More young adults are single now than ever. Whether that’s a byproduct of social media, the pandemic, or something else, that’s another story. A lot of people are lonely and desperate and don’t even know where to start. There are all kinds of conflicting advice out there as well.
After years of trial-and-error and reading all kinds of dating advice, I’ve come to the realization that dating is not just about meeting the right people, but rather a journey of learning and self-improvement. And if you don’t have much dating experience, be ready, unless you are already very attractive (or got very lucky), there is a pretty steep learning curve.
No, I’m not an advocate of PUA, Andrew Tate, or any of those similar online communities, despite borrowing some of their terminologies here. A lot of their advice is deeply flawed and could do much more harm than good. This guide is developed from a collection of my own experiences as well as the experiences of my peers, what worked for us, and what didn’t.
Some people like to say dating is mostly about circumstance and luck, and all the stuff here is unnecessary. I agree, but there are many tangible things that you can work on to improve your luck and circumstances in dating.
This is a long post. Here I summarize the things that I’ve learned along the way while embarking on the journey of dating. It can be daunting at first, but I like to follow a structured, engineering approach to dating, as dating can be broken down into smaller, more actionable items.
Some people say most generalized dating advice is not helpful and that dating advice should be individualized. I agree, but for starters, there are some universal things that consist of a working formula for dating.
Let’s treat dating as a problem to solve. As engineers, let’s break it down into some smaller, actionable steps, and focus on the things you can control.
I believe dating is just about being the right person yourself, and then meeting and attracting the right person, interacting with them, as well as maintaining it (for longer-term relationships).
So that brings it down to a few steps:
- Who is the “right person”? What qualities are you looking for?
- How to reach out to your target audience?
- How to become more attractive and attract the right person?
- How to communicate and engage with that person?
- How to maintain that attraction and engagement?
I will try to cover as much as I can in this post. But if it gets too long, there will be a Part 2.
Step 0: Identify your target audience
Having completed a degree in Engineering and a minor in business, I like to think of dating as selling yourself or embarking on a job hunt.
Just like how you want to sell a product, you start by identifying your target audience or customers, except you are the product. You want to sell yourself. And before selling yourself, you identify your target audience.
Think about how you begin a job hunt. You usually start by listing all the companies and positions you are interested in. To maximize your chances, you pick the companies and roles that you are the most suitable for based on your qualifications. You then research the company and role and tailor your résumé and application towards each company and position, where you highlight your experiences and skills that are relevant to each role. You actually want to go somewhere where your skills are desired.
It’s the same process for dating. Before you start, you want to have a target audience in mind. Women or men? Straight or LGBTQ? FOB (fresh-off-the-boat) or local? Age range? Race/ethnicity? Short-term or long-term? Move to another city/country? Whatever your preference may be, don’t discriminate.
Also, what kind of qualities or personality traits are you looking for in a person? Certain interests or hobbies? A certain appearance? A “type” you will? What kind of deal-breakers do you have? However, do not set your standards too high or too rigid. Everyone is human. Nobody is perfect. Expecting a unicorn will set you up for disappointment.
But first, ask yourself, do you really want to start dating, or are you succumbing to your loneliness or societal/parental pressure? Be honest here. It’s not wise to go grocery shopping on an empty stomach.
Now, understand that in dating, you are judged by how desirable or attractive you are. The level of “attraction”, or your “market value”, generally consists of the following, although people will have preferences for what is “attractive”:
- Personality and interests
- Career and competence
- Communication and charisma
I will go into detail for each attribute later, and how to improve each one. To be relatively successful in this business, you should strive to improve all four of these areas to be “attractive”. You need to be well-rounded. Do not neglect any of them. A lot of people become impatient and try to date before they even work on these aspects and wonder why they are getting nowhere.
Now with that in mind, you want to do a little bit of market research. What appeals to your target customers? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Do your strengths or weaknesses appeal to certain groups more than others? You want to target groups where you’re more likely to be appreciated.
You also need to do some demographic research about your target groups. For a given product, some customer groups or market segments are easier to target than others. For instance, are there more single men or single women in a certain area? Is the culture in this region more conservative or liberal? Are people here more willing to marry or are they more into casual dating? Identifying these things will help maximize your chances. Consider moving to a more favorable location if you have to.
