Dating (noun): a nearly ubiquitous human experience searching for meaningful love and connection;
an exploration into the hopes, dreams, and annoyances of ourselves and others;
a journey accompanied by the joy of fostering lifelong connections and the sorrow of heartbreak.
If you are searching for your own love story, you have probably found yourself wondering:
What qualities make a good partner?
How do I figure out who is right for me?
How do I date wisely, and have fun doing it?
How can I make sure my relationship is successful?
You have come to a great place to explore the answers to these questions and more. While we may think that we can easily answer these questions on our own, the chances of getting things right are actually rather grim.
Did you know?
If you go on serious dates with 40 different people throughout your life, there is a 97% chance each date is NOT who you want as a life partner.1 It gets worse if you factor in being your perfect partner’s choice as well.
Now, let’s say you pick someone, build a relationship together, and decide to get married. Perhaps you even beat the odds and choose the person in the 3% chance who you would be excited to commit to as life partners.
There’s still over a 50% chance that your relationship will end in a divorce or separation.
To make matters worse, even if you stay with your partner, there’s an additional 25% chance you will be unhappy in the marriage.
Essentially, there’s less than a 3% chance that any given date could be your perfect partner.
When we do pick someone, there is a 50% chance the relationship ends in separation or divorce.
Factor in relationship satisfaction and the chance of a happy and long-lasting relationship drops to 25%.
So…why do we pursue love if the statistics are stacked so firmly against us?
We certainly don’t accept those odds when driving a car, riding a bike, or going about countless other aspects of everyday life.2 Yet, for many of us, the reward of a meaningful relationship is worth the risk of frustration and heartache.
A meaningful romantic connection with someone can be one of life’s great joys – so sweet that its loss is also one of life’s great sorrows. As psychologist Ester Perel pinpoints, “The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.”3
What if that 25% chance of success jumped up to a 90% chance that you and your partner are a great match and build a healthy and happy relationship together?
Thanks to wisdom from decades of research in dating and relationships, there are proven tools and strategies that can vastly improve our odds. Keep reading to learn the most important tips for dating that you need to know, and a sneak-peek at what else you could learn.
Dating as a Journey
Dating gets described in many ways – from a game to a headache. We conceptualize Dating as a journey, in a nod to the many different steps that take place along the way, and the opportunity for exploration, adventure, and personal growth.
Throughout the journey, we explore the best and debunk the worst of the research and advice to help you navigate the world of dating, from how to meet people and considerations in choosing a partner to improving the foundations for a healthy relationship and more.
To begin, think about where you are on your journey. Below are some common stages. Which resonates with you and your life presently?
No matter your answer, there is a little something for everyone in this section.
Our research-backed tools and tips to navigate dating include topics such as:
- How to set yourself up for successful dating, before you even begin going on dates
- The importance of clarifying your priorities, and how to pick realistic priorities for your dream partner
- How to meet people who are actually a good fit for you (and recognize when it happens)
- Ideas to plan fun and meaningful dates — ditch the coffee and stale conversations and spice up your date nights
- Jumping from casual dating to something more: when to define the relationship and how to do it
- What a healthy relationship looks like and the tools to create a strong foundation for your partnership, including trust, communication, and intimacy
- Common dating and relationship pitfalls and how to avoid them
- What to make sure you know before you commit to life together
- The art of breaking-up: insight on when a relationship is over, tools to call off a date or relationship, and tips on how to get over a break-up
- Practice tools and skills from each section along the way to steadily improve your dating skills in the real world
Not sure where to start? Check out the Dating Assessments below to explore your dating blindspots. You can also read about the journey as a whole later on this page.
Dating Check-up: Find out about your dating strengths, challenges, and growth zones
There are several aspects in which you can take stock of what is going well, and what could use some work in your dating life. You may have a sense of some areas you already want to improve – fantastic! And, these assessments can also help identify growth opportunities you may not have considered.
You can access each of these quizzes as you work through the site, or try them here using the links below.
