If we were to believe the movies, dating is either a cinch: the person of your dreams walks in, you’re instantly intrigued, you flirt expertly while the steam and the background music rise, and you’re off to a beautiful, romantic, sexy beginning—or a disaster, as in the a “Mr. Goodbar” girl-meets-killer or “Fatal attraction” boy-meets-lunatic scenarios.

Real-life dating actually falls in the enormous middle ground between these two fantasies. It’s not a snap, it takes some work, but, with some inside information, it can be done right, and it can lead to lots of fun times and dating success. What makes the difference is understanding what the potential problems of dating are, and knowing the skills to overcome those problems when they arise.

Doubts & Fears

If you were a movie character, you’d be sure of yourself, clear on what you want, beautifully turned out, and ready to go. But, you’re you: a human being, with some confusion, some doubts and some insecurity, like all the rest of us.

When you sincerely prepare to date again, and think about what to do first, you’re probably going to have some doubts and fears: The most common fall into four categories:

Category 1: I’m Not Ready

These are all the reasons you cook up about not being ready to begin dating again:
• I’m not emotionally healed from my last experience
• I haven’t a thing to wear!
• I don’t know how to: talk, flirt, behave, stay safe
• I have to: lose some weight, grow some hair, get a nose job, get my PhD...
• I don’t have any time

All of these fears are excuses for not getting started, not good, solid reasons. If you are still hurting from your last experience, you may want to attend therapy, but you can still go out and begin meeting new people. Dating is not an instant process, and going through the steps can be part of your healing.

While looking your best is indeed an important part of dating, excuses about clothing, weight, hair and other aspects of your appearance are not a reason to postpone dating. Actually, getting your appearance together is one of the first steps toward dating again. If you are insecure about dating behavior, flirting, and so on, learning how to do that, too, is an excellent beginning toward dating.

If your schedule is so busy that you cannot manage an evening a week, or some weekend time during which to date, you have some organizing to do in your life to be prepared to have a dating relationship. Meeting new people and dating can be integrated into things you already do, and you can organize your life so you’ll have enough spare time.

Do research before you go out looking for places to meet people, just as you would in shopping for a new computer or appliance: ask your friends for recommendations, call for information, look in local newspapers for resources, so you know where you want to go, the hours, the open days, what to wear, and what’s likely to happen before you waste time acting on wrong assumptions.

Category 2: No one will like me

This quibble relates to concerns you may have about your appearance, but it goes much deeper. If you find that what’s stopping you from dating is your own insecurities and lack of self-worth (ie: feeling so bad about yourself that you can’t imagine anyone else would like you), getting help is vital. Group or individual therapy, a twelve-step program, or self-esteem classes will help you confront and overcome your inner struggle with yourself.

If you don’t have insurance that covers therapy, it can become quite expensive. Group therapy, classes and twelve-step programs are all much less expensive, and you can use them in conjunction with therapy to cut down on the number and frequency of visits.

All of these fears indicate aspects of dating for which you feel unprepared, and by paying attention to your insecurities, you can discover what information and skills you need. Preparing, by learning these things is the beginning of your dating process.

Category 3: It’s Going to Be a Disaster Right from the Start

It’s easy to frighten yourself with negative predictions and “what ifs”—your anxieties projected into the future. Dating again is an unknown, and bound to produce some anxiousness, but you’re not helping yourself by dwelling on what could go wrong and scaring yourself even more. Instead, focus on what you will do if any of your scary future scenarios come true. For example, If your dire prediction is “I’m going to go to this party, no one will talk to me, and I’ll be miserable all night.” Neutralize the fear by figuring out what to do if the worst happens. “If no one talks to me, I’ll ask the hostess to introduce me to someone, or ask if I can help pour drinks, to keep myself busy.”

Scaring yourself is not new. The German poet Goethe wrote about it in the 16th century:

“Some of your ills you have cured
and the sharpest, at least you’ve survived.
But what torments of Hell you’ve endured
From evils that never arrived.” - Goethe (1749-1832)

If you discourage yourself before you begin, you can make dating truly difficult, even if the problems never happen. If you know you can handle whatever comes up, you can have fun even when you don’t meet the love of your life on a particular occasion.