For example, as a straight, Asian Canadian male who is not the most physically attractive, but is fairly well-off financially and career-wise, I know that it will be more difficult to attract women who put a higher value on appearance. I think I would have an easier time attracting more traditional women who value financial stability, as well as longer-term relationships, which leads me to target regions and cultures that are more conservative with stronger family values.
Step 1: Logistics — Reaching your target customers
Now that you have identified your market and target customers, you need to position yourself and be able to reach out to them.
Personally, I’m not a big fan of online dating or dating apps. I believe these apps incentivize you to be unsuccessful in dating so you stay dependent on them. The gender ratios are also quite unbalanced on the popular apps, resulting in some weird dynamics that don’t happen in the real world.
As a straight man, I think most popular platforms are a crapshoot unless you are either very physically attractive or put a lot of effort into crafting your profile. Women, on the other hand, face many issues dating online as well, such as being flooded with unwanted attention. There are some lesser-known platforms that might be fairer to the average person, but I am not very familiar. This is not an advice column for online dating.
I am a strong proponent of meeting people in real life. Sure, this sounds old-school, but just like job applications, you can either send out hundreds of résumés online, or you can reach out to individual recruiters, alumni, or current employees, and try to get referrals or recommendations. I believe the latter offers a much higher rate of return. It allows you to showcase your full self instead of just a few statistics.
You can start by asking your friends or family to introduce you to potential partners from their networks. You can also put yourself in an environment where you will meet lots of new people on a regular basis, whether it be going back to school, taking a class, joining a club/organization, or volunteering. Even the workplace is good (but be careful not to take it too far, don’t sh*t where you eat). Choose locations and activities where you are more likely to meet people of your target audience. Move somewhere else if it gives you more opportunities. Go out there and make lots of friends!
On the other hand, I am not a big fan of venues where you meet a lot of people one-and-done (bars, nightclubs, malls, speed dating events, cold approaching, etc.). It’s hard to establish a connection by meeting somebody only once. You should instead choose a setting where you get to interact with the same people on a more regular basis, with the option to expand your social network, which is why I highly recommend taking a class or going to school, volunteering, being a regular at a social location (e.g., a cafe), or joining an organization. I believe the best connections are developed over time.
I have some words of advice before we continue.
A lot of people say oh I’m not ready to start dating yet, or I need to hit certain milestones before dating. It doesn’t matter. Nobody is ever ready. Do not wait. You need to start now! A lifetime goes by quickly, and you don’t want to regret all the missed opportunities years later because you “weren’t ready”.
In the early stages, do not worry about the dreaded friend zone! In fact, I don’t think it’s an issue at all. You are out there to meet new people and make friends. You are trying to learn, practice, and improve.
Also, in the beginning stages, do not be fixated on a single person. You are here to meet and interact with everyone, and practice your skills — have an abundance mentality. Don’t put someone on a pedestal, you will look too desperate or serious, and it will make you miss other opportunities. There are 8 billion people in this world. In addition, whether they are single or not doesn’t matter yet, you’re out to meet everyone.
Moreover, don’t worry about other people’s standards. Many people pre-reject themselves before they even begin, and the game is already lost. They are too scared to even start trying because they are afraid of rejection, and find other things to distract themselves. Chances are, if you meet enough people, someone will like you for who you are. I believe in casting a wide net. Also, I believe standards are for those who don’t know what they want. When people find what they want, all standards are set aside.
Finally, be receptive to everyone. Never pre-reject yourself or close yourself off from potential opportunities. Don’t start filtering people out based on arbitrary standards you have before you get to know them well — you could miss out on people you might be compatible with. Don’t focus on “feeling a spark” right away — you need to give it time, not every relationship starts with fireworks. Also, don’t be fixated on “finding the one” — soulmates don’t exist and you close yourself off to many potentially compatible people. Recognize and respond to every sign of interest that you receive.
As the journey is getting started, let’s talk about how to improve your market value and position yourself with your target customers.
Before I go into the specifics, I want to dispel some common dating advice that I believe is flawed.
- Just be yourself / There is somebody for everyone — It might work if you’re naturally interesting, confident, pleasant, or good-looking. However, that’s not most people today. Many are needy, unconfident, or not well-groomed. Sure, you might eventually find someone who likes you for the way you are, but if you’re not already desirable, it will end up taking a lot more effort to find that person (i.e., your dating pool will be a lot smaller). Just like when you sell a product, if the quality is crap or if it’s not from a popular or reputable brand, it’ll be a lot harder to get people to buy it — you need to grow the brand first or build a better product. Therefore, improving yourself, or being the best version of yourself, will significantly increase the size of your dating pool.
- Stop looking, and the right person will come along — Again, this only works if you’re already quite attractive or have a large social circle. Dating, for most people, takes a conscious and continuous effort. You need to continuously improve yourself and put yourself out there. You need to be proactively reaching out and not waiting for someone to fall into your lap — If you want something, you try to get it. Just like when you sell something new, you have to make an effort to advertise your product, build a good reputation, and reach out to potential customers. Many people nowadays just sit at home, stay in their bubbles, and don’t talk to anyone new and wonder why they are getting nowhere in dating.
- Just be confident / Fake it until you make it — As I will discuss in detail later, true confidence is not easy to fake and most people can tell the difference between fake confidence or arrogance vs. genuine confidence. It is hard to be truly confident if you have nothing to show for it — you’re just an empty shell. You need to work on the various aspects of yourself, which I’ll elaborate on below, so you can become truly confident about your accomplishments and your improved self.
- Just be nice — Being nice to someone and doing nice things for them doesn’t automatically make them like you, especially in a romantic way. Being nice is just the baseline — You need to have substance. You need to be direct about your intentions. Otherwise, you’re just another friendly person in a sea of people. Also, you see all these people putting in tons of effort to chase/impress someone or to get their attention. Nobody is worth all your time and effort! Put that effort into improving yourself first.
- Use pick-up lines/tactics — I believe those only work if your primary goal is to get easy sex or hookups. Criticize me all you want, but I don’t consider that dating. Most pick-up advice is shallow, forced, unnatural, ingenuine, and has no real substance. It only appeals to very niche groups. As I will elaborate later, you need to be genuine. Mature adults don’t play these games. Use pickup advice at your own risk.
Now let’s get into some specifics, by starting with the pillars of attraction.
Appearance — What gets you in the door
Even though a lot of people like to say that appearance doesn’t matter in dating, the cold, hard truth is that appearance matters a lot, and it is what gets you in the door for dating. It’s like how most job postings require candidates to have a post-secondary degree to even be considered. But unlike getting a degree, appearance is one of the easiest things you can work on.
Appearance can be broken down into things that you cannot easily change and things that you can easily change.
Things such as your height, skin color, disabilities, and facial structure are aspects that cannot be changed easily. Although in recent years, there have been some unconventional or rather extreme options to mitigate that, such as height-increasing surgery, cosmetic surgeries, and skin tanning/bleaching. I don’t advocate for those, so use them at your own risk.
If your height is not ideal, it is not the end of the world! Although I’d be lying to you if you’re not at a major disadvantage in dating (especially for men), you can only change what you can change. There are lots of articles on what you can do to mitigate the negative impacts of height (confidence, game, fashion, posture, fitness, etc.). I’ll spare the details here.
On the other hand, there are many many more aspects of appearance that you can actively change, such as your cleanliness, weight and fitness, fashion, hairstyle, and body language. It’s basic human nature to be attracted to people who are more physically appealing, no matter the culture. You naturally want to be with someone who looks like they take care of themselves.
Here I won’t elaborate too much as most of this is common sense. If you look dirty, go take a shower every day and shave. If you are overweight or unfit, hit the gym or go on a diet. If you look like a nerd or a goon, go buy some nicer, better-fitting clothes (no need to be brand names, just clean and fitting), and get a nice haircut. If you have bad skin or acne, use skin products or get it treated. If you have body odor or bad breath, up your hygiene, change your diet, or use products to get rid of it.
In addition, many people forget about posture and body language, but that’s a huge part of your appearance. As for that, I have a few tips that worked for me (source: I’ve been trained in public speaking):
- First, stand upright with your back straight. Don’t hunch your back or be always looking down at your phone. I found that lifting weights (especially exercises that work on your back) and static stretching helps tremendously with posture.
- Second, be steady. I see too many people who move around, shake their feet and legs, or fiddle their hands when standing or sitting. It screams anxiety and impatience. You want to be as steady as a rock. Stand or sit still. When you walk, take large but firm steps. Slow down your body movements! Don’t look like you’re always in a rush, it’s a huge turnoff.
