How to stand out of from the crowd on the dating scene

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The world is full of strange and beautiful shadows that will ask you to dance when you're unprepared. It's the same with a new relationship. A rush of excitement follows a sudden impulse to fear. It's like your first crash on a bike, when you realize that the very thing that's made you feel alive and fearless is capable of hurting you.

I remember the rush of freedom in my stomach, flying down that gravel hill. It was maybe 6 or 7 and I hadn't figured out how to stick the sharp left turn into the driveway. My hair tangled in knots and my helmet perched loosely on my head, I crested the height of the hill, taking command of the handlebars. The feeling of speed was weightless and pure.

The left hand turn was just at the base of the hill. I swear that I am still afraid to turn left, on skis, in my car, or on a skateboard, from this experience. I cranked sharply to the left and felt the back tire slipping sideways. Dirt and rock flew everywhere and the handlebars overcorrected as I flew clear of them. Loose rocks embedded into my skin. Blood dripped. In throbbing knees and skinned elbows and stinging tears—I learned. Mid-air, I learned. We all learn that way.

The words of one of my favorite poets speaks the truth about what it is to risk in love:

"I loved you the same way that I learned how to ride a bike: Scared but reckless."  -Rudy Francisco

And all the heartbroken say "Amen." It hurts desperately to fall in love.  But in the same breath, it is also the only thing strong enough to heal us. Love wages a war between the primitive and logical sides of the brain, lodging our hearts unfairly in this battleground. Sometimes it feels like the best we can do is to navigate it without setting off landmines.

Dating can feel like that sharp left turn: we are scared to take it for the risks, or we are too reckless in it.

Love excites me but scares the hell out of me, and consequently, so does dating. It's much more comfortable and safe to be alone, but it doesn't compare to the security of knowing real love. It's too good to pass up.

First dates have the dreamiest of potential.  They are thrilling, awkward, and carry the delight of a clean slate. If we risk opening up our hearts, a first date can be more than we ever dreamed. And there's little appreciation for living in the tension that a first date, I think.

One of my biggest downfalls in relationships is that I rush things. I want all the answers, I dive in too fast, and rush past the beauty of the moment I'm in. I don't let peace act as a mantel on my shoulders: balancing the tension, holding space for the things someone else wants to say, and welcoming them in slowly. These anxieties crowd out the magic of love.

A great first date means you invite the magic of a new person into your heart, even if one day, you fall off the bike and get hurt. 

Some of these lessons are hard won. But there's no safer way to find out. And if you are like me, and you are cautiously excited to explore new avenues that challenge your long-held beliefs about love, you will do things like trying online dating for a year

Online dating has somewhat of a notorious reputation, especially when used by "dirty dirty cheats" as Taylor Swift would say, to fool honest and good people. This is me raising my hand to say that I have experienced that kind of online dating. However, I am also happy to report that the majority of men I've met online were well-adjusted, happy guys looking for love, the same as me.

The cultural winds have shifted in dating, for better, or worse. A Pew Research Report that gathered data between the years 2005 to 2013 shares that "42% of all Americans know an online dater, and 29% know someone who has used online dating to find a spouse or other long-term relationship." 

So while the game has changed for how you meet someone, the rules haven't much. 

If you're like me, you might be thinking "How can I stand out in a landscape where personalities are profiles and beauty is reduced to a swipe-through of five, carefully curated photos?'"

If you are on this journey, I have some suggestions on how to navigate this landscape, and make wise choices that are good for your heart. Your heart is what makes this experience of finding love worth it. You bring the gifts that someone else will delight in. And your personality is one that the right person will unravel like a beautiful piece of ribbon on a gift, slowly, carefully, and with admiration. 

So do not despair! You don't even need to go buy the most expensive pair of jeans or take up sea diving, windsurfing, oil painting, and running marathons because you think that's what other people find interesting.

Instead, use a few of these practical tips, and you find how quickly you already have the hot seat with online dating. People will start treating you differently, or maybe even walking away because they will see that you have standards (gasp!) and that, my friends, is straight up sexy. 

