The reason dating is so frustrating is that we’re looking at it all wrong

The goal is

The goal is “having a bigger life.”
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  • A date is not an opportunity to assess whether the person is “The One,” as tempting as that might be.
  • That’s according to Joanna Coles, the former editor of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire magazines, the chief content officer at Hearst Magazines, and the author of the new book “Love Rules.”
  • Instead, Coles said, you should use a date as a chance to see if you actually like the person and would want to befriend them.
  • Spend time doing activities you enjoy instead of searching for “The One” and you just might find someone to fall in love with.

I was never very good at dating.

This isn’t to say that I didn’t go on many dates: I did. And this isn’t to say that I didn’t generally enjoy the other person’s company: I did.

The problem was that, for the four years between college graduation and my entrance into a real adult relationship, I felt like I was wasting my time. It didn’t matter that I was meeting new people, or that I was having fun – if I wasn’t meeting the “right” person, it was all for naught.

I hadn’t thought about those feelings in a while – then I heard Joanna Coles speak at a launch event for her new book, “Love Rules: Finding a Real Relationship in a Digital World.”

Coles is the former editor of Cosmopolitan and Marie Claire magazines; she’s currently the chief content officer at Hearst Magazines. In “Love Rules,” Coles guides readers in assessing what kind of love they want and being as practical as possible in finding it.

At the launch event, which took place at NeueHouse in New York City, Coles spoke with Nina Garcia, editor of Elle magazine. Meeting “The One,” Coles told the audience, is “the wrong question to be asking.” Instead, she said, the goal is “having a bigger life.”

Coles expanded on this idea a few days later, in a separate interview with Business Insider. “Online dating is incredibly good for expanding your social network in general,” she said. “I have lots of stories of people who moved to cities and didn’t know anybody and built up a friend group through online dating.”

What Coles is really suggesting is not to see dating as a zero-sum game: Either the date is a success (you get married; you hook up) or a failure (you go home alone and neither of you ever texts the other again). There’s a happy medium here, and it’s finding someone you want to hang out with – maybe just once, maybe more than once; maybe in a romantic context, maybe in a platonic one.

“If you swipe or match with someone and immediately start asking yourself, ‘Is he or she The One?’ it’s the wrong question to ask and you will probably be disappointed,” Coles told us. “And that’s a lot of pressure to put on a first date.”

On a date, ask yourself if this is someone worth adding to your friend group

I know that if I’d heard this advice in my early 20s, I would have loved it – on an intellectual level – and promptly gone on to ignore it as soon as I went out with someone new.

But Coles also had some more concrete suggestions for mentally reframing a date, and dating in general. She recommended asking yourself:

  • Do I like this person?
  • Would it be worth adding this person to my friend group?
  • Do I want to see this person again?
  • If I don’t find this person attractive, do I have a friend who might find them attractive?
  • Is this a person who I have something in common with?

That question about whether a pal might find the person attractive could prove more useful than you think. Research suggests that most American couples still meet through friends. So if everyone in your friend group agrees to pass along their “cast-offs” to someone else, you all could wind up with a higher chance of meeting someone great.

Perhaps the best way to get out of the dating-is-wasteful mentality is to just live your life and do things you enjoy.

Instead of spending all your free time on dating apps, re-allocate some of that time toward “expanding your actual social network,” Coles said. In particular, she recommended joining a sports team or a choir, taking a painting class or a dance lesson.

“You’ll meet more people and you’ll have something in common to talk about with them and something in common to do, which doesn’t just revolve around the hope you have that this person might turn into The One.”

Richard Feloni contributed reporting.