Better Dating Through PowerPoint

Between the ages of 27 and 30, I had but two missions: (1) Create awesome PowerPoints; and (2) Find a boyfriend.

I was young, single, and freshly employed to direct National Journal’s Presentation Center, a searchable library of white-label PowerPoint presentations on political and policy developments. By day, I led a team of fellows in creating data visualizations and infographics that explained what was happening — or, more often, why nothing was happening — on the Hill. By night, I met up with girlfriends for half-priced drinks and complained about what was happening — or, more often, why nothing was happening — in my dating life.

My friends found respite from my misery when I met “Jack,” a handsome, Southern physicist with a sardonic sense of humor and mother issues for days. I was smitten. Jack had a knack for whipping up fun, creative date ideas, and after so many times on the receiving end, I wanted to return the favor. So I decided to ask Jack out via PowerPoint.

This colliding of worlds felt right at the time. I knew how to use PowerPoint to facilitate the communication of complex ideas, so maybe I could use PowerPoint to facilitate the communication of really liking a guy, and all the complex vulnerabilities that flow therefrom. I opened my laptop, fired up PowerPoint, and began drafting slides.

To my surprise, applying PowerPoint best practices to my date proposal made me a better dater.

Here’s what I learned about asking someone out via PowerPoint, illustrated by the PowerPoint I used to ask someone out. With apologies for being noninclusive, I use gendered, heteronormative pronouns here. I think it’s important that women get inspired to ask out men, and straight women tend to have less practice in it.

Can someone dim the lights?

Great Visuals → Great Compliments

My goal with these first slides was to thank Jack for the time and effort he put into previous dates. Had I acted like a normal girl and asked Jack out on a date via text, I would have said something like, “You’ve been great about planning dates!” and carried on. But every slide needs a visual and every visual needs to reinforce a message. With this in mind, I had to unpack a simple “thank you” into its component parts in order to pair it with an appropriate stock photo (all from unsplash.com, no affiliation). So “thank you” became “Thank you for picking dates” with a picture of hand-picked grapes and “Thank you for the work you put into dates” with a picture of a sled dog and “Thank you for making me feel indulged and carefree” with a picture of a girl twirling…with…feathers? The point is:

With or without the aid of PowerPoint, give hi-res compliments to the person you’re dating. It takes you twice as much work, sure, but it means one thousand times more.

Next slide…

Understanding Data → Understanding Him

You’ll only be trusted to do something meaningful with data if you can organize it and identify patterns. One of the best ways to do that is through data visualizations. Similarly, you’ll only go as far with someone as you bother to understand them. I created the plot graphs above to show Jack that I had been really listening when he went on and on about sines, cosines, and college basketball. And you know what? These were Jack’s favorite slides of the presentation. We often forget the profound power of expressing that we understand each other, even if it’s only an understanding of each other’s interest in cat cafes. To quote Sherwin Nuland:

“You know what everybody needs? You want to put it in a single word? Everybody needs to be understood. And out of that comes every form of love.”

Call to Action → Boldness to Ask

Obviously I ended my date proposal PowerPoint with a date proposal. But for me, these were the hardest slides to make. In conversation, there are a million ways to hedge direct language and suggest what we want instead of explicitly asking for it. If I had asked Jack out in person I probably would have used the crutch of “Maybe, we can, like, hang out this Friday?” instead of “Will you go with me to Nerd Night on Thursday?” But you can’t make a PowerPoint without a point, so I did what I (too) rarely do and asked Jack out on an honest-to-goodness date, with a place and time and shared experience and everything.

There are things I didn’t get right with Jack, and things he didn’t get right with me. Nevertheless, because of his considerate dates, I put a lot of thought into my own date proposal and learned a lot in the process. I haven’t asked anyone else via PowerPoint, but I can’t say I never will.

Oh, and, um, maybe you can, like, “like” this Medium story?