Going Back Out into the Dating World

With vaccines being approved, manufactured, and distributed and with vaccination centers opening up and people starting to be vaccinated, it seems like there’s a chance we could be returning to some form of a normal life before the end of the year. Single people for whom dating has been interrupted for the past year may be able to go back out into the world and resume their search.

If you are one of these people, now seems like the perfect opportunity to take a moment to think about what you are looking for going forward and to reflect on what you have been pursuing up to now.

No matter what, dating is challenging. It requires being open to possibilities while at the same time being selective. It often means looking for a new kind of “right” person instead of going for the same old familiar “wrong” person you always end up with. It involves navigating the world of online dating where it’s easy to get caught in a cycle of “perpetual window shopping,” where it’s easy to objectify people and see them as products rather than individuals with unique and complex qualities, and where the seemingly unlimited prospects can put you into continual “Relationship FOMO” (fear of missing out on someone better).

What are you looking for?

There are no right or wrong answers to this question, just your answer. Are you just seeing what’s out there or do you have specific goals? Are you interested in casual dating and not looking for a committed relationship? Is your life fairly full, but you’re missing sexuality and companionship? Are you hoping to find a romantic partner who you could ultimately share life with? It’s important to be clear with yourself about this, because it will inform your choices.

Who are you looking for?

There are always unique qualities and traits that people are looking for in a potential partner. Some people regard them as “deal breakers.” What are yours? It’s better to stay away from superficial and materialistic attributes (i.e., money, looks, status) and focus on character traits, personality type and value systems (i.e., someone who is kind, serious, responsible, reliable, direct in their communication and doesn’t play games). Again, this clarity will help you with your choices.

Don’t make your list of “non-negotiables” so extensive that you end up narrowing your choices and limiting yourself. You don’t want to create barriers to meeting someone. Being receptive to different kinds of people and stepping outside your comfort zone will help break any patterns you may have of picking “wrong” people. The challenge in dating is to be open to possibilities while still being selective.

What have you been pursuing?

Looking back at your dating history, have you been pursuing the type of person and the kind of relationship that you say you want? What people think they’re looking for isn’t always what they are actually seeking out. Someone may say they want to develop a serious relationship, but they are drawn to people who are looking to hook up. They may say they want someone who is loving and responsive, but they can’t resist pursuing someone who is remote and unavailable.

The basic explanation for this discrepancy between what people say they want and what they pursue is that people’s attractions are based on the attachment patterns they developed in childhood. They are drawn to people who feel familiar to them; people who relate to them in the same ways they grew up being related to. Therefore, the treatment they are accustomed to often feels right, even if it is not. It’s valuable to look at your patterns and see what common threads tie you to certain people and profiles, and whether these are the types of connections that are likely to lead to what you really want.

The following advice may be useful as you go back out into the world of dating. Don’t expect yourself to live up to all of these suggestions, no one can. But thinking about them from time to time might help you in finding who and what you are looking for

Be yourself

To be yourself, you have to know yourself. It’s important to have developed a sense of who you are as an individual person, to be comfortable and secure in your own skin. You need to know what you are bringing to the relationship. People who lack a sense of self-worth tend to rely on others for affirmation and definition, which creates inequality in the relationship and places an unfair burden another person.

Knowing yourself allows you to be genuine in your interactions. You won’t feel the need to be something you are not; something that you think you should be; something that you think your partner wants you to be. You won’t feel compelled to make anyone like you. You won’t have to build yourself up and try to impress anyone; whatever you are is good enough. You won’t have to act like you think someone is more interesting or funnier than they are. You won’t have to demean or belittle yourself to build them up in your eyes.

You will strive to be honest and truthful. Honesty is necessary for developing trust between two people and for building the foundation of a relationship. Part of being yourself is being vulnerable and emotionally available. Being free in showing your enthusiasm and interest toward your partner. Another part of knowing yourself is having self-respect and knowing how you want to be treated. Not wanting to be condescended to or disregarded. Being aware of your physical and sexual boundaries.

Be realistic

Being in love is such a wonderful state. Who wants reality to come along and ruin it? But it’s important to live in reality and to be honest with yourself, even when you don’t want to be. It means asking hard questions, like: am I in this relationship because of my feelings for my partner or for other reasons? Like, am I tired of feeling lonely? Have I been worried about time passing and feeling pressured to be part of a couple? Am I more in love with the fantasy of a relationship than with this person.

Being realistic means not ignoring the red flags. Are there things about your partner that you are hoping will change over time? These are most likely big issues that need to be addressed. You don’t necessarily need to have the same values, beliefs and attitudes, but you need to understand, respect and appreciate your differences. Do you ever feel that you can’t trust your partner; that they are not being truthful with you? This could be another red flag. Be honest with yourself about when and why you don’t like your partner. Pay attention when something feels off. When it seems like you are not on the same page about what you want from the relationship. Maybe these are an indication that you are not compatible. 

Considerations for long-term relationships

If your relationship is getting more serious, these are a few questions to think about:

Do you have a strong friendship?

Do you enjoy each other’s company even while doing the tedious everyday things in life together? Do you make each other laugh? Do you look out for each other? Do you relate as equal adults? Do you confide in one another?

Do you communicate well?

Do you both talk easily about your thoughts and feelings. Are you open about your vulnerable feelings, like your fears and self-doubts? Are you good listeners; are you compassionate and empathic? Are you open to feedback or does either of you respond by being angry and defensive? How well do you argue? Can you express your anger cleanly, that is directly while being respectful. Do you both care more about the relationship than about being right? Do you recover from arguments or do either of you hold on to anger and grudges?

Can you picture a life together?

When you think about what a long term relationship would look like–having a home, starting a family, or growing old with someone–do you actually imagine doing it all with this person? This may seem like an odd question, but it has helped people see that they are not really pursuing what they want.

This blog has taken a pretty heavy look at something that should, above all else, be fun. Dating is an exploration. It’s is simply a way to meet and get to know another person, who you may like and want to spend time with…or not. It’s an exciting adventure where you get to know someone else and yourself better.

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