The predictable steps you’re likely to take on your journey to finding love.

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I went on 121 first dates before I found my love. Can you even imagine? And I discovered there are ten predictable stages to dating.

Not everyone experiences all of them, or even in order. But understanding what to expect can help you navigate the tricky and sometimes insidious dating landscape.

Are you ready to dive in? Let’s do this!

#1 Ready to Date

Ready to date means you’re probably in one of two camps. You’re either…

Eager & Enthusiastic, as in you’ve finally ditched that going-nowhere-for-way-too-long relationship, or the ink is drying on your divorce papers and you’re ready for the real deal this time.

Or…

Reluctant but willing to try this crazy dating thing because even though you don’t really want to, it seems like it’s the only path to love.

This is what “ready to date” looks like.

So you pick yourself a site: Facebook, Tinder, Bumble, OKCupid, JDate, Farmer’s Only — whatever calls your name. Once you’ve chosen your online automated matchmaker, you’ll need two things:

  • Kick-ass Profile Photos — No pro photographer need. Ask your friend to shoot a half a dozen (well-lit, natural) candids on your phone, or use a timer app that will take 100 selfies in under a minute, and you can pose-pose-pose-pose-pose!

Hot Tip: Shoot for happy, relaxed, and naturally beautiful. Don’t forget to include a full-body shot, too — show off all your curves!

  • A Winning Written Profile: The second thing you’ll need is a winning profile that showcases your unique personality.

Common Pitfall: Using too many adjectives like “happy,” “genuine,” “nurturing,” “loving,” etc. will just make you sound like everyone else.

Hot Tip: Tell a story instead of using descriptors. Most people write like this: “I’m Italian, sensitive, open-minded, open-hearted, love opera, and am moved by music,”

Hold my beer and watch this:

“When I was a little girl and I didn’t know anything about anything, I was sitting at the family dinner table shooting my mouth off about how I hated opera. The next week, my Italian grandma dragged me down to the local opera house and I was moved to my core. This is how I learned to be open-minded and open-hearted about new experiences.”

One story like that could be your entire profile — seriously.

#2 Overwhelmed & Excited

Welcome to the next stage!

You’re swiping right, winking, liking, and favoriting up a storm. There are a plethora of promising people out there. Your inbox is loaded down with potentials. You’re popular!

Common Pitfall: Being too nice in your correspondence. They said what to you? Do you have to respond to that? No, you do not. Use your DELETE key.

Hot Tip: Create an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of all that potential. Really. It sounds nerdy, and maybe it is, but you know what else? It’s useful.

This is the stage where you think you’ve got it handled.

#3 Nervous & Curious

Has it been a while?

Is this the first time you’ve ever dated someone who wasn’t at least a friend of a friend?

You may be wondering:

  • Can I do this?
  • What do I wear?
  • What do I say?
  • What’s going to happen?
  • Am I ready?
  • Who picks up the check?
  • Who is this person?
  • What if they’re a nut?
  • What if they think I’m a nut?
  • How do I tell them “no” if I’m not attracted?

I have the answers to every one of these questions in my Ready for Love self-guided workshop, so if you want help with this sort of thing, I’ve got you covered.

Common Pitfall: Waiting to date until you’re ready to date.

Trust me: no one is ever 100% ready for this.

You can do it. You’ve got this.

Hot Tip: Wear an outfit that makes you happy. Talk about things in your life that you love. And ask them what they care about in life. You know, like you would with a new friend. You’re just getting to know this new, interesting person, nothing more. Don’t micro-manage it.

#4 Disappointed & Discouraged

You were hoping to get lucky and be “One and Done.”

You’ve been on a couple of first dates and knew from the first moment that this person wasn’t right for you, but when you departed, you were still hurt that they didn’t want to see you again.

Or…

When you departed, you were relieved that they didn’t ask to see you again.

Or…

Even though they weren’t right for you, you were willing to see them again because hey, you’re dating and you are open to see if they grow on you.

But they don’t.

Now, you have to go back online and meet more new people. Ugh.

The thrill is gone: Going out on dates feels like a to-do list item. The drudgery of it makes you want to kick it down to the very bottom of your stack.

This stage is when you second-guess yourself and wonder why you’re feeling the way you do. You will also be hunting for the answer to the question, “Can’t I find a way to not have so many uncomfortable feelings at the end of a date?”

Common Pitfall: This is the stage where people give up. Don’t do it! Dating isn’t linear, and there’s no science to predicting your timeline for success. One thing I know for sure is that you’ll find your love if you keep going, and you won’t if you quit.