If you’ve had a difficult time in a previous relationship, or if you’ve gone through a divorce, or if a partner has passed away, it’s common to shy away from new relationships for fear that what hurt you once is bound to happen again. It’s not surprising, if you were hurt before, that you would be wary of going through it all over again, but it’s also not necessary to give in to this fear. Treat this quibble like the others in this section—as a signal that you need to know more about the subject. In the case of broken relationships, understanding what went wrong in the first place will go a long way toward assuaging your fears.

For example, if you were shocked and surprised by a partner who lied, cheated, or who just announced one day that the relationship was over, perhaps you need to learn more about creating open communication and choosing people who will be honest with you.

When you know you can do something to reduce the odds of a previous problem reoccurring, you will feel more secure.

Another variant on the “disaster” theme is telling yourself that love doesn’t work for anyone at anytime. The only good thing about this attitude is that you won’t feel bad if it doesn’t work for you—because it doesn’t work, period. But the whole idea is just plain wrong – there are lots of happy couples out there, and you can be part of one too. But negative attitudes like this one just increase the odds that you’ll be miserable and even more nervous, and therefore, make mistakes.

Look around you. We live in a time of relationship turmoil, when every couple seems to break up almost before they get started; but if you look, you’ll find that there are lots of couples who are doing fine. They seem happy. Look for these success stories and focus on them, and you’ll feel more encouraged and motivated to pursue dating. Love can work, if you choose the right partner, and you know the skills required to make it work. And when it does, it’s great!

Even if you don’t find the love of your life right away, successful dating is an enjoyable way to fill your time while you’re looking. It certainly beats sitting home and eating pizza for one while watching old Seinfeld re-runs. While you may be a person who prefers solitude, and likes living alone, you still need social contacts and friends; and that’s what dating is all about.

Savvy dating is making good connections with desirable people; and all of us can use as much of that as we can get. You can learn to balance your social life with your privacy, so you get enough of each one.

Category 4: I Can’t Do this to the Kids/ the Cat/ My Roommate/ My Ex/ Myself

This may be the ultimate in dating excuses. There is bound to be someone in your life you can use to hold you back. But what this quibble really assumes is that if you go out and meet new people, the people already in your life will suffer. How would meeting new people be a problem for your kids, your cat, your roommate, your ex, or anyone already in your life, unless you insist on setting that limit? Repeat after me: “I am not interested in replacing anyone already in my life; I do not intend to neglect them or to ignore them. I am simply looking for some new people with whom I can have fun.” Keeping that thought firmly planted in your mind will ensure that you don’t cause problems in the relationships you already have.

Facing the unknown

We all want happy endings, and we want to know it in advance: like reading the last page of a novel when the story gets scary, to see if it comes out all right. But, dating, like the rest of life, doesn’t work that way. You won’t know the end until you get there. By following the advice and guidelines given here, however, you can make sure you have good results. And, after all, you get to decide when you reach the ending—if you don’t give up, you can meet your goals.

There are no guarantees

The best way to guarantee you won’t have a happy ending is to avoid, procrastinate, and put off getting out there and dating. Unless you have a crystal ball that works, you’ll have to take events as they come along. If you take your time, and approach dating in a logical fashion, there’s not too much that can go wrong. You’ll meet some nice people and some strange ones. You’ll have some great times, and some times that are not-so-great. There’s no guarantee that you’ll meet Prince or Princess charming and live happily ever after. But, by following the sensible suggestions laid out for you in this book, you can guarantee that you will meet good people, have a great time, and thoroughly enjoy dating again.

© 2015 Tina B. Tessina
adapted from: Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences (Kindle and Paperback)

Author Bio: Tina B. Tessina, Ph.D. is a licensed psychotherapist in S. California since 1978 with over 35 years’ experience in counseling individuals and couples and author of 13 books in 17 languages, including It Ends With You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction; Money, Sex and Kids: Stop Fighting About the Three Things That Can Ruin Your Marriage, Dr. Romance’s Guide to Dating in the Digital Age; The Ten Smartest Decisions a Woman Can Make After Forty; Love Styles: How to Celebrate Your Differences and her newest, The Real 13th Step.  She writes the “Dr. Romance” blog, and the “Happiness Tips from Tina” email newsletter.

Dr. Tessina has been CRO (Chief Romance Officer) for Love Forever. Online, she’s known as “Dr. Romance” Dr. Tessina appears frequently on radio, TV, video and podcasts.

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