Does the thought of going on another bad date make you cringe? Are your horrible dating stories a constant source of entertainment for your friends (but no longer funny to you)? Or maybe your relationships feel perfect in the beginning, but all wrong just a few months later? You might be wondering, “Why is it so hard for me to meet the right person?”
It can be hard to put yourself out there and get your hopes up only to be let down again and again. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to attract your best options, improve your odds of a great first date, and ensure long-term compatibility with the person you are dating. Dating can, and should, be a worthwhile and enjoyable experience. The first step is to identify what isn’t working.
1. Unpack your baggage
Notice any patterns in your negative dating experiences. Do you frequently date narcissists? Are the people you date emotionally unavailable or avoid commitment? Are they clingy and overly controlling? Are they unfaithful? Do they never seem to have their life together and you feel like it’s your job to “fix” them? Do you sabotage your relationships to avoid getting hurt?
How do these patterns fit in with ideas of love that you may have learned through unhealthy family dynamics or bad relationships in your past? Were you taught to feel unworthy or never good enough?
Your past experiences can subconsciously shape your idea of what love looks like, and you become drawn to similar unhealthy situations. Logically, you know you want something better, but there is comfort in the familiar. You may also be drawn to people who validate the unresolved, negative beliefs you hold about yourself.
While you may not know on a first date if someone will end up cheating on you, the warning signs are likely there on some level. Your instincts are probably sounding the alarm bells but for whatever reason (loneliness, dating fatigue, negative self-beliefs, etc.) you are excusing away these feelings. If you want to change your dating experiences for the better, you must first learn to listen to your instincts.
2. Trust your gut
In the first 30 seconds of meeting someone, how do you feel about them? Your intuition can be an incredible tool for judging long-term chemistry, or for picking up on red flags. How does your body feel? Are you relaxed or anxious? Do you feel safe? Are you sick to your stomach? Does something just feel “off”?
Avoid the temptation to explain away any negative feelings because you’re eager to form a connection. When someone says, “I knew from the moment I met them that they were the one” we don’t question it. It’s just as important to believe our intuition when it’s delivering bad news.
Not sure if you can trust your gut, or if you are just being nervous or overly picky? Try imagining what you would say to a friend in your situation if their date gave them creepy vibes, was rude to the waiter or talked about their ex the whole time. Would you advise them to give their date a second chance, or to keep looking?
3. List your non-negotiables
If you want to back up your intuition with a logic-based screening process, writing a list of non-negotiables is an excellent way to do that.
When we imagine our ideal partner, it’s easy to dream up all kinds of fun qualities. Maybe they’re a green-eyed sky-diving instructor who speaks three languages, runs a rescue shelter for dogs, and can make a mean tiramisu. But even a person who is all of those things might be a terrible match for you in reality. That’s because the qualities just described, which all too often are the main ones advertised in online dating profiles, can’t predict the quality of your emotional connection and long-term viability.
Take some time to consider the traits a partner absolutely needs to have for you to share a healthy relationship. Before you head out on a first date or even browse online dating profiles, come up with a list of items that are relationship deal-breakers (or makers) for you. These are the big topics that will eventually lead to a breakup if you aren’t in alignment.
Examples of topics that you might address on your list of non-negotiables:
Religion or spirituality
Views on monogamy/ marriage
Personality traits (sense of humour, respect, honesty)
Diet and exercise habits
It’s okay to update your list as you change and grow over time. For example, if dating someone with kids was a no-go at one point, you may reconsider ten years later after going through a divorce. However, be very clear on what it is that you need in your life right now. Non-negotiables should be just that: non-negotiable. Your list should include all of the things that you are not willing to compromise on, no matter how many other wonderful qualities your date has.
4. Cultivate the qualities you wish to attract
Dating is a two-way street. While you and your ideal partner may have different interests and strengths, it’s important that you hold yourself to the same standards you expect of your partner. If you want to attract someone who is into fitness, exercise. Want someone well-read? Read more. Someone who has travelled the world? Get out there.
There are a few reasons why practising what you seek is a good idea:
1. Cultivating these desirable qualities in yourself will make you more attractive to your ideal partner.
2. It opens up new avenues for connection. Just imagine the variety of new people you can meet by taking a class, starting a new hobby, joining a gym, and so on.
3. It ensures that you are not relying on a partner to feel complete. For example, do you really want a partner who is well-travelled, or have you always wanted to travel but been scared to do it alone? By pursuing goals independently of someone else, you are taking charge of your own happiness and sense of purpose. You won’t end up dating someone just because they possess qualities that you feel you lack.
5. Know and be true to yourself
If you’re not in a place to be serious and committed right now but want to date for fun, say so. If you are over casual dating and are seeking something serious, communicate that.
Oftentimes, people may say one thing because they think it’s what the other person wants to hear. Unfortunately, while being dishonest at the beginning may attract someone initially, it will lead to a conflict in goals in the future.
Are you acting like someone you’re not because you’re worried about what your date might think of the real you? If you find yourself modifying your personality every time you date someone new, are you doing it because your date would be uncomfortable with your true self (in which case, you’re not compatible anyway and should move on), or is it that you are uncomfortable with your true self?
All love begins with self-love. When your relationship with yourself is at its best, your relationships with others will be at their best too.
Today’s action steps
Take a few minutes to reflect on what hasn’t been working in your dating life. Do you notice any patterns? Write down your observations.
Write a list of at least five non-negotiable qualities you need in a partner.
Write down one quality you find attractive in others that you would like to cultivate more of in yourself.