Ah, The Business Of Dating — Or, “Dating Tips For Adults”

Marriage Counseling Insights From Westlake Village-Based Patricia McTague-Loft

If you think back to your adolescent years — yes, that may be painful — and ponder how you went about dating, you may realize you never had a plan. You were probably and quite naturally driven by hormonal forces you didn’t and maybe couldn’t understand. That’s okay. It’s called growing up.

But if you’re an adult who’s in the dating world, it’s time to be mature about the process. Not to be too businesslike about it, but you probably don’t go through life without thinking about your goals and how to achieve them. So — what do you want out of dating? Casual, short-term relationships that lead nowhere except to short-term pleasure? Or a long-term committed relationship that allows you to grow as a person?

Writing for Psychology Today, Caitlin Cantor acknowledges that dating can be and probably is difficult. Fine: “Anything important and worth doing in life is challenging. However, there’s a difference between a difficult journey toward a desired outcome and an arduous journey that never ends. If you don’t know how to date in a way that leads to a committed, healthy relationship, you could be stuck on a painful journey indefinitely. That is an unnecessary waste of your time.”

Achieving a particular goal — let’s say that’s a healthy long-term relationship — takes skill. Cantor offers seven ways to improve your dating skills that she says will help you achieve your objective.

“Develop a strong sense of self.” It may be counter-intuitive but being easygoing and able to get along with everyone does not help in dating. It means you could sort of get along with most anyone — even someone you’re not compatible with for the long term. The answer is knowing who you truly are and want out of life. “When you have a strong sense of self,” Cantor writes, “you can date with more clarity, confidence, and less anxiety. It’s easier to find a partner who meshes well with you. And, you can tell when someone is a wrong fit early on, which eliminates a lot of unnecessary pain and disappointment.”

“Be authentic.” This is an easy corollary to knowing yourself. When you date, let people see who you really are.

“Don’t make dating your mission.” Two things can be true at the same time. You can be happy with your life even without a romantic partner. You can also be happy with that missing ingredient. So first focus on creating a fulfilled life without a partner. Then be open to meeting someone to share that life with. This will take away any flavor of desperation that accompanies someone who thinks, “Wow, the only thing I’m missing is a romantic relationship.”

“Be realistic, not hopeful.” Maturity involves seeing things as they really are. If you’re in a relationship that isn’t right, and you’re thinking — “It’s okay, I can change him/her” — it’s time to get real. You can’t change them.

“Stop trying to know the future.” Dating is a process that takes time. You can’t know within the first few dates whether you’re right for each other for the long term. So slow down. Enjoy the moment and get to know your potential partner. Be confident that you’ll figure that out in a reasonable amount of time. The future is uncertain — accept that fact.

“Honor your needs about a commitment.” If your goal is a committed relationship, realize that’s a two-way street. The other person has to desire a commitment as well. If not, respect your own desire and be willing to end the relationship when you determine your potential partner may take too long to commit. The reverse is also true: if you’re not ready to commit and they are pushing you, it may be best to end the relationship.

“Trust your feelings.” It’s fine to confide in a trusted friend about your relationship and use them as a sounding board, but don’t look for definitive directions to follow. As Cantor sums it up, “They’re not you, and they’re not in it. It doesn’t matter what they’d do, it matters what you want and need to do. Only you know what is best for you.”