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The Dating Mindset

Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

While any given date is an event, dating itself frequently ends up becoming a rather extensive process. It's a good idea to start out your dating process by taking time to develop an appropriate dating mindset. Among the things to think about in forming this mindset, are what one wants to accomplish through dating, whether one's goals and expectations are realistic, and how one is being perceived by others. Getting clearer about these questions helps one to better negotiate the dating process.

Exploration vs. Partner-Seeking

An early question to ask yourself is whether you think dating should be a means to an end (of finding a lasting committed relationship) or whether dating should be more of an exploratory project you engage in to have fun and grow as a person. Both of these alternatives are worthy goals. By and large, however, most people chose to start their dating career in an exploratory mode and later evolve towards a partner-seeking mode. Knowing whether you are exploring or wanting to settle down can help you to make decisions about when to stay with a budding relationship, and when to move on to the next one.

While opposites may attract, they don't always live together well. If you are partner-seeking, you may find that taking time out early on to learn about yourself and the way your personality works will prove a valuable investment. Accurate self-knowledge can help you to better identify compatible personality characteristics to look for in your dating partners. For example, if you are an impulsive person given to making spur of the moment decisions, you may find it frustrating to be in a relationship with someone who insists on planning things out. Likewise, if you are a soft-spoken person, you may find it difficult and uncomfortable to be around someone who has a temper. Understanding how you'd like to be treated by another and what types of behavior makes you comfortable or uncomfortable helps you to know when someone is right for you or not. You can then use this information to nip uncomfortable or unfitting relationships in the bud, or to identify and invest in those relationships that make you feel unequivocally good. If you end up feeling uncomfortable around someone you've been dating, then he or she isn't "Mr/Ms. Right" and you should move on.

Just as compatible personality and behavior are important things to be aware of in a potential partner, so too are compatible goals. If you are partner-seeking and want to have children, for example, it is quite vital that you make this clear early in your dating relationship and learn whether your partner's goals are aligned with your own. If your goals are incompatible it will be hard for your relationship to thrive. Important core values to consider include your attitudes and aspirations concerning money, sex, children, marriage, religion, and career. Attempt to learn which of your goals and values you can safely and comfortably compromise on and which you can't. If you're young you may not really yet understand what values are core to you and which you can compromise. If this is the case, make the best decisions you can and don't worry about it too much. Experience will become your guide and eventually you'll figure it out. To the extent you do know your core values, don't compromise on them when you won't be able to feel okay about doing so. Take your values seriously. Don't allow yourself to get involved with someone who will ask you to seriously compromise your values.