Before You Begin
If I had to give only one piece of advice it would be, quite simply, don't expect to have all your needs met by one person.
This sounds like a variation on the platitude "Don't put all your eggs in one basket," but this tendency is often the biggest stumbling block to finding a healthy love relationship -- and keeping it. Women are particularly prone to a sort of monomania about romantic love, with a melody of Cinderella "happily ever after" stuck on an endless loop in their heads.
Cinderella is a fairy tale.
You will still need your friends, your family, your work colleagues. Each point of attachment -- whether family, friends, or acquaintances -- helps you to meet a different physical, social, intellectual, emotional, or spiritual need. These needs vary, but may include, for example, a book buddy, lover, confidante, film friend, professional colleague, work-out companion, etcetera. And finally, often principally, we fulfill ourselves through self-love that allows us to acknowledge our weaknesses, celebrate our successes, and be gentle with ourselves.
Ideally, our life partner should fulfill up to 30 per cent of our core needs, which vary according to the individual, but may include the need for security, sexuality, affection, and physical contact. The bottom line is that you have to take responsibility for meeting all of your needs by identifying them and then determining how they can best be met by others and by yourself.
Don't confuse needs with values such as trustworthiness, honesty, and political leaning. Shared values matter more than anything else -- and are the most reliable predictors of eventual success, or failure of your relationship.
Of course, such considerations are pragmatic and unemotional -- while dating is not. One study found that people go into dating with an idée fixe about what constitutes the perfect partner, but all that goes out the window when they meet the "right" stranger. In other words, despite methodical plotting, we still follow our hearts and hormones -- at least initially...
Dating for All the Right Reasons
With apologies to William Carlos Williams, so much depends on the first date. After "the ask," which is in itself a minefield, our egos and libidos run amok before the first date. No one can really prepare you for the specifics of the encounter -- that is part of your personal growth -- but I do have two pieces of advice: go slowly and think before you unzip. Imagine introducing your date to your most trusted friend. What would he or she say?
People often try too hard to meet that perfect someone. More often than not, it's a question of being who you are, only more so. Invest your time in yourself, in following the passions that you hold dearest: dance, music, theatre, literature. But get out there, go to events, get on invitation lists. You'll meet like-minded people who may share more than your passion for something; they may well share your politics, your philosophy. Socialize mindfully at these events. Have fun, but keep your radar tuned.
Burdened with these heavy expectations of romantic love, it's hardly any wonder people have difficulty connecting. We are so worried about whether Trevor or Tanya will make the mark, whether they'll be able to come through with all the goods (impossible!), that we spend our time obsessively assessing them (too tall, linear, old, poor, etc.).
Dates become auditions; second dates, the call back. We miss out on the best part: the uncertainty, the flirting, the unexpected playfulness, and fun of romantic love. Surprise yourself.
Barbara Sibbald (www.barbarasibbald.com) is a two-time novelist, editor at a leading health journal, and an award-winning freelance journalist. The above is an excerpt from The Book of Love: Guidance in Affairs of the Heart, a novel (General Store Publishing House), soon to be released in e-book format.