Like a lot of women who don’t meet their Mr. Right while in college, New York-based author and life coach Sarah Showfety wanted to get married and start a family, but her dating life was thankless and producing more than its fair share of Mr. Wrongs.
That is when Showfety was inspired to head to the bookstore, where she bought a slew of dating self-help books, and each month, she used the advice from a different book in her search for love.
She turned her experience into a hilarious book of her own called Dating By the Books: One Blundering Singleton’s Search for Love in the Self-Help Aisle, and, happily, it turned out that writing the book was the lead up to meeting her husband, whom she met during the ninth month of the experiment.
“What people can get from my book is a relatable story — one that will let them see that it is possible to turn a bad dating life around,” says Showfety, who has been married for a year and is now a mom to newborn daughter Avery. “It was totally unpredictable for me that I would be dating a great guy and getting married two years after I wrote the book because the way my dating life was going was not that way.” If you are looking for a roadmap to help in your own quest to find love, read Showfety’s interview, which is full of advice on how to transform yourself from “a dating disaster to a relationship master.”
eH: What was your dating life like before you bought the self-help books?
SS: It was really unfulfilling. I had a lot of short-term, what I call a lot of text relationships, where there would be a lot of texting. I was having a really hard time finding someone who wanted the same things that I wanted. So there was a lot of swinging and missing. I feel like I tried everything. I tried online dating, I tried speed dating, I tried blind dating, so I would say my dating life was very active, but pretty unfruitful.
eH: What inspired you to buy the books to use as a tool?
SS: There was this a-ha moment I had on my birthday. I was having a party in my apartment and most of the people there were married, having babies, and I realized at this party that it was my ninth consecutive birthday without a boyfriend. I had had boyfriends and had been dating people over the years but none had fallen on my birthday. None had lasted long enough to make my birthday. I was really quite alarmed by that statistic. So the next day I woke up alone, and I resolved something had to change. I didn’t know how, but I resolved, “I have had enough. This year is not going to be like last year. I really want to make a change in my dating life and get on the right track.”
eH: What kind of advice did you look for in the books?
SS: What I was looking for was a way to stop making the same mistakes I had been making, which was falling for people who did not have long-term intentions, or falling for someone who was really charismatic and handsome but also wanted to date around. So breaking some of my habits and patterns was the advice I was looking for. Also how to choose better, how to avoid some of the early dating pitfalls because early dating is such a delicate time frame, where you are trying to be open but not an open book. It’s a dance. You want to share yourself but not reveal too much, not say something that might inadvertently drive the other person away.
eH: How quickly did things change?
SS: I had some early success in the first month or two — what I thought was success — but what I learned is it was faux success. Even though I thought I was making progress, I was still doing the same things I had always done. It was like re-dating the same guy — he just looks different and sounds different. I would say it took awhile. When things really started to turn around was not until seven or eight months into the experiment.
eH: What was it that finally worked for you?
SS: What finally worked was not just taking the advice. Advice alone is not going to get anyone the guy. What I did was I paired the advice, the tips and the tricks with a foundational overhaul of my sense of self and what I deserved in a relationship. That was really the key. I had this month where I actually gave up the books. It was summertime. I realized that instead of being hell bent on trying to find a man on a timeline what I really needed to do was get back my sense of joy and create more happiness in my life with just who I was and where I was in my life, so I took a month — I called it “Take Back Sarah Month” — and what I did was all of these activities that I absolutely loved and I didn’t focus on dating. I still had some dates, but I was not maniacally pursuing dates. I got my sense of joy back.
Following my sense of intuition, I booked a trip at the last minute to hike the trail to Machu Picchu, because adventure travel is something I have always loved. Then, a week later, I ended up meeting a guy who had hiked Mount Kilimanjaro and he became my husband.
I don’t think it is a coincidence. I think me generating my own sense of well-being and joie de vivre and detaching from the outcome — don’t get me wrong. I still wanted to meet a guy. It is not as if I wasn’t trying, but I had to shift focus for a little while. Once I got more okay with my station in life, then I attracted what I really wanted.
eH: What are the biggest revelations you had after doing this self-exploration?
SS: It links back to what I just said. The biggest revelation was that no how-to kit on its own is going to change someone’s deeply engrained thoughts, habits and patterns. What I wanted was a quick fix. I say this in the book: I wanted to put on my love lab coat and get out my check list and be, “Okay, I exhibited open body language. Good for me.” And check off all these things but that stuff doesn’t work unless you do the inner work and become really present to your own patterns.
