I used to date in a fantasy land – a world of pink clouds, ideal partners and perfect relationships, until, after many years of singleness and dating disasters, I came back down to earth with a bump and learned to date from a grounded, mature place. Let me break this down for you, and help you avoid making the same mistakes.
Firstly, I spent many years looking for a man who didn’t exist – someone who would tick all my boxes. He would be tall and handsome, smart and successful and he’d dance salsa, play sport and speak a few languages, alongside having a strong faith, being emotionally literate and hilariously funny. I eventually discovered that I was asking for too much in one package.
Secondly, as soon as I met someone I liked, my imagination would run wild. I’d conjure up pictures of our ‘happy ever after’ before I got to know him. This often meant I’d put pressure on the relationship, scaring the man off, or I’d ignore red flags that signalled we should break up. I’d also end up terribly disappointed when things didn’t work out.
Thirdly, I dated with an idealised view of a committed relationship, assuming the road would always be smooth. That meant as soon as we hit a bump, I’d conclude that we were incompatible and I’d head off in search of a problem-free partnership.
If you can relate to any of the above, here are five ways to stay grounded when dating and as you search for love:
Remember the point of the first date
On a first date, you have one objective: to find out if you want a second date. Often, we ask ourselves if this person is ‘The One’, or if we could see ourselves being together long-term, or if our friends would like this person. We’re getting ahead of ourselves with these questions.
Keep it simple. Do I want to see this person again? Am I curious about this person? Would I like to know more?
Check if you’re holding out for Mr or Mrs Perfect
We all have likes and dislikes but when we go dating with a rigid list of requirements or an image of someone who couldn’t possibly exist, we criticise everyone we meet and convince ourselves there’s someone better out there. I did this, leaving my now-husband three times, judging him for not being ‘enough’, before I realised he was a gem.
Date with a broad-brush vision and with your feet on the ground. This isn’t about lowering your standards. It’s about understanding whether you are sabotaging yourself – pushing good people away because you’re scared of going deeper, scared of love.
Practice healthy boundaries
Boundaries are key to healthy dating and they come in all shapes and sizes. To stay grounded, there are two main types of boundaries I’d like you to consider:
The first is around your thinking. If your imagination wanders off into a fantasy future where you and your date are skipping through a meadow or walking down an aisle, gently bring it back to the present moment.
The second boundary is around communication. In the early stages of dating, go light on the electronic messaging. It’s easy to build up a false sense of intimacy or intensity through messaging and this isn’t helpful either.
In both cases, reality may not be able to compete with your fantasy and you’ll end up disappointed. It’s a long way down from the pink cloud – I know this from experience.
Get clear on the realities of long-term relationships
Yes, we want romance. We want to feel delighted, excited and hopeful. But if we have an unrealistic idea of relationships, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, and potentially we’re condemning our partnership to failure.
Many of us who come from challenging childhoods have a tendency to date with the fantasy of perfect care – hoping that our partner will meet all the needs that went unmet when we were young. This is unrealistic. It puts too much pressure on our partner and the relationship. It also means we’ll want to run away at the first sign of disagreement.
We can educate ourselves about the realities of long-term relationships by chatting to people who are in healthy partnerships. Ask them about the journey they’ve been on, about the good times and the inevitable bumps in the road. Having a realistic picture helps us to stay with someone long enough to figure out whether the relationship is worth pursuing, rather than giving up at the first hurdle.
Finish your business from your past (as best as you can)
As mentioned above, many of us have wounds from our younger years and we carry these into our romantic lives. Maybe we have the fantasy of perfect care, or we have big expectations or deep fears, or we’re easily triggered by rejection, abandonment or anger.
We don’t have to be totally sorted to date and find love, but our path will be less painful if we are aware of how our early life relationships have impacted us and if we have begun our journey of healing. We can ask God for support with this deep healing as well as our friends, and we can seek professional help when required.
So, the next time you go dating, ask yourself: are my feet on the floor and are my foundations in place?
Emotional maturity, self-awareness and healthy boundaries make dating a richer, more enjoyable and less painful experience and pave the way for a healthy relationship.
How have you found it hard to stay grounded when dating?
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