Love is a battlefield, but what if you don’t know what you are fighting for? In the dating world, it can be hard to put yourself “out there” if you are unsure what type of relationship you are seeking in the first place. As our definitions of sexual orientation and relationships grow more nuanced (monogamish, anyone?), we often struggle to identify our ideal dating scenario. Particularly on dating apps, where the purpose is solely to date, it can be hard to navigate the early stages of getting to know someone if your own expectations are unclear. On many apps, there are options to mark on your profile if you are looking for “a relationship” or “something casual,” but even these are painfully vague.
If you are among the many who are looking to form new connections, consider this your guide to the ambiguous first steps.
First: Communicate openly with the other person
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash
This should go beyond the dating app disclaimer “I don’t know yet.” As you talk with someone you’re interested in, focus on expressing yourself honestly. Instead of getting too specific about future expectations right off the bat, allow room to explore your compatibility. Ask genuine questions about what matters to you. For example, if you are curious how your life might match up with another person’s, ask not just about their hobbies but about their routines. When you discover the nuances of someone’s lifestyle, you can begin to imagine how your time and interests may (or may not) intersect.
As you continue to spend time with someone new, whether over messages or in person, be sure to communicate what you want in each given moment. It can be easy to go along with another’s ideas, but if the other person is constantly taking the lead to make plans and decisions, you may get swept up. If you find yourself overwhelmed, try giving feedback such as: “All these ideas are great! I’m not sure what I’m in the mood for just yet.” Or, if the other person wants to spend a lot more time together than you feel ready for, set a clear boundary from the start. For example, you might say: “I’m having fun with you, and I’d like to see you again after I take a few days for myself.” Putting the emphasis on what you do enjoy will reinforce your ongoing interest without rushing into unwelcome commitments.
On that note, it’s crucial to avoid making promises in the early stages. If you haven’t identified how you feel about someone, or if you are indecisive about where to go with the relationship, don’t trap yourself with promises you can’t keep. Many of us are people pleasers by nature, which can make this advice hard to follow. However, you will be able to explore more freely if you set intentional boundaries with another person. Say no to what you cannot give, and try not to commit before you feel ready, as this can lead to resentment.
Of course, you can always change your mind. As an example, if you and a partner decide to become exclusive but you feel dissatisfied after a while, tell them how you feel. If they care about you, they’ll probably be patient and you can talk it through. On the other hand, if the person fails to understand or respect your feelings, it may be time to say goodbye.
Next: Allow yourself space for introspection
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In your own time between interactions with new people, a little reflection is key. Think about how you feel about the other person, your comfort level, and what you may want to share with them in the future. A great way to navigate your thoughts without getting lost is by journaling or setting a timer for your “thinking” time. Come up with a key question to ponder and see where that inquiry leads you. Keep your mind open to unexpected feelings, allowing your imagination to show you the possibilities you might not anticipate.
If the process is stressful and overwhelming, here are some examples of questions to ask yourself:
- Am I comfortable (physically and emotionally) around this person?
- What sorts of activities have I enjoyed with this person?
- Which parts of my life would I like to share with them?
- How do I feel about exclusivity? Would I be jealous to hear they were seeing other people?
- Am I hiding parts of myself of my life from them? If so, why might that be?
Finally: Let go and enjoy
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In your interactions with someone new, you may be feeling a million things at once: curiosity, attraction, fear, confusion. Your feelings may conflict one another, and you may be tempted to overthink everything you do — but resist this! When you are actively spending time with someone, the most useful way to act is authentically. Follow your own intuition, ask what you want to know and share what you are comfortable with. Whether your relationship is emotional, physical, or both, your intuition is strongest when you allow yourself to enjoy the moment.
Granted, this can be hard for some; anyone who struggles with social anxiety or dissociation may have a particularly tough time letting go of stress. Try a grounding technique like the following: take a deep breath, position your body comfortably, and mentally take note of a few physical sensations around you. By reconnecting with yourself and your environment, your mind will be clearer as you try to connect with the other person.
At the end of the day, you are who chooses what sort of relationships to build with people. It is up to you to explore the possibilities and discover what feels right. Be patient with yourself and others, and remember that mutual respect and communication are necessary elements of a healthy relationship.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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Photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash