I wanted to write this post years ago, but at the time I originally conceived it, I was in a relatively new relationship with my now-wife, and I had been having a lot of dating conversations with friends about their own situations. I worried that writing this post then would make people think that I was writing specifically about them, or specifically about me. In a way, I suppose I would have been, but that doesn't mean my advice would have been wrong.
In the ensuing years, my relationship blossomed into a successful marriage, while the situations of those friends of mine didn't ultimately pan out. Forgiving me the small sample size, it appears that my approach is the better one. I think it's finally time I wrote my post on how to search for and choose a life partner. In other words, this is my post on dating advice.
The approach most people take toward dating is that they meet someone "somehow." "Somehow" might be in school, or at work, or in a social club, or through a mutual friend, or at a party. The initial sparks fly, the connection is there, and so they agree to go on a date. From there, the two of them adopt "dating mentality," and it all goes downhill.
For people who have seemingly exhausted their potential for casual introductions, or for people who refuse to engage in them at all, there are options to skip the step where initial sparks fly and go straight to "dating mentality:" Tinder, Match.com, and so on. I don't have a problem with these platforms, since their main purpose is to introduce people who wouldn't otherwise have had the opportunity to meet. In my book, that's a good thing. But it's worth noting that it's not the only or best way to be introduced to a potential partner.
So, what is "dating mentality?" I compare this to the way some people choose to run when they want to get in shape. Caught up in images of things they have seen before, they hunch up their shoulders and scuffle down the sidewalk in bizarre display of "jogging." No one would ever run like that if they were being chased by a man-eating tiger. When you really need to run, you get the hell out of there. The human body knows how to run. So, why do people do that weird jogging motion? Because they think "that's how you jog."
"Dating mentality" is like that, only instead of running, it's dating. People engage in a bizarre set of behaviors that would come across as insane or rude in any other context. More to the point, no one would ever act like they date in a healthy marriage. So, why do people engage in "dating mentality?" Because they think "that's how you date."
What are some examples of "dating mentality?" Here are some, off the top of my head:
- Endlessly shit-testing your date to find out if they can take the "real you," instead of presenting your true self as an open book and letting your date decide if that's what they want.
- Concocting a complex set of rules about when you will and will not shake hands, hug, kiss, or have sex, rather than letting the relationship proceed organically and according to the desires of both participants.
- Constructing a list of ideal character traits in a mate, and then pumping your date for information to determine whether they possess those traits. Another way of describing this is: Seeking out reasons to end the date and the relationship as early as possible, based on a pre-formed mental model.
- Hastening the date and the relationship toward sex without letting the relationship proceed organically and according to the desires of both participants. This usually happens under the argument that "I'm just dating and having fun," or sometimes, "Hey, I have needs, and I'm looking for someone who can meet them."
Without a doubt, these are the kinds of behaviors that are sure to keep you single for a long time. If you want to stay single, by all means, do any and all things on this list.
I can assure you that, so long as you continue to engage in "dating mentality," you will remain single until such time as you become exhausted by it. In fact, I suspect that a non-trivial number of marriages occur when two people who have been engaging in "dating mentality" become exhausted by it at the same time. There was nothing special about that particular relationship, they just both finally happened to reach a point where they couldn't take it anymore; and they happened to be dating each other at the time, so marriage was the next logical step. I do not think such marriages often end up happy.
Now that we know what not to do, let's think about what better thing to do instead.
Knowing What You Want Is The First Step Toward Actually Getting It
The first thing we should all do before we begin dating is develop a picture of what we want our lives to look like, say, twenty years into the future. Twenty years is long enough to overcome all the silly indecisive things like, "I'm not ready for kids," or "I want to be in a good place before I _______." Twenty years is the point after which you've figured all that stuff out, and you've proceeded to a life that reflects your true values.
To wit, in twenty years, you'll either already have kids, because you want kids, or you definitely won't have kids, because you don't want them. In twenty years, you'll be living in your permanent dwelling, in your permanent location, be it the big city or the suburbs or the country. In twenty years, your career will be stable enough that you'll be able to make plans about the future. You'll likely have obtained the important things you need, such as a car or a house, or you will have paid off all or most of your student debt. None of those things will be top-of-mind in twenty years, and so what will remain is the kind of life you want to lead, according to your values.