If you are not aware of how you yourself are contributing to these negative outcomes, you can’t shift the outcome. So the main thing was instead of blaming the scene, or my parents, or the past guys I dated, I really had to make a shift to personal responsibility: What have I done to actually cause or create these outcomes I don’t want? You have to take a look at some things that you may not want to take a look at or admit. But really where I think I made the most progress was getting really honest with myself, how I was sabotaging, some of the bad decisions I was making, and getting really responsible for them and changing them.
eH: What would you say to the woman who says, I am 50 years old and destined to be single forever…
SS: If that is what you think, you are probably right.
eH: One of the things I gather from what you have said so far, but you haven’t used the word, is you learned not to be desperate.
SS: I would say that. To that question you just asked, I don’t want it to sound harsh, but whatever you think you are going to have is what you are going to create. So the first step for someone who thinks they are going to be single forever is to do whatever it takes to get a more positive outlook. To actually get back in touch with possibility. Because if you believe there is no possibility, that is what you are going to continually create.
Another thing I learned is if you are really downtrodden about yourself, dating and men, take yourself out of the game for a little while. You are not going to be achieving much if you are going out into the dating pool down and out about your prospects and thinking that you have no chance. That is probably what you are going to confirm. So you need to take yourself out of the game and do whatever, like therapy, or coaching, or take a massive trip that is going to be rejuvenating, or take a class. Get back in touch with things you love. It all starts with you and what you believe you can have.
eH: How did you know your husband was The One?
SS: I knew he was really different from the start because he was really different from all the other guys in New York City. He called when he said he was going to call; he was always the last person to e-mail when we were e-mailing each other; for our first date, he made a reservation for dinner and, it might not sound like much, but for how the dating scene is in New York, that is pretty rare. I would say really rare. He geared toward the “old fashioned.” It is old fashioned now to go out to dinner. Because now in New York City, it is very common to text and text and text and maybe meet for drinks or meet up late, or be in the same volleyball league. There is all different ways it is happening now and he was really kind of traditional.
That is what I was looking for, so I was, “Hallelujah” when he established his reliability. Also, I knew there was a lot of potential because the conversations we were having early on were the conversations that are so absolutely imperative when you are looking to find a spouse — and he was the one initiating them. He brought up marriage and kids — if I wanted to get married and have kids — on our second or third date. To me, that indicates that a guy is serious.
I think that is important for people who are single to know. If you are looking to have fun, you don’t need to have these conversations so early, or at all. If you are looking for a lifetime partner, you need to be sure to have these conversations about marriage, family, and where you see yourself living pretty early on. I think a lot of people are afraid to have these conversations because they are afraid they will scare the other person away. Wouldn’t you rather know in the first four to six weeks of dating if there is any long-term potential? Wouldn’t you rather that than spend six months to a year with someone that you have no future with?
I think that is a big mistake that women make and I used to make — a lot of just going with the flow. I don’t advocate it. If you are looking for a long-term partner, it is not a good idea to just go with the flow. You need to be more willing to have bigger conversations sooner.
eH: So you think that is one of the biggest mistakes that women make. Anything else?
SS: I want to make a distinction: Women who are looking for a life-long partner are different from women who are casually dating. Both are fine, but I think a lot of women who are looking for a life-long partner are acting as if they are casually dating and that is a mistake. Myself included. I want to be sure to say that. It is not as if it is them and not me. I used to do it, too. What I learned is that just going with the flow, and seeing whatever happens and not finding out if the person is seeing anyone else, sleeping with anyone else, not interested in marriage, not interested in kids when that is what you want, that is a dating mistake right there.
eH: One of the things you said attracted you to your husband was his reliability. Are there other qualities one needs in a partner to make the relationship successful?
SS: Absolutely. I would say it depends on the person. What works for me is not going to work for other people, but what I would say is important is that, again, people looking for a serious partner need to know and get very clear on the things that are non-negotiable to them.
Another symptom or misstep that people make is: He or she is cute and smart and funny, so they think, “Great. Let’s see what happens.” That’s fine up to a point but, I think, you will have a better chance at success if you think long and hard about the values and personality traits and qualities that are non-negotiable to you in a partner, not just nice to have but the things that really mean a lot to you. Then come up with a list. There is a difference between coming up with a long laundry list and coming up with five to ten things that you must have in a partner, in terms of values and personality. A good place to look is: What does a person need to have financially, emotionally, spiritually, intellectually, geographically. Get clear on what that is before you spend months and months dating someone who doesn’t have those things.
eH: Besides having a good time, what can women learn from reading your book?
SS: It is a relatable personal story that is also full of dating tips and tricks from many different experts. I like to say I have read them all, so you don’t have to. Instead of someone going to Barnes & Noble and spending hundreds of dollars on 20 different self-help, dating books, they can just read mine. They are going to get a lot of the top how-to dating Dos and Don’ts embedded in a funny, relatable story by someone who turned her dating life around. I hope it gives people a sense of hope for themselves. That no matter how discouraged they might be in dating, it is possible to do a 180 and create exactly what they want, if they are willing to do some work.