4 Things This Dating Coach Wants You To Do Before You Start Dating Again
"Please tell me I can blame the eclipse on not feeling well and wanting to crawl into a ball today," I texted my friend Sadie.
I'd woken up in a mood, but aside from a few too many glasses of Christmas Champagne the night prior, there was little I could point to as to why. The holidays had been surprisingly enjoyable. I was leaving the next day for a girls' trip to a secluded beach in Jamaica. January was filled with work projects I was excited about. And just prior to the holiday, a friend had introduced me to someone who I really liked. Our drinks had turned into a five-hour dinner, and we had plans to get together in the new year.
And yet I felt frustrated, filled with rage, rattled from end to end. I phoned Sadie and began to unload my litany of inexplicable frustrations. Midway through my rant, she said sweetly, "Can I offer something?"
"Please!" I barked back in agony.
"I think you feel drawn to someone...and it's been a while since you've felt so vulnerable."
Oh, I breathed silently to myself. Oh.
Sadie was spot-on. I'd spent most of 2019 not dating. The first half of the year I was largely celibate, focused on work and healing from a breakup. In the last few months I'd met up with a few Hinge matches, but none had amounted to much. I missed having a partner, but I wasn't sure I was ready again for the roller coaster that was getting to know someone new. I felt so deeply content, more than ever before (a product of the work I'd done on myself over the last 10 months), in my own life. I had no desire to rock the boat.
But I also didn't want to completely close myself off. After sitting with Sadie's words, I realized the thing I most feared wasn't this guy rejecting me or ghosting me—it was liking him, like actually liking him, and getting a taste of something working out again.
The year 2020 marks the first in quite some time when I'm not entering the new year already in a relationship, and frankly, I couldn't be more excited. But with my recent wave of anxiety in reaction to a good dating scenario, it's got me thinking more critically about how I want to approach dating in 2020.
Here's my approach, which you can employ, too (and yes, you're going to want a pen and paper):
1. Look back before you look forward.
This is a constant practice for me, but the New Year offers the ideal opportunity to look back at our past relationships: what worked, what didn't work, what patterns are present, who we were when it started, who we were when it ended, and so on and so forth. We're much more inclined to gloss over the bad and focus on the good, but in any relationship, regardless of who did what or how it crumbled, there are always two forces at play. In other words, two individuals that played a role, including you. Knowing what role you played and how that relationship came into your life is paramount.
Start by simply listing out all previous partners, from the major life-altering ones to the short flings. Then, for each one, jot down the following:
- Where were you in your life when you met? (Just started a new job, coming off a big trip, etc.)
- How did you meet?
- What drew you to them initially, and what did you like about that?
- What did you like most about them overall?
- What did the relationship teach you?
- How did you grow from the relationship?
- Why didn't it work out? How did you each play a role?
- How did the outcome differ from your original expectations?
This can be a lengthy process, but it's crucial if you want to drastically change your romantic life in the new year and beyond.
2. Get to know your patterns.
You'll learn a lot from the above exercise, but the main nuggets you're hunting down are the patterns. If you look back over the pages of notes surrounding past loves, what scenario, outcome, or occurrence is like a thread running through all your relationships? What keeps getting repeated or played out in different forms with each partner? What left you feeling the same way or wondering the same thing, or feeling as if there was something wrong with you? In other words, what are your relationship patterns?
Gaining clarity on our patterns (in any area of our lives) is the equivalent of striking personal growth gold because our patterns are often a product of our subconscious brain--something we don't realize we're doing. And yet those patterns are running the show. A pattern of mine has been seeking paternal support from my romantic partners to make up for the ways in which my dad was emotionally unavailable as a parent. If you were to ask me flat out if I wanted a partner that also acted as a parent, I would be equal parts horrified and insulted by the question. But my collective experience doesn't lie, and neither does yours. It's only when we're brave enough to go inward and see what's actually present that we gain awareness of the wounds we're trying to heal or problems we're trying to solve through who we swipe right on.
3. With this newfound clarity, what are you actually looking for?
With our newfound clarity, now begins the process of determining what you actually want. All too often I find clients quietly muttering, "I just want someone who is kind." And while yes, I'd argue that kindness is a must-have virtue, it's awfully nonspecific.
It's a tricky thing to be clear on what we as individuals desire. On the one hand, we're told, "Don't be too picky! They don't have to be tall! They don't have to be rich!" On the other, we're pushed to only entertain potential partners who are truly worthy of our attention. Coming to know our own standards and desires versus what society has deemed "desirable" is challenge enough.
That's why I find it easier, for both myself and my clients, to start with what we don't want. This is slightly different from deal-breakers. A deal-breaker, for me personally, is someone who doesn't want children. Something I don't want, though, is someone who doesn't have the desire or budget for travel. Travel is a big value for me, and I've worked hard to invest in that area of my life. I've been in relationships before in which my partner didn't have the same interest and thus didn't invest in it much. I didn't think it'd be that big of a deal. I figured I could travel alone or cover the cost for the both of us. But the whole situation turned out to feel incredibly limiting. It sounds obvious in hindsight, but it's only been through honest self-reflection on the mistakes I've made that I've identified the area in need of change.
4. Now stick to it.
It's one thing to do all this work, to start to understand why our relationships and dating experiences have panned out the way they have, to commit to changing our ways in order to create a new reality, and another thing entirely to stick to it.
Like clockwork, every time I start to see someone new who hits all my genuine desires, old flings and flames from past relationships pop up, eager to see if I want to meet up again. I've been in their shoes, too. On more than one occasion, I've reached out to someone I used to date suggesting a drink only to have them respond, "Would love to, but I'm seeing someone right now." It's usually during a period when I'm feeling incredibly lonely in my singledom, and my brain has conveniently erased all the reasons this person wasn't a match for me in the first place. That in-between space—the gray area—where we're hungry for romantic company or just starting to see someone but aren't sure where it's going can be an incredibly tough time to stick to our guns. It requires persistence and patience; otherwise, those repeat offender patterns will pop up again and again and again.
Our intuition is our greatest guide here. Tap in, and it'll tell you when you're clinging to someone out of loneliness or true desire. If the answer registers as uncomfortable, that's OK. Feel into those in-between periods—let them be hard, let them be sad, let them be lonely. The more we can ride out those periods, the better we'll naturally become at pursuing partnership with intention. And thus landing on what we actually want.
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