Looking for Love? Here's How to Get Out of Your Own Way
Many singles are hoping for long-term love, and if you're among them, you're not as alone as you might feel. The following factors could help explain why you've been single longer than you'd like.
First comes first: One pretty good reason you might be single is obvious and totally valid: You want to be! But more than 49 million Americans have tried looking for love through online dating, according to a 2017 Statistic Brain report. And perhaps more notable, more than half of the participants in a 2017 Zoosk survey admitted wanting to discuss marriage after six months of dating.
In other words, there are plenty of fish in the sea, and many of them are hoping for long-term love. But it's not just as easy as going on a bunch of dates with people you met online. If you’re wishing for a romantic partner, but your only “date nights” involve you and Netflix, some reflection, hard work and behavior changes can go far. The following factors could help explain why you’ve been single longer than you’d like and set you on the path toward coupledom.
1. Focus on what you love about yourself.
It’s true: Loving yourself first is important. While you don’t need to aim for zero insecurities (as if that were even possible), knowing your self-worth can enhance your whole life and make finding love a lot easier, says Los Angeles-based matchmaker and dating coach Marla Martenson.
“When you’re happy with yourself, others will want to be around you,” she says. Some ways to boost self-esteem include pursuing fulfilling work or hobbies, eating well, managing stress, staying active, focusing on your strengths and seeking support from a friend or therapist.
2. Stop obsessing over finding "the one.”
Setting romantic intentions and putting yourself out there can help when you’re seeking love. But if you’re more focused on finding “the one” than making yourself into the kind of person (and mate) you want to be, you might burn some dating bridges before the relationship has a chance to start. Because no one wants to feel like they're just a hunting trophy. Your eventual partner should feel like you love them for who they are as a person, and not just a warm body to sleep next to.
“An honest self-analysis can be highly productive and can result in some amazing changes in regards to who you attract,” says Erin Tillman, a Los Angeles-based dating empowerment coach and author of “The Consent Guidebook.” She suggests asking yourself what you can do to strengthen yourself as an individual — such as taking a class or going on a trip — that can help you shift your focus from snagging the right kind of partner into being the right kind of partner.
3. Don't get stuck in the past.
Have you ever sat through a date wondering when it will end so you can stop hearing about your date’s ex? Or maybe you have found yourself comparing a date to your own exes. While we all have wounds, letting them take over can put walls around your heart, keeping you from letting love in or a potential partner from seeing all you have to offer.
“If you’re still pining over an ex or feel hurt or damaged, you need some ‘me time’ to heal and sort things out,” says dating coach Marla Martenson. To get there, practice self-awareness and own up to any difficulty you’re holding onto. Let yourself grieve, if needed. You could even have a “letting go” ceremony, symbolically releasing past hurts by writing them on slips of paper to shred, burn or bury.
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4. Be patient and persistent.
Enthusiasm is a great thing, but fixating on future hopes rather than being present and getting to know a potential partner can work against you. “Sometimes when we want something so badly, we can unintentionally sabotage or hurt our chances of getting it,” says dating coach Erin Tillman.
If you find yourself skipping ahead several steps, take a breath and shift your focus. Ask your date genuine questions that have nothing to do with a shared future and everything to do with them: What are their hobbies? Where did they grow up? What’s their favorite film, book or band? To practice this while perusing dating profiles online, think, “I wonder if we could have a fun evening?” Not, “Hey, here’s my forever mate!”
5. Have standards but don't be too picky.
If your list of must-haves in a partner is never-ending, it’s time to rethink your priorities. While everyone has their non-negotiables — factors like being single and living in the same state are, of course, reasonable — specifying everything from height, weight and eye color to income level could keep you from considering a could-be love of your life.
A basic wish list is OK, says dating coach Marla Martenson, as long as you steer away from superficial specifics. “Think outside of the box and go on a date with someone that doesn’t tick every box,” she says. “You just might be surprised at what happens.”
6. Work on overcoming social anxiety.
About 15 million Americans experience social anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. And its symptoms — intense anxiety or fear of being negatively evaluated, judged or rejected in performance or social situations — can make dating challenging.
But living with anxiety doesn’t make you “less datable” or any less wonderful as a partner. You bring other things to a relationship, such as a caring heart and high empathy. And your symptoms don’t have to run the show. If you or a potential date experiences social anxiety, maintain open communication and find ways to get to know each other in comfortable settings — such as a quiet picnic instead of a crowded party. Or you may want to seek support from a therapist as needed.
7. Identify a potential fear of intimacy.
It’s not uncommon to fear intimacy, even when you desire companionship. The fear can stem from past relationships or real or imagined experiences, says Melissa Divaris Thompson, a licensed marriage and family therapist in New York City. Signs may include avoiding touch, a pattern of unstable relationships, low self-esteem, isolation and difficulty expressing your feelings.
“If you have ever been dumped, broken up with or abandoned, you may have this fear,” she says. “Not allowing yourself to be vulnerable may lead someone else to wonder if there is something you are hiding or that you may not trust them enough to see your vulnerability.” And that’s not a setup for a strong relationship. She recommends therapy as a great way to work through these issues. You can also try sharing them with loved ones or journaling about them.
9. Stop comparing yourself to others.
It’s easy to scroll through all the engagement, anniversary and pregnancy announcements on social media and feel like you're falling behind in the race of life. When such comparisons become routine, you might be tempted to settle for the next person you go out with.
“When we compare [ourselves] to other people, it may stop us from remembering who we really are and the gifts that we bring,” she says. As well as what you really want in a partner. So as you work on yourself and date with realistic expectations, remember that you’re worthy of love, regardless of where you are in your journey. Chances are the right person will see the beauty in your work in progress, just as you’ll see the beauty in theirs.