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Category: Profiles

The Avanti Woman’s Guide to Dating in the Digital Age

Laura Bilotta

With all the digital resources available to help us meet smart, funny, cute and compatible mates, many women find themselves feeling disconnected in today’s hyper-connected society.

Laura Bilotta, founder of Single in the City and one of the GTA’s top matchmakers and dating coaches, attributes this lack of love luster to what she calls the “paradox of choice.”

Why should I limit myself to dating one man when I can date 10? Why settle for the first man who I connect with when I have access to so many?

So What Gives?  

“We’re bombarded by dating apps, online dating sites and social media,” she says. “When we have so much choice, we’re almost reluctant to make a choice because we’re afraid to make the wrong choice.”

The dating game can also be downright dubious. “There are plenty of people on dating sites that are just out there to waste your time,” Bilotta explains. “They’re bored at home on a Friday night, and they want to see how many people they can talk to and what kinds of reactions they get.”

Oftentimes, though, we’re too weary from bad past experiences or unaware of the impressions we’re making that we sabotage ourselves. For example, Bilotta recently helped a young lady understand why her online dating profile wasn’t generating more interest from the opposite sex.

“First of all, she led with the tagline, ‘No games. No bullsh*t.’, and her entire bio read like, ‘This is what I want, and this is what I don’t want,” Bilotta recalls. “Most guys who read that will think, ‘Whoa, this girl’s jaded. Too much drama—I’m outta here.’”

Learning to Spot the Spotty Profiles

With 15 years of industry experience, Bilotta has helped 1000s of people overcome their dating shortcomings. This Valentine’s Day, Avanti Women shares Bilotta’s top tips on navigating the murky waters of the web dating pool.

  • Don’t wait to be approached online. “A lot of women still have that old school mentality about waiting for men to make the first move,” she says, “but great guys don’t stay single for long, especially as you get older.”
  • When sending your introductory message, mention something you read in his profile. “So often, people send messages that are empty, like simply ‘Hi’,” she explains. “Remarking on information that is shared helps to break the ice and is more conversational.”
  • Avoid people with incomplete bios. “Partial bios usually indicate that a person is not serious about meeting someone,” she says. “They may also be new to online dating or just testing the waters, in which case it’s best to let them test the waters elsewhere.”
  • Don’t choose someone based on a picture. “Some people just don’t photograph well,” she shares. “I’ve met several people throughout my career that may not have had the best profile pictures but looked great in person.”
  • Stay away from profiles with only one or no photo.  “And if they refuse to send you any photos, chances are they might be a scammer or not who they say they are,” she advises.
  • Avoid anyone who brings up sex right away. “It’s clear that’s what they’re looking for,” she warns.
  • Limit your messages to two or three before suggesting to meet. “You’re just wasting your time sending messages back and forth for weeks,” she says. “Get on it, if you’re serious about meeting someone.”
  • Move on from someone who refuses to meet in a timely fashion, keeps cancelling plans, or doesn’t keep his word—for example, “he says he’ll call or text you but doesn’t,” she illustrates. “Don’t waste time with people who are just wasting your time.”

Courting Counsel

“If you understand the red flags, online dating won’t be as exhausting,” Bilotta reassures.

Stay in the know on the evolution of dating, sex, love, relationships and everything in between by tuning in to Bilotta’s Dating & Relationship Radio Show on Sundays at 9 p.m. on AM640 and checking out her book, Single in the City: From Hookups to Heartbreaks to Love & Lifemates, Tales & Tips to Attract Your Perfect Match.

This post originally appeared in the February 14 Avanti Women blog. Avanti Women empowers women to develop themselves professionally and personally so they can move forward in their careers and lives. As a volunteer on the communications committee, I contribute content of relevance to the membership monthly.

Happy Valentine’s Day! 😉

How one family caregiver used grief to reinvent self & help society

In her mid 40s, Mary Bart became the primary caregiver for her mother, with Alzheimer’s, and father, with cancer. For 10 years, often seven days a week, Mary drove 40 minutes south to her parents’ home where she did “all the things that daughters do,” she explained.