1. Consistency is hot. Don't just take my word for it. Simon Sinek thinks so too

I have interviewed (maybe interrogated) some of my closest friends on how they found love. Was it a spark? A chance meeting in the grocery store? Something he said? Something he did that made him exceptional in your eyes? The response I got almost every time wasn't specific things he did, but the intent with which he did things that made her realize that he treasured her. 

So what was this magical intent?

Consistency! Wow, well that's not sexy. Because consistency is boring and predictable right? We need spontaneity, unpredictability, fireworks, Disney-movie-worthy acts of extravagance from a potential love interest to capture our hearts, right?

Maybe not. 

I think women innately understand that despite the excitement of chasing a man down, it's not a sustainable or healthy pattern in a relationship. Consistency in actions is the glue that holds a relationship intact. You can't build much of a foundation for a relationship if consistent effort is not delivered on both ends.

There is a value exchange in a relationship when you give of your time, your heart, and emotions to someone else. If you feel as though you are investing in this value exchange without receiving either deeper trust, understanding, or security from another person, this a hint that this person either does not view relationships as a mutual value exchange, or simply isn't interested in one with you.

That's hard to stomach, but it's easier to walk away early, or to move toward a man, when you can identify that this person is consistent in how they treat you. This doesn't mean there won't be gaps in communication or mistakes made. Nobody's perfect! But the key to a successful relationship is showing you are willing to be consistent, early on. It will speak volumes about your character, how you expect to be treated in the relationship, and how you will operate going forward. Flakiness is good for croissants. Bad for boyfriends.

 

2. Appearances, in the long run, are overrated. Show him your sparkly character, your playful side, and sense of humor. 

Anne Lamott, a brilliant and truthful writer has this paragraph of wisdom to share with us on how to have a big, juicy creative (and fulfilling) life. She says:

"Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people-pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space like when you were a kid? It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen."

What Anne and I are trying to say to you is, don't disqualify yourself from living the life you want based on impossible, perfectionistic expectations. The images on Instagram are lying. The magazine bodies are lying. We all know it, a thousand times over, and yet somehow we forget and live beneath the thinly veiled terror of someone else judging us for how we look. 

Every woman in the room struggles with some facet of her beauty. That is a given. What I want you to focus on is less of the externals, and more on what makes you shine.

Go back and think of five really great compliments you received about your gifts or personality in the past year.  What do others admire about you?  What activities bring that part of you back to life? If marriage is a 50 year conversation like David Brooks says, think about the types of things you want to talk about with someone else. What pushes your buttons? What makes you double over with laughter? (People running with their backpacks on makes me laugh :) What subject are you endlessly passionate about?

 

3.  Have standards and don't be afraid to communicate them.

Disclaimer:  I don't say this without knowing the cost of letting go of a future with someone. It hurts. You will second guess what you've done, but just because your heart still feels pain, does not mean it was the wrong choice. 

Now, most people fall into one of two camps with "having standards" and the first extreme usually goes like:

"My guy should be six foot two, muscular athletic build, dark hair, no kids, adventurous, outdoorsman, meticulously clean, never married, steady job, has a puppy, drives a truck, blah blah blah blah." Remember: You are trying to find someone do live life with, not mail-ordering a husband! 

The other camp has a tendency to cling to the next guy she meets not because he's amazing and the man of her dreams, but because he has "such great potential." Like a fixer upper. And any man who senses you will treat him like a fixer upper would be wise to run in the other direction. This is a lack of having standards (not being picky enough) and it will set you up for a lot of wasted years with the wrong person.

Having standards is less about listing out what you desire in a man (which can be good from a high-level "values" perspective) but more about knowing what behaviors you will not tolerate (from anyone). 

More self-respect: less tolerant. Less self-respect: more tolerant.

Here's how it works. In a healthy relationship, if we have a high view of our worth, we will only invite others into our trusted space who also treat us according to that worth. If we have a low view of our worth, we will invite people into our lives who view us in this same way.

