I have been married now for 10 years but I nearly ditched my gorgeous husband on the second date because of the polyester top he was wearing – because I hated man-made fibers. It sounds ridiculous (and it was) but it is amazing the crazy thinking we can get into when it comes to looking for love.
How come most of us can make friends at work, have a civilized conversation with our hairdresser and have a laugh with our mates, but then when looking for a date we can find ourselves thinking 'How do I do this?'
The good news is you know how to do this. You know how to turn up as yourself and connect. The only thing that might be making you doubt yourself is thinking about what is needed to have a successful date, what might go wrong or how you might end up hurt (again).
I've been writing, coaching and speaking on relationships for more than 15 years and these would be my top tips for dating happy – based on my own and my clients' experiences. They are not in any way meant to be prescriptive but I hope they might be of help and an encouragement.
1. Be happy. Are you happy single? If you are unhappy and single there is a good chance you are going to be unhappy in a relationship.
In the UK at the moment there is a Christmas advert for the department store chain, John Lewis. It tells the story of a little boy and his penguin. They are great friends but his penguin is miserable because he doesn't have a mate. In the end the little boy buys his penguin a mate for Christmas and they all live happily ever after.
It is cute but love doesn't work like that! Our happiness does not depend on finding or keeping a mate. Just as in the same way our un-happiness does not depend on our mate either.
The most attractive singles and the ones most likely to make love last are often those people who find contentment whatever their situation and don't need someone to complete them.
2. Show up. Do you want someone to fall in love with you? Yes? Then show up as yourself and not as what you think you should be or what you think the other person wants you to be. There is only one person you are going to be successful at being, and that is you.
We can practise authentic relationships in all areas of our lives, not just in dating. When we choose to value connection over protection we are more likely to encourage others to do the same. That is an amazing gift we can offer the world.
3. Get curious. A first date can make many people feel very self-conscious. When I get into situations that I think are strange or tricky, I often find myself trying to protect not connect. But I have found one easy way to take the focus off myself and away from my thinking, and that is to get curious about the other person.
People are fascinating – just focus on who they are and what you can learn about them. Most of us love it when other people show interest and take time to understand us.
Sometimes I make it a challenge to myself: how can I leave this person better off for having spent time with me?
4. Have fun. I am a great believer in humour and playfulness. It is a great antidote to taking ourselves (or our thinking about life) too seriously. Dating doesn't need to be intense or hard work. Have fun!
5. Tear up the List. When it comes to thinking about love, many people have a list either in their head or actually written down. It is all the stuff that they want in a mate. Have you got one? Yes? Honestly, the best thing you can do with it is rip it up.
I thought I would marry someone who was English, older than me, loved traveling and would take me dancing. My husband David is half-Spanish, eight years younger, hates flying and would never be seen waving his arms around on a dance floor. I'm so pleased I saw sense and didn't let my list win the day.
Ok, so there might be some practical and sensible things to have on the list like not wanting to be with a peanut farmer if you are allergic to nuts, but my advice would be pray and then be as open as you can. You might be pleasantly surprised!
6. Look for 'Sainsbury's' love. Another Christmas advert we have in the UK at the moment is one for the supermarket chain Sainsbury's. It tells the story of the 1914 Christmas Day truce when soldiers from both sides put down their weapons and came together for a few hours to play football.
To me that ad says so much more about true love than the penguins. It points to a love that crosses the divide, that connects above protects, that follows wisdom and God's Spirit, that looks beyond differences, and sees possibilities and potential in every person and situation.
It is the kind of love that we all know and have when we stop thinking that we don't.
Sarah Abell is an author, speaker and coach who specialises in helping people live, love and lead authentically. Click here to find out more about her next 30 day online bootcamp.