Women, Dating & Style (Interview with Bela Gandhi)

Women, Dating & Style

By: Zovig Garboushian

I had the opportunity to speak Bela Gandhi, Relationship Coach and Founder of Smart Dating Academy in Chicago.Her life’s work is helping people find great love and I am enchanted with this. So here’s my brief conversation with Bela on style, image, relationships and dating.

Q: How long have you been doing relationship coaching?

A: “Unofficially for 20 years, but started my business three years ago. I was always that girl who was sought out for relationship advice. At first, I thought I wanted to be matchmaker because everyone knows what that is. As I started to get clients, I would watch them go out on dates and realize that they needed more help than just being set up. I decided to start helping people figure out their blind spots so they could feel more confident about themselves.

When I was 22 years old my college roommate became a good friend. She was introverted and quiet and I was always going out and doing things. One Friday night, I was out and met a guy and immediately thought he’d be great for my roommate. I told him, “I have your wife for you,” but found out quickly that he had a girlfriend. Flash forward to when I was 25, then engaged. Both my roommate and this friend were at my engagement party (and he was then single). He asked about my old roommate and I told him, “Listen, I’m going to seat you together at my wedding but you better man up and call her!” Well, turns out, the Saturday before my wedding they had their first date and went out every night that week! Two years later they called and told me they were engaged! I put down the phone and realized this is what I am supposed to do. I just couldn’t shake the idea so I quit my job and two years later, I started my business.”

What are some common style mis-steps that women make in dating?

Professional, successful women want to get promoted in a man’s world and to do that, they often take on more masculine characteristics in their look. They wear pants suits and cut their hair shorter. And those behaviors are rewarded in their careers. The problems start when they take that style into their dating lives. They don’t understand that their Prada power suite doesn’t necessarily work in their personal lives. I won’t photograph women in suits. I’ve actually had to say, “No blazers!” I tell them, “That’s too work-looking. Where’s your feminine side? Where’s the girl?” And, then we work to get back to those dresses and skirts.

How do your stylists work with your clients?

It’s very specific to each woman. We’ll do a quick closet consult and create a Style Prescription with a shopping plan for them. We buy clothing for both their photo shoots as well as their dates.

You mentioned “blind spots”. What are common blind spots that your clients have when dating?

Doing the same things over and over, going to the same places and talking to the same types of people. People think that they have a “type”. They continue to chase what they want instead of looking for what they need. People don’t know how to clarify the difference between those two things. And, usually a person’s wants and needs differ greatly.

What are your clients’ most common fears about dating?

Women in their mid-30s and 40s are most often thinking, “Am I going to be single forever?” They have a lot of anxiety about it because they want to get married and have children. We have to help them confront that anxiety because it doesn’t them help in dating. I have to remind them that they can’t expect it to happen tomorrow. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. If you wanted to lose 50 lbs, you can’t expect to wake up after one day of good eating and have lost 50 lbs. And that’s where coaching comes in, to guide them through the process.

What’s the most common dating question you get?

Women ask me every day, “Can we call them [men]?” There’s no right answer. I tell them that it’s person-specific. If you’re dealing with an Alpha male, chances are they don’t want you to call. If he’s more quiet or subdued, then calling him may be okay. Two Alphas create high-highs and low-lows in a relationship. That may not work. It should be very yin and yang. You have to look for complementary energy.

Have you ever had any unsuccessful situations when someone wasn’t able to find a relationship?

Sometimes you’re undoing 35 years of bad of dating habits. I work with men and women in New York City and they have a lot of these dating patterns that they can’t seem to break. Why they have these patterns is a mystery and it can take a few years to break them. It can get emotional because it’s a very vulnerable part of people’s lives. It’s one of the most important decisions a person can make. It’s important for me to understand their pasts and identify what they need so they can stop dating the kind of people they’re dating and look for something different. If they want a healthy relationship, they have to take the steps to make that happen.

Have you ever had doubts about what you’re doing?

Only when I was matchmaking. All the sudden in April 2010 I realized that matchmaking wasn’t the solution. It’s like finding a needle in a haystack. I realized that the real value is in teaching my clients how to fish versus giving them the fish and asking them what they need to do to help them change their patterns. We talk about building these skills and they take the skills to the rest of their lives.

What are some of your most notable relationship successes?

Well, we just had a Smart Dating baby born eight weeks ago. But really, any success is when I get invited to the weddings and can see how happy my clients are.

How would you describe your personal style?

Eclectic. Some days it’s ruffles and feminine styles. Some days I’m funky and bohemian. Some days I’m edgy and modern, but definitely a blend.


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