- Third, have open body language. Don’t slouch, cross your arms or legs, or put your hands in front of you. You will look very defensive and uncomfortable. Also, don’t put your hands in your pockets, it gives off nervousness. Try to take up more space/presence and look more open.
- Finally, smile. Don’t put on a poker face all the time in public, or always be looking down or staring at your phone. It makes you look cold and unapproachable.
Many people say they are confident or relaxed, but their body language screams insecurity and anxiety. It is easy to tell. Pay attention to your body language.
Put some effort into your appearance, and the attraction will naturally come. You will find yourself having a much easier time appealing to your target customers. Just like when you sell a product, if you design a nice advertisement, you will attract more customers.
However, don’t set unrealistic expectations about your appearance, you’ll always be disappointed. Just compare yourself to who you were yesterday.
Personality and interests — What makes you stand out
Now that you have worked on the tangibles, let’s take a look at some intangibles that you can work on to make yourself stand out even more.
But before you start working on your intangibles, you need to understand yourself. What are your strengths and weaknesses personality-wise? What kind of interests do you have? Are you an “interesting” person?
For personality, I like to use the Myers-Briggs (MBTI) classification system, as it is very intuitive and very widely used. In essence, a person’s personality is classified based on 4 pillars or spectrums, which make up 16 possible combinations: introversion (I) / extraversion (E), sensing (S) / intuition (N), feeling (F) / thinking (T) and perceiving (P) / judging (J). You can read about the types here. I also look at other aspects such as the Big Five personality traits and Attachment Styles.
You first start by typing yourself. Note that a lot of these MBTI tests online can be inaccurate, so you might get inconsistent results, so it may be easier to just look at yourself based on the definitions of each pillar. If you are really unsure, it might be ok to consult a professional.
Once you know and understand your personality type, identify your strengths and weaknesses. Personally, I’m an INTJ with an anxious attachment style. I know that despite my intellect and ability to solve problems, my social skills were very poor, and I had to work hard to not overthink in many situations (aka anxiety).
Now, having studied some social and developmental psychology, I believe personality is not set in stone (especially before age 25), and your personality type can change depending on your mood and the situation you are in. You can always highlight your strengths and work on your weaknesses.
As humans are social creatures, you should surround yourself with the type of people you want to become. If needed, seek a therapist, take public speaking lessons, put yourself into certain situations more often (exposure therapy), or adjust your surroundings (e.g. changing your social circle or moving to a different location).
For example, I, as an introvert, pushed myself to go out and party, join clubs, volunteer, took counseling, and took public speaking training (Toastmasters) to work on my social skills and overcome my social awkwardness. I also befriended more extroverted people so I could learn their behaviours and social skills.
If you have a mental health condition or disorder, or an insecure attachment style, please get it treated by a professional. Most people don’t want to deal with your emotional baggage or be with a mentally unstable person.
Also, if you have undesirable habits such as drugs, porn, alcoholism, violence, gambling, etc., cut that sh*t ASAP. It’s not cool.
Now one may ask, I’m a very boring person, so how can I become more “interesting”? Now, being interesting or boring is very subjective, and different people have different standards, but there are some concrete aspects that you can work on to become more conventionally interesting or attractive.
If your entire life is just eat, sleep, work, and study (like your stereotypical engineer), then go develop some interests. Nobody wants to be with a robot or a complete shut-in.
“I don’t have time” / “I am too busy” is not really an excuse as you need to learn how to prioritize and sacrifice. If you want to start dating and self-improvement, you need to make that a priority in your life now and drop some of your less important commitments.
To be interesting, you have to be interested — Start by going out there and trying out different activities. Be open to learning new things. You’ll never know if you’re interested in something until you try.
And don’t just be any interest, try to develop some interests where you are more likely to connect with your target audience. Some interests are more “productive” or “attractive” than others. Some interests make you more traditionally “masculine” or “feminine” and can be more attractive to your target audience. A lot of people I know complain they can never get a date but play video games every day. Go figure.
Note: If you are always disinterested or apathetic towards everything in life, it is not normal, and you might have some form of depression. Please consult a professional.
Now, once you have developed those interests, you also need to learn how to communicate your interests. As I will explain later, you need to be able to showcase yourself in an interesting manner. Showcasing your passions with genuine enthusiasm is attractive. You want to present a positive image of yourself.
Many people make one aspect or interest (e.g., gym, travel, anime, video games) their entire identity, and it becomes unattractive. As adults, you need to be well-rounded — you can have some “weird” hobbies, but you also need to be somewhat normal. There is no need to ditch your current interests, but you have to find a balance — don’t make one thing your entire identity, and have some “normie” interests so you can connect easily with most others. Nobody wants to date a complete weeb, gym rat, or basement dweller.
Finally, don’t underestimate the impact of social media. Even if you despise it as much as I do, in this day and age, you should at least display a part of your life on social media if you want to appeal to your target customers. Learn to take nice photos. Your social media pages are often a part of your first impressions, just like the advertisements you see for a product.
Remember, at the end of the day, be yourself, but be the best version of yourself. You want to sell the best product, but that product is you. Don’t try to become someone you are not. You will be miserable.
Career and competence — What makes the relationship last
This might not matter as much if you’re into short-term or casual dating. I’ve seen countless people who don’t have careers or finances figured out who are either dating a lot or are in happy relationships. However, if you’re from a more traditional culture like I am or are interested in pursuing long-term relationships, marriage, and starting a family, having a good and stable career, being financially well-off, and your overall competence are crucial criteria.
Unless your family is very well-off, there are only so many career paths that can offer you the desired financial stability and the ability to raise a family here in North America (medicine, law, engineering/computer science, business, certain skilled trades, etc.). Don’t worry too much about whether you are passionate about a career, think of this as an investment for your future. Always look at the long-term benefits of a career path rather than the immediate gains.
If you’re working one of those dead-end jobs that anyone (or AI) can do, in serious financial trouble, or you’re currently directionless and have no idea what you want to do, you need to stop, think, and re-evaluate yourself. Life can go by quickly, and before you know it, you’ll be old, poor, and depressed. You don’t have as much time as you think.
Choose a career that you don’t dislike (ideally something that you enjoy and excel at) and give it all for several years. Try to make it far into the career path and obtain financial stability. Also, learn how to invest your money and purchase some financial assets (stocks, real estate, etc.). Ideally, you should achieve some degree of financial freedom.
However, what matters even more in dating is competence. Career success and financial stability are merely reflections of your competence.
By competence, you need to have a purpose in life (that is something beyond reproducing). You need to have the ability to set goals and achieve these goals. You also need to be able to solve problems, whether it’s your own or other people’s. You need to be accountable and dependable, as in having the responsibility to get things done on time, having basic self-control and discipline to do the right things, fulfilling your promises, owning up to your mistakes, and constantly trying to improve yourself (growth mindset!). You need to be able to take calculated risks, and have the courage to do things you’re not comfortable with (get out of your comfort zone!).
Finally, you need to be knowledgeable about the world (how things work, history, politics, economics, cultures/humanities, technology, etc.), develop some basic life skills (such as organization/time management, self-awareness, cooking, cleaning, fixing simple items, navigation, etc.), and be able to function independently. Be useful, and people will flock to you.
Develop your competence first, and the career/money (as well as dating success) will come along naturally. Far too many people blindly jump into a career (or start dating) without developing that competence and wonder why they aren’t getting anywhere. Personally, I found that having a daily routine, exercising, journaling/writing, reading, and having the willingness to learn have helped me a lot.
Competence also goes hand in hand with confidence. As I’ll talk about next, true confidence comes with competence. Having competence and knowing your own value can greatly improve your confidence, and that is genuine confidence, not faked.
In the end, do not make your career and money define you completely. It is merely a means to achieve your financial goals. Once you are in a good spot financially, devote more time to building interests, developing a purpose, and improving other aspects of yourself. Nobody wants to be with a workaholic. It’s important to keep a balance in your life.
Communication and charisma — The “game”
The previous three aspects are usually just screening criteria in dating, but once you get past the screening, this is where the real fun begins. It’s like getting to the interview stage once your résumé passes the initial filter.
Many people have the previous three facets together, but they don’t develop communication skills and charisma (or “rizz” as kids these days call it), so they hardly see any success in dating. On the other hand, I see people who are lacking in other areas become attractive simply by having good social skills. I believe this is the final, but the most important piece of the puzzle.
This is something you must develop through practice. Social skills are like muscles and need to be exercised regularly, otherwise they decline. No amount of sitting at home, reading, watching tutorials and YouTube videos will help you improve your communication and charisma. Many people never go outside or talk to anyone in real life and wonder why they aren’t getting dates, or don’t have any friends.
