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."
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.