I’ve been single for 8 years now, so this may very well be one of those “take my advice because I don’t need it” situations. But being a single nomad for as long as I have (5+ years traveling) has allowed me to date all kinds of people: Australians, Kenyans, Brazilians, British guys, Chinese guys, film directors, wandering hippies, corporate execs, tap dancers, and --- worst of all — lead singers of bands.
All of this experience dating for the sake of learning about intimacy (instead of pursuing a guy for the sake of a future-oriented relationship, which many girls naturally do because they aren’t picking up and moving every few months) taught me how to formulate meaningful connections in the present and learn about how people relate to one another romantically all over the world.
It was a long and instructive period of my life that, while not preventing me from getting my heart stomped on multiple times, did teach me 7 key principles that I genuinely think can solve 99% of all relationship problems.
Set these as your standard operation procedure for dating and while you may not find a life partner right away, they will definitely help you have more healthy, meaningful, and less painful romantic connections. And remember, there's no set timeline for finding love or getting into a relationship.
1. Radical respect: Human being first, dating partner second
This is the first commandment, the golden rule: treat others how you want to be treated. First of all, treat every person you’re dating as a person first instead of a potential sex object. Be kind and compassionate and show concern for your partner’s general well-being, not just their commitment to a relationship with you.
If this relationship becomes physical, continue applying this philosophy of deep respect in the bedroom. Treat this person’s body with care. Treasure what makes him or her unique and show appreciation and respect for their unique beauty. Go slow, listen, be gentle, and let each person put the pleasure of their partner before their own. If both people do this, this opens up an ability to genuinely deepen the connection through the physical.
2. Define and protect your standards
Your bottomline is to be respected, so help solve the problem before it occurs by refraining from entertaining the companionship of anyone who doesn't get that. If someone mistreats you or crosses a boundary, there should be no second chances.
You show other people how you think you deserve to be treated, so don't settle for late night visits or thoughtless dating practices if that's not what you're looking for. Know what you want and how you want to be treated and show the other person that that's what you expect. Whatever your standards for a relationship are, protect and uphold them at all costs. Have a high barrier to entry and the intimate connections you do permit will be far richer.
3. Commit to honest, direct, and kind-hearted communication
Nothing works without this.
I owe my ability to take this principle from a mere intellectual understanding of why it’s important to communicate honestly to a practical application of it in my daily life from, of all places, Burning Man (read more about how this festival taught me a lifelong lesson about communication).
Building a temporary city of 60,000 people in the middle of the harshest conditions in North America tests every threshold of patience, camaraderie, creativity, intimacy, and empathy — which is why all us lunatics who love it go in the first place. If you don’t speak up about what you need, you won’t get it. Speak up (and take action), and the reality you want will manifest in a way that astounds you and reminds you of your capability — and responsibility — to create the life you want.
When it comes to relationships, meet someone out there, where there’s no cell phone reception and 60,000 other sexy misfits running around in the desert, and you’ll be sure to never see that person again unless you cough up what’s on your mind.
Since coming home from my first burn more than a year ago, I’ve been experimenting with taking this dedication to raw honesty and 1) applying it to myself to know what I want, and then 2) assuming the responsibility to share it with compassion to the people who need to hear it.
Sometimes other people just don’t know what you need, or they don’t realize you need help understanding something they think they’ve made clear. Ask questions when things aren’t clear, communicate feelings and boundaries with confidence, and refrain from leaping to conclusions.
4. Don’t pursue anyone who isn’t interested
If you’re following Principle 3 and are committed to communicating openly and honestly with all people in your life, then you can commit to no chasing. You may be deeply infatuated with someone, but if he or she is not reciprocating that interest in you, it will be short-lived and painful. He or she may entertain your pursuits for some time because they feel flattered or obligated, but it won’t lead to a well-balanced connection because the foundation of the relationship was off from the beginning.
This deserves a bit of a deep dive. Let’s say I’ve been going out with a guy for a month and we’ve been seeing each other about once a week. All of a sudden it’s been 10 days and we haven’t set up another time to meet. I’m thinking about him and missing him, so in the spirit of honest communication, I will typically send a no-pressure, no-chasing message like, “Hey, thinking of you. Hoping you’re having a great week.”
I’m expressing exactly what I’m thinking and opening the doors for a reciprocal exchange. If I receive one, then I know we’re still good and he’s just probably been busy (see Principle 5), but if he doesn’t respond, then I know pretty clearly that he’s just not as interested as I am (see Principle 7). That’s fine, and because I protect my standards at all costs, I will respect the other person’s wishes and respect myself.
5. Don’t take things so personally!
Most of us are egotistical little maniacs. We think everything is about us! This person you’re dating or are interested in dating has a LIFE, and more than likely it’s one he or she has been building up for two, three, four decades without you. Sometimes if someone goes off the radar (or even directly communicates that he or she wants to stop seeing you), there’s a pretty good chance that it’s not even about you. They may be focusing on work, getting back together with an ex, traveling unexpectedly, experimenting with celibacy, or had a realization that they only date bald girls, whatever.
This is hands-down one of the biggest wormholes I see dear friends fall into as I look on from afar. Don’t text him if he hasn’t sent you a smoke signal in less than 48 hours — the man has a job and hobbies and friends! It’s not all about you. Or if she goes MIA, she may have just met someone else. It doesn’t mean anything negative about you as a person (and ideally she should be communicating this to you anyway per Principle 3), it just means she has her preferences and the right to pursue those preferences.
6. Be mindful of your expectations
Another wormhole. Or maybe a blackhole because a lot of people don’t see this one coming. Granted, it’s hard to be aware of our own expectations, so don’t be afraid to write a post-it note that says “Mind your expectations” and slap it on your bathroom mirror after meeting someone spectacular.
Examples of some expectations you should watch for: If you went on one date, do you expect to go on more dates? At what frequency? If you slept with her, do you expect daily, biweekly, or weekly sleepovers? Will you expect to exchange more text messages with her because you just took your relationship to another level of intimacy? If he says he cares about you after a few weeks of dating, are you beginning to expect a long-term commitment? If a guy got your number at a bar, do you expect him to call the next day?
There are millions of tiny things we have expectations about, so start paying attention and save yourself the grief by acknowledging that you somehow formulated these fantasies — and then go about your business. I find this is the best way to mind my expectations when it comes to my relationships with other people: I just live my life. When and how we choose to mutually connect, that’s wonderful, but I keep in mind that it may be like that today but not tomorrow. Shrug. I have a lot going on anyway.
Specifically on expectations regarding sex, it may be good to have what Steve Bearman, PhD and founder of Interchange Counseling, calls “the other safe sex conversation” to establish what sex means to each of you and what expectations may arise or change — before you sleep together.
7. Go on more third and fourth dates
This is one of the best pieces of dating advice I’ve ever received and I owe it to Aziz Ansari’s book, Modern Romance. These days, we expect instant gratification and we apply that to human connection, too (ugh). At the start of every relationship, you’re strangers, so expecting an instant connection isn’t realistic. Give people a chance.
Instead of going out on all your first dates scanning for that “wow!” factor, start looking for “connection potential.” Apply this strategy (which is also an exercise in managing expectations) and you may find that you went from going out on strings of unsatisfying first dates to finding someone special who simply took longer than a few hours to open up.