“The Rules” of dating seem to get blurrier the more we achieve in recognizing gender equality. When we clear away the confusion, though, dating is just a life skill, like healthy eating or applying for jobs.

Here are 18 simple dating tips to help you prepare yourself, navigate the online scene, build quality relationships, and feel successful, regardless of how the date or the relationship ends.

Before You Start Dating Tips:

1. Get clear on your expectations.

People date for different reasons. Are you looking for casual connections without any expectations, to find some companionship, or to find an empowering partner for the rest of your life? Be honest with yourself about your expectations, and then communicate them openly. Don’t compromise just because a man is especially sexy, charming, or successful.

2. Define success in empowering terms.

People can now expect to change careers three to five times in their lives and to move multiple times to new places. We’re still taught that a successful relationship is “happily ever after.” But does it have to be? Katherine Woodward Thomas teaches us to consider that a successful relationship could be one that is loving from start to finish, even when the finish comes as a break-up. If the only definition of success in a relationship is one that lasts until death, then very few relationships could be called “successful.” Redefine success in terms of being loving, having integrity, and learning.

3. Have standards.

Our standards slide when we fear we won’t find somebody, so we settle for anybody. While this speaks to the nurturing capacity of women to love just about anybody, we need to learn that we can still be loving and be selective. Decide now that you will only date a man who meets your “Musts.”

What are the attributes that a man must have to be worth your heart? Make a list with two headings: “My man must” and “My man should.” Give yourself 10 minutes to list without censoring or second-guessing. Then go back through your list and ask yourself, “Is this really true?” Keep revising until you have a very clear picture of what you want. These are your “Musts.”

4. Raise your standards for yourself, too.

On the flip side, we often have huge expectations for our ideal partner, but we let ourselves get by with less than our best. If you are going to attract and date your “Must” man, make choices to develop your best self.

Make a new list with these headings: “To be my best self, I must” and “To be my best self, I should.” List for 10 uncensored minutes. Again, look back asking, “Is this true?” Make a plan to address every “Must” on your list at least twice over the next 10 days. This helps you nurture your own needs, regardless of how any date goes.

5. Remember that dating is a process.

If you want to have a fit body, you eventually learn that it is an on-going process. You can’t do 100 sit-ups once every six months and expect your body to change. Dating, too, takes persistence to see the results you are seeking. If you get frustrated that you aren’t finding what you’re looking for, remind yourself that there is no failure as long as you keep learning. Bad dates and relationships are opportunities to help you get clearer on who you are, how you can improve, and what you value most.

Online Dating Tips:

6. Initiate contact intelligently.

When a man’s profile seems to indicate that he could be a candidate who meets your “Musts,” message him. People have busy lives, and there’s no reason to wait for him to notice you. Don’t send messages that give him no idea of who you are or what you want, like, “Hi! How was your day?” Instead, be clear and put the ball in his court. A better message is: “Hi, Chris. There’s something about your profile that attracted me. I’m interested in getting to know you better. Are you open to the idea of meeting? Leslie.”

7. Play the numbers.

Ignore this tip if it doesn’t work for the expectations you established in Tip 1.

Online dating, in fact all dating, is a numbers game. Your goal is to connect with as many men as you can. Remember that these are total strangers, and you don’t owe them anything. Like fishing, you can put out one line, wait around to see what happens, reel it in, decide it’s too small, throw it back and start again. Or you can throw out a net and have your pick of the harvest. If you’re looking for the right one for you in a sea of strangers, the more contact you make with different men, the better your odds.

8. Don’t waste time messaging.

You can message with a man for weeks, have deep conversations, or do some steamy sexting. But you’ll never know if there’s a real spark until you meet face to face. Use messages, emails, and calls to establish contact and arrange the logistical details of the date, with a touch of playful banter. Save the good conversation for one-on-one, when your eyes and tone of voice add to the allure. And your first meeting should always be in a public place.