A day in the life of Mary included taking her folks to medical appointments, cleaning the house, doing laundry, keeping the home stocked and meds on track, and generally ensuring her mom and dad were as clean, healthy, safe and comfortable as she could.

“Sometimes I’d take a day off, usually a Sunday,” she said. “And when I did, my dad would be very upset, and all kinds of guilt would be thrown my way.”

Needless to say, maintaining full-time employment while fulfilling her caregiving obligations was not an option for Mary. She left her corporate gig in the technology field to focus on caring for her parents.

A woman’s job

Caregiving has been described as one of the world’s most challenging jobs. Yet, many are thrown into it with little warning and no training, on top of demanding 9-to-5s.

Women bear the brunt of this burden, as two-thirds of all caregivers are female, many of whom feel that they sometimes have to choose between being a good employee and being a good daughter.

It is estimated that, every year, Canada loses the equivalent of nearly 558,000 full-time employees from the workforce due to the inability to manage the conflicting demands of paid work and care.

Mary’s alternative

Many days, Mary felt honoured to care for her parents, as they once had for her. But other days, she nearly went out of her mind. She also dealt with a common caregiver issue: guilt.

“Early into my caregiving journey, I freed myself from any guilt,” she explained. “Today, I miss them dearly, but I have no guilt; I can clearly separate grief from guilt, two very different things. I did the best I could, based on my energy and resources.”

About a year before her mother passed, Mary knew her mom’s path would soon end. In her 50s, and out of the workforce for a decade, she decided to reinvent herself to find ways to add purpose to her life.

“I had no desire to go back to the corporate world,” she said. “I thought, ‘there must be other caregivers out there who are experiencing what I have.’”

Caregiving Matters

Like any purposeful pioneer, Mary identified a need in the current market and sought to fill it with her expertise. In 2008, coupling her 18-year professional technology background with a recent decade of personal, hands-on caregiving experience, she founded Caregiving Matters, an internet-based registered Canadian charity offering education and support to family caregivers.

Ninety per cent of the charity’s efforts are driven through its website, which features full-length articles on relevant topics, blog posts, video workshops, podcasts with industry experts, and more.

“We leverage technology in everything we do to ensure a greater reach and sustainability,” Mary explained. “Users from more than 64 countries visit our site.”

The other 10 per cent of the charity’s resources are focused on live educational events in the GTA and surrounding regions.

“We tend to deal with tougher topics and ones that don’t get a lot of attention, like financial and legal issues among families,” said Mary. “We are honoured to work with lawyers and accountants who volunteer their time to share their knowledge.”

Caregiving Credibility

Eleanor Silverberg, owner and director of Jade Self Development Coaching, has been a grief specialist helping family caregivers cope for nearly 20 years, 10 years as a social worker for the Alzheimer Society of York Region.

She, too, was the primary caregiver for her mother and father, while raising teenagers—a circumstance she refers to as being a part of the “sandwich generation.”

An author and a recurring guest speaker on Caregiving Matters podcasts, blogs, and at live events, Eleanor finds the Caregiving Matters platform beneficial to industry professionals, in addition to caregivers in need of assistance.

“I just referred a podcast to my support group last week because we were talking about financial and estate matters,” Eleanor explained.  “It’s great that there’s a resource where I can send people to get answers on issues like that.”

Care for the Caregivers

Canada’s aging population is growing and fuelling caregiving needs across the country. By 2030, seniors are projected to account for close to one in four people.

Mary’s long-term goal is to raise awareness about Caregiving Matters and build upon its pool of resources to meet the growing demand for family caregiving support.

As Mary explained, “it’s a grassroots effort based on love and giving back, and it reaches a lot of people at a challenging time in their lives when they really need it.”

If you or someone you know is providing primary support to a family member, spouse, or loved one, visit the website and join the social communities:

I am a volunteer for Caregiving Matters. If you’d like to get involved, view volunteer opportunities.

Networking naturally through volunteerism

Tourism Toronto President & CEO Johanne Bélanger

Introverts, exhale…

Schmoozing at networking events isn’t the only means to building meaningful relationships that can advance your career.

