After spending 12 long years with Mr. Wrong, I didn’t know how to date. I didn’t even know if I wanted to! My ex wasn’t perfect, but I put so much time and effort into the relationship. What if he was the one? How could I possibly find someone better for me than he was? Or someone I would love as much as I loved him?
If you seem to always pick the wrong people to date, this one’s for you. Here’s the story of how I learned to find “the one.” Don’t want my story and want to go straight to my advice? Scroll on down to the “What I Learned” section!
The Learning Experience
My ex and I had been on-again off-again for the last five years of our relationship, but for 4 of those years we never dated other people. During our second to last “off” time, he decided to date a 19-year-old and didn’t tell me until we were back together.
I was devastated. I kept asking him to compare me to her. I needed him to think I was better than her so that I could feel good about myself. And that’s when I realized it– I based my self esteem on what he thought of me. I was never going to see if I actually loved him and wanted to be with him if I needed his constant approval to be happy.
At the time, I was reading Feeling Good, the book my therapist recommended that helped me finally start turning my life around. The same author had another book, Intimate Connections, about learning to build relationships (romantic and otherwise). Yes, this book was really old and out of print. But I decided to give it a try.
I wasn’t currently making any friends and was so terrified of being judged that I’d avoid most social interactions at all costs. (Social anxiety is not fun.) This book explained to me that I had to learn to be happy with myself and by myself before I could be happy with someone else. (Read How to Be Happy Alone (And What to Do When You Are) for more about my journey learning to enjoy spending time alone.)
I couldn’t believe how much happier I was when my self esteem came from inside me instead of from the reactions of other people. I became confident enough to start dating for the first time since I was a teenager.
I tried the free dating websites like everyone does. The first guy I dated was great– handsome, well-educated, ambitious… and we hit it off really well. We set up a second date almost immediately.
The second date went just as well. This dating thing was so easy! For our third date, he invited me to his house to play video games (a hobby we both had in common). And that’s when it hit me– I’d have to kiss him on a third date. Was I ready to take that step? That would mean that things were really over with my ex… and so I canceled the date and never talked to the guy again.
After that first experience, online dating started to suck. I’d spend weeks getting to know a guy online just to find out on the first date that there was no chemistry. Or he’d talk about his ex the whole time. Or we had completely different interests. How do people do it?
I decided to start meeting people in person right away after establishing a connection online. This just increased the number of bad dates I was going on. I was getting beyond frustrated.
But then I met a guy I did get along with. He was nerdy like me, he treated me well, and he was ambitious enough to be in school finishing his degree while working a full time job. He checked all the right boxes. And so, for the third date, he invited himself over to my place and I agreed.
We ordered in and he brought a bottle of red wine. I credit that bottle of wine with my current love of red wine and my current happiness. Sounds crazy, right? Let me explain!
I never liked red wine, but this one wasn’t bad. I drank just enough to be more comfortable having a man other than my ex at my place for the first time in more than a decade. After dinner, he asked if he could kiss me. Without the wine, I would have over-thought it and probably said no, even though I wanted to. With the wine, I was relaxed enough to say yes. And he was a perfect gentleman when I told him that’s as far as I was willing to go. (For the record, I do not advocate drinking to feel comfortable with your date.)
It didn’t work out with red wine guy, but that one kiss showed me that I could build a connection with someone else and paved the way for me to finally get over my ex. (In case you’re curious, we dated for about a month. But when I found out he smoked pot, I knew my ex wouldn’t like it, so I broke it off. Yep, I was convinced I would stay friends with my ex, and his approval was still important to me. Go figure.)
I decided to wise up about how I would go about meeting people. My therapist told me about the website Meetup as a way to meet people with similar interests to me and make friends. I found a Meetup for playing board games and decided to go.
I got there late the first time, and all of the tables were already full of people. The meeting organizers threw me into a table with a few older people, one crocheting during the game and one telling me all about his board game business. Not the type of crowd I was hoping to meet, but I could see that some of the other tables had people more like me.
I made sure to come early the second time. In fact, I was so early that there was only one other person there. Instead of sitting at an open table like I normally would, I went straight up to him and introduced myself. We found one thing in common right away: we had both just come out of long-term relationships and were using Meetup to try to make friends. We’d find many other common interests in our conversations during the 4-hour event, and even more after the event was over.
We walked outside together and he asked me if I knew of any good places to eat in the area. I already had plans that night, so I told him I didn’t and ended up walking away WITHOUT GIVING HIM MY NUMBER! If that weren’t bad enough, the friend I was supposed to meet canceled on me while I was walking to my car. I totally blew it.
Good thing Meetup is a magical thing. Later that night, I got a message from someone else who had attended the event. I didn’t know you could do that! I emailed the guy I didn’t mean to blow off and asked him if he found a good place for dinner. This simple act sparked daily texts and phone calls and then the BEST first date of my life. I even wanted him to kiss me at the end of it! (He didn’t.)
