As a serial monogamist, I spent my early 20s in back-to-back-to-back relationships that ultimately left me heartbroken. I ended up with men who told me from the beginning that they weren’t ready for a relationship, yet I proceeded anyway. Then, I met a lot of guys who ghosted, lied, complained about their exes, and failed to give me a heads up that they were tourists only in town for the night. Exhausted and depleted, I became increasingly nervous about dating so, for about two years, I barely dated at all. During this time, I questioned why I couldn’t seem to find someone I liked so often that the loudest voice in my life was that of my own insecurity.
That rough patch of self-reflection was actually one of the pinnacles of my adult life; it inspired me to see what role I was playing in my bad relationships and lack of enjoyment in dating. In the past year, I have turned that tired tale on its head. I now go on dates excited for what’s to come. Sure, not everyone ends up being a match but, for the most part, the men I meet are kind and respectful. I suspect it’s because of the habits I started practicing and which revolutionized how I date. Though they were simple changes, they helped dating become what it is meant to be: a fun way to meet people and learn about yourself.
1. Date yourself.
I vividly remember the day I started dating myself. It was a hot summer Sunday, and I walked around Brooklyn for hours. I offered to take photos of people who I saw snapping selfies, stopped in cute stores and made conversation with the people working, had drinks at different bars along the way, and bought little gifts for my friends. I had set out with the intention to show myself that I could have the best day — without anyone else around.
Treating yourself with kindness and compassion helps others know to respect you. “By dating yourself, you enhance your ability to receive love,” says sex, love, and relationship coach Michelle Panning. “You’re giving yourself proof that you are inherently worthy of being loved, and you begin to learn to meet your own needs without having to outsource them.” Taking responsibility for yourself in this way is key to successful relationships, since it prevents you from looking to your partner to be your everything.
“If your primary relationship is with yourself, not only will you be less reliant on others to meet your needs, you will be better able to know when someone is the right fit because you know yourself so well,” says Shadeen Francis, LMFT. When you make and keep being on excellent terms with yourself a priority, you go after what you want, not what you want from another person. That makes dating a hell of a lot easier.
2. Treat each date as a learning experience.
Getting curious about who someone is, what they are interested in, and what makes them tick helps make any date an opportunity to explore new things. That curiosity also makes a date feel more comfortable opening up to you. And even if it isn’t a match made in heaven, continuing to be curious can save a bad date by helping you reframe the situation as an opportunity to practice staying positive, ask insightful questions, listen, and be compassionate. These skills can be easy to lose sight of when you really like someone and nerves kick in, so having a practice round from time to time isn’t the worst thing in the world. I like to remind myself that aloud that “I deserve to enjoy my night” before every date. It isn’t about falling in love or even finding my next relationship — instead, I promise myself that the effort I made to show up will be rewarded no matter who I wind up sitting across the table from.
3. Don’t expect anything.
This doesn’t mean you should set a low bar, it just means if your only goal is to have a nice glass of rosé, not hearing from your date again won’t sting so much. When we imagine that each date is either going to go great because we have had so much hope for it, or that it will go sour because so many other dates have, we don’t give the person we are meeting a fair chance.
“When we have expectations that a date is ‘the one,’ we’re actually not seeing the real person in front of us,” says Panning. “We’re seeing a fantasy that we have projected onto them. This is a surefire way to end up getting hurt in the long run when they don’t live up to the imaginary expectations you’ve put on them.” It’s important to note that the long run could be the end of the evening, a few dates in, or even longer, but no matter what, this way of thinking won’t serve you.
Not only do expectations restrict who you allow your date to be, but they also limit you. “When we have expectations that a date [could be] ‘the one,’ we tend to listen for clues of how they want their future partner to be, and we may unconsciously try to mold ourselves to be like that and they will choose us,” says Panning. This way of dating is not sustainable, because the real you will — and should — eventually surface.
4. Write your own rules.
This takes practice, and it relies on trusting your intuition. You may have conditioned yourself to fit inside of other people’s ideas of how someone should date, from how soon to sleep with someone to when to text back to when to really open up. There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these rules, unless they make you feel self-conscious or critical about your choices — which they often do.
If I feel safe and respected, I enjoy sex on the first date. If I feel that the date is not going anywhere and I would rather be at home in my underwear watching Netflix, I politely excuse myself after one drink. If I really like someone and feel comfortable being upfront about it, I am. If I really like someone but my intuition tells me I should give things a little more time before speaking up, I do. Trusting your intuition takes practice, but physical cues are a good place to start. If the thought of speaking your mind makes your stomach knot, it’s probably best to hold off saying whatever you are thinking. If you feel an expansive and excited feeling, your intuition is giving you permission to express or ask for what you want.
When you are first feeling out how to make your own rules, keep tabs on what worked well for you and what didn’t. That conscientiousness, along with giving yourself the space to make mistakes, will help you hone your instincts over time.
5. Use Tinder as a tool, not as a distraction.
I don’t mindlessly go through dozens of profiles when I am bored or looking for connection. Every time I open Tinder, I do so mindfully (aka, not while watching YouTube videos) and with intention. I want to find love from a happy and curious place, not a depressed one, and I have to bring that to the table. This helps me set guidelines around how I like to be spoken to and increases the likelihood that the dates I do go on will ultimately be positive experiences.
That being said, you ultimately can’t predict how your dates turn out. Being intentional, curious, joyful, and avoiding expectations doesn’t mean you won’t meet people who are rude, ghost you, or are just really strange. However, I have found that bringing self-awareness into the dating process means I weed out potential dates who aren’t nice people before I meet them IRL. This approach to dating makes me feel vibrant and excited. I date less often, but I almost always have a good time learning about the dynamic people I meet. And until I find one soul in particular who piques my interest, this is a welcome and awesome way to enjoy being single.