Dating as an element of well-being
To start, you can measure Dating as one aspect of many involved in our overall wellbeing. Take the full assessment to look at Dating in detail, and compare it with other factors using our Assessment Center.
Relationships Health (overall)
From satisfaction to trust and communication, this assessment dives into seven unique factors linked to a healthy relationship. If you are not currently in a relationship, you can take this quiz when thinking about previous relationships to better understand your relationship patterns and dynamics.
Before we begin: Common Dating Myths and High Expectations
“We speak of ‘love’ as if it were a single, undifferentiated thing, but in truth, it comprises two very different modes: being loved and loving.” Relationships, The School of Life4
Hollywood and romance novels spin heartwarming love stories that fill us with warm fuzzy feelings and hope for our love life. We find compelling tales of ‘real-life’ true love, alongside the pain of heartbreak on our social media feeds.
And, while we widely acknowledge the love stories we love to read are not an accurate reflection of reality, unrealistic expectations can still sneak into our vision for our own romantic lives.
Perhaps, it’s ok to expect a little less from love.
Take a moment to consider the following dating and relationship myths. Each has an element of truth, and can also lead to an unhelpful mindset. Examining these myths at a deeper level can reveal helpful do’s and don’ts to guide our dating endeavors.
Dating can be fun, with sparks flying, wine glasses clinking, and dreams of romantic getaways dancing through our heads. But we do ourselves a disservice by thinking that dating doesn’t require an investment of significant time and effort. In Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating, Moira Weigel writes:
“If marriage is the long-term contract that many daters still hope to land, dating itself often feels like the worst, most precarious form of contemporary labor: an unpaid internship. You cannot be sure where things are heading, but you try to gain experience. If you look sharp, you might get a free lunch.”5
While dating in order to find a healthy long-lasting relationship is a commitment of time and energy, it doesn’t have to feel like a chore. And if we are walking into dates feeling burnt out, it’s unlikely we are putting our best foot forward or open to the chance to really get to know the other person. So where is the balance?
Do: Plan dates that are playful, fun, and create opportunities to learn about one another.
Pick things that you enjoy doing which allow you and your date to get to know each other beyond the surface level. Consider meeting in a park to teach each other a unique skill that you have, like telling fortunes or playing the trombone. You could also try out the canoe test6 (but maybe wait until the second date).
Still stuck on date ideas? Check out our list to start brainstorming. Please, no more coffee dates and stale conversations.
Don’t: Focus all of your spare time on dating.
Although dating does take effort, if we allow dating to soak up all of our mental and physical energy, we run the risk of dating fatigue.7 We might give up dating altogether, or become detached and guarded which prevents us from staying open to developing meaningful connections.8
Writing off online dating as a way to meet people risks skipping over numerous potential partners. In Modern Romance, Aziz Ansari examines the rise of online dating, noting that the first online dating site launched in 1995; by 2010, online dating was already one of the top three ways that people in the US were meeting their romantic partners9. That number has only continued to grow — in 2020, nearly 45 million people in the US alone used online dating apps10 – enough to fill 500 football stadiums.
The high volume of singles on the apps is only part of the equation. Even more promising, research has found that nearly 40% of couples now meet online. To top it off, long-term relationships which started thanks to dating apps have also been found to have slightly lower odds of separation or divorce.11
The key to online dating success is understanding how these apps work and using them effectively.
Below are a few considerations, with many more found on our Online Dating page.
Do: Have a clear idea of what you are looking for in a person, without getting too picky.
Dating apps use a variety of methods to match people who might be compatible, typically asking us to fill out profiles about our lives and our desires, such as OK Cupid’s algorithm.12
Keep in mind, these algorithms are only as helpful as the data we provide. Before making an online profile, carefully consider what you really want in a life partner, and what you want a partner to appreciate about you. We explore how to narrow down accurate and useful priorities on our Dating Prep Work page.