This has taken me quite a while to understand in the context of relationships, when boyfriends or love interests would disrespect my time, flake on important events, or repeatedly dodge communication on big issues.  The school of hard knocks taught me that I was treated this way mostly because I allowed it.

 

4. Say what you need to say.

Yes, I just used a John Mayer lyric as sage wisdom, because really people, the man can write a love song! People skills are rare but so beautiful. And probably one of the scariest things about dating is communicating about the important things in a relationship, especially if its new.

Now, I'm not talking about giving someone a laundry list of what you hope to get out of a relationship. That is demanding and not very interesting to anyone. What I mean is that it's ok to sneak in what you value into every day conversations. Share your likes, your dislikes, what's ok to joke about, and what makes you want to run and hide. In summary: be transparent with who you really are and trust that it will attract the right person.

I can't count the number of women I've talked to that worry about coming off as "too needy" when they approach the topic of where a relationship is headed with a new guy. (As if people should act like they don't have any needs!)  This is a crucial conversation, and its importance (and scariness) should not be underestimated.

If you are wondering where something is headed, I've found it's less effective to ask the question "Where are we going with this?" point blank, for a few reasons.

1. It puts the ball in his court about determining your future, when it should be a mutual decision.

2. It tends to make guys defensive, especially if they feel they don't have enough information to make a decision yet.

3. It can make you seem like you're in a hurry, and that makes some guys nervous.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with clear communication. However, it is a great people skill to understand how to make sensitive interactions with people we care about, a bit less confrontational. I've learned this the hard way, I'll admit.

Instead of  "So where is this going?" Consider making a statement when you reach a point at which you feel it's appropriate to bring up the future. 

Something like:

 "Look, taking things slow is totally fine. I'm okay with that. I just want to be honest with you in saying that I'm not the type of girl who gets close to people who aren't sure of what they want. I really like you, but I hope we can be on the same page in this." 

This takes the pressure off him, because you haven't asked him "Where is this going?" You've told him, "This is where I'm going, and if you're cool with that, you can join me!' This does a couple of things.

1. Expresses confidence.

2. Sets expectations and makes him recognize your value.

3. Brings up a touchy subject without seeming pushy or making him defensive

This communicates that you're not one to stick around when you feel like the relationship isn't going anywhere. You've got places to be, things to do, other men to date if he's not keeping up, and leaves that choice up to him.

5. Find your cheap thrills.

My college roommate and I used to do dramatic readings of new words in the dictionary to each other at night. Nerdy, absolutely. Fun? Yes! We only had one car and no money, new words are fun, and cheap thrills are what make life worth living.

Same goes for the elevator music playing in the grocery store. If you don't dance to it a little as you're going down the aisle to pick out your popcorn and Top Ramen, I must ask you not to take yourself so seriously.

The truth is that most of us want to be with someone who makes the simple, mundane events of every day life lighthearted and fun. I want the guy who orders sprinkles on his ice cream, because, SPRINKLES.....hello!

Picture that scene from the movie The Holiday when Jack Black brings Kate Winslet a milkshake and says" I got you the best drink in town but I wasn't sure if you wanted a little dollop of whipped cream or a big dollop so I got you both......'Well hello, big dollop!'" 

Every woman, deep down, wants the kind of man who cares about the dollops of whipped cream. Because it is fun, and it does matter! Personality quirks are a funny thing. They will make people run toward you, or maybe in the other direction, but at the end of the day it's best to let your freak flag fly a little.

Part of what makes you fun is how you make doing life fun. If someone can't get down with that, it's time to say "Boy bye."  Or if he does make you laugh, bring you big dollops of whipped cream on your coffee, and you share the right connection, hang on to him! But don't let him know it right away. Be kinda secretive about it.

If you enjoyed this chat on dating, you might consider subscribing to the blog for regular updates (oh and a story about that one time I got dumped in a donut shop!) I wouldn't trust someone's relationship advice who hasn't had a heartbreak or two, and that's why I'm sharing mine with you!