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I was sitting in my therapist’s office complaining about my dating life. I had just wasted six months of my life obsessing over a man who was giving me the run around. And unfortunately, this was a scenario that has replayed itself multiple times in my dating history.

Desperate for a new outlook on love, I lamented to her: “I just wish that I could hover over other people’s dates to see what's happening. I think that I’m doing something fundamentally incorrect!”

You see, I always assumed that dating and relationships was something innate that I should know how to do as a human. But while I’ve had some great examples of marriages in my life, I fear that I actually learned how to date in high school by watching Sex and the City with my best friend. The way the four girlfriends related to men and dated seemed current, and it made a lasting impact on how I behaved. But it wasn’t just Sex and the City; it was everything I consumed on TV, in magazines, and the way my friends dated. My parents have been married for more than thirty-five years, which is my end goal, but by the time I reached my twenties, a relationship like that seemed so out of reach; I couldn’t make it past two or three months of dating the same guy!

My therapist looked at me and said quite resolutely: “You have two options. You can keep coming here to talk about the same recurring habits in your dating life. We can work on it, but progress will be slow. Or you can start studying dating and relationships on your own outside of this room.”

Study dating?

My therapist told me about how she once sought out ways to learn about relationships more objectively, too. Turns out there are lots of options—weekend seminars, one-off classes, singles-only sessions, and sessions that invited both singles and couples. I didn’t even realize that this type of relationship training was out there. It made so much sense—we take a class to learn watercolor or sewing. Why should learning to date well be any different?

With a track record like mine, I needed to take a step back and learn from people who had done it successfully. I deleted all of my online dating profiles and decided that I would use the time that I normally spent on coffee dates with strangers to take classes.

My lessons in dating took place in many different formats. Online classes offer an opportunity to learn via conference calls with an expert, videos, and articles. I was following Wendy Newman and found the information really helpful. It was like "Dating 101." I have met a handful of women who told me that they joined a conference called PAX and absolutely loved it. In addition, there are plenty of in-person one-off classes, which I successfully found through sites like MeetUp (just be sure to research a bit about the person who is leading it). Finally, I reached out to my church for help. While I absolutely loved the basics of “how to” date, I felt I would also benefit from a faith-based perspective since Christianity is important to me. My friend sent me the information for a lecture series at a church near me that discussed love and responsibility, delving deeper into the beauty of a loving Christian relationship.

There are so many resources to turn to when relearning to date, and all of them helped to crystalize a habit of healthy dating that will hopefully lead me to a long and happy marriage like my parents. I have learned so much from relationship classes, but here are five of the most important lessons I learned.

01. Stay away from dating books with lots of rules.

While delving into dating classes I came across quite a few books on the subject of dating. Some were helpful; many were not. I highly suggest staying away from any dating books that talk about too many rules. In the end, dating involves two humans, and it should not be a game to play. Don’t focus on learning how many hours to wait between text messages, instead learn about how men and women often have different needs.

02. You can learn valuable information by revisiting past relationships.

Far too often, the only time I spent thinking about a failed relationship was in the emotionally charged weeks after a breakup. Once the pain subsided, I put the past in the past and moved on. By objectively revisiting these relationships I was able to first let go of any resentments or hurt that I subconsciously carried with me, and then I was able to truly see what worked in the relationship and what didn’t work. This helped me to make a list of what I was looking for in a new relationship. It was no longer this superficial list filled with “Christian man, well dressed, close to his family,” etc. I expanded it to things like “thoughtful about being on time when he makes plans, able to communicate his needs and adjust his actions based on my voiced needs.” The non-negotiables became meaningful and made me feel confident in evaluating if a man was a good match for me.

03. It is more important to look at what I can do for my partner than what he can do for me.

For years and years I had been hoping for a man who could enrich my life, who would add value. Embarrassingly enough, I was shocked when I realized I had been thinking about it all wrong. My desire became two-fold. I hoped to encounter a man whose life I could enrich, for a man who I could serve with my unique gifts as a woman and as a person. This changed my focus from needing a man in my life to growing more fully myself to be prepared to love someone, because true love is self-giving.

04. Mr. Right is more than just a pretty face.

In the past, when I met a man that I was attracted to and desired, I very quickly put on rose colored glasses. I couldn’t see any faults or his real human character. I was, as they say, blinded by love. But this was merely based on attraction to him. I liked the way his hair flipped or the way it felt when he held my hand. And while being attracted to a man is good and important, it cannot be the end. For love to be real and true, I cannot only desire this man, I must see his innate value as a human being, flaws and all. This will allow our relationship to grow in time to be authentic and long-lasting.

05. He won’t think like my girlfriends.

One of my all time favorite failures in dating was when I was trying to figure out something cute to do for a guy I had just met. We had only gone on one date before, and I thought it was a good idea to make a tiny bouquet with some flowers I found on my walk that day. We got to dinner and I took it out from behind my back. Turns out, men don’t really love to receive flowers like women. My friends still make so much fun of me for thinking that was a good idea.

From my classes I learned more about how men and women function differently. For example, I talk really fast. I jump subjects in a second and expect someone to follow where I am going with the conversation with ease. I could easily fill any moments of silence on a date with the thousands of thoughts that run through my mind. I learned that men need about 30 seconds of silence more than the typical woman to express their thoughts. I started to let the silence be for a while longer without filling it myself. Surprisingly enough, I got to hear a lot more about what my date had to say. And as a bonus, by listening to him more, I was able to discern if he was the right fit for me much more quickly.

Devoting my time to learn about relationships and dating, rather than chatting up the next guy online, led to so many amazing revelations. Aside from relearning to date in a healthy and productive way, the best part for me is that now when friends ask about my dating life, I can tell them about the classes and what it is exactly that I'm looking for in a future partner. Usually by the end of the conversation they exclaim that they know the perfect man for me. And this time, I am prepared to meet him.

Photo Credit: Britt Rene