Do you like you like me? (circle one)
How would you assess your dating life? With Valentine’s day this month, many people find themselves reflecting on their relationships. If yours isn’t where you’d like it to be, you may be feeling overwhelmed, exhausted, and frustrated with love and dating. You’re not alone.
This disconnected, unconscious pattern of dating and flowing in and out of relationships can feel like you’re throwing darts at a dartboard, merely hoping for the best. Every now and then you’ll hit a bullseye but not without putting many holes in the wall and getting burnt out on the game.
So, how can you avoid this dating burnout? Through “conscious dating.” Conscious dating requires awareness and preparation, thoughtfulness and intentionality. It means being aware of how you show up in relationships, a thoughtfulness about the kind of partner you’re looking for, preparation in the sense of being okay with rejection, and intentionally setting boundaries to ensure you’re getting your needs met.
Unconscious and conscious dating can sound like:
Unconscious dating: “I need to be sure this person likes me and commits to me.”
Conscious dating: “I need to be sure to get to know this person and see if we’re a good fit for each other.”
Unconscious dating: “It’s more important to know that my relationship with my significant other appears perfect in our posts on social media.”
Conscious dating: “It’s more important to know that my significant other and I can navigate big emotions and life events together.”
Unconscious dating: “I want to fix this person.”
Conscious dating: “I want to grow alongside someone who is also willing to do the work.”
Unconscious dating: “I put my partner’s needs first, so I will hide or minimize many of my thoughts, feelings, and needs.”
Conscious dating: “I know that my needs are equally valuable to my partner’s, so I communicate my own thoughts, feelings and needs.”
When people date unconsciously, they often cycle through relationship after relationship and never really find what they’re looking for. We’ve put together some tips for how to begin new patterns of dating consciously and intentionally, where you are as connected to yourself as you are to your partner.
Set goals for your dating life. To avoid scrolling mindlessly through dating apps or dating someone out of convenience, set a goal for the outcome of your dating experience and envision in detail what it will look like when you’ve accomplished that goal.
This means being specific about what you’re looking for and who you believe you would be most compatible with. Not just who your “type” is, but your deeper, essence-based preferences that help you identify the kind of person that would help you feel known, excited, connected, and cared for.
This is a good time to also set specific goals about the kind of person you’re striving to be in your next relationship.
What do you want to work on to be your healthiest and ensure you show up authentically and consciously in your relationship?
Be yourself not just who you think your partner wants you to be. Remember, in conscious dating, your focus is on finding someone who is a good fit for you, not just someone who will stick around. This intentionality can surface in the way you construct your dating profile, choosing photos and prompts that accurately reflect your personality and interests so that you’re attracting the right people and not just the most people.
Being yourself also means being self-aware about the work you need to do to be the best partner you can be. This means that you’re responsible for doing the hard work of learning important relationship skills, reflecting on your attachment style and the way you show up in relationships, and committing to changing things for the better. This is what conscious dating is all about. Unsure about how your attachment style affects the way you show up in relationships? Check out this article on pursuers and withdrawers!
Know your non-negotiables and set firm boundaries. Decide how you want to be treated and don’t accept anything less. Doing so will help to promote your well-being and self-esteem. Reflect back on the goals you set for yourself and your dating life. Ask yourself, “Am I in the relationship that I envisioned for myself or am I ignoring potential red flags?
Boundaries include emotional and physical boundaries. An emotional boundary can be something like, “I will only take responsibility for my own emotions and actions.” An emotional boundary like this helps maintain your personal identity in the relationship. A physical boundary could be, “It’s best for me to only spend x amount of time with my partner right now” or “I really want to focus our time doing x activities instead of y activities.” It’s all about the time you spend together and how you spend it. Are you choosing activities that help you get to know each other and your interests better? Are you comfortable with the pace in which you’re increasing intimacy?
Be mindful. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings and allow them to help guide you and your decision-making. If you have a gut feeling, check in with it and be curious about what it’s trying to tell you and what it may signal about your needs. Notice if you’ve primarily been acting and making decisions about your relationships from a place of fear or from a place of peace and self-confidence.
Communicate and take your needs seriously. As you’ve likely heard, communication is key in relationships. It helps your partner understand your experience and your needs. If you don’t take your own emotions and needs seriously by communicating them, you can’t expect the other person to take them seriously by reflecting and making changes, either. It’s not always easy and requires safety, respect, and vulnerability, but is vital for shaping the kind of relationship that we want to be in. (Need some tips? check out these five strategies for better communication).
Accept and normalize rejection. It happens. Not everyone will be a match and while having an emotional reaction to rejection is natural and normal, it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you or that you necessarily need to do anything differently next time. Instead of taking it personally or diminishing your hope about finding a relationship, view it as a positive step away from a dead end and towards someone who will actually be a good match for you.
Be uncomfortable. Relationships require vulnerability and that is going to feel uncomfortable at times, but it doesn’t mean it’s not a valuable experience. Don’t be afraid to take the risk required to reach your dating and relationship goals!
If you struggle with a lot of discomfort surrounding your dating life and protecting your personal identity in relationships, you may want to increase your resources by reaching out to a therapist. Individual therapy focused on relational issues can help you unpack and understand your dating history, attachment style, and stuck patterns, increase your comfort level with taking relational risks, and become a more conscious partner in relationships. Click here for more information and to get set up with a therapist today.