Dating is terrible. Everyone good is already taken. Nobody wants to date me or I’d already be dating them.

These are things I firmly believed until about nine months ago. All of that changed when I befriended Kara Loewentheil, a Certified Master Life Coach and dating guru. Kara specializes in coaching feminist women and gender non-conforming individuals who believe in equality, but still have trouble acting in ways that match those beliefs. Her goal is to help people change the way they feel about what they’re feeling, and to recognize that the stories they tell themselves about themselves aren’t necessarily true, but become true if you cling to them. She calls it “redesigning your mind.”

“I work with people who know they ‘should’ feel confident, but secretly worry that the reason they don’t have a partner is that there is something wrong with them,” she tells me. “I think romantic relationships are the perfect nexus of everything that holds us back in life: social conditioning, patriarchy, family patterns, our desires for human connection, our fears of rejection, and our stories about ourselves and our potential.”

After taking a step back from my feelings, I realized that my dating-related anxieties — the stress of keeping someone interested, but seeming fun enough, all while maintaining enough distance to be alluring, for example — put my emotions in the hands of my date. I’d drive myself crazy over hypotheticals and the impossibly high expectations of a person I hadn’t even met yet. Through all of that, I had failed to consider the most important question: What do I want out of all of this?

I asked Kara about practical ways to overcome and approach dating stress differently. Below are five ways she says people like me — that is, people interested in a relationship, but who dread the dating process — can start to rethink the way we date, or at least, the way we feel about dating.

1. Practice liking yourself more

“The best thing you can do to improve your dating life is to work on improving your self image,” she says. And it isn’t a simple matter of “loving yourself before others can love you,” a cliché Kara dismisses as “obviously not true.” You do need to at least like yourself, though, or “you won’t believe anyone can truly know you and love you at the same time.”

If your brain is bullying you and telling you that you’re undateable, Kara suggests getting literal and making a list of things you like about yourself. It may feel cheesy, but sometimes putting pen to paper is surprisingly effective, and the repetition can help cement what you know to be true, even if you don’t always feel that way.

2. Stop telling yourself dating is hard

Kara says brains are pattern-making machines. “We know from neuroscience and psychology research that the brain sees what it looks for. That’s its whole job.” It’s no surprise, then, that a negative outlook leads to a negative outcome. But it’s not quite as cut and dry or simplistic as The Secret. “When people talk about positive thinking, it’s not a mysterious attraction force,” she says. “It’s that if you tell yourself that there’s nothing out there for you, your brain will miss seeing opportunities and connections that it could have recognized if you had told it to look for evidence that there are lots of options out there.”

3. Imagine the relationship you want, not the person you want

“The biggest mistake people make in dating is focusing on the kind of person they want to date rather than the kind of relationship they want to have,” Kara says. If you focus on finding someone hot, smart and tall, these qualities tell you nothing about how this person will show up for you and how you might show up for them. How often do you want to see your partner? Do you talk every day? Do you eventually want to get married? Kara suggests allowing yourself to reflect on dates through that lens, rather than seeing him or her as a list of bullet points that exists in a vacuum.

4. Look for reasons to continue seeing someone, instead of reasons to stop

“So many of us are so judgmental about the people we meet while dating,” Kara says. “We’re constantly scanning for reasons to disqualify someone.” Looking for these deal-breakers can be a method of self-preservation, a way to spot future trouble. But heartbreak and sadness are a part of life and therefore a part of dating, she explains, so the risk is always there no matter what we do to scan for it. With constant worrying and judgement, you’re not preventing anything. “You’re actually just creating anxiety and sadness for yourself,” she says.

Next time you go on a date, Kara advises you ask yourself, If I already loved this person, what would I think of them? “It’s a total game-changer and it will open you up to way more possibilities for connection,” she says.

5. Stop putting on an act

“So much of the conventional dating advice out there teaches us to play games, manipulate and not be ourselves in order to snare a partner,” Kara says. “Then what do you have? A partner who likes a fake version of you.”

“This strategy only makes sense if you care more about getting a partner than you do about what kind of relationship you’re going to have with that person.” It’s an impetus that’s not conducive to intimacy, which she describes as “the whole point of a relationship.”

What I love about Kara’s dating advice is that it focuses on what I can control. It used to feel emotionally risky to sign up for Tinder, much less dress up and grab a drink with an Internet stranger. Now it’s beginning to feel like practice, an opportunity to ask myself what I really want. As a policy, I no longer hide my terrible taste in music from the people I date (Top 40 forever) or pretend I don’t care if it takes two days to text me back (I care). I’m beginning to realize my personality and needs shouldn’t be an obstacle in finding a person to date, they should be part of why we’re dating. Instead of waiting to be chosen, I finally feel like I’m participating in the choosing.

Bailey Williams is a Brooklyn-based writer and playwright. She just joined Twitter but has been taking annoying vacation photos on Instagram for some time @buffalobailey. Photos by Louisiana Mei Gelpi.

