Sex & Relationships

Married At First Sight Australia Expert Mel Schilling Shares Her Top Dating Tips

Essential reading for the return to dating irl.

'Married At First Sight Australia' dating expert Mel Schilling
Courtesy of The Lime Agency

As face-to-face dates were forced to take a back seat over the last year, Married At First Sight Australia provided exactly what everyone was missing – with no shortage of partner swapping, drinks throwing, and happily ever afters. One of the shows resident advisors, dating and relationship expert Melanie Schilling was at the centre of it all. Who better then to prepare you, and me, for a return to dating irl? If you feel a little wobbly about putting yourself out there again, Schilling has some excellent advice on how to boost your confidence.

“I think the pandemic has changed dating forever but in a positive way,” Schilling says. “It’s forced us to go retro. We didn’t have instant gratification, which is what you get with dating apps. It forced us to have longer conversations with people, whether that’s over video calls or texts, over a longer period of time.”

Looking back on my first video date in the first UK lockdown, I can still feel the butterflies in my stomach. A year later, and it had become routine procedure. “I think it’s so common to feel scared about re-entering dating,” Schilling empathises. “We haven’t had access to all of the ways we usually build ourselves up. Whether you meet with friends or go to the gym, that’s been lacking for so many of us for such a long time.”

Scroll down for Schilling’s top five confidence boosters to prepare you for reentering the dating world irl.

Flex your social muscles with friends

Most people have been living in a social bubble of the same few people over the last twelve months and dating is a social activity. You can get out of the habit of it. “Like all skills, dating takes practice – and it’s likely you feel pretty out of practice,” Schilling says.

If you’re feeling unsure of yourself, Schilling recommends that you book in some activities with your pals before you start dating again. “Start gradually building up your social world first, right now is the perfect time to reconnect with friends. And get back into the flow of using small talk with baristas and waiters. You’ll be able to build your social skills back up in a low-stakes environment.”

Decide what you want from your dates

Lockdown has left people feeling differently about relationships. While some are wanting to crack on and find the one, summer 2021 marks hot-single-girl summer for others. With that in mind, Schilling recommends that you decide what you want from your dates before you go on them.

“This is what I call strategic dating,” Schilling explains. “It’s about approaching your dating life in a similar way as you’d approach your career. You wouldn’t go for a job interview, and not know where you want to go in your career. It’s self-sabotage. Set intentions, and have a clear picture of what you want, and what you don’t want.”

Schilling makes a distinction between preferences, and deal breakers. Preferences are the things you’d ideally like, but could forgo. If your date is hilarious, ambitious, cute, but not 6’4, you might be able to look past it. Deal breakers are the values that you couldn’t compromise on.

“When you get real about deal breakers, most people only have between one and three. They’re so serious that they’re the kind of things that would make you leave someone, or leave a date,” she says. “If health is one of your highest values, and all your date wants to do is sit about and watch sport, that will be a lifestyle clash that won’t go away. Don’t ignore your deal breakers.”

Put personal safety first

Once you feel like your chat is up to scratch, and you know what you want, Schilling advises you to think about practicalities before you go out dating. This starts with your safety.

Over the last few months, the safety precautions that people who identify as women have to take have been high on the news agenda. “Safety and consent have to be top of your mind,” Schilling says. “Always let someone know where you’re going to be. You can use WhatsApp live locations, or other apps, so your close ones know where you are.”

The sole function of apps such as bSafe, One Scream, Shake2Safety, and Circle of 6 is to provide reassurance, and an element of protection for their users.

Write down 3 things you like about yourself

Over the last year, without access to salons, shops, friends, and loved ones, it’s understandable that you might have fallen out of touch with your sense of self.

As you mentally prepare for a potential new relationship, Schilling says it’s really important to remember how great you are. “Think about the top three things you really like about yourself. It can be easier said than done.”

“Keep them at the top of your mind. Write them down in your phone so, mid-date, you can go to the loo, read them, and remind yourself of the things you like about yourself. They might sound insignificant to someone else, but it’s an affirmation that will build up your self-esteem.”

Have the big conversations with respect

Dating chat can be a bit of an art, walking the line between having fun, and really getting to know someone. “When you know what you want, be honest with yourself. The great thing about dating these days is that anything goes,” Schilling says.

“You’re absolutely within your right to tell your partner you want to get to know them, but you’re not in a place for a serious relationship – or the opposite. They’re brave conversations,” she adds.

It’s all about communication, and considering the other person, too. “When we meet people as adults you have to remember that they come with a whole history. You’ve got to respect that, you can’t bowl in and tell someone what to do,” Schilling says.

“Show respect, and be empathetic. The best way to do this is by asking them about their family and loved ones. Ask broad, open, and explorative questions about their life and wants. This can give you an idea of the context that your relationship is operating in.”