This is important because it cuts straight to what you actually do value. We have a tendency to get caught up in things like, "I want my partner to be funny" or "I want my partner and I to be sexually compatible." That's all fine, as far as it goes, but what you really need to do is exclude all potential mates who aren't on the same life-path that you are. You're never going to be happy if you want to settle into a nice home, while your spouse wants to join the foreign service. You're never going to be happy if your spouse wants children, but you don't. You're never going to be happy if the two of you can't get the basic, fundamental vision of life more or less correct.
Don't Care About Anything That Doesn't Matter
The second step toward getting what you want is to stop caring about anything that doesn't speak directly to your vision of the future. In other words, if you've been carrying around the idea that your ideal mate comes from the same culture or religion as you, or that you'd never date an artist, or that you dislike people with long hair... just forget about all that.
The right person for you is the one who can keep you satisfied in the long run. Superficial things like hair and hobbies won't matter to you in twenty years. Even supposedly significant things like culture are largely irrelevant. Honestly, in twenty years' time, it's going to matter a lot more that your spouse wants children than it will that she wants to raise them in the Jewish faith. And while you might object to Judaism (or Hinduism, or whatever it might be), none of those objections occupy your mind during the better part of any day. If you object so much to a person's cultural traditions that you can't let them do their thing for 20 minutes in the morning, or for two hours every Sunday, and that you're willing to give up something like children or sexual compatibility just so that you don't have to bear witness to an off-putting cultural quirk... I've got news for you: You're probably not going to make anyone happy and you should forget about the prospect of finding a life partner.
The lion's share of what you think you care about, in fact, doesn't matter. It won't matter in twenty years that your spouse is short, or bald, or black, or a "jock," or anything else. What matters is whether you've managed to build a life that looks like something you want to live in, a life you actually want to experience day in, day out.
If your objection to a potential mate doesn't speak to that, then it simply isn't a credible objection.
Now That You Know What You Want, Be The Person Who Deserves It
The final bit of advice is the most important piece of the whole shebang. It's great that you want to date the hottest woman in your community; but if you don't take care of your looks, and you don't make much money, and you don't have a lot of talent... then it doesn't really matter. It's great that you have your heart set on a nice man who treats you gently, but firmly and who provides for you willingly and unconditionally; but if you spend most of your time eating snacks and binge-watching Netflix... then it doesn't really matter.
The point here is that the most attractive people to you are people that you are going to need to be attractive for. You can't just sit back and wait for the ideal person to discover you and decide of their own volition that, without having to make yourself into anything better than what you are, you're the best thing that ever happened to them. Get real. You're probably not even the best thing that happened to yourself.
All isn't lost, though. Like every other human being out there, you can be better than you are. If you're not fit, consider hitting the gym; it couldn't hurt. If you're not very good at making conversation with strangers, consider joining the Toastmasters or something; a first date is a series of conversations you have to make with a stranger. If you're not a very talented person, consider getting a new hobby and developing a knack for it; better to be dedicated to something interesting and attractive than to have to look your dreamgirl-or-guy straight in the eye and say, "Oh, you know, I just like hanging out."
If you want someone to love you, then be someone worth loving. Everyone has weaknesses and shortcomings to chip away at. You'll never be a different person, but it's painfully easy to make progress on your major shortcomings with minimal effort. Think of it this way, if you could guarantee yourself perpetual marital bliss for the rest of your life in exchange for $10,000, wouldn't you do it? It's a small price to pay for permanent bliss. If you could guarantee yourself a really good marriage by reading a few books, taking a coding bootcamp, or shedding 20 pounds permanently, wouldn't you do it?
In the grand scheme of things, making yourself into a much better person in order to win the heart of a worthy spouse is a very, very small price to pay for having a worthy spouse! Have you seen those couples who are the envy of everyone who sees them? Do you think they got there through dumb luck? Of course not. They worked hard to become the people they are today, and when they finally met each other, they were ready for the beautiful relationship they now get to have.
And it can happen to you. But you have to be ready for it. So, become the person your future spouse wants to date.