On Learning How to Date Without Dating (You Said What?)
Updated: Sep 15
Dating is like school, where you discover what subject (person) you like by taking all the classes (dating many people). But I’ve never been in a relationship that isn’t platonic, so how do I know this?
Vicariously, I’ve been in hundreds of relationships. Hear me out. I’ve sat and talked with friends who debate breaking up with their partner, fear they are growing feelings for a fling, or worry about cheating boyfriends. I’ve comforted others who have lost their loved one, are nursing a broken heart, or are seeking to re-enter the dating (more likely, hook up) world. I’ve paged through screenshots, analyzed conversations, and been a sounding board for date ideas. Without ever leaving my couch, I’ve witnessed dozens of relationships break apart or come together. And while being a witness or a confidant in these matters doesn’t make me a dating savant, it has certainly helped clarify my understanding of how relationships should and shouldn’t function.
When friends open to me about what it’s like being in a relationship, I am unconsciously using their experiences to build a better picture of what life on the other side of the friend zone looks like. I then ponder questions like, what are realistic expectations for a relationship? What does a girl deserve from her partner? What does a guy deserve? How should two people handle fighting? Texting? Opening up? Being physical?
Unfortunately, there is no God-given formula for building a good relationship. Just like you aren’t born knowing if you’ll be a scientist or artist, you aren’t born knowing who your ideal partner would be. That’s where the metaphor comes back in: you have to take more than one class. However, on your own, dating many people over the years can be a grueling process. Every relationship will teach you something, but each one comes with the price of potential heartbreak, jealousy, pain, despair, and a bad haircut. Some people argue this process is essential.
I’m arguing a bit differently. While dating many people is an important part of developing perspective and communication, there are other, albeit slightly less effective, ways to learn. If you need further proof, I’ll provide some insights I’ve gained over the years through my conversations with and observations of others.
Your partner is your best friend. That means first and foremost, they are a person you can trust and be open with. They should treat you the way you deserve to be treated, and you should do the same.
Love is about acceptance, about pushing yourself to understand another person, even if it means adapting some of your habits or communication styles. Love is not trying to change someone every second.
Being in a non-committal “friends with benefits” relationship doesn’t really exist. More often than not, feelings will get in the way, and it won’t be pretty. We are human, after all.
Girls and guys both deserve respect and patience from one another. Usually, in heterosexual relationships, guys will have to be more patient about physicality, and girls will have to be more patient about a boy’s emotional processing (of course this is not always the case!)
More often than not, girls will desire higher amounts of verbal adoration and conversation (again, not always the case!)
A romantic relationship is a commitment to another person. If either partner cheats, know that you deserve better. Don’t go back without serious considerations of your own worth. I would say try not to go back at all, unless there’s a clear indication you’ll be secure in that relationship.
Read the warning signs. A person isn’t going to show all their true colors right away, but they can’t hide them for very long. When you see red flags, don’t ignore them. If you optimistically give red-flaggers a chance, don’t be disappointed to discover it isn’t always like the movies. People are hard to change.
Speaking of movies, relationships are a lot harder and a lot less perfect than they’re made out to be in the media… but I’m guessing this point wasn’t anything new to you.
Obviously, none of this proves anything. Maybe you view these insights as things easily ripped from articles or movies, but that’s not my point. My point is: love doesn’t have to be experienced for someone to piece the puzzle together. It sounds crazy, but I’ve felt true love even without being in a fully committed relationship, and I’ve seen that sometimes the best learning comes from just listening.