Two years ago, I was in New York at a crowded dive bar with my friend James.
We (of course) were there to meet women.
Men who tell you they go to bars for other reasons are lying.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blonde woman in a green skirt standing on her tiptoes and waving her hand at the bartender, trying to get his attention.
I walked up to her and pointed to the other end of the bar.
"If you want to order drinks, you should try from over there," I suggested.
She followed me to the other end of the bar.
It was so loud, we practically had to shout to hear what the other was saying.
Just as I opened my mouth to ask her a question, a woman stepped in between us and whispered soberly in the woman's ear.
"Mom just called. The cancer is back."
I remember the woman's drink clinking down hard on the table.
The olive from her martini fell out and rolled across the floor as she brushed past me.
I watched as the woman kept her eyes glued to her shoes and hurriedly left the bar.
I picked up the olive and followed her outside.
Across the street, I found her sitting on a bench, with her face buried in her hands.
She was crying. I walked up slowly and sat down next to her.
I took two deep, slow breaths and put my hand on her shoulder.
"I'm sorry," I said. "That must be hard."
The woman continued crying and didn't say anything.
We sat in silence for a minute. I gave her my phone number and told her to call me if she ever wanted to talk.
We dated for the next 14 months.
Whether it's with your best friend, teacher, coworker or girlfriend, empathy is the most significant factor that determines our level of trust and relationships with other people.
With the recent influx of dating apps like Tinder, Bumble and Coffee Meets Bagel, finding a woman to meet for drinks is no longer the main issue when it comes to dating.
Sustaining a relationship beyond the first couple of dates, on the other hand, is the challenge most people are trying to figure out.
But this comes with a catch.
How do you form a connection with someone when you hardly know him or her?
The answer to this question is empathy.
Empathy is the most effective tool to grow a bond with another person, and it is the key to separating yourself from the crowd when it comes to dating.
Here are the five steps to effectively create empathy with your date when something is bothering him or her:
1. Be aware.
Watch her body language as closely as you are listening to the words she says.
Notice where she's looking. Is she making eye contact, or is she staring off into space?
If she's staring off into space, is she looking up or down?
The level at which her eyes are focused will tell you her level of confidence, and whether she is anxious or just preoccupied and thinking about something else.
Notice what she is doing with her hands.
Notice how she reacts when you tell a joke or story. Is she engaged, or is she merely feigning a reaction?
Look for physical and verbal hints to find out what's on her mind.
How she's really feeling will be expressed as much by how she acts as what she says.
Staying cognizant and in the moment will enable you to discover if something is bothering her.
Now that you've discovered a source of concern for her, listen with your whole body.
Maintain eye contact, nod when she finishes a statement and keep your mouth shut.
If appropriate, create a small amount of physical contact by putting your hand on her upper back.
Don't interrupt. This will make her think you're not listening or don't care.
Don't give advice. This will make her think you're simplifying or neglecting her concern.
Just stay engaged and listen.
As simple as this sounds, this is the step where most people fail.
Listening is the most important aspect of building empathy.
Once you've let her talk through her thoughts in their entirety, allow a few moments of silence for both of you to digest the information.
Reflect on what she has said by repeating it back to her in your words.
This way, she knows you have heard her and understand her position.
At this point, still refrain from offering any advice or opinions.
Now that you've listened (and demonstrated to her that you have listened), wait for her confirmation and mutual understanding that you both are on the same page.
This is when you can make a personal connection and draw a similarity between her situation and yours. You can let her know that while you could never understand entirely how she feels, you have an idea of it.
Make her know you "get it."
When someone has a problem in his or her life, friends and family will naturally be there for solace.
What will separate you is taking it a step further and revisiting her concern a week or two later.
To her, this shows her issue is still on your mind, and it is of real importance to you.
This will cause her to recognize you as someone she can talk to about her problems.
If you continue to empathize with her, it will evolve into a positive feedback loop.
She will come to you with her concerns, you will empathize with her and your bond will become stronger.
Each time, she will tell you more and more details more and more frequently, until she finds herself needing to call you every day to tell you about a tiny argument she had with the cashier at Whole Foods earlier that day.
The type of communication and trust you can build using this strategy is more powerful than any humor, kindness, charisma or other tool a person might use to form a relationship with a friend or date.
If you can empathize with your date, you win.