How to Not Suck at Dating
No matter how much you think you suck at dating, there’s always room for improvement. It’s like anything in life — the more you work at it, the better you get.
And the more efficient you are at dating, the more you’ll enjoy it, regardless of whether you class your dates themselves as successful. (But really, all dates are successful when you make the right choices, because saying no to a second date with the wrong person frees you up to find the right one!)
We spoke to eight relationship experts to get the best dating advice, and here's what they have to say about revolutionizing your dating approach.
Work on Your Inner You
You want to embark on your dating journey as the best version of yourself, so make sure you work on your inner you and resolve any issues that need attention. “Dating is like a mirror — we attract a reflection of where we are at,” says Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Relationship Counselor Kevon Owen. ”It's also important to stay in check with your feelings to ensure you are not trying to find a partner to complete you or fill a void."
Life and Divorce Coach Karen Bigman recommends taking care of any residual emotional baggage from past relationships. “Divorce rates for second and third marriages are much higher than first marriages,” she says. “One of the biggest reasons is that people repeat the same mistakes. The most important thing you can do before you start seriously dating is find yourself. Do some introspection, get some therapy and figure out what went wrong in the past. As cliche as that sounds, if you are strong and confident and know what you like in someone, you’re more likely to find the right person.”
Be Clear About What You Want
The first rule of dating is to know what you want before you even start. So, spend some time thinking about what you want to get from a potential relationship: Companionship? Adventure? Marriage? Love and Intimacy Coach Matthew Solomon recommends pinning down the qualities you want in a partner, as well as those you don’t want.
“If you don't take the time to do this, like most in the dating world, you end up just bouncing around from one relationship to the next, never knowing why things don't seem to work out,” says Solomon. “You need to know where you are headed when you go for a drive — it’s exactly the same with dating.”
When you know what you want, you have to learn how to say it out loud, says Counselor and Relationship Coach Ben Goresky. “We live in a culture of people pleasers,” he adds. “We get caught up in the process of trying to please each other to get what we want, without being able to say it aloud. We enter into covert agreements, ‘If I do this, I’ll get that,’ and the agreements are never talked about. Inevitably, we are disappointed when the covert agreement is broken.”
Instead of playing games with your date, speak directly to what you want — you may be surprised how attractive this makes you to other people.
Figure Out Your Boundaries
It’s natural to want to impress your date, but it’s important to not lose sight of whether you actually like that person and want to explore a relationship with them. “We can go through the motions without actually checking in with ourselves about what we do and don’t like in each moment,” explains Goresky. “We don’t listen to our gut, and instead, try to conform to societal stories we’ve built about how things ‘should’ be.”
Goresky recommends establishing your boundaries, even if it means ending a date early. “Boundaries are sexy, attractive and novel these days,” he says.
When you’re determining your boundaries, it might help to make a list of deal breakers or “things you can’t live with,” according to Transformational Divorce Coach and Wellness Strategist Dawn Burnett. She recommends focusing on your list of deal breakers rather than a list of desires. “If you focus on your list of desires, you may look right past your Mr. or Ms. Right, as they often don't show up exactly as we wish.”
Date for Yourself
Instead of going on dates worrying about whether you will be liked, focus on whether you like the other person. This helps you be yourself and enjoy the moment. “If you ultimately don’t have feelings for your date, it doesn’t matter if they like you,” says Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Irene Schreiner.
Use this approach when it comes to deciding whether to give someone a second date, adds Psychotherapist, Relationship Coach and Divorce Mediator Toni Coleman. “You should give someone a second date if you are ambivalent, but not turned off by your first date. If a second date goes better, try a third. However, if it does not, you probably have all the information you need to not pursue anything more. If a first date has many red flags, cut your losses and move on.”
Adopt a Multifaceted Approach
Coleman recommends covering all bases when you date, so that you don’t limit your chances of meeting people to one app or website.
“A multifaceted approach also means that you will be open to new possibilities offline in your social engagements, neighborhood, place of worship and/or when pursuing activities or interests,” she adds. “This requires being mindful when engaged in everyday life, knowing that at anytime an interesting new stranger or acquaintance could come across your path.”
It’s best to avoid very lengthy first dates, like a ball game or concert, says Coleman, or anything that requires you to travel more than a short distance to get there.
“If your date isn’t going well, you’re not only stuck, but you are somewhat dependent on your date if they are the driver and handling the arrangements,” she warns. “Keep it short and sweet, take your own transportation, and don’t give up a weekend night just for a meet. If the person and you really click, you can always suggest going for dinner or to hear some local band, etc., to continue getting to know one another.”
