Ready or not, it’s time to start dating again. As the vaccine rollout continues apace, many of us are preparing to re-enter the world for the first time in a year and for a lot of us, that means re-entering the dating pool. Sure, we’re going to be a little stilted and awkward since most of our interpersonal interactions over the last year have involved either a pet dog or a video game avatar but, hey, how hard could it be? After all, there are tons of dating apps. Let’s start swiping.
This article is part of our Quarterlife series, produced in partnership with Unite Health Share Ministries.
Well, yes and no, says Deb Fileta. As a licensed counselor and the author of some of our favorite relationship books, Fileta understands the relationship game about as well as anyone. For our new Quarterlife series, she talked to RELEVANT about what people preparing to get out there and find the one need to be mindful of.
This conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
In the last 10 years, how have you seen, or have you seen the way people in this country, in our culture, think about dating relationships change, shift?
The current dating focus is almost like shopping. We go on Amazon, we’re scrolling through what I want and what I need, and we almost have a tendency to view relationships in that same way because it’s the same gesture. I’m swiping, I’m reading up, I’m clicking. It’s like a consumer approach to relationships.
But the problem with that mentality is it doesn’t do justice to the equation of a healthy relationship. The equation of a healthy relationship is that when you’re healthy, you attract healthy relationships, because you’re 50 percent of the equation. But the focus these days is so much on what I can get, rather than who am I when I’m standing alone? How healthy am I standing alone? The word relationship means how we relate to people, right? How we engage with people. But a huge portion of how we relate has to do with how healthy we are, right?
Emotionally healthy, mentally healthy, spiritually healthy. How do I relate to the world? What patterns do I bring to the world of relationships? Am I stuck in cycles of unhealthy relationships? And so it’s important to take inventory of the fact that we tend to have that consumeristic approach.
So do you think the apps are just bad?
The apps are not bad at all. If I was single right now, I would be on the aps. It is the most convenient way to meet people right now. Especially in 2021, where else are you going to meet people, right?
Yeah, waiting in line to get your vaccination isn’t the most romantic setting.
The platform is not the enemy. Just like years ago, they used to say dating was the enemy. Nobody’s saying kiss the apps goodbye. These things are good.
But when we’re healthy and when we are at a good place, understanding who we are, what we have to offer, what we need to work on, then, we approach these apps, these online platforms and online relationships in the best way possible.
It starts with stepping back and really taking an inventory of how healthy I am. It’s really more about the why that you’re doing things, your underlying motivation, rather than just the what of what you’re doing, you know?
How do you do that? It’s very difficult to have an honest self-assessment of how things are going on inside of you, even for people who are fairly high functioning.
Having community is so helpful. Not just any community. Honest community who are going to speak into your life and reflect how you’re doing. If you don’t have a friend who you can sit down with and say, “Hey, what do you think I’m struggling with? What do you think I need to work on?” then you’re missing an important aspect of health.
Another thing to remember is that emotional health, mental health, this isn’t stuff you’re born knowing how to do. You’ve got to develop and train and practice. Everything from books to podcasts, to therapy, I mean, this is a process of being intentional about getting healthy. Just like if you wanted to take up cooking, you’re going to learn everything you need to know about it. You’re going to read books. You’re going to go online, look at blogs, listen to podcasts. Maybe even take a class or two. Why do we assume that this process of emotional health is just going to happen?
You’ve got to be an active participant in the process. Maybe that means a season of therapy. I would recommend a season of therapy before you start dating, just to be on top of things and just to get an idea of your past patterns and habits.
And then, the third thing I would recommend is journaling. There is so much power in expressive writing and facing your thoughts, putting them down on paper, being a witness to what’s going on in your head by writing it down. It helps you track the process of healing, it helps you track how you do relationships. We have a tendency to forget if we don’t write things down.
Expressive writing has been proven in research to be a helpful part of the process, but it’s just such an important way of getting things out and keeping track of your personal journey and where you’re at and how you’re doing.
Last question. How do you know when you’ve found the one?
I think the question, in and of itself, sets you up for a lot of confusion. You’re just out there looking for this one right relationship, and putting so much pressure, so many expectations on a relationship that, at the end of the day, isn’t going to be perfect.
There’s no such thing as a soulmate, someone who can complete your heart and soul. We have to back up and have healthy expectations of what we’re even looking for. When we’re talking about finding someone, we need to start reframing the conversation. It’s not finding the one, it’s finding someone who’s a good match for your life.
I like to think of human beings kind of like puzzle pieces. You’re not going to find somebody who is exactly like you, but there are people who fit your life, and there are people who don’t fit your life. In order to know whether or not someone fits your life, you’ve got to know yourself first. I’ve got to understand my shape, I’ve got to understand my colors, because if I don’t understand who I am, everything from my lifestyle to my faith, my morals and values, my culture that I come from, my lifestyle, if I don’t understand what I bring to the table of relationships, I’m not going to know if someone’s a good fit for me or not.
And what you see end up happening today is, these people who are just grasping whatever random puzzle piece they could find and just trying to force fit it to their life. But what do you end up with? Brokenness.
It hurts when you try to force somebody into your life that isn’t a good match. How do you know if somebody is a good match? You start by getting to know who you are standing alone, and what you need in a relationship, what your triggers are, what works for you and what doesn’t work for you, what your personality is like. If you don’t really have a grasp of those things, you’re not going to have a good understanding when somebody, literally, is not a good match for you.