Ask Amy Relationships 101 Review

Denise Brunson of Chicago had the curly hair, leopard print scarf, personal experience with divorce and a white wine on the stand-up cocktail table in front of her. KiKi Storc, also of Chicago, was drinking beer out of a green bottle, had seen relationships founder, felt she didn't have time to spare on one but -- well, anyway -- had just met a guy. A promising guy. 

Who lived in Colorado.

Tuesday night's Trib U program was Ask Amy!: Relationships 101, Finding and Keeping a Soulmate. Syndicated advice columnist Amy Dickinson was onstage. So was Bela Gandhi, a relationship coach and founder of the Smart Dating Academy, as was author Shanae Hall, who wrote "Why Do I Have to Think Like a Man?" Trib U emcee Jenniffer Weigel moderated.

Love is the answer, fine. But that leaves so many, many questions.

What do we know about love? Really know. Is it a feeling? A chemical reaction? A set of skills? When we steel ourselves to take our most emotionally vulnerable leap, telling someone newish that we have really serious feelings about them, who among us feels like they know how it's going to turn out?

You could break down the crowd -- about 200 people -- a couple of ways: Mostly women, a smattering of men. Or, early in romantic life, farther down the romantic trail. Or get a soul mate/keep a soul mate.

I took a poll of the people sitting near me, three women and a man. Get one, keep one, get one, gather information. You're here to get one, said the woman next to the man "looking for information." Sure, he said.

He made eye contact when she turned away. Get information, he mouthed. This is how guys approach it.

At the cocktail table before the panel, Denise and KiKi accepted the false-choice gambit. Get one, keep one, they said.

It was a false choice; I was trying to simplify love on deadline. Actually, KiKi wants to knowHOW YOU KNOW? Denise, more circumspect, wants to know something more basic:

"Are we even made for a relationship?"

For more on the evening, the panelists and the the mathematically precise responsible number of dates to wait to have sex, join me after the jump...

What am I doing here?

You look for sparks in a panel like you do in a relationship. If this were a speed-dating session, it would be an amusing mixer. Bela Gandhi was warm, supportive, her clothes and her voice in earth tones. A personal trainer builds your confidence and physical skills, and Bela approaches relationship-building the same way.

Shanae Hall had been through the emotional ringer -- her high school sweetheart-turned-pro-athlete-turned-womanizer. Black dress, frank advice, and big lines, like: "If you're great, be great. That's how God made you, Hallelujah to ya." She told me she's waiting for Oprah to call.

You look at Amy Dickinson's pearls and shin-length blue dress and you get a hint of the person wearing them -- classy, modest. Her sense of humor is self-effacing, her advice is practical and hard-won. Her guy is a contractor who dresses up for dates ("And I love that") and he floored her by telling her his best quality was "I'm reliable."

There was also advice given, in power-point slide form.

(Another perspective from college blogger Darcy Young.)

I learned there's a four-step process to go from breaking up to being ready to date, that there are three steps to finding good dates, that good dating behaviors could spell out the anagram "SOFTEN UP," and that mathmatically -- to synchronize the different emotional and physical timelines between men and women -- you really should go on two dates a week for two months before having sex.

That's 16 dates.

Advice about dating

By now, there was note-taking and laughter, head-nodding and -- beside me -- even some leg-patting. I took these reactions to mean -- in order -- that no one feels like they know everything about this, that most people are nervous about it, that this uncertainty is pretty universal, and that it touches us deeply.

We were deep into girlfriend advice about dating.

"Be intentional about it," said Amy.

"I don't wait for the world, I let the world wait for me," said Shanae. It was part of a story involving a newly-single woman in South Beach that employed the best combination I've heard lately involving newfound confidence, jet-skiing and the word "glistening."

Men should plan the dates, said Bela. If you want to be nice to her, offer her two options.

"If the same sad story keeps repeating, it's not them. It's you." I can't remember who said that; it could have been any of them.

At this point, I was kind of along for the jet-ski ride.

I have a question

The Tribune Store table in the lobby sold out of Shanae's books. Amy's books sold a dozen. So did Jenniffer's. I saw one woman tell Bela she would be hiring her. I watched two people who had each come in alone talking intensely at the meet-and-greet afterward. There were 87 comment cards filled out, and a slew of questions asked. A sampling:

Q: I can't find what I'm looking for -- someone worldly, attentive and in touch with his feelings.

A: What about two out of three?

Q: Why shouldn't I present the take-charge personality that helped my career?

A: Be willing to give and take. You're not the boss of each other.

Q: How do you reconcile the mixed messages like "people can't change" with "grow together?"

A: Personalities won't change, but you can develop interests together. Make sure your expectations are realistic.

Q: How can you tell if a guy wants sex instead of a relationship?

A: Did he last 16 dates?

And so on.

Denise had gone home before I had a chance to talk with her. I know KiKi had a chance to talk to Amy about HOW YOU KNOW. (You know when you don't ask the question. Flipside: It's easy to overthink these things. KiKi copped to being an over-thinker.)

The minglers lingered. Workers at the Chase Auditorium were standing on the margins with vacuum cleaners before the last stragglers saw them, jumped and hurried out. And as I walked out into the downtown evening air after them, the audience reaction left me with one more question about relationships:

If this was a first date, how did it go?

-- James Janega

*original article