You know life doesn’t play out like a Disney movie, but everyone still hopes sparks will fly, chemistry will click, and by the end of the evening, you’ll both be on the same page—and possibly on the road to happily ever after. The problem: Every so often, those dream dates happen—but more often than not, early dates are made up of searching for some sign as to whether or not you’re a good match for the person across the table.
There’s no science behind meeting Mr. Right, but if you find yourself down and out time and again, you might be setting the bar too high—or worse, too low. Holding out for a better fit—or settling for a so-so dude—is common, and setting the right expectations isn’t always easy. If any of the following scenarios apply to you, it may be time to adjust your standards to find the man you're looking for.
It’d be great if he connected with your crew, but worrying too much about how others will react to him makes it harder to figure out whether you like him, says April Beyer, a dating and relationship coach.
The fix: “Falling in love requires bravery,” Beyer says. Trust your own intuition: If your gut says yes to a second date with a sweet but socially awkward guy, then go for it, even if you know your BFF would scoff at his lack of game. “If you like him and have fun with him, that’s the only thing that matters, and following your gut can help you home in on what really turns you on,” Beyer explains.
It’s fine to want to date a man who’s ambitious, but a title and paycheck doesn’t tell you anything about who someone is as a person, Beyer says. His values—whether or not he wants kids, how commitment-oriented he is—are a lot more essential to a healthy relationship, adds Kate Stewart, a Seattle-based therapist and dating coach. “Making sure those things match up are a lot more indicative of whether or not a romance will last than superficial details like salary."
The fix: Go ahead and have a list of things you want in a guy, but put the things you need at the top, and the things you want at the bottom, Beyer says. Needs are dealbreakers, but wants are negotiable.
Maybe you always date tall guys or find yourself going after book-loving hipsters. That’s fine—as long as you’re occasionally open to dating someone different. “If you’re always dating the same type, you may not even realize all the other qualities you’re attracted to,” Beyer says. It’s like ordering the same dish every time you go to your favorite restaurant. You know it’s good, but you may be missing out on something even better.
The fix: Go out with that guy your friend thinks you’d be great with—even if he doesn’t sound like someone you'd usually date. “If he’s remotely funny or interesting, try another date,” Stewart says. While the second date may not lead to love, it can help break the cycle of only considering one type of guy.
When you Gchat your bestie post-date, pay attention to what you share. If the first thing you do is make fun of how he pronounced "chianti," it could be a sign you are looking for flaws, Beyer says. “People will be nervous and say awkward things on a first date, but if you’re not looking for those moments, it’s easier to see the big picture of all the good things the guy has going for him."
The fix: Unless he spilled wine down your dress on purpose, cursed out the waiter, and stuck you with the bill, get in the habit of finding something nice to say. It’ll help train your brain to look for reasons why a guy may be a potential match instead of proof he definitely isn’t.
When you're single and it seems all your friends have significant others, it’s hard not to want a plus-one. But are you dating him because you like him or because he’s there?
The fix: If you notice yourself falling into "blah" relationships, think about how you describe these guys to your friends. Discussing external attributes—"he has a great finance job"—rather than specific anecdotes and internal traits—"he’s so funny he made me shoot soda out of my nose"—may be a sign that you don't really know the men you date, says Anita Chlipala, a dating and relationship expert. Instead of settling for any guy who wants to spend time with you, be sure you're excited to see your boyfriend.
From happy hours to long dinners over wine, it’s easy to fall in serious like with someone when you’ve got a steady buzz going. But it’s not only alcohol that can mess with your true feelings. “When you’re always going out to new places and doing new things, you may think you like him, when you’re really just hooked on the adrenaline rush of novelty,” Beyer says.
The fix: Part of the fun of dating is going out on the town, but being equally cool spending an evening at home is key for a long-term relationship. Alternate high-octane dates with low-key hangouts to see if the connection holds up minus the glitz and glamour.
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Occasionally intense chemistry is overwhelming, and it doesn’t mean your relationship is doomed if you and he did end up sleeping together on the first date. But when you get intimate too quickly, you may feel like you know each other better than you actually do, Chlipala says. Plus, if it tends to happen a lot, it could be a sign that you might be insecure about relationships and are using sex as a way to hold a guy's attention.
The fix: You want a guy who wants to spend time with you inside and outside the bedroom. But if you hop right to the sack, you may be sending the wrong message. If things moved too quickly right off the bat—or if you're trying to break a bad habit of sex early on in the dating process—forget the drinks and dinner scene. Touring a museum, going on a hike, or riding bikes around the city are all fun ways to suss out if you’re compatible when clothes are on.