In a society that values cognitive intelligence and rationality, we’re told to “do what makes sense” and “be practical.” But this advice is often interspersed with confusing messages about “following your heart.”
In dating, although we’re taught the abstract concept that love conquers all, we’re also encouraged to find a partner who has assets — physical, fiscal, and material.
But if we spend too much time looking for someone who's perfect on paper, we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Of course, if we let our hearts get the best of us through the dating process, we set ourselves up for failure too.
So how do we find an appropriate balance between rationality and emotionality? By using emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is essentially the ability to notice, identify, and regulate emotions.
An emotionally intelligent person can recognize what they’re feeling emotionally and sit with those feelings long enough to respond to them mindfully — as opposed to suppressing them or reacting to them impulsively. Emotionally intelligent people are also empathically attuned, meaning they can put themselves in others’ shoes and imagine what another might be feeling.
Emotional intelligence is truly the most valuable skill you can have, both in the dating (and rejection!) process and in relationships. Here’s why:
1. Emotional intelligence leads to healthy attractions.
When we’re guided by our heart and don’t distinguish between anxiety, lust, infatuation, and desire, our physical attractions can lead us to unhealthy relationships. When we’re guided solely by our head and turn off our heart, we risk dating people who are great on paper but unable to connect with us emotionally. But when we have emotional intelligence that allows us to follow our hearts but vet with our minds, we’re far more likely to seek out (and maintain) fulfilling relationships.
2. Emotional intelligence is important for reacting intentionally.
That text you wish you didn’t send? That fight that quickly escalated? That fear of being abandoned that stems from your upbringing or past relationships? Emotions drive the most connecting and destructive encounters in a relationship. Knowing how to sit with these emotions and react to them appropriately is your most valuable skill in a budding relationship (and in life!).
One way to do this is through practicing refraining and self-compassion. Like you’re trying not to scratch an itch, resist the urge to react impulsively. Easier said than done, I know. A trick I use is to envision actually making space for emotion as it comes — I imagine that it is expanding in a contained bubble outside of me. Then, I practice self-compassion by empathizing with myself and saying internally what I might say to a friend in the same situation. For example, It makes sense you’re feeling pissed off right now! You’re totally allowed to feel this way. Anyone else in your shoes would. Still, what’s a more serving reaction, here? Keying his car or going to a friends’, sleeping on it, and re-evaluating in the morning?
3. Emotional intelligence will help you deal with rejection.
In order to date successfully, you have to be open to rejection. If you fear rejection to the point of avoiding it, you won’t put yourself out there. You'll impulsively delete all your apps after a first date doesn't call you back. In order to be open to rejection, you must be able to cope with your emotions mindfully and with self-compassion. My latest course will walk you through how to do so.
4. Emotional intelligence will make you a more supportive partner.
Whether you've been in a relationship with someone for a few dates or a few years, emotional intelligence is essential to being a supportive partner. Why, you ask? You need to have the ability to empathize. You should essentially be able to stand in your partner’s shoes and understand what they’re feeling. So, instead of responding to an argument with something like, “You shouldn’t be upset about this,” try saying something like, “I can understand why you’d be feeling hurt.” This will make your partner feel heard and validated, which in turn will strengthen the communication you two share.
If you don’t identify as emotionally intelligent, fear not: Strengthening the emotional intelligence muscles isn’t much different from strengthening the biceps. Only, rather than doing so at a gym, you can do so using therapy, meditation, yoga, and mindfulness. So get looking inside and trust that familiarizing yourself with your feelings will make you a much better dater and partner!