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Ten steps for successful dating

January 4th, 2008

Dr Petra

Christmas can be a tricky time if you’re single – all those couples to feel envious of, and the inevitable Aunty asking you over the turkey ‘are you still on your own then?’. Then the New Year always seems to bring endless TV adverts from dating agencies. So it’s hardly surprising many single folk decide that come January 1st they’re going to try and find their Mr or Ms Right.

And why not? If you want to be in a relationship here are a few tips that might help you get what you want.

1. Sort your head out
Before you dive in and start looking for a partner, it’s worth working out how you’re feeling first. If you’re still pining for someone, are dwelling on fantasies about killing your ex, or are feeling that nobody would fancy you anyway it’s probably not quite time to start dating yet.

It may be you need to give yourself some time to get over a relationship, or perhaps you need to work on your own issues of confidence and assertiveness (more on this in point 5 below). This doesn’t mean you can’t go out, socialise or have fun, but it does mean you think carefully about any baggage you may be hanging onto that might spoil a potential relationship.

Sometimes fear of rejection or worries over a relationship going wrong can lead to us giving mixed messages or not being clear about what we want. Again it’s worth thinking carefully about what impression we may be giving before we go dating so you can give clear signals to those you want to attract.

Dating homework
Spend some time on your own thinking about how you are feeling about yourself and relationships right now. If you find yourself returning to negative thoughts consider what is causing them (for example, lack of confidence or an abusive ex). Work out some ways you’d like use to help yourself – for example joining a gym, taking up a hobby, talking to friends, pampering yourself, or seeing a counsellor or life coach.

What messages might you be giving out about relationships? Do you tell people you want ‘no strings relationships’ because you’re afraid of being rejected, or perhaps accept something you’re not happy with because it’s better than nothing? Do you claim to be single and happy when in fact you’d much rather be with someone?

Work out where you may be giving mixed messages to potential partners, friends and family – and why you think you are doing this.

2. What do you want from a relationship?
Often when we’re thinking about a new relationship we imagine what we want our would-be partner to be like in terms of their looks, occupation, beliefs and earning power. In fact many dating sites encourage us to profile ourselves and ask for potential dates based on these factors.

It’s fine to have an idea about what you’d like a partner to be like, but just focusing on their physical attributes means you can often miss the important issue – which is what do you want the relationship to be like?

As well as listing all the attributes of a perfect partner, think about what would make a perfect relationship for you.

It’s also worth considering what a relationship isn’t. It is not free therapy, a means of revenge on an ex, something to keep your family off your back, or something to fill time while you’re waiting for someone you really fancy to come along. Yes, I know people do have relationships for all these reasons or more. But when you come up with what you want your relationship to look like if it seems like any of above factors it might again be a sign that it’s not quite time to be with someone.

Dating homework

Make a list of all the things you’d like a relationship to be. It might include ‘someone to talk to’, ‘great sex’, ‘someone to travel with’, ‘someone I can care about and who can care for me’. Don’t limit yourself to what you think you might end up with; write down everything you wish for. If there are any things you find yourself hesitate over ask yourself why you feel this might not be possible. Think also about what kinds of relationships you are looking for now or in the future. For example for now you might be interested in dating without sexual intimacy, or no strings sex, or perhaps a sexual relationship that is monogamous. Being clear about what it is you want will help you set out the kind of relationships you go looking for.

3. What are you offering?

As mentioned above we are used to ‘profiling’ ourselves, but we tend to focus on how we look or what we do, rather than what we might be offering in a relationship. This can mean we ignore our real desires, or makes us forget why we want to be with someone in the first place.

By reflecting on all the many things you can bring to a relationship you have the chance to do two things. Firstly, if you struggle to find anything good to say about yourself it’s a clue that it might be worth working on issues of confidence and esteem. Secondly, going through all the things you represent – from your personal attributes to other qualities – provides you with a positive reminder about your good qualities you can use to give yourself a boost.