Don’t: Get stuck swiping or in drawn-out messaging conversations with others and never actually go on a date.
A team of five psychology professors led by Eli J. Finkel from Northwestern University found that the structure of online dating has led us to over-value surface-level traits, such as height, hair color, or favorite TV shows.13 Rather than getting stuck on little superfluous details, if someone meets our initial criteria, it’s helpful to start a conversation and meet in person and get to know the person behind the profile photos.
In short, online dating can be a powerful tool in introducing us to a wider array of potential partners. The power of these apps means understanding the most important aspects that we want in another partner, and then going on dates to explore the possibilities.
Disagreement and discord finds its way into almost all relationships. While most advice regarding conflict and dating focuses on how to navigate arguments while in a relationship, disagreements also play an important role in the early stages of dating. We discuss conflict in two significant dating domains: communication and compatibility. Below are a few key considerations for how conflict shows up in your dating life.
Do: Take time to figure out the core values where you want to align with your partner.
Understanding our priorities related to the beliefs, values, and habits we want in a partner helps guide our dating decisions from the start. While this awareness won’t avoid conflict in its entirety, it does help ensure that our disagreements are not over deal-breaker issues.
Identifying our personal deal breakers goes beyond the most significant red flags such as abuse, infidelity, or addiction. In Date or Soulmate: Hot to Know if Someone is Worth Pursuing in Two Dates or Less Dr. Neil Warren recommends having two separate lists of ‘must haves’ and ‘can’t stands’, each with ten items.14 Together, these lists help us get specific in our search, and avoid relationships where we find ourselves in recurring arguments related to our most important values. Learn more about how to define your own priorities here.
Don’t: Avoid any form of conflict in your relationship.
Disagreements in a relationship are unavoidable – what matters is how we respond to each other in these moments of tension.
“One of the greatest marriage myths is that if you never fight, then you have a good relationship” – Eight Dates, John & Julie Gotman15
Drawing on over 40 years of research studying happy and unhappy marriage, the Gottman Institute has categorized relationship problems into three groups: solvable problems, perpetual problems, and gridlocked perpetual problems.16 Perpetual problems occur at some point in almost every relationship.17 Even when these repeat arguments hit gridlock, it’s still possible to find resolution and relationship repair.
What matters is how we respond to one another in a disagreement. The Gottman Institute identifies four common communication styles that lead to disaster and how we can build healthy communication skills.
When dating, learning how to productively and positively approach disagreement creates a strong foundation for a healthy and positive relationship in the long run. Next time you find yourself navigating tension in your romantic life, try one (or several) of these exercises.
If you are one of the people skeptical about this myth, you’re not alone.18 Increasing acceptance of cohabitation is rising globally19, such as in the UK which reported in 2011 that 85% of couples who married lived together first.20,21
Recent research has shifted from asking if living together impacts marriage outcomes to why cohabitation and divorce seem to be correlated. It turns out that cohabitation alone is not the primary cause of relationships dissolving.
Cohabitation is not the reason relationships crumble. It’s living together that makes it more challenging to leave already problematic relationships.22
So when does it make sense to share a roof? Below is a snapshot, with a deeper dive and tools here to help you and your partner decide if living together is right for you.
Do: If moving in together is something you are considering, it’s important to discuss both your reasons and expectations surrounding living together.
While cohabitation has a reputation for ruining marriage prospects, it has actually shown to be a benefit when couples take the time to communicate and plan a life together. In particular, couples who live together report higher quality relationships and healthier relationship dynamics when they:
- Are on a path to marriage AND
- Agree on when they want to marry or make a lifelong commitment.23
From discussing little household responsibilities like vacuuming and dishes to big life topics such as financial agreements and desire for children, mapping out what we want life to look like together before moving in sets us up for long-term success.
Don’t: Move in together if the primary reasons are for convenience, such as saving money or avoiding the hassle of finding a new abode when your lease expires.
