Getting back into the dating world.

There are not many people who love the process of dating, this is especially true after one has been in a relationship for some time, or maybe even been married. It’s awkward. It opens us up to rejection, confusion, and anxiety. Sure, there are benefits, but sometimes the progression itself can feel quite daunting.

However, there is nothing quite like being in love. Love is the most elusive desire and yet there are no easy to follow, accurate instructions that lead us to this state of bliss. And, definitely no guarantees about how long those initial fireworks will remain. 

Why is courting someone so hard? We know a lot about people and emotion, so why does the recipe for finding our perfect match feel this overwhelming? Well, there are few things that humans do to interfere with their own happiness, but, if one is willing to embrace some practical tips to date proactively, the process just might lead to long term love and companionship.

It’s time. You are ready to jump back into the dating game. Hold on, not so fast. It is very important to take inventory of few things and start with a little reflection and planning. Consider these steps before making your first move.

Do NOT escape pain by avoiding it! Be sure you are “over” your Ex and you are not bringing that baggage into your potentially new relationship. No one wants to be in a partnership with someone still grieving the loss of old love. It is important to take the time to reflect on why a past relationship ended and go through the grieving process. There are five stages; Denial that your relationship did not work out. Denial is followed by Anger, maybe at yourself or at your ex, either way, it’s important to work through that before starting anything new. The third stage is Bargaining. This is when we try to negotiate ways to make the outcome different than it really is, when it’s over, it’s over. If you are still having the “what if conversations” with yourself, then you are not ready to put yourself out there. No matter how right it is to end a relationship, it is still a loss and there is something usually sad about it.  Experiencing a bit of Depression is quite normal and healthy, even though it doesn’t usually feel so good. After the blues subside a bit, the much welcome sense of Acceptance arrives. It’s real. People need to progress through these steps in order to be ready to explore and experience a new relationship fully.

Look inward, before outward. It is important to know who you are and what you want before you randomly go looking for a date. Sure, personal growth happens across the lifespan, but taking the time to consider what qualities are important to you is the first step on the right track. Make a list with three columns; Must Haves, Deal Breakers, and No Opinion. Then reflect, observe and weigh the qualities you want in a person and your new relationship. 

Is age important to you? How do you feel about someone with children? How about pets? Is education level a factor? What emotional qualities are you looking for; humor, confidence, kindness, or fiery passion?

Once you have taken inventory of your hearts desires, it’s time to prepare for action. This can be a real stumbling point because it challenges our ego and makes us vulnerable to rejection. Those are feelings we all try to avoid! Here are the next steps needed to be proactive about the dating process.

Choose an online dating site and mobile app. There are many free platforms but I suggest one with some security, which means it will probably cost something. It’s okay, finding the right person to be in a relationship with is worth a few bucks. With that said, it is also important to use these sites with caution! This step is about exposing yourself to lots of people with lots of different quality combinations that you find attractive. As you begin to meet more people in a casual and safe setting, you will build confidence that someone is out there just for you. Love is attainable. This process will give you practice honing your communication skills, and making it easier to recognize the qualities in a person that you find most attractive. Do not meet up or hook up with matches. Remember, this is about skill building and developing your inner lens in regards to recognizing your own personal attraction style. If you stay with this activity for a month or so, you will learn so much about yourself and what you want and need from your next relationship.

Tell your friends and family members that you are dating. Research has shown that arranged marriages often last longer than self-selected ones. There are many reasons for this, but the point is that your friends and family know you and see you through a more similar lens as a partner. Your friends like you already, so they are more likely to know other people who have things in common and will like you too. It okay to let others do some of the work for you. Dating is emotionally exhausting. It is perfectly fine to let others spread the rumor that you are available.

Do not KISS (or be intimate in any way) until you know that this person might be “the one.” I know this sounds crazy and doesn’t fit at all with the messages from shows like The Bachelor, but trust me, there is a good reason for this. Kissing is an act of exclusivity, and biochemically can and will confuse you if you are not sure that the person you are kissing is in the top three prospects for a relationship. This is may sound very old-fashioned, but the truth is that as soon as you kiss, the brain releases a cocktail of neurochemicals that reduce stress, increase the release of dopamine and endorphins which overwhelm our bodies with a sense happiness and feeling good. The brain also sends a surge of oxytocin (aka, love hormone) which creates complete confusion if the true feelings for the person do not match the act of kissing. The brain seeks consistency so if you kiss someone, the brain believes you should be in love and tries to alter your perception to make that the reality. So, here is what makes kissing early so dangerous, you are much more likely to overlook flaws and other deal breaking behaviors after you kiss someone than you are before you do. It is important to go into a new relationship with your eyes wide open, not drunk with the neurochemical cocktail, that leads you to the trip up with the wrong person.  

Spend time with potential partners doing things that you both enjoy and see if you both enjoy yourselves. Pay attention to communication patterns, Gottman’s marriage research shows that the expression of criticism and contempt are early signs that the relationship will fail. It seems obvious, but remember, the brain wants to make things work and if you have allowed yourself to be blinded by the kiss, it is possible to overlook what seem to be minor flaws at the beginning of a doomed relationship. People don’t change for others, so if you accept a behavior at the beginning with a plan to change it over time, you are in for a big disappointment.

Ask your closest friend, someone you can really trust if they see any red flags. This is really important. You won’t want to hear it, but this can be a critical fork in the road. If your best friend sees a major flaw, you need to address it. Dig deep to understand their concern. Generally speaking, our closest friends know things about us, before we do. If a new love is a bad match, your best friend will know it. Whether you change your course or not, it’s worth hearing them out.

Now you have a roadmap for your dating journey. Following these proactive steps can help you find your destination. It might take a little longer this way, but you will get to know yourself better in the process and this will help you avoid unnecessary detours along the way.