Dating homework

Task #1 – write down a list of all the things you would bring to a relationship – things like ‘a caring nature’, ‘a sense of adventure’. Don’t be modest; think of as many things as you can.

Task #2 – ask your friends to write for you in a letter or email the things they like about you (you don’t have to tell them why). Sometimes hearing another person praise us can be easier than praising ourselves. It also gives you an idea about things you may not think to mention about yourself when looking for a potential partner.

Task #3 – put all these lists together. Copy out some of the most heartening descriptions and put them in places you’ll see them (in your wallet/purse, stuck on the mirror at home) read the whole list regularly and add to it as you wish. You may want to hide all this when you bring home a date though!

4. Be prepared for rejection
If you think you’ll completely crumble if someone says they don’t want to see you again then it may not be the time to go dating. Instead you may want to focus on why rejection would be so distressing and consider ways to overcome this problem.

All of us who seek a relationship have to accept that rejection can happen. Even relationships that don’t end in rejection can still end for various reasons. This isn’t to put you off relationships, but it is important to think carefully about how vulnerable you’re feeling before you set out on the dating trail. If you don’t feel ready, or if you start and find it difficult, give yourself a bit more time.

Dating homework

Think about a situation where you’ve been rejected in the past. What happened? How did you react? Is it still affecting you – if so, why? Now imagine it was a friend describing this situation to you. What advice would you give them to cope? Finally, think whether there was anything you could have done about the situation, and consider what you’d do differently if it happened again. Facing up to rejection can make us feel stronger and understand if it does happen again we know we can survive it.

5. Help yourself

As you reflect on the factors listed in the steps above, you can also do a lot to help yourself. This might involve registering on an assertiveness or confidence building course – many community centres or adult education colleges offer these.

Alternatively you may get help from books. Peta Heskell’s Flirt Coach provides tips, exercises and reflections to help you develop more confidence and feel better about yourself. Ariana Gee and Mary Gregory’s Be your own love coach is also a fantastic guide to dating – and has a number of exercises and activities to help you build self esteem and survive many common dating situations.

Jean Smith runs some fantastic dating classes through her Allure Seminars making dating seem less scary and a whole lot more fun and accessible. Peta Heskell also offers a number of workshops addressing personal development and relationship readiness. As does Social Psychologist and Life Coach (and all round fantastic person) Dr Gary Wood.

Being single is normal. There’s nothing wrong with it and you shouldn’t be made to feel bad for not being in a relationship. Being single doesn’t mean you require therapy although sadly there’s been a lot of dating organisations trading off this idea currently. However, if you feel that psychological problems or issues with confidence are getting in the way of you enjoying the relationship you’d like you can speak to your GP and ask about a referral to a counsellor. Or you can refer yourself to one direct via the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy or BASRT.

6. Get out there and talk to people!

So far all these activities have been about you. That might seem strange given most dating advice pushes you towards being out on the dating scene. But unless you sort out your own feelings and issues first it will be very difficult to meet someone you like. Most people fail to find the relationships they want because the baggage they’re carrying means they either meet the wrong person – or they fail to meet anyone at all.

Now you’ve worked on making yourself feel good, and have worked out what you’d like from a relationship it’s time to get out there. After all, you’re not going to find your Mr/Ms Right sitting at home and wishing you were in a relationship.

Meeting people doesn’t have to be as difficult as you think. By choosing places that appeal to your interests you can find more people to talk to. The trick is not to assume you’ll meet a partner there, but that you’ll get out and enjoy yourself and broaden your range of friends that in turn will lead you to meet someone you like.

Dating homework

Visit your library, read your local paper or visit somewhere like Time Out and see what events and activities are on in your area. Make a list of things you’d like to try (they don’t have to be expensive, places like museums and galleries are often free or low cost). Visit a few venues and make a point of smiling and saying hello to people you find attractive while you’re there. If you’re feeling really brave you could strike up a conversation about the event. Don’t worry if you don’t feel able to do this at first, the important thing is to get used to being out and about, mixing with people and doing things that you enjoy.

