Whether you’re fresh from a break-up or fed up of a pandemic-induced fallow period, getting back in the dating game can be a daunting prospect.
But while the temptation can be to throw yourself in and join every dating app going, the reality is it’s unlikely you’ll meet the person of your dreams if you’re not in the right headspace.
Putting yourself under pressure to couple-up with someone out of fear you’re ‘running out of time’ is a common problem which can often lead to bad decisions warns Lauren Windle, author of Notes on Love: Being Single and Dating in a Marriage Obsessed Church.
Lauren, a 33-year-old journalist and Tedx speaker, pointed out that time spent being single can be valuable to your dating life because it gives you the space to grow into a better future partner.
She even recommends taking a period of time – dubbed a ‘season of singleness’ – where you deliberately don’t date to ‘reflect on yourself’. But how do you know when you’re at the point of being single and ready to mingle?
Here Lauren shares the questions she firmly believes you should ask yourself before swiping right.
Whether you’re fresh from a break-up or fed up of a pandemic-induced fallow period, getting back in the dating game can be a daunting prospect (stock image)
Have you culled the ex?
I’m not saying you need to do an ex bonfire in the style of the girls from Friends, but it is important to emotionally let go of your ex and that often includes physically letting go of their stuff.
If you’re still harbouring his hoody or her fancy shampoo then it’s time for it to hit the bin/charity shop.
After years of walking around wearing various ex-boyfriends’ tracksuit bottoms to bed and T-shirts to the gym, I decided it was time to cull all relationship remnants. I chucked them out and went straight to the shops to get myself my own oversized men’s clothes; to: me; from: me. That legendary day I reclaimed my loungewear and strutted out of TK Maxx feeling like a queen.
Don’t stop at clothes; a shoebox of memories, cards, presents, letters – if it’s dragging you down, get rid.
Log off their Netflix and pay for your own subscription. Unfollow on social media. Delete voicemails, WhatsApp conversations, emails and texts. You can’t start the next chapter in your life if you’re still thumbing through the last one.
If this is filling you with dread, ask yourself why. Maybe you’re not ready yet. That’s fine. Take it easy and in time you’ll get there. It will feel like shedding old skin.
Lauren Windle, a 33-year-old journalist, Tedx speaker and author of Notes on Love, pointed out that time spent being single can be valuable to your dating life because it gives you the space to grow into a better future partner
Are you jealous of others in relationships?
How do you feel when you see another engagement announcement online? Is your immediate reaction to feel excited for the couple, or do you take it personally that you’re not there yet?
Jealousy kills joy. I’m not standing on a high and mighty pulpit with this one – it is hard. But comparing other people’s journeys with yours will only serve to make you feel low, rushed and panicked.
Don’t be someone who is so consumed by a craving for coupling-up that you can’t attend an anniversary party or wedding. You’ll miss out on so much. Things can get ugly when you allow jealousy to creep in.
In situations that provoke a knee-jerk reaction, you can’t help your first thought, but you can help your second. Active response: take captive that thought, call it out and send it away. I find using tools from the Bible helps; make it obedient to Christ, then pray a prayer of gratitude over that person/those people. This is the most effective response for tackling jealousy. If you can do that every time you get a pang of envy, your mindset will change very quickly and, eventually, so will that first thought.
How to nail your first date
LOGISTICS: If you suggest the date, have some idea of what you want to do. I strongly suggest not putting too much effort in. This is an opportunity for them to meet YOU, not the showcase of amazing dates you can play. Go for a low-key drink or dinner.
DON’T BE TOO LATE: Five minutes is fine, but keeping someone waiting for half an hour is a poor start. Also you want to arrive carefree and relaxed, not bursting through the door sweating.
STAY CALM: It’s not an audition, it’s just two people enjoying each other’s company.
DON’T HOG THE CHAT: If this was a football match, you’d want to have about 50 per cent possession. Don’t hog the ball. Ask questions related to your date and what that person has just said, and then really listen to the answer. And don’t tailor conversations so you can shoehorn in your own achievements. There is nothing more attractive than an attribute you discover naturally later down the line.
DON’T OVERSHARE: Keep it light and fun, see if you can laugh together before you cry together.
DON’T TALK IDEALS: Don’t ask what the other person is looking for – you are you, and if you really like someone, you run the risk of trying to adapt to the other person’s checklist. This won’t create a natural dating experience and your date will catch you out and realise you’re not that person later down the line anyway.
PUT YOUR PHONE AWAY: Pay attention to the person in front of you, not in your pocket.