Early Dating Tips:

9. Allow some communication lag time.

Whether you’re texting, messaging, or returning phone calls, avoid the urge to respond immediately to every little message. This isn’t about playing hard to get. Rather, it’s about setting healthy boundaries. Returning messages the instant you receive them can appear co-dependent or needy, as if his every word fuels your survival. Relax, and get back to him when you’ve had a moment to check-in with your higher self.

10. Smile.

There is nothing sexier to a man than a woman’s smile. It makes a man happy when he feels he can make a woman happy. If a man doesn’t believe he can make you happy, he will eventually leave, either physically or emotionally. There’s no need to be fake. Just share sincere smiles and laughter as they come. A beautiful, genuine smile is ten-million times more attractive than your hair, make-up, clothes or figure.

11. Say “No.”

No matter how much money he’s spent on you or how badly you think it may hurt his feelings, don’t ever do anything that makes you uncomfortable. You have a gut instinct; listen to it. If a man is really worth it, he will understand. Feeling resentful or violated should never be something you have to accept to be in a relationship with anyone.

12. Protect children.

If either of you have children, protect them first. Never use children to build your relationship. It’s very confusing to children, even teenagers, when their parents date. Children can form bonds and expectations very quickly. Only bring the children into the picture when you are certain that the relationship has become one with longevity. And if the relationship seems that it may end, be sure to allow the children to voice their feelings and grieve the loss, too.

Long-term Dating Tips:

13. Play games.

People often say they don’t want their partner to play games, but that’s not 100% true. They don’t want to play hurtful, manipulative games. They do want to play inventive, imaginative, expressive games. These games allow our fullest selves to come alive. In a healthy relationship, people play with each other. Let your time together be fun and adventurous in whatever way feels good for you.

14. Give love to give love.

When people give love to get love, inevitably, someone will feel that they are giving more than they receive. Love isn’t even measurable in the first place; it simply is. While many people try to protect themselves from getting hurt by waiting to say, “I love you,” and guarding how expressive they are with their feelings, this actually leads to more pain. Choose to be a woman who expresses love to all people because that is the truest reflection of who you are. You only truly feel love when you are expressing it. You’ll be amazed at how much love you feel when you focus on giving rather than receiving.

15. Appreciate the gifts and resources that he shares.

Whether you are dating a man with significant wealth or a poor poet, thank him for the gifts he shares with you. If the man you’re dating has an abundance of money, talent, intelligence, accomplishment, or prestige, acknowledge these realities and that you may feel intimidated. Appreciate the entire person he is, not just those impressive bits. Be generous in sharing your own gifts and resources, knowing you are worthy in your own right!

16. What if you’re the breadwinner?

Sociologist Christin Munsch found in her research that in marriages where the woman brings in significantly more income than the man, the man is more likely to cheat. While this finding decreased in non-married committed relationships, a noticeably higher number of men reported cheating in relationships when they were economically dependent on the woman. The most critical finding in Munch’s study actually had to do with the role conflict played in infidelity: lower reported conflict correlated to lower reported cheating by men. If you are a woman making more than your man, invest in conflict resolution coaching as a couple. Learn how to uncover conflict and see resolution as an opportunity to grow and strengthen your relationship.

Dating Tips for Parting Ways:

17. End all dates with gratitude.

Accept that dating is about finding the right fit. When you put together a puzzle, you don’t measure your skill by your ability to jam pieces together and “make it work.” You have to keep going through the pieces, trying and discarding until you find the right match. Stop defining “good dates” as matches. Instead, no matter how the date goes, be grateful that you and he were willing to try. If either one of you feels that it is not a good match, that’s great! Now you can be free to go find someone who fits with who you are and the person you are working to become.

18. Get back on the horse.

No one knows how much time it takes to recover from a break-up. For a while, you may choose not to date as a part of a healthy grieving process. Be careful not to wait too long out of fear of experiencing hurt or rejection. When you are genuinely interested into a new relationship, start dating again to practice these skills. When you go on dates, share your hopeful dreams for the future because this will help you solidify all that is possible and compelling. Choose love over fear.

What do you think about these dating tips? Are there any you would add? Leave them in the comments below!

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