If you look at couples with a twinge of longing and have been putting yourself out there and going on dates with no luck, well, that sounds pretty damn normal. The thing is, wanting love and being ready for it are two very different things. In order to truly be in a place in your life that lends itself to a relationship, you — and yes, we know this sounds cliché and corny as hell but bear with us — have to love yourself first. Personal development work and introspection are a great place to begin, but the process is a bit more nuanced than that. 

Conscious relationship coach Danielle Robin notes that not only must we work to be ready for love, but also to be ready for all that it stirs in us: triggered wounds from the past, deep insecurities, things we picked up from our families that we never even realized were unhealthy, and so much more. Thinking about all of this will provide you with a starting point for discovering how ready for a relationship you actually are.

Begin with questions.

Ask yourself, “Why do I want a relationship?” and “What am I looking to accomplish in a relationship?” Many times people seek relationships to bypass doing the work of exploring why being alone feels painful or frustrating to them in the first place. This is when we get into relationships to fill our time and end up giving attention to someone else so that we don’t have to focus on the things about ourselves that make us feel negatively — from simple stuff like not wanting to process boredom alone to larger issues like trying to fill old wounds with new love. We fall into these habits consciously and unconsciously, so it is important to be honest and non-judgemental with yourself. It is from this space of self-reflection that you can truly shift toward attracting love for the right reasons.

Acknowledge the value of self love.

Not only will seeking a relationship from the positive place of self-love confirm you are ready to attract healthy partnership into your life, but it will also help you become much more attractive to potential dating partners. “We attract people when we’re following our joy,” says Lioness founder Stephanie Redlener. Relationship coach Genivieve Rudolph echoes that sentiment. “From this place of fullness, you can really choose a partner rather than settle for whomever comes your way.” This also helps ensure that you can process the nerves and judgements that inevitably arise in new relationships with much more ease.

We all know people who dive into relationships and adopt all of their partners’ habits and interests while neglecting their own. In the long run, these experiences tend toward codependent or one partner feeling suffocated. Building your own self-love and support system ensure that no matter what happens in a relationship, you’ve got your own life to fulfill you. It’s also invaluable in entering a relationship with excitement and confidence as opposed to neediness. Relationship expert Elana Meta sums this up perfectly: “I know I am ready for love when I love who I see in the mirror and can echo that back to someone.”

Work to resolve your issues.

Even if entering a relationship before you’re ready doesn’t immediately lead to clinginess or a lack of independence, these issues will start to present themselves over time. Feeling anxious about text-message response time, pushing your partner to move more quickly (or slowly) than feels comfortable for them, or engaging in a pattern of reacting without thinking when your partner upsets you are all signs of entering a relationship with unresolved issues. This isn’t to say that you can’t work through these issues within a healthy relationship but rather that raising your awareness of and commitment to dealing with them will help you start a new relationship in a more productive, sustainable way.

“I thought I was ready for love because I spent two years working on myself, but nothing prepared me for the work I do in my actual relationship,” says Ashley*, 26. “Doing self-work was invaluable because it prepared me for articulating my feelings well, having my own interests that weren’t my boyfriend’s, and I taught myself to stop being codependent. But I still noticed all the fear and anxiety come up about where it was going and what it meant; I just had the tools to process it better this time.”

Go in search of a good time.

You also know you’re ready for a relationship when dating feels exciting and fun. Yes, going on a lot of dates can feel like it is taking up too much time, especially when you’ve been meeting people who don’t do it for you. But keeping up a positive attitude, difficult as it is, can make a difference. If you go out with someone who you have no interest in seeing again, try to reframe it as an opportunity to fine-tune what it is you do like and want. 

It also can help to get comfortable asserting your needs so that you don’t sit through unenjoyable date after unenjoyable date. Excusing yourself after a drink or a half hour is totally acceptable. Saving your energy will help you embrace new dates with less pressure and a positive attitude, which will in turn prepare you to meet a potential partner.

Ultimately, finding someone to pursue a relationship with can happen without warning or with great intention, but it’ll go a hell of a lot better if you’re ready for it. 

*Name has been changed.