A MAN DOESN’T HAVE TO PAY: If it’s a pay-when-you-order thing, I suggest going in for rounds. For me, going halves is the way forward (but if a man insists on paying, let him, but suggest you pay next time, unless there won’t be one. In that case I would kindly explain and offer to transfer half the cost.)
KISSING: If you’re both into it, there’s nothing wrong with kissing on a first date. If you think you want to, go for it in the body of the actual date rather than tacking it on the end – it allows you to see if there’s a physical attraction.
Do you think you need to change your appearance?
Are you planning on putting yourself out there once you’ve lost those 2kg? Or bulked up to a certain weight? Do you think you need to wait until your skin clears up?
It’s a balancing act because dating is based on attraction and a part of that is physical. So, it is important to be well presented, to have put thought into how you dress and to have good hygiene.
But you don’t need to fundamentally change how you look. Be careful deciding to change in aid of meeting a partner.
Who you ultimately are, the person who is trying (and failing at times) to do things well, who wants to be kind, to focus on what is right, to connect with people in a range of different ways – that person is good.
You don’t have to change for your future partner. You are you. Plus, when I asked a focus group what one piece of advice they would offer to people dating when researching my book, one man spoke up immediately and said: ‘People worry too much about how they look… Looks are important but not that important. What I want to know is, “Do I want to speak to them at the end of a long day?”‘
Have you put being in a relationship in its rightful place?
How much emphasis have you put on meeting someone? Has it become all-consuming? Do you believe that if you could just meet someone, you’d be happy, your primary problem would be solved and your life could finally really start?
If you’re desperate for a relationship to sort things out for you, it may not be healthy for you to be in one right now. You could be Lenny, from Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck (some of you may remember this book from GCSE days).
Lenny liked soft things, so when he found a little mouse he took it to pet, but in his enthusiasm he smothered and killed it. You don’t want to smother the mouse.
Ask yourself what hole you believe a relationship will fill in your life and work out other, healthy ways to fill it. If a relationship comes after that it’s a bonus.
Are you worried you have too much emotional baggage?
Emotional baggage? Oh you mean the tough circumstances and pain you had to overcome to get where you are today? The difficulties that developed your empathy so you could better connect with other people in their struggles?
Take it from a former drug addict (on April 22, 2014 I got clean and sober from a cocaine and alcohol addiction and became a Christian five days later) carry the ‘baggage’ with your head held high and be grateful it got you where you are today.
That’s not a Primark wheelie carry-on, that’s a Louis Vuitton valise set. It is beautiful.
Do you have an unhelpful pattern?
Have you got a pattern of going for someone who needs ‘fixing’, a saviour? Or maybe your pattern is writing things off too early?
Are you put off by superficial things? Panicking at the first signs things are getting serious? Or choosing people who are emotionally unavailable?
If so, recognising that pattern and taking some time to figure out why could be a really valuable tool.
Notes on Love: Being Single and Dating in a Marriage Obsessed Church by Lauren Windle is out now
How much do you value yourself?
Do you realise what you’re worth? Do you value yourself enough to only stand for the best and most respectful treatment from your partner?
Is there a chance that low self-esteem could allow you to accept an abusive relationship? Are you ready to receive love? Are you ready to be truly known?
Do you believe that when you expose the best and worst of yourself, someone will still love you? Will you try to get people to desire you rather than know and truly love you? These questions are big.
I have a Masters in Addiction Studies and run a charity recovery course for people struggling with addiction. When I work with women as their sponsor or through a mentoring scheme, this is what it usually boils down to. The source of it all.
If you don’t know your value, you can get in all kinds of trouble. The worst-case scenario, and one I frequently see on the Recovery Course, is that a lack of grounding in people’s worth leads them to accept poor treatment in a relationship, or even abuse.
If this is the case, then dating isn’t safe for you right now. If that rings true for you, please seek help; speak to a counsellor, therapist, GP or a church leader. Find someone you can confidentially be completely honest with.
Do you have capacity to handle a break-up?
If you don’t have the emotional and spiritual capacity to cope with a break-up, disappointment or rejection in a healthy way, you have no business dating right now.
Dating can be brutal and you will never be unaffected by rejection. It’s OK for it to be painful and for you to feel the pain. But if you’re in a place where that pain could throw you off the rails, cause you to turn to unhealthy practices or drive you into a breakdown, then please be kind to yourself and give yourself some more time. If you’re going to be fully present and vulnerable and open, there’s no way of protecting yourself.
Notes on Love by Lauren Windle is available to buy now on Amazon. Follow Lauren on Instagram.