Millennial Love: The Best Expectations to Have Are No Expectations at All

“So what brings a girl like you to Bumble?”

The message stared back at me from within the chat window, waiting for my reply. I wasn’t really sure how to answer, a conversational impasse I had encountered countless times as my navigation of the dating pool shifted from apprehensive to enthusiastic depending on the week. It was a common question, too. Part of the standard script between two near-strangers attempting to suss each other out through the confines of a dating app, relying on social media, mutual friends and short profile description to piece together an idea of their prospective conquest. It often fell within the same breath of “Why are you still single?” or “What are you looking for on here?”.

I’ve lived in the city for 4 years now, and I’ve been single a large majority of that time. From cringeworthy first dates to ‘almost relationships’ and everything in between, I’ve become familiar with the way in which the dating landscape continues to evolve. With the continued popularity of dating apps and the ‘sliding into DMs’ approach via social media, the rules of the game are constantly changing. Where dating was before straight forward, we now find ourselves drowning in choice, right swipes and assumptions about the intentions of prospective partners. And within that experience, we often operate on the defensive — constantly privy to our own position and investment as we try to tread water without losing the upper hand or showing too much vulnerability. So, we ask these questions — we develop a script to level the playing field and determine where we stand.

And yet, more often than not, things come to us when we’re least expecting it. A classic, ever-frustrating romantic anecdote: We find love when we aren’t looking for it and, when we are looking for it, it seemingly evades us.

So while it’s important to advocate for ourselves and our intentions within the dating realm, and communicate effectively with would-be partners/suitors, we need to be mindful of the limitations of setting specific romantic ideals and timelines.

The Perfect Answer to “What are you looking for”?
Sometimes, the best expectations to have are, quite simply, no expectations. It’s this understanding that settles into my mind every time I’m faced with that question, “What are you looking for?” or “Why are you still single?”. Quite frankly, I don’t have an answer… and I don’t think I should. To say I’m looking for a relationship could put me in a headspace where I force a fit with a partner who isn’t genuinely compatible with me and my life. On the other end of the spectrum, claiming that I’m not looking for a relationship could mean brushing past a great potential match simply to satisfy my own stubborn, independent agenda.

The problem is, when you have your mindset and intentions honed in on a specific idea or outcome, you (consciously or not) develop a sense of tunnel vision. As I’ve said many times before, love simply doesn’t really manifest in any scientific, process-oriented or concrete manner. X + Y doesn’t always = Z… there are frankly too many variables at play when it comes to romantic ideals, compatibility dynamics and, in general, life.

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When you start viewing things within the confines of an “I am actively seeking love and nothing else” mindset, you are likely to unknowingly close yourself off to various opportunities for connection without realizing it – perhaps simply because your suitor didn’t check a certain box (or two) in order to steal your attention away from the limiting confines of that tunnel vision. We are putting ourselves and our potential to connect (in various ways) with others in a box, and that’s not doing anyone any good.

Do we all have certain things we look for when it comes to love, dating and sex? Of course, and as we should. But that understanding shouldn’t take our entire romantic agenda hostage and rule over every decision we make while single and exploring who we are and who we want to be with. After all, sometimes what we need, isn’t everything that we want on paper. Rather, it’s about finding the balance of chemistry and compatibility that strikes a chord with us on a romantic level, and is also sustainable and rewarding long-term, whilst enabling us to keep learning, evolving and bettering ourselves.

It Starts with You
Opening yourself up to love doesn’t begin and end with creating a profile on a dating app, curating the perfect bio, or asking every potential prospect ‘what they’re looking for’. Attracting the right connections into your life isn’t about the pictures, your social media account or any script you’ve grown familiar with while seated across a potential match on a first date. Rather, it begins with you. If you dedicate all your time and energy projecting outwards, hoping to lean on a romantic partner to piece together your own identity within a partnership, you’re standing on borrowed ground. By that, I simply mean you haven’t done the solo work first, you haven’t established your own foundation and sense of self — and if you haven’t found/recognized that within yourself, how can someone else?

Laws of attraction (if you believe in that sort of thing) tap into to the energy you’ve invested in yourself, and therefore project outwards, and it’s hard to fake it on the energy front. People – the universe – we’re all pretty perceptive sometimes. Ultimately, relationships should start with you, and your relationship with yourself. When you use relationships and/or the pursuit of love to fill in the gaps where you haven’t quite figured out how to stand on your own, it shows, and that lacking element will be felt within any romantic relationship.

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So, what’s the recipe for millennial dating then? Honestly, there isn’t one. But finding someone to be with, starts with finding yourself. And it continues with the dedication to having an open mind — to not silo yourself into limiting expectations, presumptions, check-lists or ‘types’. Stop stressing about saying the right thing(s) or asking the right questions, don’t force a fit that isn’t there for temporary companionship, don’t loose sleep over right or left swipes, don’t over-think the first date outfit; just do you. Know yourself, be unapologetic on that front, and only then can you confidently open yourself up to whatever life throws at yourself (romantic or otherwise).

This is where the “Don’t look for love, let love find you” ideology comes into play, because the right people have a knack for finding each other when they are ready. But you can’t expect to attract love, or even be open to recognizing it, accepting it or respecting it, if you haven’t spent time on your relationship with yourself, first.

How to Start a Relationship With Yourself
Ask yourself — who are you? What do you want out of life? What do you value most in your life and career? What do you want (and need) out of a partner, and what can you offer them in return? What are some points of contention that you may come to face based on your individual challenges and emotional process (we’re all wired differently, after all) and how will you best navigate those?

Once you get comfortable with that internal dialogue, and take the time to lay that critical foundation, love can come to you much easier and, perhaps, even when you are least expecting it.