How to Stop Looking

When you’re dating, people in (and frankly, out of) relationships have a lot of advice to give on how to turn that single status upside down.

Some folks will tell you to give up, let it go and watch the magic unfold. Others will say that when you least expect it, a man will just appear in your life. Others will claim the key is playing hard to get and never act interested (even when you really, really are). They will tell you not to worry and to put yourself out there more (because all those dates you go on apparently aren’t enough). They will reassure you that you’re wonderful and men are silly not to latch onto your hip and claim you as their very own (because that’s healthy). So many ways to look at being single – and so many words of um, wisdom that feel anything but helpful, and mostly, infuriating.

But of all of the things people tell you – the worst piece of advice to stomach are these six little words:

“It happens when you stop looking.”

But wait? How can you date without looking?

Isn’t the point of playing the field and sorting through all of the jerks and the could-be great guys… is that you’re looking? If you’re saying “yes” to drinks with Mr. Maybe-I-Could-Feel-Something-Big, it’s likely you’re not just doing it to pass time. Surely, you don’t endure the truly terrible experiences without the glimmer of possibility that one could turn into one of those really amazing first dates. If you are signing up for Tinder and Hinge and OkCupid and Match, going on Grouper dates and letting people set you up with strangers – aren’t you looking? If you’re not looking, then you’re not dating, right? Aren’t they one in the same? So how can the love of your life (or of the next few months or years) waltz into your life if you’re not going on dates, or well, looking out for his grand entrance?

I never understood the difference until recently, while out to brunch with my friend C. In between sips of mimosa and listening to jazz in the West Village, I said: “I have so much going on in my life that’s bringing me joy and getting me excited: a new job, possibly a new apartment, a trip to London, summer trips and marathon training. It’s not that I wouldn’t be open to a relationship, it’s just that I have so much more to focus on. Meeting someone would be great and fun, but it’s not the priority. It’d just be a really nice addition, not a necessity.”

And that’s when it hit me: there’s a difference between looking and being open.

When you’re looking, everything feels rushed and pressured, like you’re attempting to meet an imaginary deadline to meet someone before your time runs out. When you’re looking, a guy that really seemed like he would work out and somehow, he didn’t – would be disappointing and possibly, devastating. When you’re looking, you put more weight on every word he says, every texts he sends, every thing he does or doesn’t do. When you’re looking, drinks with friends are never just a catch-up with the girls, instead, it’s an eye-prowl of the establishment, checking for any available men. When you’re looking, you fill your calendar with maybe’s and you stop committing to plans – just in case someone great comes along. When you’re looking, you’re anything but relaxed.

And that’s what people mean when they give you the advice to stop looking. If you’re constantly seeking, you won’t find what you want because you’re so focused on the chase that you never notice your prey. And you never give any spark time to grow. Or to bloom. The shade of your hand keeps it hidden because the pressure is just too heavy.

The difference between looking and being open doesn’t feel that contrasting. In fact, I hadn’t even realized it until I looked at my life and noticed my own big changes. If we’re being honest, I haven’t been looking for love in quite some time.

Instead, I’ve just been open.

I’ve filled my days and nights and weekends with the things I actually want to do, regardless if a man is involved or not: brunch and flying trapeze, picnics in the park, long runs at dusk, dog play dates, trips abroad and trips just an hour away, trying new cocktails with old friends, and going to old staples with new friends. I’ve been focused on experiences and adventures instead of romance and happily-ever-after. I’ve said “yes” to dates that I thought could really go well, and when they didn’t, I’ve let them go with such ease that I forget just how many I’ve gone on. I’ve spent time and money saving for what I want, and I haven’t considered anyone else in the process, instead, I’ve just enjoyed the dreams of what my life could be, the places I could go, the things I could see.

With all things that could happen, I’m open. I’m curious. I’m excited.

And if some man does come along, it won’t be because I looked for him. Or sought him out in desperate attempts or with elaborate, calculated plans. Or because I put on that one dress that hugs in all the right places. Or because I said the right thing or replied in the same way, or went out with the sole purpose of finding him.

It’ll be because of what happens when apparently, I’m not looking, not expecting it and not trying so hard and not giving up, and letting go.

Or ya know, just when I’m myself. And open to whatever is next.

 

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15 Things You Need to Know About Love Before You Turn 30

Originally published on YourEngagement101.com.