While it makes sense to date more than one person until you find the right one, take care not to overbook your schedule. “How can you give someone new the right time and attention if you are rushing from another first meet to another one afterwards?” asks Coleman. “You will also not be fully engaged if you are spread too thin and, instead, may communicate distance, distraction or disinterest, even if this is not the case.”
Make an Effort
How you look is only one part of the overall, unique package that the right person will fall in love with, but it does make a difference, says Psychologist Shae Vian.
“According to Darwin's sexual selection theory, whether we are male or female, we are programmed to look for ‘markers’ of good health in a potential partner and physical shape shows off good genetics,” says Vian. (This doesn’t mean looking like a supermodel or an elite athlete — simply being in good health and shape makes a good impression.)
Also, the way you smell can be a major turn-on or major turn-off. “We have various senses, and smell accounts for 20 percent of them,” reveals Vian. “Going into a date and smelling nice is a major attraction for the opposite sex, as coming in close to you isn't going to be uncomfortable. Equally, if you smell bad or have bad breath — and you may not necessarily know this, but the other person will — they will keep you at arm’s length.”
Ask the Right Questions
When it comes to important conversations, there’s no set timeline — and no point putting off finding out what you really want to know about someone.
“It’s important to have answers to the things that are important to you, for example, if they have kids or want kids,” says Solomon. “The more curious we are about each other, the sooner we discover our real compatibility, the more connected we can become and the more fulfilling our dating experience is.”
You can relieve a lot of pressure you may put on yourself to “find the one” by reframing these conversations in your mind, says Solomon. By thinking of these discussions as “I am really curious about people,” you can approach them with a more relaxed mindset, and still avoid potential problems.
Ask Open Questions
In the early stages of dating someone, it can sometimes be difficult to keep the flow of conversation going. Awkward silences are common, and for some people, it takes a few dates to feel comfortable.
“A good way to stimulate the flow of discussion is by asking open questions,” says Vian. “Open questions are questions that generally begin with who, what, where, when, why or how. The reason this type of questioning is effective in dating is it forces the other person to talk more and say more than simply a yes or no response. This then makes it easier for you to jump in and relate to the topics they’re talking about.”
Go With the Flow
If you’re nervous before a date, remember that the other person may be just as nervous. “Leave expectations behind and try to [go with the] flow, enjoying every moment of the journey,” advises Burnett. And keep things in perspective: “It’s only a date,” she adds. “You don’t have to marry this person! Everybody has a story, and what turns up in life is there to teach you something about yourself.”
However, going with the flow doesn’t necessarily mean the drinks have to be flowing either. In fact, Burnett recommends limiting your alcohol intake. “It’s okay to let your hair down and have a good time, but it is as equally important to stay aware of any red flags that may present themselves,” she says.
If you take it one day at a time, be your authentic self and don’t compromise your values, everything will unfold in perfect order, says Burnett.
Focus on Friendship
By evaluating your date’s potential as a friend, you have a better chance of finding your soulmate, says Bigman.
“Soulmates develop over time,” she says. “It would be great if we instantly found the perfect match, but the key to a lasting partnership is a strong foundation, starting with friendship. Yes, physical attraction plays a part, but how can you really connect with someone if you don’t know what makes them tick?”
By making friendship the first item on your checklist, you’ll take the pressure off yourself, enjoy your date more and avoid getting caught in a downward spiral of overthinking.
Have an Open Mind
When you’re evaluating potential partners, don’t limit yourself to who you think fits the mold. Keep an open mind, advises Bigman. “Whether it’s physical appearance, location or job, you never know what you might find,” she says. “Often, it’s the person you least expect that ends up being the one you find commonality with.”
This is a particularly important point if you’ve always gone for the same type of person — but it’s never led to a healthy, meaningful relationship. “If you’re always looking for the same thing, you’re cutting yourself off from so many potential candidates,” says Bigman. “When you have no expectations when meeting someone because they don’t seem like your type, you end up being more authentic and might click with the person you least expected.”
Leave Them Wanting More
You can make your date want to see you again by knowing when to say goodbye, says Owen. “This isn't play the ‘wait a couple days to call or text’ game,” he explains. “It’s not overstaying or lingering beyond when you should have taken the exit. Think about it like salt, a little salt... real good... too much salt... real bad. When you're to the point of struggling to figure out what to do or say next just bid them ‘until next time’ so you don't mess anything up.”
A little positivity goes a long way — it's far easier to date someone who makes you feel good about yourself than it is someone who brings you down. “Positive people are far more attractive than negative people,” says Vian. “The way our mind works is, if we're around someone who makes us feel good (generally through positivity), we’re more inclined to feel positive towards them, as that feeling becomes associated with that person through a process known as classical conditioning.”