1. Be vulnerable, even though our current dating culture would tell you anything but. No, you shouldn’t intentionally lay your heart in the street and let it get shattered, but be willing to be uncomfortable and scared and uncertain. That’s where the real magic is.
2. Put yourself out there… really, really out there. This can mean signing up for an online dating site, or giving your number to someone in a café, or meeting someone at a bar and then talking to them (sober!) the next day and asking them on a date. Putting yourself out there can also just mean making eye contact or smiling at that stranger on the subway. It’s whatever you want it to be. (But it has to make you the slightest bit uncomfortable.)
3. Expect more. Be open to love and be willing to find it in unusual ways, but don’t lower your standards because you feel like the pool is getting smaller. Don’t just agree to go on a date with someone or go home with someone or swipe right for someone just because you are trying to increase your odds of meeting the right person. The pool is just the size you need it to be. You will find your person eventually, when the timing is right. So make sure you’re holding your standards until that time comes.
4. Keep a balance. When you think you’ve found someone you’re compatible with, don’t drop everything and make your entire life about them. You will get sick of this very quickly, and so will they. When you start dating and falling in love, keep going out with your friends. Keep going to work-out classes that make you feel good and healthy. Keep reading your favorite books. Have a life outside of them.
5. Be honest with yourself, and be honest with the person that you’re dating. Don’t try to put forth a version of yourself that you think they want to see. Your companion needs to fall in love with who you are, not who you’re pretending to be. Be you. If they don’t fall in love with you, they’re not meant for you anyway.
6. Don’t play games. We’re not in middle school anymore. This is no longer a contest of “whoever cares less wins.” We are adults. We are adults who feel things deeply and who want to reach a level of intimacy with another person. You won’t get there if you’re trying to come off as cool and complicated and isolated.
7. Be willing to sacrifice things, but not your morals or your career or your family or your friends. But be willing to sacrifice some of your time. Be willing to sacrifice some of your secrets to grow closer to the person you’re dating. Be willing to sacrifice your pride so that you can let them know that you’re kind of smitten and you don’t care who knows it.
8. Be intimate with someone when you feel it’s right. Don’t follow anyone else’s guidelines. Don’t have sex on the second date because Cosmo told you it’s okay and don’t wait until marriage because your 6th grade religion teacher told you you’d go to hell otherwise. Have sex when you’re emotionally ready to connect with someone on a deeper level.
9. Have your in-love song ready to go. When you’re in the falling stage and it’s all just too much and you’re going to work and you can’t stop smiling, you need something that will echo how you’re feeling. And this is the moment where you turn to your iPod. This is your moment to be that person on the subway who’s grinning like an idiot and can’t stop. This moment is going to be all too short, so have that damn song ready to play at a moment’s notice.
10. Don’t fall in love with the idea of someone. Try not to focus too much on their online presence in the beginning. It’ll certainly be a challenge, especially because half the people you end up dating these days you met online. But try to get to know the real them first, before you attempt to learn everything about them through their Instagram and Facebook and Twitter. It’s a lot more fun to hear things straight from them as opposed to something their best friend posted on their Facebook in April of 2012.
11. Stop searching for “The One.” That’s just a fabricated idea created by romance novelists and film studios. There’s no perfect version of a man or a woman. Everyone is a human being and everyone has flaws. Even someone you fall head over heels for is going to have some flaws. So quit trying to find the perfect partner for yourself. Instead, find the person who makes you feel loved and alive and special and curious and happy and thankful. And then learn to deal with their snoring and their lack of fashion sense and their habit of leaving the toilet seat up.
12. Embrace the butterflies. Stop trying to be completely in control. That’s not how falling in love works. When you meet someone that finally makes you feel a little silly and outside of yourself, enjoy every second of it. That feeling doesn’t come around very often. If you’re lucky enough to have butterflies, keep them for as long as you can.
13. Be willing to get your heart broken. It hurts. A lot. It hurts so badly, to the point where you can’t imagine how you could ever do this again. And then you meet someone else and they make you forget all about that broken heart. You can always heal with time. Sometimes, that time is short. Sometimes, it’s years. But getting your heart broken is better than having nothing happen at all.
14. When you go on a date, be on the date, not your phone. If Twitter is more interesting than the person sitting across from you, stop wasting your time and theirs and go home. If you’re going on a date, turn your phone on silent and keep it in your pocket. Listen to them and ask them questions. Get to know them. Your phone isn’t going anywhere. You can check it when you go to the bathroom and you need to entertain yourself for 20 seconds while you’re peeing.
15. Be smart. About what you say. About sex. About who you date. About who you go home with. About your social media presence. About what you should expect from others. About what you want. About what’s going to make you fulfilled. Dating has a lot to do with gut instincts. But you also have to have a good head on your shoulders.