Be honest with yourself about why you want to live together. Deciding to live together out of convenience or to ‘test the relationship’ has been linked to lower relationship confidence, less dedication, and more negative interactions.24
Part of the risk of cohabitation is often known as the ‘inertia effect’ or ‘sliding versus deciding’ since cohabitation can lead to a higher level of investment in a relationship due to worry about the instability that would come with a break-up.25 In these cases, we risk ‘sliding’ into long-term commitment out of ease, rather than ensuring a relationship has a strong and healthy foundation.
This myth plays at a common tension between affection and support in contrast with independence and self-sufficiency. As with many aspects of life, there’s a balance to be found that is healthy for us and our relationships. The image below shows three broad categories related to dependence and how each typically appears in our relationships.
Elements of dependence and a desire for love and support can be a part of healthy relationships. Interdependence is the sweet spot of personal boundaries and mutual support. It is a dynamic in which everyone has the confidence, time, and space to pursue their own interests while also the comfort to turn towards one another for support through vulnerability, openness, and trust.26,27
How does this apply to our dating endeavors?
Do: Lay the groundwork for a healthy and interdependent relationship, before you even go on a first date.
The foundation for an interdependent relationship starts with ourselves, and knowing what qualities to look for in others. It’s a combination of ensuring our own stability both logistically and emotionally. It means having confidence in our ability to be single, taking care of ourselves mentally and physically, that we are financially independent, and have an active, healthy social life.28,29
With these areas of our life taken care of, we set ourselves up to enter the dating scene with confidence and clarity. It can even help answer that nagging question, “How soon should I message them back?”.
Should We Play It Cool When We Like Someone?
The School of Life explores this tension between enthusiasm and neediness, noting the importance of “strong vulnerability”. This is the balancing act of self-confidence and independence in contrast with closeness, honesty, and self-revelation.
Try this mini check-up to gauge what elements of your life are setting you up for dating success, and where you could improve. You can also use these questions to imagine how your date or partner might answer, and get an initial sense of their own relationship readiness.
Don’t: Correlate a need for love with neediness.
In dating, the label of ‘needy’ has a bad reputation, one that is not entirely unwarranted. Neediness is associated with people who soak up another person’s resources such as time, money, energy, and attention. It is also linked with insecurity and seen not only in what we do but why we do it.
It makes sense that we avoid people who appear needy and worry about being labeled as needy. And yet we also run the risk of labeling normal bids for connection,30 listening, and time as neediness, shutting out people with whom we could have fulfilling and long-lasting relationships.
As we are getting to know someone or building a new relationship, here are a few key questions to ask yourself (and later your potential partner):
- What kind and how much support would you like to receive from a partner?
- How do you show support to others in your life?
- How much time and energy are you able and interested in giving to a relationship?
Navigating the Journey
There are quite a few pit-stops along the dating journey. Some fun, some challenging. All are important when finding and building meaningful romantic relationships. Explore the image below for each step of the journey and then read more about each in the following descriptions.
The term ‘dating’ brings many things to mind. Perhaps it’s a night out on the town, savoring a conversation over a delicious meal. Maybe it sparks ideas of building a new relationship, learning each other’s quirks and dreams. Before jumping into meeting new folks and fostering these meaningful connections, there are a few key steps to set ourselves up for success.
Start off by exploring the fundamentals of dating and building healthy relationships here. Then, explore specific tools and exercises to effectively plan, reflect, and strengthen your personal dating and relationship skills and goals here.
We know what we want. We know what we bring to a relationship (and what we can continue to work on). Now, how do we actually meet someone we would want to consider as a lifelong partner?
This section covers the intricacies of finding and connecting with potential dates. Topics include the benefits and drawbacks of common ways of meeting people, date ideas to avoid the routine coffee shop, and a detailed look at online dating strategies to sort through the ‘noise’ and identify when to invest time in a possible date. All that and more here.
We’ve met someone, felt the spark, and are curious to learn more. We’re ready to invest some time in getting to know the heart and soul of someone. Where do we start?
