We all know that there are self-care practices and understandings that help us become better daters. However, there are a lot of mixed messages and, in my opinion, un-useful clichés about personal self-care and dating that aren’t helping anyone. For instance, what does it mean to “love yourself first”? Does that mean only people who are 100% comfortable and happy with themselves can have happy and fulfilling relationships? That doesn’t seem very practical.
What we know about human nature, bonding, and attachment clearly tells us that we are not born nor do we grow and develop in a vacuum. In fact, we require relationships to develop in a healthy way. We come to know who we are and how we are unique and what we have to offer through relationships.
So no, you do not need to wait to date until you have yourself neatly wrapped up in a healed box. Yet it is true that we can do a lot of personal housekeeping to ensure that our dating life is not inadvertently hung up by things we don’t know, understand, or haven’t dealt with.
To make sure you approach dating in a way that’s fun, rewarding, and empowering, here are a few practical things to get together first.
1. Clarify your self identity.
Identity is not a static entity; we know ourselves through our varying relationships, activities, accomplishments, and challenges and will invariably have flexibility in our identity throughout our life. However, you should be able to have a good working model of your core identity.
Take out a sheet of paper, and make two columns: the left column is assets and the right column is liabilities. Over the course of a few days make a list of what you think are your strengths, what you have to offer the world, what you most enjoy, what people tend to value in you (the left column), and also your liabilities (right column): what are your weaknesses, what do you tend to need help with, and what are your core wounds or fears. This outline should give you a clear sense of whether you have a balanced identity. Make sure you can represent this balanced version of yourself to others in a coherent manner.
2. Know your relational identity.
Our relational identity is how we experience ourselves in our most important relationships. This is fairly flexible, as different people with their own psychologies will relate to us differently and bring out different parts of us. Make a list of the most important relationships in your life, including your parents, formative friends, and romantic partners. Ask yourself how these people saw you, and how you felt in their presence. What feelings came up? Insecurity, safety, valued, strong, capable, not good enough, scared? Relational identity often needs to be healed through self-reflection and/or psychotherapy if you have a toxic model of yourself based on toxic relationships.
3. Know your value system.
Our values are a core feature of our identity. Knowing your values will strengthen your sense of self as well as inform all of the emotional decisions in your life, including who to date. Can you name your five core values? Make sure you can! And never, ever, commit to a relationship with someone who contradicts these core values. Healthy relationships are built on respect, and I can promise you that you will not retain respect for someone who contradicts any of your core values.
Start with these three tips, and I assure you, your future partner will appreciate the work you’ve put in. You’ll feel more confident about the dating process, attract the type of people you’re interested in, and be able to successfully chose and navigate dating and relationships.
Dr. Elisha is a psychologist, psychoanalyst, author, and teacher—this means that she has the most in depth training available to get to the root of relational difficulties. Her deep understanding of how attachment relationships shape our feelings about ourselves, the world, and our beliefs about relationships help people succeed in their intimate relationships. Please download the free e-book, “How to Be an Extraordinary Partner!”