Case in point:Tourism Toronto President & CEO Johanne Bélanger has more than 2000 global LinkedIn contacts, each whom she has been personally acquainted with on some level. Of course, it helps that she is self-assured and effortlessly extroverted, but she credits her ever-growing network of diverse professional contacts—and much of her career success—to volunteering.

“Although people may come from different backgrounds and walks of lives, when they volunteer or sit on a board, they are there to fulfill the organization’s mission which provides them with a source of commonality from which to start having discussions and networking,”she explained.

No stranger to working pro bono, Johanne has donated her time and energy to numerous charity and industry boards throughout her career. Most notably, she served on the Board of Directors for Tourism Toronto for six years beginning in 2009, before eventually being hired to run the entire association in 2015…

“When I initially joined the Tourism Toronto board, the goal, in addition to delivering on Tourism Toronto’s mission, was to put my previous company at the forefront of people’s minds, and make connections that might eventually generate business for the organization,” she said. “Ultimately, through volunteering, I was exposed to a network of people that I would not have had the opportunity of connecting with under normal circumstances.”

Improve networking proficiency

In fact, Johanne’s social skills likely improved greatly over the years due to her willingness to volunteer.

Though most volunteers become involved with charitable or non-profit organizations for altruistic reasons, most agree they have received substantial benefits themselves, according to a Statistics Canada study. Many stated that their volunteer activities had given them a chance to develop new skills.

For example, the report noted, 64 per cent of volunteers surveyed said their interpersonal skills had improved, and per cent said their volunteer experiences had given them better communications skills, which can certainly come in handy when mingling with the head of human resources at the next company Christmas party.

Make it personal

Just to be clear, no one is suggesting that you volunteer for the sole reasons of expanding your rolodex or peddling yourself or your services. People can sense when you’re being disingenuous.

Tactics like self-promotion and ingratiation can backfire, Harvard Business Review points out. Moreover, trying to anticipate what will impress another person “increases your anxiety and makes you feel inauthentic,” the publication states.

Many of the professional connections Johanne has made through her volunteering initiatives have actually impacted her personal growth (and vice versa) by becoming unofficial mentors, coaches, subject matter experts, and close friends.

“Being yourself and being authentic when you meet people is probably the number one piece of advice I can give,” she said. “You have to connect with people on a human and authentic level for your relationships to truly evolve.”

Pain to art

My world is filled with interesting, inspirational folks. Each of these people represent a small part of the whole sum of me. By sharing their stories, I reveal bits and pieces of myself to you. Meet Hyancinth.

Hyacinth displays her pieces at the Beaux-Arts Brampton Members Anniversary Show

Beauty stylist, decorator and fashionista, Hyacinth Bell is blessed with a sharp eye for design. But it wasn’t until the fall of 2015 that she applied her artistic gifts to the canvas. At just 39 years young and in peak physical, emotional and financial health, she was struck by a life-changing spinal injury, forcing her to endure several months of testing and ineffective treatments in hospital care. Losing functional mobility in nearly half her body caused a chain reaction of disillusionment.

“I lost my home, my business and several friends, as a result,” she says. “I was feeling chronic pain and uncertainty, with no relief from the medications.”

Little did she know her salvation would be found in the art class of Runnymede Rehab Centre. Encouraged to paint inside the lines of sketched images, she discovered an escape from her pain when focusing her energy on creating works of beauty. After institutional care, she continued to hone her skills at home, sketching butterflies—“a symbol of renewed life,” she explains—and gradually working her way to visually expressing conceptualized images.

This Hyacinth original shines brightly on my living room wall; I felt love at the first sight of it (click to enlarge)

Today, some of her most breathtaking works are created when she experiences her most tremendous bouts of pain.

“The vibrant colours in my paintings raise my spirits,” she says. “They reflect the vitality in my soul.”

Though she has lost a great deal of physical mobility, she has gained an extraordinary new gift, one she hopes will bring a renewed sense of vigor to all who experience it.

View and follow Hyacinth’s virtual gallery on Facebook.