Dating is always tough to navigate: what do you text back, who pays the check, and why is it so hard to meet normal people!? But dating during lockdown is a whole new set of difficulties: the old rules of dating no longer apply, our go-to date spots are closed, and we totally forgot how to do our makeup (nope, just me?). But lockdown or not, you deserve a fulfilling life, fun ways to meet new people, and to actually enjoy dating (because no one should have Charlotte’s dating exhaustion).
We all say it every year, but 2021 can truly be the year you reach all of your goals (#newyearnewme, right?). No matter what’s going on in the world, this year can be a golden opportunity if you’re looking for love (or, you know, just looking to go on dates that don’t suck). Here are 10 ways to not only date in 2021, but to totally up your dating game, achieve a fulfilling love life, and find a happy relationship (no matter how serious you’re looking for). Read on for romantic success by 2022:
1. Appreciate how dating is different now
Maybe you’re getting Zoom-date fatigue, or maybe you’ve kept your dating life on hold since the stay-at-home order hit. However, a global pandemic and social distancing restrictions don’t have to harm your love life. In fact, they could even be beneficial. For example, dating during a pandemic means focusing on an emotional connection first, since the physical connection and new-relationship excitement isn’t possible. You can get to know who someone is without spending time and energy doing the actual dating. Slower connections are a new kind of intimacy (plus it’s more foreplay, you know?), unsexy topics like who pays the bill is off the table (literally), and staying at home is an opportunity to get to know each other with fewer distractions. In other words, 2021 brings a lot of potential for your love life–not in spite of the pandemic, but because of it.
2. Keep all options open
Many of us have this idea that we need a movie-worthy meet-cute when finding a soulmate. But closing yourself off to any meeting that isn’t locking eyes across a crowded bar or running into a long-forgotten high school sweetheart from back home (Hallmark Channel style) limits your chances. And during a lockdown? Your chances are next to nothing. Despite what Hollywood has us believe, we can meet worthwhile people anywhere. You could meet your ideal partner over a Zoom meeting, at an online singles event, in an elevator, at the park walking your dog, or yes, on a dating app. The more options you keep open, the higher your chances of meeting people that you’ll enjoy being around. Instead of a “meet-cute,” try to find the dating apps or methods that feel right for you, and be open to any possibility.
3. Be ready for “the talk”
No, not the “seeing other people” talk, or even the STD talk (although I urge you to have those conversations as well). I’m talking about the global pandemic talk. It may be awkward, but being on the same page about COVID safety and social distancing practices is crucial to make dating safe and enjoyable. Make sure you’re connecting with people who are taking the same safety precautions that you are and be open and honest about what you’re comfortable with. If an in-person date is on the table, let them know exactly how you’re staying safe, and what you expect from them to feel safe being together.
As weird as the conversation might feel, one of the good things about dating in a pandemic is that you have to be more intentional and selective about who you spend your time with. Having an open and honest dialogue not only keeps you safe and worry-free, but lays the foundation for a trustworthy relationship.
4. Forget prerequisites
Many of us have extensive prerequisite checklists before even considering going on a first date. Maybe you want someone who is exactly like you, whether it’s interests, religion, or background. Maybe you’re not looking twice at people who have a certain dating history, are over a certain age, or own a cat (because you’re way more of a dog person).
While shared values are crucial and compatibility is often determined by similarities, try getting to know someone before making assumptions based on your prerequisites. The only “prerequisites” you need are your non-negotiable values, like kindness, integrity, and humor. Otherwise, base opinions on how you feel, not off of a checklist. Pay attention to the person in front of you, and try not to project a narrative or assign meaning to traits before you even know the person. Ask questions, and genuinely care about why someone is the way they are before determining whether or not they are for you.
5. Cut it off with the “maybes,” already!
Do you have an ex that has been hanging around for years, or a f*ckboy that’s been messing with your head? What about those people you text when you’re feeling lonely or bored, or who you think you might be interested in someday (keyword: might)? I call these people the “maybes:” the exes, previous dates, and “it’s complicated” relationships that didn’t work out the first time around, but you keep their number in your phone “just in case,” or are hoping something will change.
There’s a lot of reasons we stick around with people we know are not good for us. Maybe they’re a security blanket, maybe we’re lonely, or maybe we’re seeking external approval. But no matter the reason the wrong person is in your life, as soon as you realize they’re not the one for you, that should be the end of it, not the beginning of the end. Now, if you have a friend with benefits (you don’t have feelings for) or love flirty-texting that hot coworker, you do you, girl. But those people you go to out of loneliness, comfortability, or insecurity? They’re just holding you back. Know what you deserve, be honest with yourself, and don’t settle. Bonus tip: unfollow on social media. Just do it!
