Dating is a process. And that process begins with that first date. And the more of those you have, the more likely you are to find success. And, if you keep an open mind, success may look different than your original script.
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I met with a divorced friend the other day. She was seeking my advice on navigating the online dating world. She had created her profile and interacted with a few men, but not was not having the success she imagined. I asked her what her approach had been so far. She described her bio and listed her requirements that included strict height and age limits. She added other factors that would qualify the men as good husband and father material.

Basically, she had created her perfect match and was then interviewing men to see if they fit her mental profile. And they all fell short. Literally, in some cases. My first advice to her was to change her attitude around dating.

A first date is an interview for a second date, not an interview for a marriage.

Dating is a process. And that process begins with that first date. And the more of those you have, the more likely you are to find success. And, if you keep an open mind, success may look different than your original script.

Be curious, not critical.

I suggest approaching dating with an open and inquisitive mind. Say "yes" more than you say "no." Get to know people before you pull out the judgments. Rather than classify dates as good or bad, look for something you can learn from every encounter. Have fun. People are more attracted to smiles than frowns. If you treat dating like a job, you'll be treated like a coworker, not a potential romantic partner.

Every encounter is a lesson.

Dating really isn't all that serious. Even if you're looking for a life mate and a parent for your children, those first encounters do not have to bear the weight of that responsibility. By all means, be aware of factors and traits that speak for or against long-term success but don't pull the plug before you've even turned on the light.

Begin with the end in mind but still start at the beginning.

And the beginning is a time of questioning. Exploring. Be curious, about your date and yourself. Remove the expectations for a bit and see what happens. You just might discover that the partner you need isn't the one you cast in mind from the outset. Or that the person with the not-so-great photo can bring out feelings that you thought were long gone. Or that a great parent is hiding behind a youthful exterior.

Relationships are formed, not found.

If you desire commitment and your date speaks only of casual flings, then by all means, let the person go. If faith is a core value for you and your partner for the evening is an avowed atheist, then there is most likely no future. If there is no attraction and an embrace feels as exciting as hugging your mother, keep looking. Even if there is no long-term forecast, you can still enjoy (and learn from) the moment.

A date is not a relationship.

Only a few of your first dates will likely progress to second encounters. That's okay; it does not mean you failed. I do not believe we have a single soul mate, but nor do I believe that we are compatible with just anyone matching basic criteria. So get out there. Have fun. Meet people with an open mind yet with an eye trained on what you desire in the future.

Dating is like Netflix. If you approach with too much criteria, you'll end up with the same selection every time. Be open to something new.

Here is my step-by-step guide to stress free online dating.

1)Craft a profile that is fun rather than perfect. Let your personality and quirks shine through. Be judicious with the qualities that you're looking for in a partner, only listing those that are truly deal breakers (for example, does not want children). People respond to authenticity and vulnerability. Yes, that means you may be hurt. But it also means that you can be loved as you really are.

2)Make coffee dates with anyone that piques your interest before you spend too much time communicating online. I suggest coffee because it is time limited, budget friendly and public and it avoids the introduction of alcohol, which can cloud your judgment. By avoiding too much online communication, it makes it easier to move on if there is no connection in person. During the first encounter, ask questions with no expectations of the answers. Remember, this is an interview for a second date only.

3)Have the following questions in mind throughout the date: Do I like the person? Is there an attraction? Would I like to know more? Are there any glaring red flags or areas of mismatch? If applicable, does he or she seem like possible spouse or relationship material? If the answers to these questions are favorable, pursue a second date and ask yourself the same questions to decide if you should go for a third. If the answers are disadvantageous, schedule another first encounter.

4)Throughout, don't take rejection personally. When someone disappears after a brief encounter, it says more about him or her than you. Dating is a numbers game. And you will not always hold a winning hand. But you can always play again.

Read about my adventures through online dating on my blog, Lessons from the End of a Marriage.

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