There’s a lot that goes into really getting to know someone, particularly when thinking about that person as a potential lifetime partner. Learn more on this page about how to spot what you need to know about a person, fun ways to get to know each other, and why hopping in a canoe together31 might be a great way to test run how you’ll work together in future ‘choppy waters’.
As romantic as listening to our heart seems when it comes to picking our partner, when our heart is involved it’s challenging to make an informed and rational decision. Fortunately, there are better metrics we can use to help us make a smart choice for our life and our heart.
Read more here about how to navigate deciding if we want to make a commitment and build a relationship with wisdom, including important factors to consider and tools to help define a relationship for the times the relationship feels too ambiguous.
When building a home, one of the most essential elements is ensuring a strong foundation. The same is true for relationships. We can find someone with whom we have incredible levels of compatibility and chemistry, yet without a strong grounding to build the relationship, we are likely to watch the connection crumble.
This section dives into the intricacies of building a healthy relationship to support lasting love and connection.
Explore more here, from sifting through the business side of life together to the nuances of intimacy, trust, and commitment.
Mistakes happen, and in the realm of dating chances are good that many other people have made the same blunders we are likely to experience.
This page takes a closer look at the most common dating pitfalls at each step of the journey and, more importantly, steps to take that can help you avoid these errors. From shifting our mindset to recognizing when a relationship is and is not working, knowing these mistakes can save you time, energy, and heartache. Take a look here.
The journey of dating involves meeting people — lots of other people. A key to saving time and heartache includes knowing when to pursue a relationship, when to walk away, and how to move through the disappointment that can come with parting ways.
This section offers guidance on many levels of navigating breakup, including the complicated questions surrounding staying friends or the potential of getting back together.
Across the entire Dating section, you will find a collection of resources and practice sheets designed to build practical skills to support your dating journey.
Find the entire collection of exercises on this page, along with a helpful collection of questions to spark conversation. If you are looking for inspiration through movies, songs, or books, we have recommendations on this page as well. For fun, here are a few of our favorite animated shorts on dating and love stories.
- Fry, H. (2015). The Mathematics of Love: Patterns, Proofs, and the Search for the Ultimate Equation. Simon and Schuster. https://www.amazon.com/Mathematics-Love-Patterns-Ultimate-Equation-ebook/dp/B00NZWJE70/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=
- National Safety Council. (2017, August 25). Odds of Dying. Injury Facts. https://injuryfacts.nsc.org/all-injuries/preventable-death-overview/odds-of-dying/
- Esther Perel – Your Guide to Relational Intelligence. (n.d.). https://www.estherperel.com/
- The School of Life. (2016). Relationships. School of Life Press.
- Weigel, M. (2016). Labor of Love: The Invention of Dating. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0176YG0L0/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
- Ury, L. (2015, November 11). Dating & Relationships | Dan Ariely | Talks at Google [Web]. Youtube.
