Let’s be real: dating is insane. It’s a bizarre social ritual rife with awkwardness, mixed signals, emotional turmoil, and these days can be downright dangerous. Throw kink, polyamory, and emotional baggage from previous relationships into the mix, and finding someone compatible can feel impossible. Here’s a few suggestions to help you make a satisfying connection with someone new (or several someones).
Communication is Key
Whether you’re keeping things casual, searching for a serious relationship (or a few), or looking for a long-term partner, communication is absolutely necessary. It’s especially important in the early days of the relationship when you’re learning a person’s boundaries and don’t know much yet about their likes, dislikes, or relationship history. Expressing your expectations and desires clearly and encouraging your date to do the same will help you both avoid hurt feelings.
Honesty can also make ending things easier, or at least faster. You are not going to want to have a relationship with everyone you date, but there is a lot of guilt associated with rejecting someone. To avoid awkward conversations, some people prefer to ghost when they get a text from an unwanted paramour. It’s fine to block or not to respond to to someone who makes you feel unsafe or who threatens you, but if there’s no safety issue, be honest about your intentions: “I’m not interested in another date. Thank you for your time. Have a nice day.” There’s no need for excuses or to say that the person seems nice (especially if you’re rejecting them because they aren’t). Politely but directly tell the person so they don’t spend any time wondering if you’re moments away from responding to the text they sent 4 days ago.
“Talking” is Not Always “Communicating”
Much of modern dating occurs via text and messanger app. While messages are great for getting-to-know-you chitchat, five minutes talking face-to-face can reveal more about a person than months of texting. We’re not dismissing the online friends that you’ve never met in real life, but if you’re trying to have a relationship, you’re going to have to meet in person at some point. Also, there was a whole TV show built around catfishing; if your goal is to build a real life with someone, you’re going to have to take it offline. Besides, there are some conversations that are too important and complicated to have in text.
Anyone in a polyamorous relationship will tell you that communication is essential, and that conveying information to everyone can be difficult due to the number of people involved and the differing levels of intimacy between the members. It’s necessary to have some degree of regular communication with the other members of the polycule, even if you aren’t dating them. This goes beyond keeping a group calendar and into talks about changes to relationship boundaries, fluid bonding, or health statuses of members. If you’re dating only one member of a polycule, in an open relationship, or simply dating non-monogamously, don’t depend on your dating partner to convey information for you to other people or to you about them. Communicate with everyone else directly as much as possible.
Hope for the Best; Plan for the Worst
No matter how much groundwork you’ve laid in messages or even (gasp) phone calls, when it’s time to finally meet in person, it’s smart to have a safety plan in case things get weird (or dangerous). While this may sound like common sense, the safety issues involved with dating can come as a shock, especially for people who weren’t socialized as female.
Plan the first meetup in a public place, never in your home or theirs. Tell someone where you are going and arrange a check in for a specific time. A simple “everything’s fine” text is all it takes without being a lengthy distraction from your date. Conversely, arrange a “save me” plan in case things go badly and you need a quick out. Some of my friends use a simple “X” text, which is a signal to have the friend call with an “urgent need” that ends the date. For extra precaution, have a pre-arranged escalation plan in place in case you miss a check-in. Sometimes there’s no chemistry and the evening ends earlier than anticipated. If the plans change, let your check-in buddy know, and include your location in case of problems.
Don’t Trust Others To Know What You’re Looking For
The thing about good intentions is that the road to hell is covered in them. Your friends may think that a quick hookup is the perfect thing to help you get over your latest breakup, but your friends may not understand your needs. They may not realize just how much you’re enjoying not being in a relationship. If you’ve put on a brave face since your divorce, your friends may not understand how much you’re still hurting. And people discover new truths about their sexuality during a breakup that take time to process. While you don’t have to dump your emotional purse out to everyone, it’s best to tell your pushy friend you’re not interested in a brief fling (and it’s completely on you to decide when/if you ever are).
Whether it’s finding the right person to spend time with or how you choose to spend that time, always try to know what you want before asking others for a helping hand. Or, for that matter, accepting a hand forced upon you.
Get Honest With Yourself About What You Want
Sometimes you find someone and it clicks. Things are new, but so far they’re great! This could be a perfect match — except she’s decidedly non-monogamous, and you are a one-woman kind of gal. Or he wants kids right away, and you don’t. Compromise is necessary in relationships, but big differences like this veer into dealbreaker territory. While you might pretend to be comfortable with the situation, that sort of pretending isn’t going to do you any favors with your current love interest, or with others.
With casual dating, open marriages, and other complex relationships, the key to being sure you’re happy with what you get is to be honest with yourself about what might make you happy, and practice saying “no” to people and situations that aren’t in line with your desires. Doing otherwise will just lead to long-term unhappiness and more time wasted not getting what you want.