You might approach dating with one end in mind -- marriage (or long-term companionship). However, the insights and learnings that dating uncovers can help better pave your path toward successful marriage or long-term companionship. Instead of narrowly measuring the potential of a relationship by thinking, “Would I marry this person?” ask yourself, “How can I benefit or grow from this experience?”
Here are two important alternative dating goals that might have you rethinking a second date and how you could approach the dating process moving forward.
Learning more about yourself
Understanding the kind of relationship in which you’ll thrive has as much to do with learning about yourself, your own needs, desires, and recognizing what keeps you in balance. Dating can help you understand yourself from the outside in as you uncover how different personalities jive with yours. Does spending time with something who is extroverted energize you or make you feel drained? Do you align better with someone who has kids, and is family-minded, or does it feel better to spend time with someone who works a similar 9-5 schedule? While a certain educational background or occupation might have been at the top of your list previously, will that characteristic help you feel fulfilled emotionally in a relationship? What level of emotional maturity are you seeking? These are all learnings that you’ll identify and uncover in dating.
Spend time after each date reflecting on what you noticed about yourself before, during and after the date - what did feel, what felt good, where was there friction, anxiety, or resistance for you emotionally or otherwise. Reflect on what that might mean about you, the other person, and the type of partner that will resonate with you long-term. Also, note whether you leave the date feeling balanced, anxious, or closed off. This will start to give you information around how your attachments systems fit together and whether there might be potential for a long-term healthy fit.
Practicing being the best version of yourself
The interactions in relationships can test our patience and challenge our current thoughts, beliefs, and habits. Dating sometimes requires difficult conversations, setting boundaries, and times of uncomfortable dialogue. This is an opportunity to practice transparency, kindness, respect, as well as firmness. It’s a chance to practice being vulnerable and clear about your feelings and needs (Download our e-book to learn more about this!). Even if this person isn’t in your life forever, it helps improve your communication skill set to talk with him or her about what you need in the relationship and the boundaries that must be upheld to ensure your relationship satisfaction and growth. By improving this essential skill set, you’ll be better equipped to manage these dynamics in your “forever” relationship when it comes along.
If losing yourself into the ecstasy of a new dating prospect is your relational pattern, it may help you to pay particular attention to how you stay balanced while dating. If you tend to drop your plans with yourself, get behind at work texting, fall off your exercise routines, or lose touch with family and friends, you will benefit from holding yourself accountable to staying in touch with your own life when allowing someone new into it. Doing so will help you be your best self while also setting up a possible new relationship for a healthier future if both parties are taking good care of their emotional, relational, and physical health.
Broadening Your Goals
When you enter into a relationship with the goal of it only resulting in marriage or long-term partnership, you could come across needy, desperate, or codependent to the other person. This may also attract someone who is initially drawn to those traits, but then decide it’s too intense and the relationship may fizzle out before it even gets going.
Instead, look more broadly at the potential benefits of the partnership beyond these finite goals. Will dating this person help you practice skills of being a better communicator? Do you feel you are growing and expanding when spending time with this person? Are you learning more about your wants and needs based on the personality traits of those you date and the contrast or alignment with what you really want in a partner?
When you have broad, all-encompassing dating intentions, you will grow and learn – even on a bad date. (Note: this can be a helpful reframe of a “bad” date - what did you learn, how did you grow, etc. This way it’s still a learning experience - and possibly a good story for your friends too). You will understand more about what you don’t want and how to communicate that to another person with tact and kindness. And even if you feel moments of rejection because someone doesn’t call you back or want to move forward, you’ll still grow from managing those feelings or in dismissing partnerships that aren’t the right, comprehensive fit.
If you are having challenges navigating the dating scene, feel stuck in dating patterns, or aren’t sure how to handle specific dating or relationship dynamics, our team of therapists at Center for Shared Insight can help you better understand these dynamics, and yourself. We specialize in dating and relationship therapy and offer a free consultant to get you started. Contact us today.