If you don’t even have any friends in real life or have trouble making new platonic friends, forget about dating for a minute. Learn how to make some friends first! But continue reading because the same principles apply.
Dating is really just more advanced social interaction and building friendships, and to improve that, I like to break it down into the following. Follow these tips when you’re out with people, and you’ll notice a substantial difference in the quality of your social interactions.
Although everyone has a different perception of good social skills or is attracted to different traits, there are some universal traits that are attractive. In general, you want to be a pleasant person to be around.
- Confidence and composure — Some people are naturally confident and composed, but for most people, this is something that comes with practice. Don’t get in your head and worry about how others think of you — Focus on the present moment. Project and use your strengths. Embrace who you are, whether you’re awkward, quirky, unique, or whatever. Own your character. Confidence may be one of the most attractive traits in dating, but it is not all. Do not become overconfident or cocky. True confidence comes with composure. Composure is about staying true to yourself and owning yourself. It’s about understanding yourself and showcasing your strengths. You know your value and can demonstrate that value. It is okay to tell a story in a slightly different manner to fit the narrative, but do not bulls*** or lie or try to be something you’re not. Make sure whatever you say is in sync with what you truly believe in. It’s easy to smell bulls***. Lastly, composure comes with having steady body language and speech, which I will detail below.
- Understanding human psychology — Remember MBTI? Now instead of applying it to yourself, apply it to prospective partners. Analyze their emotions and behaviors and have a rough idea of their personality type, then look at their strengths and weaknesses. Then, adjust your behavior to appeal to their personality traits and preferences. For example, some people prefer their partners to be more forward/direct, but others like their partners to be more laid back. Some people are more serious but others are more fun-loving. Be able to read the room and read people’s emotions. Know when to enter or walk away from situations. You also need to adjust your strategy for different people and different situations. It takes a lot of practice. At a deeper level, some cultures encourage and value certain personality traits, so research this as you choose your initial target audience.
- Verbal communication — Basically, knowing what to say and what not to say in different situations. Think before you speak. Oftentimes, it’s better to not talk too much and just listen to your audience. Don’t always try to dominate a conversation, you will look cocky or insecure. Try to make your audience the center of attention. Be interested in them — ask them lots of questions, talk about things you have in common, and give detailed and thoughtful compliments. Stay engaged with your audience, by that I mean do not give one-word answers to their questions, and make your answers a bit more open-ended to keep the conversation going. Also, speak slowly and don’t look like you’re trying to pour everything out at once. More importantly, learn how to tell a good story. The same story, when told in a different manner, can yield vastly different impressions. If you are unsure how, go watch some standup comedy. Learn how to crack a good joke. Finally, be a little mysterious, don’t spill out everything about yourself when meeting people, you may end up attracting the wrong type of person or come off as insecure.
- Nonverbal communication — This is mostly your body language and situational awareness. As I mentioned in Appearance, have a steady and open body language, and smile to people. Don’t be too serious all the time, it is okay to show some emotions, but not excessively. For instance, when texting, it is okay to use some emojis. When speaking in real life, have some tone variation (don’t sound like a deadpan robot). As for situational awareness, you need to have a sense of how the other person is feeling at all times, as well as knowing the general mood of your surroundings (“reading the room”). Try to put yourself in other’s shoes, and think about what can make them feel good (again, the focus is on the people you’re talking to, not you). Finally, don’t always be complaining, making excuses, or shifting the blame on others, but rather focus on actionable items for self-improvement, and have the ability to handle criticism well — be positive, and don’t be negative.
- Setting boundaries — It’s good to be kind and caring towards others, it’s basic human decency. However, do not degrade yourself or disregard your own needs just to appease others. Don’t be needy! I see too many people completely abandon their own plans/goals or spend tons of money just to meet someone, or center their entire lives around another person. This will never work as it makes you look needy and insecure. You look like you don’t have your own life. You will only get people to use you and step all over you. Develop some self-respect and put yourself at the same level as others. Be nice and friendly to people, help someone out if you can, but never go out of your way or sacrifice your own priorities just to gain validation from others. Learn how to say “no” sometimes and don’t be a yes-man. You could end up losing your own identity. In essence, don’t be a f***ing simp.
