When it comes to finding love, there are certain truths that seem so irrefutable that any single person would be a fool to not follow them. Maybe you’re a firm believer that you can tell within seconds if you’re attracted to someone. Or, maybe you adhere to the idea that a first kiss says it all: If you feel fireworks, your date’s a keeper; if it bombs, cut your losses. While these romantic maxims have their fans, experts insist that these laws no longer hold true in today’s dating world. In short, many rules single people follow need a little revamping. To that end, we’ve consulted authorities in the field to bring you the most up-to-date tactics for finding someone you’ll click with.
Old rule: You can tell if you’re truly attracted to someone in three seconds
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 darn convenient to think you can tell if you click with someone that quickly. But experts recommend cultivating a bit more patience, 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 people truly relax and maybe build some rapport. And while sparks early on are nice and all, they say nothing about someone’s long-term potential. “An important part of a compatible relationship is assuring 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 due diligence.
Old rule: Your mate must meet all the criteria on your “must list”
New rule: A “must list” looks great on paper, but paper won’t keep you warm at night
You can check off the attributes you want—appearance, background, education, career, salary—but unless you’re building your lover in a lab, you’re missing out. Of course, you should have standards and not settle for a two-pack-a-day smoker who doesn’t want kids when you’re allergic to smoke and eager to start a family. But settling for nothing less than perfection is unrealistic. “Must lists are a classic recipe for unsuccessful dating,” says Fleming. “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 ideal-mate wish list 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 the surprise of someone really new and different, lots of challenging banter and scintillating make-up sex —but sustaining a partnership with your polar opposite may ultimately prove 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, co-author 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 bedroom. And if you don’t want the same things for the future, what kind of future can you have?” We’re not saying you should end up with your clone, but ideally it should be someone who complements your personality (see the next rule for more details).
Old rule: Your date’s record collection (or DVD library, or bookshelf) mirrors yours—so you must be soul mates
New rule: You want a person, not an iPod playlist
Sometimes you meet someone and have so much in common, you know it must be love: Each of you saw Phish perform at least a dozen times and know the works of David Sedaris inside out. But don’t confuse mirror-image taste with 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 something new 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 relationship coach Hu Fleming, Ph.D. So, take it as a good sign if you spend the occasional Saturday night apart—you doing dips at ballroom dancing class, your date doing the wave at an NBA game.
Old rule: Your first kiss should be a toe-curling experience
New rule: Your first kiss is inconsequential
In fairytales, 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 (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 exceeded the two-drink minimum, 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 Piers. So rather than write someone off following a less-than-mind-blowing 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 this person constantly
New rule: When it’s true love, thinking about this person makes you feel good
Hmm, has Willie Nelson’s “You’re 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 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 Piers. If, on the other hand, your relationship keeps you up all night as you analyze this person’s e-mails 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.