Hot Tip: Remember that, after a less-than-stellar date, you never have to have that exact experience again. It’s behind you.

#5 Elation

“I met someone! It finally happened! I have my person! Yay!”

This is the stage when you are flying high and don’t need anybody but your brand-new, super-sexy lover, right?

It’ll all work out, right? (Truth: Yes, it totally might. Or it might not. Both of these are actually okay.)

Common Pitfall: This is the stage where people settle. They’re in front of you, they seem great so far, there’s a couple of deal-breakers in there, some flaming red-flags, but hey, beats being alone, and sure as hell is better than dating!

Hot Tip: Know what you need for a happy life, and keep those rose-colored glasses off your face and your eyes wide open. If your new love’s not quite fulfilling your base musts, then maybe it’s time to keep looking, or at least keep your options open and keep dating more than one.

#6 Confused, Frustrated, or Lost

  • “I like my boyfriend so much. I’m so afraid I’ll blow it.”
  • “I had a girlfriend, but now I don’t. What happened?”
  • “Why did he/she/they disappear?”
  • “Why wasn’t I given a chance?”
  • “What’s with all the mixed signals?”
  • “What did I do wrong?”
  • “Why do they keep pulling away and then coming back?”

This stage is when you NEED answers NOW.

Common Pitfall: Believing this is your only chance at love or that love is elusive.

Hot Tip: Remember, if they’re the right person for you, they’ll stick around, communicate, see you and make themselves seen by you, and they’ll love you just as you are.

#7 Ready to Quit

You put all that work into being good at dating, and now you feel like it’s never going to turn out for you.

You’re losing patience, confidence, faith, and your heart feels broken.

Common Pitfall: Believing you’ve lost your chance at love.

Hot Tip: Get loved up from a friend, or talk to a good dating coach or your therapist. Someone who can listen compassionately, help mend your heartache, and show you the way to put this behind you so you can be magnetic to the right one for you.

Adopt the 10 things happy, single people do every day so you have the stamina to go on.

#8 Fear to Hope

At this stage, you’re afraid to get your hopes up because you’ve been disappointed and hurt. I mean, is a relationship really all that? Being single is pretty darned good, right?

You don’t want to go through the pain of another letdown, and frankly, you’re getting a little tired of both the rejection and needing to reject the ones who aren’t for you.

This stage is full of big questions.

“How can I trust that love really exists for me?”

“How do I open my heart and feel safe and secure to keep pursuing love?”

Common Pitfall: Turning off your profile, binging out on chocolate, getting another cat, and calling it a day.*

*Special note: I do NOT think “single” is a bad choice. If you enjoy being single and you find it empowering to focus your energies outside of romantic and/or sexual partnership, then woot! Go you! You rock your single life!

However, if you feel underutilized, unfulfilled, or a deep longing for more from life when you’re not in a partnership, quitting now is a mistake.

Hot Tip: Have faith. And when you can’t, turn to people in your life who can keep the faith for you. Get a dating buddy, a dating coach, or a family member to hold onto your vision, too, so that it’s not just you carrying that flame.

#9 Confidence Restored

You muster up the courage to keep putting yourself out there and bam! Someone cute and promising flirts with you.

This stage is when you know the lay of the land, it’s not your first rodeo, and you know you can live through the disappointment and keep going anyway because you know to your core that you are in it to win it.

#10 Your Love Arrives

You didn’t know what to expect from this date, but oh yeah, it’s a pretty great one. It was easy, you felt seen, liked, and fun, and you can’t wait for more. And then more happens — again and again and again.

Common Pitfall: You don’t believe it when it finally happens to you.

Don’t let yourself sabotage a good thing just because it took a hell of a lot of work to get there.

Hot Tip: Don’t ever forget where you started. The struggle is real, but you were strong enough for it — your success is the proof.

Wendy Newman is the author of 121 First Dates. She’s a dating, sex, and relationship expert who’s led hundreds of workshops and revolutionized the lives of over 70,000+ women internationally.

Need one-on-one coaching from Wendy? You can hire her by the hour.

You can send a question to the column via email: Wendy@WendySpeaks.com

Single? Take her 5-Day Love Breakthrough Course (for free — you’re welcome!)

Dating, Sex & Relationship Expert and Author of 121 First Dates (Simon & Schuster). Over 70,000 women trust Wendy’s advice, tools, & experience. WendySpeaks.com

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