I’ve convinced myself that by the time I’m 30, I will have it all figured out. By then, I’ll be where I want to be in my career – with flashy bylines and book deals. I’ll be in the best shape of my life – after finally giving up late-night greasy food to run marathons. I’ll be with a man so wonderful I won’t believe I’m so lucky to have him – after so many no-good, terrible dates that left a bad emotional aftertaste. I’ll have more money saved in the bank for a future that seems bright and certain – because I was smart throughout my 20s and tucked away cash as I earned it.

But just like the other monumental years came and passed already – 18, 21, 25 – I’m sure when I reach 30, I’ll be looking forward to 35 to be the all-perfect age. That being said – I do believe your 20s are for making mistakes and learning the hard lessons of dating and love and well, life. And then (hopefully) your 30s are a time to rejoice in your newfound confidence, and reap the rewards of your hard work.

Or at least a gal can hope, right?

Though I still have five years to go, here are 15 things I think you need to know about love before you turn 30:

You can’t screw up what’s meant to be.
You can try really hard. And I mean really, really hard. But if you’re meant to be with someone, you will be with them. Let yourself off the hook for that total freakout moment with your boyfriend over the dirty dishes – if he’s the right guy, he’ll forget about it tomorrow.

You can’t love anyone until you love yourself.
And the relationship you have with yourself will be the most difficult, often most toxic and disappointing relationship of them all. It’ll require constant attention, change, acceptance and most of all, love. But you can’t be a great girlfriend or wife or mother until you’re a great you.

Men are people too.
That’s right, they’re not just meant for our enjoyment or to propose to us or to fix things. They are living, breathing humans that make mistakes and aren’t always perfect. Don’t put them on a pedestal or make unreasonable demands – love them as they are, or don’t love them at all.

Not all relationships are meant to be forever.
You may want to marry that guy that’s incredibly unavailable – but so charming. You might think you can wave a magic wand and change him. But you can’t. And you shouldn’t want to. Learn what you can from every relationship so you can bring those lessons to the relationship.

Love is going to suck. And it’s going to hurt.
There is really only one relationship in all of the relationships that you’ll be in that actually makes it. That means there will be more bad than good – but it’s always worth it in the end. Savor those tough times because they make you a better partner.

Don’t settle.
Even when all of your friends are happily in love. Or getting married. Or having babies. Do not find some guy to fit some checkbox. It’s better to be incredibly picky than to be unhappy in a marriage for the rest of your life.

You’re going to fall in love with ideas.
You’re going to meet a guy that seems so incredible and you’ll build him up in your head and he won’t be anywhere near that. You’re also going to like a guy and like all of the ideas about him on paper, but you won’t fall in love with him. Don’t stop dreaming, but don’t love ideas more than you love a man.

It’s not a race.
You don’t have to sleep with him on the third date (unless you want to). You don’t have to be married by the time you’re 30 (unless you found someone you want that kind of love with). You don’t have to get engaged after precisely two-and-a-half years of dating (so don’t give him an ultimatum). Slow down, enjoy the process. Trust.

You have to have your heartbroken a few times.
And it’s going to really, really suck. You’re going to feel like you will never, ever feel such a powerful connection with someone else again. You’ll feel worthless and hopeless and so lonely, but there’s sun at the end of the storm.

Dating can be educational.
On some dates, you’ll know within five seconds if you like them or not. On others, it might take a few to figure it out. Even if you don’t want to jump a guy’s bones, figure out what you can learn from this one-hour-drink-date and how it can be fun. Not all guys are winners, but they all teach you something.

He can’t read your mind. (And you can’t read his).
The minute you start expecting your partner to know everything about you and know the right thing to do in every situation… is the minute your relationship starts to crumble. Try not to overanalyze, try not to give more meaning than deserved. Try not to be too hard on him – or yourself. Communication is key.

Don’t underestimate sex.
Sex surely isn’t everything – but if you can’t connect under the covers, you’ll have a hard time getting through bumps in the future. The happiest of couples have a place – a bed – to come home to and reconnect. Don’t settle for lackluster, strive for fireworks.

It’s not going to look how you thought it would look.
You might think you’ll marry a banker with a head full of hair – and you may end up with a wonderful teacher that’s losing his. You might think you’d never date a guy who had kids from a previous marriage, but the way he parents may be something that makes you melt for him. Keep your standards and your preferences, but be open to a little change from the dream man in your head.

You’re worth it.
You’re not perfect, he’s not perfect – but you do deserve someone who sees all of those imperfections as things that make you wonderful. There is someone who will be madly, profoundly, incredibly in love with you. Wait for him. Believe he exists.

Don’t give up.
Love is everywhere around you, even when you don’t see it. And one day, it’ll find its way to your heart. No doubt about it. Just don’t give up on it… and it won’t give up on you.