"Intentional" is a word that has sprung to prominence amidst the recent mindfulness phenomenon—our culture's answer to getting us off our multitasking phones and into the moment. The need to pause and consider our basic actions has grown from a countercultural movement, permeated pop culture (it's even been slapped onto t-shirts), and, naturally, it has also impacted our dating lives.
The idea behind intentional dating is a breath of fresh air, compared to our stagnated hookup culture. Rather than sliding into ambiguous relationships with no clear destination in sight, intentional dating encourages us to choose our relationships and know where we would like it to go. But like all trends, the movement can get caught up in itself—and lose focus of its initial purpose.
This became clear to me after talking to a stranger who openly shared with me her dating New Year's resolution. This year, she told me, she was going to “intentionally” date. Cool, I thought. Then she said: “I want to find the one, so I’m raising the bar. I know what I want, and by being intentional, I will find it faster.”
And, with that, I became wary.
While earnest and optimistic (aren’t all New Year's resolutions?) she seemed to confuse intentional dating with loudly advertising that she now wanted to get married and have a family—and fast. And she presumed that the guy she was looking for would appear, like a package from Amazon, just because she was choosing to be intentional.
“Intentional dating isn’t like a magic trick that helps you find your spouse,” shares Anita Chlipala, LMFT, and author of First Comes Us: The Busy Couple's Guide to Lasting Love. “I do recommend it, but I tell my clients that it isn’t easy. It takes time.”
Of course having standards is a must. My worry, though, is that we have begun to confuse intentionality with idealism. Under the banner of intentional dating, women in particular can become too idealistic—and consequently unrealistic. “Even in a big city like Chicago... where there are a lot of people... you might be thinking there's always someone out there, someone better,” Chlipala adds.
I can't help but think that if had been too "intentional" in my quest for dating, I never would have been open to meeting the man who didn't match my every criteria and turned out to be my spouse.
With that in mind, let's tackle the three biggest misconceptions about intentional dating by explaining what intentional dating is not.
01. Intentional Dating Doesn’t Mean You’re Focused on Something Serious
“I've been talking to my clients about intentional dating for a while. I love intentional dating, and I love for my clients to do it. But it doesn't always mean dating to find a partner," Chlipala explains.
Yes, our time is valuable, and hence, it’s important that we live a life of intentionality. Yet, this doesn’t mean that dating is just about finding the one and setting up your future life.
“Intentional dating can be for fun—helping us learn about ourselves and what we want in a relationship,” says Chlipala. And while it’s important to be upfront about your intentions, you don’t necessarily need to advertise it on the first date. “Intentional dating is about taking it slow, and getting to know a person,” explains Chlipala.
02. It’s Not About Finding Someone to Fill a Role or Void
“When I talk to my clients, I teach them to date with an attitude of acceptance,” shares Chlipala. “You're never going to find someone who shares your exact viewpoints or fits your exact profile.”
“Women often share with me over and over again about how much potential a guy might have, treating him like a project she needs to realize or fix,” says Chlipala. This is a huge no-no. Chlipala explains, “No man is ever going to want to feel like he’s a project to the woman who is the love of his life.”
Men need to feel respected and accepted for who they already are—just as women do. So if a woman sets her intentions intensely on marriage, men are turned off; not because they don’t want something serious, but because—at first—he wants to be admired for who he is as a man, not some role he can fill in your marriage goal. Chlipala shared, “It’s important to be honest, but realize that these things take time.”
03. It’s Not About Perfection: For Yourself Or Anyone Else
Some women believe that in order to start intentionally dating, they need to be at a point of their lives where they are 100 percent satisfied with who they are. “It’s not realistic to expect that in order to find an amazing relationship, we need to be perfect,” says Chlipala. In fact, Chlipala explains that being in a relationship can teach us who we are and how we can improve on those imperfections, “We realize things about ourselves in a relationship that we would never realize on our own.”
In the same vein, dating intentionally isn’t about seeking perfection in another human either. It begins with acceptance. And once we begin with acceptance, we’ll be able to truly discern if they’re right for us—honestly and slowly.
Fundamentally, intentional dating is about being present and being focused in the moment—and of the people in front of you, right now. Chlipala shares that having rituals around dating can set the tone of an intentional dating lifestyle: “Instead of swiping on Tinder in the grocery store line, consider making a designated time for it by yourself.” Adding some pomp and ceremony to our own dating processes can really influence our own mindset on the matter.
So don't confuse intentional dating by fixing your sights on the person you might want or idealize in some far-off future. Be present, have fun, and be true to your heart. Then you will have dated well.
Photo Credit: Erich McVey