Get more Postmodern Love ?
  • Adrianna

    An early joke in my relationship was that I kept telling my now-boyfriend that I was fierce. (Think 2011.) I just wanted to establish that I thought highly of myself. A fierce lady doesn’t take crap from anyone.

    I like tip #3. I joke that I wouldn’t have swiped right on my boyfriend. We met in person at a party, and he didn’t fit the checklist I thought I had. But we had friendship chemistry, and we wanted the same type of relationship and life (for the most part.)

    • Andrea

      This is exactly why I’m trying to meet guys IRL now more than online–I’m sure there’s a lot of guys I would never swipe right on, who I could actually be really compatible and happy with!

  • Tessa

    Single man repellers: how do y’all gain confidence in dating? I haven’t been in a relationship since a seven-year relationship ended a little over a year ago, and I’m still a little fatalistic about new connections even though I go out and date a ton. Any advice for getting over that hump?

    • Andrea

      Practice! I haven’t had a boyfriend in 6 years (and that was a high school relationship)–dating still makes me anxious, but the more I do it, the more I see that I’m not alone in my struggles and everyone is just looking for someone. (Most of my friends are in relationships, so it can feel isolating.) I still have a hard time imagining myself as someone’s girlfriend, but meeting people helps me realize that it IS possible. Also, channel your most badass, confident friend when you go out to meet a guy–I think of myself how I know my girlfriends see me (strong, smart, sexy, interesting), and it helps me present that version of myself.

      • Amelia

        Packed with good advice, thank you!!

    • Renee

      Hmm, so I used to be super intimidated by dating and to just go up and start talking to people (aka cute guys at bars), but now I remember we are all people and you’re just having a conversation. The other person is not some superior being, they put their pants on one leg at a time and have insecurities too. I also use this mindset in interviews or at networking events. I know it’s an old idea, but still rings true.

      • Kattigans

        This is great advice!

      • Sara

        “they put their pants on one leg at a time” -> ok this was actually an enlightening sentence for me no joke

    • Amanda Faerber

      Totally agree with the others that have replied to you. Practice, without an agenda, is so freeing. I was a very late bloomer, not a wall flower, just more focused on school, job, moving to where I wanted to be in life than finding a person for me. After I became the last single girl standing, I thought to myself maybe it would a good exercise for me to just join an internet dating site and literally go on as many dates as possible. I’d have a dinner date after a lunch date. I met all kinds of men, some of whom I really liked and some not so much. No horror stories. I did not meet my current partner until years later but think this dating odyssey had a lot to do with me being ready to receive him and appreciate his love for me. I highly recommend this approach as it will definitely give you confidence, will teach you so many things about yourself and who might be out there for you, and for me at least, it forced me to broaden my idea of what I thought I wanted/needed.

    • Bailey

      I agree with everyone on this thread. I personally don’t really go into dates looking for a romantic connection, I go in just wanting to have a really good conversation for an hour or so. I’ve met some really interesting people, most of whom I do not want to date and who do not want to date me! I still value that time. Managing initial expectation has really helped me and it’s also allowed me to feel ZERO nerves on a first date, something I never thought possible.

      • Andrea

        Yes! Once I stopped going on first dates thinking “Maybe this guy will be my boyfriend” and instead starting thinking “maybe this guy will be someone cool to talk to,” I’ve been so so so much happier.

        • Claudia

          My therapist said the same thing when I mentioned I wanted to wait another week to get coffee with a guy I had met online. She told me: “It’s just coffee, not a romance yet. Just a person, lower your expectations! You’re thinking of this as something it is not, at least not yet!” and it made so much sense!

    • Michael Laman

      Seven year relationship? wow–that is a long one, lots of marriages barely make ten years today. Take some time to grieve the loss of what was. Give yourself time to recharge etc. Doing tons of dates after that kind of loss just overwhelms you. I’d crank it back a little.

  • Kelsey

    This was great and I think helpful even for established relationships

  • Autumn

    YES ALL OF THIS!!! [Sorry for yelling. I was excited. This is a great article].

  • B345

    The key point is to think not in terms of “how can I make myself right for this person” but “Is this person right for me?”

    • Michael Laman

      There is no right person for anyone. There are only people who can become right for you. None of us will be exactly right for anyone—you have to be flexible or plan on looking forever.

  • Camila Restrepo

    I needed this!!!! Oh god how I needed this article after a weekend of disillusions and some tears. THANK YOU!

  • rolaroid

    “Imagine the relationship you want, not the person you want” GREAT advice. Reminds me last month a story on MR, the writer said that she didn’t think her partner was perfect for her, it was more about the perfection they were building together. Totally.

  • jdo719

    This is great, sane advice.

  • Arden

    Thank you thank you thank you!! This article is exactly what I needed right now – actually helpful advice with tangible ways to use these tips in real life.

  • tmm16

    Holy shit. Needed to read this entire article. #3 The kind of relationship they want to have – hit me on deeper level. Really great advice here from someone who’s sick of reading dating advice/articles!

  • Amelia

    FINALLY some good dating advice other than “when you stop looking, the right person will find you!”