7. Use all available resources

All too often with dating people tend to only use one system to try and meet a potential partner. Fine if that system is working for you, but it can restrict opportunities of meeting someone. In particular you should avoid any dating services or books that encourage you to only use their site or programme – it’s not just dodgy, it’ll limit your social opportunities.

Here’s a summary of dating resources you can choose from, try and make use of as many as possible – all of them if you can!

Go online

Online or internet dating used to have a lot of stigma associated with it, but it’s now a very common way to find a date. Although many people do use dating sites unfortunately we don’t have much independent information about success rates of services, since sites tend to only give positive data to enhance their product. In the absence of any independent evaluations it’s worth being sceptical about dating sites, but that doesn’t mean you should avoid them completely.

It’s worth signing up to several free sites or the free option on dating sites before you pay anything. It’ll give you an idea about how sites work and whether you like any particular ones. It’s also a good idea to read all the information on dating sites – their ‘about us’ pages, contact information and details about their products and services. A reputable site should be willing to answer any questions you have, and you may want to ask them about their success rates – although don’t expect a completely truthful answer.

Sites to avoid are those who force you into paying for services other sites offer for free, who claim that ‘enhanced services’ are more likely to guarantee romance, and who imply you need to buy additional products (materials, seminars, therapy) from them in order to have a chance at meeting someone. By all means buy extras if you feel you’d benefit from, but don’t be bullied into services you probably can either get for free (e.g. books from the library, therapy from your doctor), or perhaps don’t even need.

Think carefully about your profile. You need to be honest and create a good impression. So you need to tell the truth about your age, interests and what you are looking for. If you’re looking for love then say so, don’t say you’re just after a fling or that’s what you’ll be offered.

You also need to be as clear with additional information. If you’re a serious type don’t claim to be the life and soul of the party. It’s best to be realistic about yourself than present a profile of what you think you ought to be like. It may help to get a trusted friend to read over your profile or help you write it before you post it.

Your photo is also going to be important. I’ve heard from people who’ve said ‘I’m overweight’ or ‘I don’t like my nose’, ‘I’m too old’. They post the most unflattering photo they have, with the muddled reasoning that if they show their worst side to people then there won’t be any nasty surprises. Unfortunately this means nobody does get in touch! It also highlights issues of esteem which again may need to be worked on before going ahead with posting a profile. Choose a photo that is flattering but accurate.

People also worry about how much information to give in their profile. This is up to you. Essential information like having children, being divorced, having a disability, or wanting a particular kind of relationship do need to be included but you can decide when and how to mention this. If you are trans there may be a worry about discussing gender. Again what you disclose and when is up to you, but you may find talking to other trans friends or associates about how/when they have managed this process helpful. This piece by Christine Burns is particularly pertinent.

Once you’ve posted your profile you can enjoy the experience of people getting in touch and chatting with you. Remember this can feel very intimate and it’s easy to assume that you’re the only person being contacted and latch on to the first few people who show you attention. Try and focus on the point of such sites – to chat to a wide range of people, identify some who you’d like to go on dates with, and keep your options open.

It’s common for people using dating sites to assume someone they’ve struck up a conversation with is now ‘theirs’. Unless agreed by you both this is the wrong assumption to make. By all means explain you’re looking for a relationship, but make sure you do this by corresponding with and meeting a wide range of people.

Of course you don’t have to meet anyone that you encounter online. You could just use the service to practice your chatting and flirting skills. If you do find you like someone meeting them does not mean a relationship is inevitable, but again it can be a good way to practise socialising and flirting. If you think about internet dating in this way it can be less stressful and easier than if you are constantly fretting whether everyone you encounter could be ‘the one’.

Be prepared for rejection. Even if you’ve never met the person it can hurt if you find they no longer want to chat with you, or seem interested in someone else. It can feel equally upsetting if you’ve met or dated someone and it hasn’t worked out, only to find them back online chatting to others. If you feel you cannot cope with either of these outcomes it may not be time to try online dating right now.

