I was recently at a friend’s wedding when I joined the bride’s friends in a discussion about her single days. “She was terrible to go out with,” exclaimed one. “Don’t you remember how she’d drag us all to a bar, do a lap to see if there were any guys worth meeting and then exclaim ‘Next!’ if it was dead?” recalled another.
The consensus was that our friend had always tried really hard to meet a romantic partner. She’d organize weekly outings of single women and orchestrate introductions of men we’d meet along the way – even positioning us facing into a crowd with arms uncrossed so we appeared approachable.
So it was funny that she ended up meeting her husband through friends when she wasn’t really looking. Well, she had made an effort to be social, but she found love when she wasn’t working that hard at it.
This isn’t a post about how love finds you when you least expect it. That’s a wonderful fantasy, but I believe you have to make some effort.
Yet there is such a thing as trying too hard, and it’s frustrating when you can’t achieve a romantic outcome with sheer will alone. After all, when you decide you’re ready to find a partner and take clear steps towards that goal, such as signing up for an online dating site or taking professional profile photos, it’s natural to want to see results immediately. If you’re feeling especially focused, it doesn’t take long before you drive yourself crazy: Checking your email repeatedly to see if a match responded. Overthinking your responses. Reading profiles repeatedly and trying to imagine yourself in a relationship with this person.
It sounds counterintuitive, but your best bet is to stay slightly detached. You want to care – but not too much – and especially not before you’ve gotten to know someone. Otherwise, you’ll give off the wrong vibe to your date and exhaust yourself in the meantime.
Here are some tips on how to strike that balance between being intentional and patient:
1) Stay curious
When you’re listening to a friend recount her dating life, you’re able to be interested without investing too much into what happens later on. Can you keep that curious, observational tone when thinking about your own dating life? You’re able to better maintain your equilibrium when you say to yourself “Oh, an email just popped up. I wonder what’s in it” rather than diving for your phone, as if your last chance at love depended on it.
2) Don’t place too much importance in any one thing
It’s easy to get excited about a match and imagine all the fun things you’ll do together. (You both like windsurfing!) But matches sometimes meet other people. They stop responding to emails. Or they disappoint in person. Keep in mind that each event, date, connection or conversation doesn’t have any impact on your life. There will always be another opportunity.
3) Go offline
You’ve heard this advice a million times, but make sure you pay attention to your life off-screen. That means making or maintain friends, filling up your schedule with interesting activities and hanging out where other single people go. (Your goal is simply to be social without scrutinizing every invite list to see who else is going.)
Not only does having a full rich life make you more interesting, it gives you something to do while waiting for your online dating investment to pay off.
4) Trust your efforts
If you’re feeling frustrated with the pace of love, ask yourself each night: “What have I done today to help myself?” Perhaps you initiated a conversation with a match, answered a text with another one person, went to a yoga class or signed up for sailing lessons.
If you’re trying – in ways big and small – that’s enough. Congratulate yourself and relax. Eventually when we sow enough seeds, good things happen. You can’t force it, and sometimes it will show up in unexpected ways and at unexpected times.
After laughing about our friend’s laser-like focus, we then toasted her for never giving up – at her wedding!
Do you think you can try too hard?
About the Author:
Sarah Elizabeth Richards is a journalist and the author of Motherhood, Rescheduled: The New Frontier of Egg Freezing and the Women Who Tried It. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Marie Claire, Elle, Cosmopolitan, Slate, and Salon.