Close your eyes and imagine your dream date. Chances are, you have a 'type' of person that comes to mind when you think of the perfect partner. While it's totally normal to have certain standards for those you pursue romantically, it can also be detrimental to get stuck in a rut and make the same mistakes over and over. If you feel like none of your current dating strategies are giving the results you want, there's no harm in getting out of your comfort zone in dating and trying a totally new approach to love.
"Everyone has their dating comfort zone: a collection of wants and needs that, when met, minimize the angst and pressures that come from dating," Chris Armstrong, relationship coach and owner of Maze of Love, tells Bustle. "Our comfort zone has largely been shaped by attraction, chemistry and past experiences." Everything from personality traits to lifestyle similarities to physical qualities affect our overall perception of another person. It might seem like a good idea to be ultra picky; no one should have to settle for less than what they deserve, right? That's a great mindset in theory, but the truth of the matter is that having a laundry list of 'deal-breakers' might be holding you back, and that some dating habits just aren't effective or beneficial.
Only you can say for sure what is and isn't a mandatory trait in a partner, and there's no shame in being extra careful about who you get involved with. But if you feel like what you've been doing just isn't working and you're looking for some ways to spice up your lackluster dating life, here are seven tips that will help you push yourself outside your dating comfort zone.
1. Throw Your 'Type' Out The Window
There's the healthy: having standards and deal-breakers and refusing to settle. Then there's the unhealthy: dating people who are all clones of one another, with slight modifications. Sure, it may not be something you do on purpose, but it can't hurt to recognize any patterns in your dating life that aren't working, and switch things up. "It’s natural to define what we are looking for based on what we’ve experienced in the past, otherwise what use [are] past relationships?" says Gina Stewart, an online dating coach and founder of Expert Online Dating. "The problem exists when we apply standards from an ex onto our current dates, pretty unfairly, and we may not even realize it."
While it's good to be self-aware and push yourself to let go of more shallow expectations — height, hair color, body type, etc. — there are obviously certain incompatibilities that are insurmountable. If someone's religion, political views, opinion on children, and other huge lifestyle choices are out of sync with your own, that's not something to ignore. But it is possible to fall in love with a blonde even though you typically get hot for Clark Kent vibes.
2. Try A New Approach
Are you an online dating fanatic? Consider taking a break from your digital love search and start heading out IRL. Check out a local singles mixers or speed dating event, or just hang out in a coffee shop and hope *The One* stops by before you run out of cold brew.
Alternatively, if you've been too proud (or nervous) to turn to dating apps, reconsider the ways it might benefit your search. "When we see someone at a bar or in a speed dating event, we must make a rash, pressure-filled decision on whether someone meets our needs and our own jitters can affect that decision," Armstrong says. "Sitting online gives us time and removes the immediacy and nervousness of making a decision." Whatever your typical style, take a month or two to switch up the way you date — you might just be surprised by the results.
3. Plan Atypical First Dates
Dinner and a movie? Coffee or cocktails? Sure, those are the easiest first dates known to man, but that doesn't make them the best. Thinking outside of the box when planning a date is a simple trick to help you mix things up without getting too crazy.
If I'm being honest, there are times when I've passed on a date because I just didn't feel like getting all dressed up just to go to the same dive bar around the corner again. Instead, try something new — like some cute, cheap date ideas — and see if the change of scenery affects the success of your date. Doing something adventurous or silly is a great bonding experience, and could make you and your date feel closer to each other right off the bat.
4. Set Numerical Goals
For those of you who need hard-and-fast rules to follow in order to accomplish something, try setting yourself small, achievable goals for your dating life. "Don’t just say 'go on more dates' — set a number and pretend it's your job; you must meet this quota," Stewart says.
It's no small feat to throw yourself into the world of dating, and it's understandable to be uncomfortable when you're first getting back in the game. But the only way to get more comfortable with dating is to push through the initial discomfort until you grow more confident in your dating abilities. It may not be in your comfort zone to message 10 matches per day or go on two dates per month, but holding yourself accountable to your goals will help you make dating a priority.
5. When In Doubt, Say 'Yes'
A good rule of thumb? If someone asks you out and you're unsure and are teetering on the verge of yes, just go for it. The more experiences you gather and the more times you put in work, the more likely it is that you'll find the right person eventually. Whether we like it or not, dating is something that you can't always be lazy about. "Dating takes repeated effort; accept that," Stewart says. "Accept that things may be frustrating and not go exactly to plan. If the idea of effort and trying over and over terrifies you, you don’t really want to be with someone because relationships require effort, too."
You might be tempted to throw in the towel after a bad experience (like getting ghosted), but it's worth your while to push yourself to keep trying, even if it makes you uncomfortable.
6. Let A Professional Help
Here's a radical idea: If you want help finding the perfect partner, ask for it. There are so many talented dating coaches and matchmakers out there just waiting to help you adopt good dating habits and point you in the right direction when it comes to love. There's absolutely no harm in using a professional service to meet someone, particularly if your own efforts keep coming up short. Outside perspective is super valuable, and if you open yourself up to the idea of working with a professional, he or she might just be able to help you realize what you really need, not just what you think you need. Professional matchmaking might not be in your dating comfort zone, but it's a great option if you're truly open to trying something new.
7. Look For Potential, Not Perfection
Most important of all, recognize that "dating" is only just a trial, and having over-the-top expectations when you meet someone new won't benefit you. "I think mindfulness is the most important aspect of dating," Stewart says. "I always say look for potential instead of perfection when you’re dating. There is too much to know about a person to try and make snap decisions so early on."
Train yourself to think of dates as low-pressure meetings between two people, not something to break out in hives about. If you're more relaxed and not worried about the 'what ifs', it will be easier to get out of your comfort zone and go for someone potentially great that you might have originally overlooked.
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