Let’s pause for a moment, and think about how you would describe your experience of dating. What’s the emotion that the word “dating” brings up for you? What experiences, past or present do you think about?
Each person brings a different perspective to dating. Yours is based on what you’ve been through, what you’re feeling about your dating situation currently, and what your hopes are for your future. What I have noticed, however, is that sometimes when we get too entrenched in what we already know or feel about dating, it can do a disservice to our dating future.
When clients come to me and are either stuck in a dating rut, not meeting the right type of people, or are out of the dating game completely, here are some things we work on. Perhaps it will be helpful for you, too.
Knowing you are worthy, lovable, and special. Past experiences can be hurtful. Maybe people along the way have made you feel unworthy or unlovable. Perhaps you’ve never felt the type of love you long to have. Maybe you’ve told yourself that there is something wrong with you, or that you’re flawed. You are not flawed. Every piece of who you are is worth loving and being loved. Please know that.
Take care of yourself. Physically and emotionally, taking care of yourself is so important in dating. It signifies to you and your dating partners that you see yourself as someone of worth and of value. If you’ve been neglecting yourself in any way, make an effort to reach out to someone who can help — a friend, family member, therapist — and make an effort to replenish the areas in need.
Feeling confident in what you have to offer. Along with knowing that you deserve love, another key component is knowing that you have a lot to offer someone else. The kind of caring partner you will be, the fun and energy you bring, or the intelligence and insight you possess. When you are ready and willing to share all of the good things you have to offer, dating feels good again.
The attitude you bring in. When someone is anxious about dating, fears being hurt, or doesn’t think anyone will live up to their standards, it can bring with it a sense of being closed off, unavailable, or uninterested. When you can push yourself — despite some fears or apprehension — to be open, positive, and willing to engage with your date, that will shine through to your dating partner. It comes through in interactions you have with others, and spills over into how you feel about yourself. It’s a positive cycle that helps you open you up to believing in love and trust and good relationships.
Balance partner criteria with openness. This one is tricky. On one hand, it’s a really good idea to have a general idea what you want in terms of a partner: values, life path, traits and characteristics, the type of relationship you want to have. What happens, though, is that so often we don’t know with whom those particular ideas will flourish with. We may think that “the One” will look or be a certain way; our mind predicts or conjures up what exactly it is we think is best. And yet, we can’t really predict who we’ll meet or what will work out. That’s the mystery and the excitement of it. So instead of having too closely defined images of “the One”, approach dating looking to share positive experiences with the other person. When the right fit is there, it’s likely they’ll fit your criteria for an ideal partner, but will surprise you as well.
Reframing this period in your life. Each period of your life is unique. You’ll never have this particular time in your life again; life is ever shifting and ever changing. By embracing the here and now, it helps you come to love and accept what you already have in your life. It’s a natural human quality that we’re always thinking about what’s next and what will be. The next job, the next girlfriend or boyfriend, and so on. But by savoring the idea of being single and dating, by being content and enjoying it, you will find yourself at peace with the here-and-now.
Allowing yourself to feel what you feel. And then be willing to try again. Being lonely and not having anyone to go out with can feed hopelessness. Having to break it off with someone new who doesn’t feel quite right can be really hard. Being heartbroken when someone you really liked turns out to be very different than what you thought can be crushing. All of these feelings are normal, and it’s okay to feel discouraged or hurt in dating. And yet, we can’t let those negative experiences define our future dating prospects. Give yourself a clean slate as you move forward. Life and dating have ups and downs, that much we know. Though we can’t predict how the future will go, make room for the possibilities of all good things in your love life that will be there, too.
Feeling good about dating is about bringing a level of self-awareness; an awareness of what you have to offer, of your own worth, of what you must do to take care of yourself, and of who you are right now. Add to that a willingness to share the best parts of yourself — those inner qualities of warmth, or caring, spontaneity or sharp wit — and dating feels fresh, fun, and exciting again.
About the Author:
Shannon Kolakowski, PsyD is a clinical psychologist and author. Her work has been featured in Redbook, Men’s Health Magazine, Shape.com, and Scientific American MIND, and she is a regular blogger for The Huffington Post. She is the author of Single, Shy, and Looking for Love: A Dating Guide for the Shy and Socially Anxious and When Depression Hurts Your Relationship. Follow her on Twitter @DrShannonK.