- Cantor, C. (2020, February 22). 5 Ways to Cope With Dating Fatigue. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/modern-sex/202002/5-ways-cope-dating-fatigue
- Aslanian, A. (2018, December 19). How to Stop Detached Dating and Create Real Connection. The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/blog/how-to-stop-detached-dating-and-create-real-connection/
- Ansari, A., & Klinenberg, E. (2015). Modern Romance (1st ed.). Penguin Books. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00OZ0TMYG/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
- Statista Research Department. (2022, February 8). Online dating in the United States – Statistics & Facts. Statista. https://www.statista.com/topics/2158/online-dating/
- Rosenfeld, M. J., Thomas, R. J., & Hausen, S. (2019). Disintermediating your friends: How online dating in the United States displaces other ways of meeting. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 116(36). https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1908630116
- Rudder, C. (2013, February). Inside OKCupid: The math of online dating [Web]. TED-Ed. https://www.ted.com/talks/christian_rudder_inside_okcupid_the_math_of_online_dating?language=en
- Finkel, E. J., Eastwick, P. W., Karney, B. R., Reis, H. T., & Sprecher, S. (2012). Online Dating: A Critical Analysis From the Perspective of Psychological Science. Psychological Science in the Public Interest: A Journal of the American Psychological Society, 13(1), 3–66. https://doi.org/10.1177/1529100612436522
- Warren, N. C. (2002). Date or Soul Mate?: How to Know if Someone is Worth Pursuing in Two Dates or Less (8th ed.). Nelson Books. https://www.amazon.com/Date-Soul-Mate-Someone-Pursuing/dp/078528303X/ref=sr_1_2?crid=1F3LPA9RBO5YR&keywords=date+or+soulmate&qid=1645637172&sprefix=date+or+soulmat%2Caps%2C130&sr=8-2
- Gottman, J., Gottman, J. S., Abrams, D., Abrams, R. C., & Hardin, L. L. (2018). Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love. Workman Publishing Company. https://www.amazon.com/dp/B079VTH6RH/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1
- Fulwiler, M. (2012, July 3). Managing Conflict: Solvable vs. Perpetual Problems. The Gottman Institute. https://www.gottman.com/blog/managing-conflict-solvable-vs-perpetual-problems/
- Gottman, J., & Silver, N. (2015). The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert (Revised ed. edition). Harmony.
- Horowitz, J. M., Graf, N., & Livingston, G. (2019, November 6). Marriage and cohabitation in the U.s. Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends Project. https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2019/11/06/marriage-and-cohabitation-in-the-u-s/
- Kislev, E. (2022, January 28). Cohabitation Is Rising Globally. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/happy-singlehood/202201/cohabitation-is-rising-globally
- McLaren, E. (2014). Marriage statistics, cohabitation and cohort analyses [Data set]. Office for National Statistics. https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/birthsdeathsandmarriages/marriagecohabitationandcivilpartnerships/datasets/marriagestatisticscohabitationandcohortanalyses
- Ortiz-Ospina, E., & Roser, M. (2020). Marriages and Divorces. Our World in Data. https://ourworldindata.org/marriages-and-divorces
- Joel, S. (2012, September 12). Shacking Up: How to avoid some potential pitfalls of moving in with your partner. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/dating-decisions/201209/shacking
- Willoughby, B. J., Carroll, J. S., & Busby, D. M. (2012). The different effects of “living together” Determining and comparing types of cohabiting couples. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 29(3), 397–419. https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407511431184
- Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2009). Couples’ Reasons for Cohabitation: Associations with Individual Well-Being and Relationship Quality. Journal of Family Issues, 30(2), 233–258. https://doi.org/10.1177/0192513X08324388
- Stanley, S. M., Rhoades, G. K., & Markman, H. J. (2006). Sliding versus deciding: Inertia and the premarital cohabitation effect. Family Relations, 55(4), 499–509. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2006.00418.x
- Clarke, J. (n.d.). Interdependence Can Build a Lasting and Safe Relationship. Very Well Mind. Retrieved March 22, 2022, from https://www.verywellmind.com/how-to-build-a-relationship-based-on-interdependence-4161249
- Goldsmith, B. (2013, July 1). Independence and Interdependence—What’s Best for Love? Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/emotional-fitness/201307/independence-and-interdependence-whats-best-love
- Manson, M. (2020, November 10). The No-Bullshit Way to Find “The One.” Mark Manson. https://markmanson.net/how-to-find-the-one
- Eharmony Editorial Team. (2021, June 24). Am I ready for a relationship? What speaks for & against it. Eharmony. https://www.eharmony.com/dating-advice/finding-yourself/eight-signs-you-may-not-be-ready-for-a-relationship/
- The Gottman Institute. (2018, August 8). The Easiest Way to Improve Your Relationship | The Gottman Institute [Web]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ib7Ain2aVR0
- Ury, L. (2015, November 11). Dating & Relationships | Dan Ariely | Talks at Google [Web]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RS8R2TKrYi0&t=1480s