So I’ve been out of the dating pool for quite some time. Twenty years ago next month, I met my husband Michael through a personal ad in the local newspaper. Don’t laugh.
I have watched friends and clients navigate the wild world of online dating and have learned some things. I love to help clients find how to have less drama and suffering while they go on the journey of finding their life partner or simply enjoying spending time with good people.
I have seen that when you respect your own intuition, preferences, and true limits, you start attracting partners who will respect you and treat you well. I have learned that you don’t need to throw yourself under the feeling-desperate-and-always-wanting-to-be-pleasing bus.
The good news is that when you set a high standard for how you want to be treated, inappropriate suitors will energetically and practically be repelled. This clears away the potentially distracting people to make room for your right partner. The guiding principle of authenticity – being real with yourself and with the people you are dating – can help set you on a path with less suffering to a true life partner.
Here’s a few tips for healthy, authentic dating. Please disregard any that don’t feel true or useful to you, OK?
1. Be really honest with yourself and get clear. Make a list of what is truly most important to you in a partner. And a list of things that aren’t acceptable to you. Among all the items, I suggest you include something in your lists about each of these:
- Respect/Abuse – This might be a downer to think about, but a significant percentage of relationships have emotional or physical abuse. Going in with the clarity that you will heed any warning signs in order to avoid abuse is very empowering. You can notice if the person makes critical comments, is rude or dismissive to others, or speaks with bitter anger about their ex-partner.
- Substance Use – Perhaps you enjoy wine and would like a partner who does too. Would having a partner who doesn’t drink at all work for you? What specific level of drinking or other substance use is too much? If you can jot a couple numbers down, it can help chip away at any future denial that there might be a problem.
2. While meeting and dating someone, keep a bunch of your attention on yourself – your physical and emotional reactions to communication with the person. Maybe he or she looks fabulous, but how does interacting with them make you feel?
3. Be open to noticing any “red flags” – whether big or tiny. If you have a reaction of “Huh?” or “Hmm. That doesn’t sound good,” notice any tendency you might have to dismiss your own concern because you so badly want this to work.
Here’s a question…..Why do you so badly want to make it work with this particular person?
- “I’m impatient and exhausted with this whole dating thing – I just want to settle (down).”
- “But I love him!” The word love can be a bit tricky as “being in love” can sweep us away from ourselves. If “But I love him” is used as an excuse to accept bad treatment or disregard your inner knowing, then the words “I deeply care about him” might actually leave more room for clear seeing. Love is totally crucial for a life partnership, but you know that in real life, it’s not the only crucial factor.
- Or perhaps a part of you with low self-esteem says…
“This woman is plenty good enough. It’s not like you are so successful or desirable that you can afford to be so picky.”
- “I’ve never been this physically attracted to someone! I just want the emotional stuff to work out so that we can hit the sack!”
- “There aren’t many good ones out there. If I find someone who is a good enough, I should make it work even if it doesn’t feel really right because that’s as good as it’s going to get.” Fear of scarcity is a seductive and potentially destructive guiding principle.
I think the opposite of this scarcity thinking isn’t “abundance.” The word abundance always feels a little off the mark to me. What if the opposite of scarcity is simply this assumption:
“My partner is out there, and I’m going to trust my intuition and discernment in order to find him/her/them.” Then it’s not about scarcity or abundance – it’s just about determination, persistence, and trusting your radar.
4. Only get together in person with people who feel really right. It’s easy to get pulled into believing that you are being “too picky.” When the person is right, your physical gut feelings will let you know. Set and maintain whatever truly are your personal high standards.
5. If the person gets weird with communication – whether phone, text, or email – say something authentic or move on from them. You can be real. It could go something like this:
“Hey – I notice that when I hear from you a lot and then hardly at all, it’s a little unsettling for me. I have found that consistent communication is a great thing for me. How does that sound to you?’
Their response could be
- A. “Oh I’m so sorry I disappeared! Thank you for letting me know. I want you to feel good and at ease with me.” Then hopefully you will see a big positive change in their behavior.
- B. “Gosh that’s kinda needy. Well OK – if you need that, I guess I will (begrudgingly) do it.”
6. If the person acts cheap with either money, information about themselves, or with extending themself by initiating dates or calls – it’s a red flag to watch.
7. If you feel like your best, empowered, real self with the person – you are onto something good.
A crucial part of authentic dating is authentic sex. Please listen carefully to yourself around getting sexy with someone.
What do you truly need in order for physical intimacy to feel really right and comfortable? What will protect you from future regret?
Your honest answer will likely be different from what you assume is “normal.” Please disregard any of the below questions if they don’t apply to what feels right for you now.
- Are you comfortable with simply hooking up for fun? Do you feel good about it the next day? If it is really working for you, just keep an open mind to stay current with yourself to notice if your feelings/needs ever shift.
- Do you want to preset a guideline for yourself for a minimum number of dates or weeks before you will have intercourse with anyone? While our minds might say we can’t bear to wait, the truth is that sexual tension is very sexy. The physical sensations that come with longing actually feel really good.
- Do you need there to first be a conversation around being exclusive? Do you need to first see that they have hidden their profile?
- Do you need to have met their friends or family first?
- Do you need to first have a conversation around sexual health and contraception?
Some people are comfortable with simply using a condom every time. Others realize that they actually want to know for sure that their partner doesn’t have any STD’s. They might need both partners to get tested first. Testing is inconvenient, but can be hugely rewarding if it means you both get to relax and have fabulous sex.
With it’s ups and downs, authentic dating can be a path to being really honest with yourself, and to a fulfilling, juicy relationship with your future partner.
I wish you big success with the journey of online dating. I love to help clients navigate building healthy relationships with themselves and others. If you are interested in speaking with me, please contact me through phone, text, or email for a free half-hour consultation. (303) 819-2099 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Judy O’Neill, MSW