Even if you don’t fancy the people you meet, going on dates can be a great confidence boost and good dating experience. The more you do it, the easier it gets, and the more likely it is you’ll meet someone you want to be with.

For gays, lesbians and bis, most dating sites allow the opportunity to meet other LBGT folk. Some dating sites are also specifically designed for lesbian, gay, bi or trans users, but again it’s worth shopping around since some sites are better than others. In particular lesbian and gay site users have complained it’s often easy to get casual sex from a dating site, but much harder to meet someone for a long term relationship. The temptation can be to meet folk who’re not seemingly out for a serious relationship in the hope you can turn it into something long term, but this may not work. So be clear on your profile what you are looking for and weed out anyone who’s not with your programme.

For those with disabilities, mental health problems or learning difficulties it can be even more difficult to use dating sites. There are two resources that may be useful to you alongside traditional sites are Stars in the sky (for those with learning disabilities) and Outsiders (for those with disabilities or mental health problems).


Often we are so busy trying to tell friends or family that we’re happy being single that we give the impression that we don’t need their help – or don’t want a relationship. If you want to be with someone then tell your loved ones how you’d like them to introduce you to potential dates. It doesn’t matter if you nothing develops from these arranged encounters, as the aim is to get you out and practising your conversation skills. Your date may be able to introduce you to their friends and you can introduce them to yours.

Social clubs

If you join a social club with the aim of meeting your ideal partner you may be disappointed. But if you join a club to expand your range of friends and do things you enjoy you may find your confidence is boosted and you’ve more things to look forward to and talk about. You may not meet a partner, but you will meet new friends – and they in turn will know single folk to introduce you to who could be a potential partner. Remember social clubs can vary in price but many libraries and community centres advertise free or low cost events that may be useful if you’re on a budget.


Social networks like bebo, myspace and facebook can be a way of broadening your friendship group online. You need to be careful to avoid harassing people you don’t know, but if you use the site to catch up with old friends or talk to new contacts you may find your conversation skills improving which will help you in other online dating settings.


It’s an old fashioned idea, but it can work. You can either use a formal matchmaker service if you have one within your community, or ask your friends/family to act as informal matchmaker for you.

As well as online dating there are also dating services who act as matchmakers. They match your profile to other people on their books and help arrange dates for you. Again we don’t know much about the success of such services, and you should be cautious of those who seem to charge for a lot of hidden extras. But it may be worth using such a service if you are finding it difficult to meet people. Most services offer matchmaking programmes for lesbian, gay, bi and straight clients.

8. Be a social secretary

As well as using the services outlined above you can also do your bit to bring people together. For example you could host a party where you ask a number of your friends along and get them to bring a single buddy with them. Or you could arrange your own ‘speed dating’ evening where you invite a group of single mates and get them to bring single friends. You can then spend a few minutes chatting to each person and meet up with anyone you fancy afterwards.

It can feel nerve-wracking arranging dates on your own, but easier if you’re acting in the role of matchmaker. And of course if you’re arranging the social events you get first pick over any hotties that come along.

9. Mix and match

You may find some styles of dating appeal to you more than others. It might be you want to try out all the above ideas, or perhaps try one at a time. Some may feel less intimidating than others. Remember that dating can be costly, but spending money is not a guarantee of finding love. So don’t feel you have to spend to succeed. The key to the dating game is not so much about the process of dating, but more about looking after yourself and building your confidence.

10. Enjoy the journey

Yes, dating is scary and sometimes upsetting. But ultimately the whole process should be about trying out new opportunities and situations, and meeting a variety of people until you find one you like. If you are constantly worrying about how you’re doing or whether the relationship will last (even before it’s started) then you’ll not enjoy the experience. Although it’s hard, try and relax and enjoy each encounter as a new social adventure rather than the start of a prospective relationship. That way you can decide if you like the person enough to see them again. And always keep your options open.

Happy dating! And if you still feel like being single for a while, enjoy it while it lasts!

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