By Nina Malkin
New rule: You can’t tell if you’re truly attracted to someone until you’ve had three dates.
“Love at first sight” is a familiar romantic notion. And in our increasingly fast-paced world, it’s convenient to think you can tell whether you click with someone that quickly. But experts recommend cultivating a bit more patience by sticking to a three-date minimum to know for sure whether you’re a match (or not). The reason? People are a bundle of nerves on date #1, begin to unwind on date #2, but only by date #3 can someone truly relax and maybe build some rapport with another person. And while sparks early on are nice and all, they say nothing about someone’s long-term partnering potential. “An important part of a compatible relationship is ensuring that each partner’s values coincide — and to learn that takes time, discussion, observation, and interpersonal interaction, not an initial impression based on superficial cues,” says James C. Piers, Ph.D., professor and program director of social work at Hope College in Holland, MI. So, don’t write someone off (or fall head over heels) until you’ve done your due diligence.
You can check off the attributes you want — appearance, background, education, career, salary, etc. — but unless you’re building your partner in a lab, you’re almost certainly missing out. Of course, you should have standards and not settle for a two-packs-a-day smoker who doesn’t want kids when you’re allergic to cigarette smoke and eager to start a family… but settling for nothing less than perfection is unrealistic. “Wish lists are a classic recipe for unsuccessful dating,” says relationship coach Hu Fleming, Ph.D. “They’re too limiting and don’t allow for chemistry, which is more intangible and valuable.” Try to be flexible, especially when it comes to physical or material attributes like someone’s height, salary, or hair color. After all, just because someone’s 6’2”, blonde, or makes six figures doesn’t mean he or she will make you happy, so do yourself a favor and treat your wish list describing your ideal mate as just one factor in deciding who’s right for you.
Old rule: Opposites attract.
New rule: Opposites distract.
Dating your diametric opposite might mean feeling the surprise of relating to someone really new and different than your usual type, trading lots of challenging banter, and sharing scintillating chemistry — but sustaining a partnership with this person may ultimately prove to be unfulfilling. “The classic couple with nothing in common except their on-fire fights plays well in the movies, but in real life, that attraction fizzles quickly,” says Alyssa Wodtke, coauthor of Truth, Lies, and Online Dating: Secrets to Finding Romance on the Internet. “If you don’t like to do the same things, there will be nothing for you to do outside of the home. And if you don’t want the same things for the future, what kind of future can you have?” We’re not saying that you should end up with someone identical to yourself, but ideally, it should be someone who complements your personality (see the next rule for more details).
Old rule: Your date’s taste in music (or movies, or books) mirrors yours — so you must be soul mates.
New rule: You want to fall in love with a person, not a playlist.
Sometimes you meet someone and have so much in common, you just know it must be love. After all, each of you has seen Phish perform at least a dozen times and know the works of David Sedaris inside and out. But don’t confuse having mirror-image tastes with romantic chemistry. In fact, it’s probably better if your interests don’t match up exactly. Not only does that leave room for you to expand your boundaries and dabble in pursuits that your partner digs, it also means you two will probably have little trouble maintaining some healthy independence. “Some of the best relationships are those where both parties have completely independent hobbies and allow for the concept of ‘his, her and our’ time,” notes Dr. Fleming. So, take it as a good sign if you spend the occasional Saturday night apart — with you doing dips at ballroom dancing class and your date doing the wave at an NBA game, for example.
Old rule: Your first kiss should be a toe-curling experience.
New rule: Your first kiss is ultimately inconsequential.
In fairy tales, an amazing first kiss leads to happily ever after — no wonder we place such importance on that primary pucker! But there are ample reasons why a first kiss from a potentially great partner can go awry (like nervousness or a less-than-ideal setting) — and just as many to explain why a first kiss from Mr./Ms. Wrong can feel so right (you’ve just been dumped and are looking for validation, perhaps?). “A kiss can be a romantic, erotic experience with someone you find physically attractive, but a relationship will crumble without more complex attributes, like shared values,” points out Dr. Piers. So rather than write someone off following a less-than-mindblowing kiss, smile and move in slowly for smooch number two — either at that moment or on a subsequent date. Trust us, you owe it to yourselves.
Old rule: When it’s true love, you think about the other person constantly.
New rule: When it’s true love, thinking about the other person makes you feel good.
Hmm, has Willie Nelson’s cover of “Always on My Mind” become the theme song for how you feel about your sweetie? That may not be for the best. “Constantly thinking about another person isn’t love, it’s infatuation, and infatuation has no correlation with being a good match,” says Dr. Fleming. Ultimately, it’s a better gauge to assess the quality of your thoughts rather than the quantity. “If you have warm and comfortable feelings when you think about your date, that indicates a relationship built on stability, trust and a strong ‘friendship’ factor, denoting a relationship that will more likely wear well over time,” says Dr. Piers. If, on the other hand, your relationship keeps you up all night as you analyze this person’s emails for hidden messages that reveal his or her true feelings, you may be chasing down someone who doesn’t really want to be yours.
Nina Malkin is the author of 6X: The Uncensored Confessions.