    I swear to god if another person tells me that I will scream no matter where I am in public

    • Krista Grenier

      I will be screaming right alongside you.

    • Renee

      I feel the exact same way about “it will happen when you least expect it.” Like, I’m not walking around expecting love to pop up.

      • Amelia

        RIGHT and when people tell me the “when you least expect it only when you’re not looking for it” bullshit, I’m like OK I HAVE STOPPED LOOKING NOW WHERE IS THE MAN HUH?? So then technically I’m looking.

        • Michael Laman

          The right one never comes along except in movies or TV. If he or she does, most of us are too busy to notice.

    • Bailey

      “You just have to wait for the right one to come along!!!”

    • Michael Laman

      Thanks for saying that. When I was younger I always heard–you’ll meet someone etc, there is a lid for every pot, you’re not looking in all the right places, you’re too picky, it won’t come to you, go for it, etc. Hate to say it–by high school most of us find out where we rate in the dating world on a scale of 1-10. It won’t change much after that unless you become rich, famous, or a celebrity. A friend of mine told me years ago–you can’t date above a certain number. Remember today the digital world makes us more busy, competitive, and distracted than in the past. I see great looking women all the time glued to their I-phone etc. as they walk, talk etc. There is no chance to even approach them and start a conversation. This little habit could keep lots of guys away ladies.

  • Rebekah

    I first read #1 as

    “Practice licking yourself more.”

    Man Repeller is truly thought provoking.

  • My favorite bit of advice was: “Imagine the relationship you want, not the person you want.”

    I broke up with my boyfriend over the summer and have since been mulling over how I want to feel in a relationship. I came up with a list of questions to ask myself in the future and thought I’d share them here in case anyone else finds them helpful! The basic idea, though, is not to get caught up in the person OR in lust, but to think about how I want to *feel* in the relationship:

    My 6 Questions:
    1. Would I be excited/proud to introduce them to my friends? Am I comfortable around theirs?
    2. Do they inspire me? Do I believe I can offer them inspiration, too?
    3. Do they know what it’s like to suffer in some way, and can they empathize with the suffering of others?
    4. Do I feel bigger or smaller with them in my life?
    5. Do they respect my boundaries and make it easy for me to set them?
    6. How do they talk about and treat other women? Are they friends with women?

    I also made a video chatting about them if anyone wants to here me blab a bit on this topic:

  • Kattigans

    I’ll add one more: You don’t have to keep going out with a guy because you’re “hoping he grows on you”. This is a mistake I’ve made and seen friends make. And I can’t think of any guy out there who continues to date a woman because he’s hoping she grows on him. Just no. Doesn’t happen. So if you don’t feel it then let that be okay and move on. Sometimes it really just isn’t right even if it should be.

  • Jay

    Look for reasons to continue seeing someone, not for reasons to stop…

    Oh, yeah, been there, done that…

    It really reasonates with me, as I am always overcritical and overanalyse things. Like the moment you see that person, it is ok, but then you part, and from a distance so many things seem annoying. I even find myself sometimes in the very moment getting annoyed. By something they say. Some crappy choice of restaurant. Some shirt I dont like… That is totally superficial. I know. But it is what I do.

    So, making kind of a list of pro‘s and con‘s has helped me. Because there might be 1000 small con‘s. But three really big pro‘s. And then I know what I should do.

    BUT: Disclaimer – and a dangerous one – I have been stuck in a long term relationship cause, well… it was the safest and easiest thing to do?! That was my pro. And I ignored anything else. Not a good idea.

    Though this is more relationship advice, any thoughts on that?

  • Karissa

    “Instead of waiting to be chosen, I finally feel like I’m participating in the choosing.” I really love that.

  • Ana Beatriz Quinto

    This is really good!

  • Senka

    Great advice, if only practicing ot would be so easy.
    I don’t hate dating. I don’t even find it hard. maybe tedious, but not hard. It’s grabbing a drink or coffee with someone. If nothing else, it can end up as a funny story to tell. (I once went out with male ballet dancer, and it was nothing I expected it to be, in a bad way.) Bigger issue, for me at least would be, how to open up after severe disappointments. Most single people of my generation (over 30) are, well, sort of convinced that while it’s not so hard to go out on a date, it’s nearly impossible to find a quality person that’s also willing to stick around.

    • Michael Laman

      I disagree, quality people are never in an oversupply. The truth is most people don’t want to make a real commitment to anyone because they think they can do better next time. When that doesn’t happen, they get confused and anxious. One day they run out of choices, then what? Sticking around is a vague term. For most people under 35 today, I expect they have not seen lots of good relationships role modeled for them. That might be why it’s so hard to find someone who will hang in there. The online dating world creates this fantasy of endless prospects, well, it’s a dangerous mindset to have. You can only date so many people per unit of time.

  • I have this stupid phobia about dating : I am absolutely terrified I won’t recognise my date at the meeting point, or mistake someone else for him. This is what scares me before every date. Otherwise I would be 100% comfortable with dating because I like meeting people.