work. List your actual jobs chronologically in a separate grouping. If you have summer jobs like yard helper or nanny, include them. Employers like people who’re broken into working and have learned how to interact well with others. Focus readers on what you can do for them, especially in your cover letter. Collect reference letters from every professional who’ll say excellent things about you; attach them when you apply.

Track all posted openings and apply for everything that’s even a remote possibility. Don’t be discouraged if you do not get acknowledgments or interviews. You’re playing a numbers game in a bad economy. In addition, try for informational interviews at places you’d really like to work. If you can get any foot in any door, be ready to sound like a veteran, yet enthusiastic and un-jaded. Schmoozing’s great. Come with good stories about what you’ve already done. Practice telling them so they are pithy and engaging and show off both your skills and personality. People get hired for their potential as well as their experience. Your job is to sell yourself as someone who will do a great job for whoever gives you the break. Make interviewers think and laugh, and make them like you. Then they’ll be ready to hire you.

A resident of Eugene since 1981, Helen is a member of Temple Beth Israel, where she studies and speaks on Torah. She claims to have black belts in schmoozing, problem-solving and chutzpah. She’s a writer and an artist ( Please email your questions to

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