That doesn’t mean I didn’t have my doubts. Was he really going to be better than my ex? I had history with my ex. I knew what to expect. And while I could overlook all my ex’s flaws, I was hypercritical of everything I could find wrong with this new guy (which wasn’t much). What was I doing?
I wanted the crazy drama of my last relationship. If I wasn’t doing some desperate chase, was it really love? Was I invested enough in the relationship? I should feel intense emotions all the time, even if those emotions weren’t positive, right?
As you can imagine if you’ve read How to Tell That It’s Time to End Your Relationship, I had a hard time making the right choices. I told board game guy that I wasn’t over my ex and needed closure. And so I broke up with him for a few months and went back to my ex. But I wasn’t happy. I was MISERABLE. The spell was finally broken. After you meet “the one,” nothing else compares.
P.S. I’m now engaged to board game guy. 🙂
What I Learned: How to Find “The One”
I should clarify just a bit. I don’t believe there’s just one right person out there for everyone. I believe there are plenty of people you can be happy with and choose to build a life with. However, there are plenty of WRONG ones, so here’s my advice on finding one of the right ones.
Learn to be happy on your own first. This is easier said than done. Go to How to Be Happy Alone (And What to Do When You Are) for my advice on this topic.
Figure out the kind of life you want to live. Think long term and day to day. What’s important to you? In five years, do you want to focus on your career? Raise kids? Travel the world? What about in ten years? Twenty?
How many hours a day do you want to work? How do you spend your time after work? Do you want your SO to spend that time with you? How much alone time do you need?
Do you like busy, social weekends or quiet ones at home? What hobbies do you want to share with your SO? What do you want to do on your own?
Then, find someone who fits that life. If you’re the kind of person who values learning and growth in your SO, you’re not going to be happy with someone who’s content to work the same job they’ve had since high school and doesn’t spend any time picking up new skills. If you’re a party animal on the weekends, you’re not going to be happy with a homebody– unless they’re happy to spend the weekends alone and you’re happy to go out without them.
If you like to work out after work, find someone who shares your love of fitness. If you’re a workaholic, find someone who works just as hard or who’s happy to spend the time alone with their hobbies while you’re working. If you need a lot of time with your SO to be happy, find someone who isn’t going to think you’re “needy” for wanting that time.
Since you want to find someone who shares your interests, try to meet people while doing the things you like to do. Are you religious and want to find someone of the same faith? Participate in events with your place of worship. Want to find someone literary? Join some book clubs. Want someone sporty? Join a weekend sports league. You get the idea. This goes double for the introverts like me out there– it’s so much easier to get to know someone when you’re participating in an activity together. Meetup is one great resource to get started.
Even if you don’t have a ton of chemistry in the beginning, give people a chance. Now, I’m not saying you should date someone you’re totally disinterested in. But if there’s some chemistry and it seems like this person could fit into the type of life you want to lead, don’t break it off early. You’d be surprised how much chemistry can grow as you get to know someone– and in my opinion, a relationship that gets better with time as chemistry grows is much better than a relationship that starts from total chemistry and then fizzles.
You can build a relationship with someone despite of your strong feelings for them, not because of those feelings. Hormones at the beginning of a relationship are a wonderful thing. But if your hormones are the main reason you’re pursuing someone, you’ve got nowhere to go but down. You may, like I did, end up holding onto someone who is not treating you well simply because you “love” them. You may be convinced that constant fights and begging for your needs to be met are just a normal sacrifice you make for love. I’m here to tell you: that’s not love. That’s masochism.
Make sure your emotional needs are met. Now, you may have unrealistic expectations here. No one can make you happy– that’s your job. The way you can make yourself happy in a relationship is to figure out what you expect from an SO and find someone who meets those expectations. Do you want to get married? Don’t stay with someone who keeps putting it off or refuses to consider the idea. Do you need them to tell you that they love you regularly? Do you want regular date nights? Surprises? Favors? Frequent physical affection? Find someone who meets these needs naturally or who is willing to make the effort to meet your needs. Just don’t neglect meeting your SO’s needs in return.
Here’s a good rule of thumb: if it feels like one of you is constantly nagging the other, someone’s emotional needs probably aren’t being met.
Pick someone you can easily compromise with. “Fights” are inevitable, but watch the way you fight. When you disagree, you should both be able to communicate openly about your views. Figure out WHY you both want what you want and see if there’s a new way to get there. While this book is geared more toward business negotiations, Getting to Yes has some good advice for navigating arguments. When your disputes with your SO look more like debates than shouting matches, you’re in a good place.
Learn to let go of the wrong ones. You can read all about how to recognize when it’s time to let go here.
Have you found “the one”? Still looking? Have you made mistakes along the way? Let us know in the comments, and don’t forget to subscribe to The Hard Way Learner so you can share in our Facebook group!