- Know how to have fun — In the end, people like to have fun with each other. You need to know how to have fun so you can bring the fun to the table. Learn how to plan an event (or an interesting date), and become the organizer of your friends and your communities. Try to be in the moment when you are doing something, don’t always be thinking ahead, and don’t be overly self-conscious about your behavior. Live in the present. Go into something with the expectation of having fun. Don’t worry about the outcome or be too focused on “scoring”. Also, it’s okay to be a little bit unpredictable or spontaneous. Everyone enjoys some surprises occasionally. However, that does not mean reckless behavior that endangers yourself and others. In essence, be a fun person, and people will flock to you.
Meet everyone with the intent of becoming friends first before moving forward. It is okay to become friends first before dating someone, despite popular advice. Approach people with genuine curiosity and try to get to know them (remember it’s not about you, it’s about them).
However, when you are ready to move things forward (e.g., expressing interest, asking someone out for a date, or asking to be official), you need to be assertive and clear about your intentions. Be direct — many people nowadays cannot read social cues or respond to subtle hints. Do not play mind games (e.g., delaying communication, waiting for the other person to approach/speak first, playing hard to get, push-pull, sh** testing, etc.) — it is childish. Otherwise, they may miss your signals, merely see you as a friend, or have already moved on.
Furthermore, lots of people believe if their advances get turned down or if the other person doesn’t reciprocate, they should move on and cut contact immediately. I believe you should still keep in touch with them, but from a distance or in a lighthearted way, or at least stay as friends. Another opportunity may arise, or they may introduce you to new people. Continue to grow and leverage your network.
Also, don’t move forward too quickly. Get to know the person well — it takes time (at least a few months) for people’s true selves to be revealed. Try to see people objectively and not just based on your internally idealized version of them — nobody is perfect or a “unicorn”, everyone is human and has flaws. There is no such thing as soulmates, only compatibility. Ideally, find someone who shares your core values, and everything else will follow.
Finally, remove the word “settling” from your dictionary. It is not a healthy mindset and you are always going to set yourself up for disappointment. Everyone is human and nobody is perfect — have realistic standards. But also know your deal-breakers.
Choosing your romantic partner is one of the most important decisions of your life, so choose wisely.
Although I’ve been over-using the metaphor of sales and job interviewing, dating is not all transactional as people like to describe it. You are human after all, and you should treat others like humans as well. Treat others the way you want to be treated. Give and demand respect.
Now, this post is getting long so I will stop here for now. I have a lot more to say about how to move forward with a relationship and maintain a relationship but I’m not qualified to comment on this yet. My dating and self-improvement journey is far from over. Hopefully, I can come up with Part 2 of this blog in a few years with more experience under my belt and lessons learned.
One thing about dating that a lot of people don’t want to admit is that luck plays a huge role in your success. One can do everything right and perfect all the aforementioned things in this post, but still not have success in dating. Do not give up. Keep improving yourself, living your best life, don’t get too hung up on dating, and just put yourself out there. Your time will come. Even if it doesn’t come, your life will at least be better than before.
Also, I believe self-improvement should feel natural. If you’re in a good state of mind, it should feel easy. At the end of the day, you don’t necessarily need self-improvement to find someone and have dating success, but also, you don’t deserve anyone simply by existing and being yourself. It’s a fine balance. Fixing your mental health, especially your self-esteem, should be the number one priority, and everything else should feel straightforward.
Another thing is that getting good at dating doesn’t happen overnight for most people. Think about how long it took you to acquire the skills and land your first professional job. For many, especially us introverted nerds, geeks, and fellow engineers, it could be a multi-year-long journey to getting all the things right and becoming successful in dating. Be patient.
Furthermore, I believe a lot of the advice here doesn’t just apply to dating, but can be applied to making friendships, and your day-to-day and your professional lives, which could drastically improve your quality of life in general. At the end of the day, self-improvement is a lifelong journey. You learn to love yourself, take care of yourself, be the best version of yourself, and showcase your best self to the world. Just like in engineering, no product is perfect, but it can always be better in subsequent iterations.
Finally, a quick note about myself. I used to be a socially awkward, anxious, and boring person with not much value to offer. But by following the steps above, I was able to improve my social skills, become more interesting, grow my career, make lots of new and diverse friends, as well as going on many wonderful dates, even during the pandemic years. My quality of life has dramatically improved.