I’ve always wondered what makes some people really good at dating. Until recently, I thought the aforementioned people had some kind of magical power. But, I’ve learned from many failed dating attempts that a big part of being a pro dater is having high emotional intelligence (EI) — the ability to be aware of and in control of your emotions. For those of us to whom that doesn’t come naturally, we’ve got some methods to help navigate the depths of dating. 

1. Don’t immediately react to bad behavior.

If the person you’re dating is acting distant, it’s easy to assume that it has to do with you. You may get upset and mirror them by also acting distant. But, people with high emotional intelligence have the ability to respond to the underlying issues behind those feelings. So rather than assume that they’re just being an asshole for no reason or that you did something wrong, dig into the root cause. You might ask, “Am I causing the stress, or is there something else I am not aware of?” Inquiring directly about the source of the emotion rather than reacting to the symptom allows them to talk about what is affecting them and can lead to a stronger, deeper connection.

2. Label your emotions.

Nothing makes dating harder than not understanding how you’re feeling — it’s really difficult to manage an emotion when you can’t even decide what that hell it is to begin with. People with high emotional intelligence use labeling to help them sort it out. Is what you’re feeling a crush or have you fallen hard? Sometimes, you don’t want to deal with labeling because it makes shit real (read: scary). But calling your emotion by its name — in this case “it’s just a summer fling” or “I’m in love” — can give you more clarity and help you regulate your feelings.

3. Keep it positive.

We know that dating can directly affect our moods. And our mood directly affects, well, everything else. People with high EI keep this in mind and can “shift their moods” — meaning they can go from a negative to a positive mindset. Yes, shifting your mood sounds a little challenging, but you can do this with small tactics, like speaking with positive language when talking about something difficult. Even speaking in an energetic tone and changing your body language (try a standing power pose instead of sitting slouched) can help. If you’re on a first date and are feeling anxious, instead of telling yourself, “I’m nervous and scared,” say, “This is going to be something new, an adventure, and I’m looking forward to this experience.” A simple change in wording allows your emotions to act as a support system rather than a chain. 

4. Rock your body language. 

If someone is slumping at their desk, you’d probably gather that they were tired or just very, very bored. We use body language to silently tell the world how we are feeling and what we want from a situation. And, if you’re like me and terrible at verbal flirting, this is a great tool to use. Say you’re trying to show your interest in someone. Lean in closer to them and commit to longer eye contact (it feels awkward, but it works!). This can also help you to figure out if someone is interested in you. People with high EI are constantly reading body cues (and sounds and language) to determine how they should interact with someone. Look for common ones like someone flipping their hair, lightly touching your back, or turning their feet and body toward you — all these behaviors indicate they’re feeling you hard

Some people have been naturally blessed with the gift of understanding emotion, but we can all build up our EI with practice. Even if you’re already at the Olympic level of dating, it’s never too late to go pro.