The dating files: Mistakes we make when we look for love
What happens when you’re not willing to settle for anything less than perfect? We explore how to let go of unhelpful expectations and enjoy the process of dating.

When we look for love, we have a tendency to compile the best and worst parts of our past relationships into a mental guidebook of sorts. A dissimilar sense of humour: no. A devastating smile: yes. An overprotective best friend: no. An addiction to terrible reality TV: yes.

We compose our online dating profiles with meticulous scrutiny, mentally fleshing out the undertones of every word as if we’re preparing for a one-in-a-thousand job interview. And then we get to the mother of all questions: “What are you looking for in a relationship?” Here, we faithfully write our checklist, a mosaic of highlights from our previous relationships. But is this the winning formula, or are we simply chasing a romantic illusion, destined for failure?

Whether we date online, blindfolded, on reality TV, enjoy a one-night stand, or meet up in-person at a bar halfway between where both participants live, we tend to navigate dates with higher standards but old habits, ultimately leading to … well … mostly terrible results.

According to love and relationship expert Dr Lurve, one of the biggest mistakes people make when they look for love is having oversized expectations. She says we often put pressure on ourselves to find a relationship by a deadline and, when we do, push to take it “to the next stage” within a specific timeline.

“Each relationship and person is unique, so your expectations going into dating can’t be equal for everyone you meet; everyone is on their own path,” she says. “So rather than meeting love with deadlines, be more open and accepting of ‘what will be, will be’ and enjoy the moment. As soon as we put pressure on ourselves, we lose the fun and thrills that dating can offer.”

Dr Lurve also notes that we’re often not as open to love as we might like to think, because we look for a very specific package: “In our minds, potential partners need to tick certain boxes to even be worthy of going on a date, and while standards are healthy and good to have, sometimes our boxes can be unrealistic and push us away from meeting really great people.

“Forget the ‘he needs to be at least six-feet tall’ checkbox; you might be missing some really wonderful guys who are five-foot-seven-inches,” she says.

“The same goes with age, certain features and careers that we look for in a partner. Looks fade, people get shorter; personality and the ability to make someone laugh is forever.”

Psychologist and clinical psychotherapist Noosha Anzab, who works on the online therapy platform Lysn, highlights how our expectations can lead to failure from a mental health perspective. She says when we put pressure on ourselves to “find the one”, we set ourselves up for emotional pain. “Putting expectations around successfully finding a romantic relationship, whether that be expectations around creating a family, around time or around social norms, can really impact our mental health,” she says. “The imaginary and often false deadlines we place on our love lives can lead us to feel lonely, frustrated and emotionally drained, all of which can lead to bigger concerns like anxiety and depression.”

Dr Lurve says for some people, actively seeking love or a great date can be more harmful than not looking. We often hear stories of people finding love without even looking, or how a friendship turned into a long-lasting love; and although they’re beautiful ways to find love, it makes the hunt for love even more frantic. “Don’t put so much pressure on yourself and remember to have fun,” says Dr Lurve. “You’ll be your authentic self and, in the process, find it easier to match with someone who’s on the same wavelength as you.”

The pandemic and social distancing has only increased the pressures we place on dating. Dr Lurve says because of the shift towards digital dating, we’ve become more reliant than ever on how we present ourselves online. “The right filters and selfies, cybersex and replying after many minutes of curating the perfect message means people are becoming a less genuine version of themselves,” she says. “You can go months without meeting someone you’re dating online due to restrictions and lockdowns. Now that we’re coming out of that, singles are experiencing more social anxiety and are reluctant to meet a date in real life.”

Frustrations emerge when you vibe with someone online but the IRL date doesn’t match up. Dr. Lurve says she hears this complaint all the time: “People can appear more charismatic than they naturally are when they have time to curate a message, but when put on the spot in a real conversation, they aren’t as down to earth or humble as perhaps they led on,” she says. “It’s a classic first date story that everyone has experienced at least once — it can be hard to trust people after that, and it can make you more sceptical when booking your next date with a new love interest.”

But simply knowing unfeasible deadlines, imagined scenarios and unnecessary pressure set us up for disappointment doesn’t mean we can easily say good riddance to those habits. To break the cycle of dating disasters, Noosha suggests refocusing on yourself. “Remind yourself every day that the best relationship you can harvest is with yourself,” she shares. “Try to do things each day that nurture your soul and place emphasis on a bit of self-love. They can be small things like spending time at your favourite coffee shop reading a book or touching base with friends and family.”

Self-love is a common struggle, so Noosha suggests taking up mental exercises to teach your brain how to think differently, such as affirmations, mirror work and positive self-talk. “These things might feel strange at first, but the idea is that over time it will feel natural, and you will start to appreciate the positive things you’re telling yourself.”

Dr Lurve says actively dating and being open to receiving love is essential, but don’t attempt to turn every love interest into a fairy tale romance.

“Sometimes you get frogs, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have fun along the way,” she says. “Don’t take it so seriously. Enjoy your dating life and get excited about prospective lovers; you might make some friends along the way. Forget the deadlines and timelines and expectations you and others put on yourself; all you need is to love yourself first and the rest will follow.”

Noosha advises examining your current “type”. Often we go for a similar kind of person on an aesthetic level, and recycle the same personality traits throughout our dating careers. A specific type may seem desirable, but there is probably a reason it hasn’t worked before. Compatibility goes beyond types and algorithms. “Open yourself up to falling in love with a person whose values align with yours, rather than a person who you’re attracted to,” says Noosha. “We are prone to dismissing someone simply because they don’t fit into the mould of the perfect ‘type’, and that’s definitely a space to explore when it comes to looking for love.”

Popular culture’s fascination with fairy tale endings has turned us into fantasists; we’re all chasing a dream date with a dream partner. But dating should not be all about outcomes. Enjoy the process; have fun with it. Allow dating to enrich your life, not be the cause of anxiety. A little nonchalance and a side of humour are your best companions on the battleground of modern dating. Carrie Bradshaw (who else) said it best: “Here’s to the guys who love us, the losers who lost us, and the lucky bastards that get to meet us.”