7. Visualize your best self
Dating highlights our biggest insecurities: we overanalyze what we say over text or Tinder, try on 15 different outfits (even if the date is just on Zoom), and maybe even expect the worst and prepare to be ghosted or for the date to go bad. Sound familiar? To cure pre-date anxieties, try visualizing the best version of yourself. Are you confident, comfortable, or friendly? How would the most confident you act on this date? What would you wear? Would you even care about what you wear? Remind yourself that you are the catch that your date is trying to impress, not the other way around. Even if you don’t feel confident or calm, the simple act of visualizing your best self can help you relax, and enjoy the date instead of getting in your head.
6. Remember that “no” is not a dirty word
In fact, it’s one of the most important words in your dating vocabulary. Especially as women, we’re taught to be likable and easy-going on dates, and we focus more on how to be liked than whether or not we actually like them (but more on that below). You know what we should vow to end in 2021? Going on dates we’re not excited about, texting back people we don’t like, or not vocalizing what we want and need in our relationships to protect other people’s egos. Overall, let’s work on saying “no” when we want to say no. Compromise and empathy are crucial in relationships, but so is respect for each other’s wants and needs. Communicating what you don’t want should be just as easy as what you do. If it’s not, this person doesn’t respect you or care about you as much as they say they do. Thank you, next.
7. Use alone time to your advantage
While 2020 was a lonely year for many of us, being alone has allowed us to turn inward, explore our truest desires, and get to know ourselves better. When we know ourselves and what we want, our dating lives become more fulfilling, successful, and fun. Think about it: we’ve grown a lot, started new hobbies or hustles, and got to know our likes and dislikes in 2020. Even an abundance of alone time can be invested to understand what we want out of a partner. Plus, scary times make people crave connection, and hitting pause on all normalcy helps you let go of the habits, traits, or dating rules that are no longer serving you. Not only have you been subconsciously preparing yourself for a more successful dating life, but any potential partners have too.
8. Ditch outdated rules
Let me go on a quick tangent about a few outdated dating rules that we really should ditch, like, yesterday. To start, my least favorite of all dating rules are “don’t kiss on the first date” and the “three-date rule.” Let’s just throw out any rules that imply that what you want to do with your body, and when you want to do it, is not up to you. Make your own rules based on comfortability and what you’re feeling.
Next up: playing hard to get or waiting for the other person to make the first move. Besides outdated gender roles, these “rules” come from the idea that whoever cares less in the relationship is the one who has the most power. But should love be about power? It’s OK to care; we’re supposed to care about each other. So what does it matter if you “come on too strong” or “care more?” Be true to your feelings and what you want. Oh, and making the first move can save us a lot of time wondering if they like us back. It’s 2021: we’re starting side hustles, prioritizing our health, and smashing glass ceilings. Ain’t nobody got time to wait around for a phone call.
9. Focus on finding out what you want
Dating is supposed to be about finding what you want, not becoming what someone else wants. Some people will like you and some people won’t. Whether or not someone wants to pursue a relationship or a second date with you has nothing to do with how likable you are, but has to do with compatibility. And I think we can all agree there are many people we wouldn’t mind being incompatible with. Prioritize what you want in a partner by making a list of non-negotiable qualities or values you want, and stop yourself from getting caught up in what a relationship or person could be. Instead, ask yourself if you genuinely enjoy each person you’re talking to, and whether or not they deserve you.
10. Know that dating is supposed to be enjoyable (and stop if it isn’t)
Repeat after me: dating should be fun. It should not feel forced, boring, painful, or sad. If it’s not enjoyable, you’re either putting too much pressure on each date, feeling self-conscious about dating, or focusing on the wrong things. Remember that dating is not intended to have only one outcome. Every experience–whether it’s a Zoom date, Tinder conversation, or a few months of dating–brings you closer to clarity.
The purpose of going on dates, talking to new people, and opening yourself up to meet someone new is not to feed your ego, affirm insecurities, or to find a soulmate ASAP. The purpose is to collect information that will bring you closer to a happy, fulfilling life, and to have a good time along the way. Bottom line: it should be fun meeting new people, whether or not a second date follows (yes, really!). If it’s not, take a break from dating to reflect on what you’re really looking for in your dating life.