Dating is hard. There’s no way around it. When you throw yourself into the ring, you’re bound to occasionally get rejected, meet jerks, and/or end up in relationships that don’t work out. But you can minimize the damage by being conscious about your own behavior.
These common mistakes make dating more difficult than it needs to be, so pretty please, try to avoid them.
1. Being unclear about what you want
Lots of people, if they’re going to be honest with themselves, aren’t ready for a relationship — but they don’t tell their dates that upfront, which can lead to hurt feelings and confusion. Others are afraid to say they are looking for a relationship and keep chasing people who aren’t, which can cause just as many problems.
Marissa Nelson, LMFT, founder of Intimacy Moons retreats, recommends being upfront by writing on your online dating profile if you’re looking for short-term companionship or don’t want anything serious.
She cautions against saying “I just want to have fun,” though, because this “already puts people on the defensive and makes them feel like you’re just looking to get into somebody’s pants.” Even if you’re looking mainly for a physical relationship, you should still value the other person enough to have some level of emotional connection.
2. Dating with a timeline
Many people have ideas about how soon they need to get into a relationship, get married, or have kids, says Nelson. This tends to put undue pressure on dates and takes people out of the moment.
“There seems to be a lot of energy around trying to put the relationship in a petri dish and control the environment to get the specific outcome,” says Nelson. “A lot of times, it doesn’t allow the natural progression of a relationship.”
While it’s fair to ask people what they’re looking for to make sure you’re compatible, don’t rush it. It’s best to go in without expectations and let these conversations unfold naturally, says Nelson.
3. Confusing attraction for connection
“People make the mistake of mistaking sexual chemistry for relationship potential or compatibility,” says Nelson. “You can be attracted to somebody, and that’s good, but that’s only a part of the puzzle. You’re looking for somebody’s values, their integrity — that’s what you’re dating. If they’re cute, that’s a bonus, but not the other way around.”
To make sure attraction doesn’t blind you, Nelson recommends looking out for warning signs like a date being rude to a server or talking about themselves throughout the whole date. Don’t convince yourself that you’ll change them — these problems will likely only grow as you grow closer.
While ghosting may be easier than telling someone you don’t have feelings for them, there are nice ways to do the latter, says Nelson. For example, you could say, “I think you’re a cool person. I just don’t know if this is a match, but I think you’re really great. Let’s be friends.”
Even if they were a terrible date, you can be grateful for the fact that they’ve taught you what you don’t want and leave them with kind words. “Wish the person the best because it’s good karma,” says Nelson.
5. Assuming who will pay
While it’s nice to treat anyone to a meal or activity, regardless of their gender, we’re in the 21st century, and it shouldn’t be assumed that men need to pay or that women can’t pay.
Regardless of your gender or sexual orientation, a good rule of thumb is to plan to at least pay for your own meal, says Katie Ziskind, LMFT. If they offer to cover it, you can accept. You can also make that offer yourself, but if they insist on paying, respect that — they may not be comfortable with someone else covering them.
6. Assuming what a date wants
Another assumption people sometimes make is around what kind of relationship a date is looking for. For example, people might assume that men are cool with keeping things casual and women always want relationships. This can happen in LGBTQ relationships as well as heterosexual ones — and it can lead to lots of misunderstandings.
“There are many men out there that actually don’t want crazy sex and instead are looking for someone to go to the movies with or be more of a companion,” says Ziskind. And there are plenty of women who aren’t ready to get serious.
The only way to know what someone’s looking for is to ask. If they’re not going to provide what you’re looking for, again, don’t fool yourself and think you’ll change them.
7. Assuming someone’s sexual orientation
Sexuality is fluid, so just because someone is dating someone of a certain gender doesn’t mean they’re only or always attracted to that gender. Some people, for instance, may date someone of the opposite gender but also be attracted to the same gender.
People don’t always want to talk about their sexual orientation before feeling out how accepting their date is, says Ziskind, so don’t force this conversation. Once you’re comfortable enough with each other, Ziskind advises asking in “a casual, playful way.”
8. Freaking out when you don’t get a text back
Texting is stressful. Given how many people ghost, it’s no wonder that not hearing back after texting someone is a source of anxiety for many people. But don’t jump to conclusions. Some people just take a while to text back.
If you dismiss someone over a delayed text response, “you could be making some big assumptions that, at the end of the day, will just prevent you from meeting good people who happen to suck at texting or planning,” says Amy McManus, LMFT. If you want more consistent communication, voice your concerns and see if they can meet you halfway.
9. Judging people off their online dating profiles
People often make snap judgments about other users on dating apps based on their looks and/or interests. While this is unavoidable to an extent, it’s best to err on the side of staying open-minded and meeting someone if you’re on the fence.
“Look for someone who shares your values and who understands that in order for a relationship to deepen and grow, both partners need to be willing to do their own inner work,” says McManus. “Let the universe decide what they’ll look like — you might be surprised to find that your ‘perfect match’ doesn’t look at all like you had imagined they would.”