When I was a teen, there was a popular hit song by Johnny Lee called “Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places.” The song spoke to the hope and the challenge of finding love—a message that still rings true.
Many people want to fall in love and find intimacy. But that can be tricky to manage. Potential daters are faced with swipe-left-or-right dating apps that give an abundance of choice without guidance on how to make wise decisions or develop a meaningful relationship with someone. Add to that the myths surrounding love—like we all have a “soulmate” out there we just need to find—and the task can seem daunting.
Enter Logan Ury’s new book, How to Not Die Alone: The Surprising Science That Will Help You Find Love. Ury, the director of relationship science for the popular dating site Hinge, explains the fallacies surrounding romance and provides guidance on how to navigate the dating world, build better relationships, and maintain lifelong partnerships. Her book is full of interesting research, useful tips, and relatable stories of the many people she’s helped to find love.
Greater Good spoke with Ury about how to avoid the pitfalls of dating and build the foundation for a solid relationship. Here is an edited version of our conversation.
Jill Suttie: What are some of the biggest challenges people have dating?
Logan Ury: As a dating coach, I find many people suffer from dating blind spots, patterns of behavior or ways of thinking that hold them back. Often, people can’t identify their dating tendency on their own, but these really affect how people date.
The first type is “the romanticizer” who thinks love is easy, and that once you find your soulmate, it’s going to be effortless. Romanticizers are very focused on the idea that if the relationship feels hard, they must not be with the right person; so, they give up and go on to the next person.
The second is “the maximizer” who has unrealistic expectations of their partner. Maximizers are always asking themselves, “Who else is out there? Could I be with somebody 5% hotter, 5%, more ambitious, 5% more interesting?” They’re always looking for an upgrade.
The last type is “the hesitator.” This is someone who has unrealistic expectations of themselves, who says, “I’m just not ready to date yet. I’m not lovable yet. I need to improve myself before somebody could love me.” They think one day they’ll wake up and be ready to date, but that day just hasn’t happened yet.
All of these patterns are problematic, because they involve unrealistic expectations.
JS: How does one get around these barriers to finding love?
LU: For the romanticizer, the biggest thing is just understanding that the idea of “happily ever after” is a fallacy and that finding somebody isn’t the only hard part. A relationship, in general, is hard. It requires effort and attention and ongoing work. So, somebody who’s a romanticizer needs to shift from the “soulmate” mindset to the “work it out” mindset and to understand that if your relationship feels effortful, then you’re doing it right.
For the maximizer, it’s really about understanding that you can’t date everyone in the world and then figure out who’s the single best person. It’s OK to have high expectations; but when you find someone who meets those expectations and makes you happy, you should commit to the relationship and build it. They need to overcome the “grass is always greener” tendency.
For the hesitator, it’s about understanding that you’re not going to wake up one day and suddenly be ready to date. You need to figure out what kind of person you want to be with, work on your dating skills, and get out there. The pandemic has been a particularly hard time for hesitators, because it’s given them another excuse to not date. Hesitators need to understand that while this past year might’ve been hard, it’s valuable to get out and meet different people.
JS: That seems like a lot to ask of a hesitator. What do you recommend for someone hesitating to take those first steps?
LU: A lot of my hesitant clients are also in therapy, and sometimes they need to work on why it is they think they’re not lovable, or that love is conditional and that they’ll only be lovable if XYZ changes. But I also have a checklist in my book of steps that they can take to start dating.
The first step is often creating a deadline. There’s a lot of power to deadlines, especially short ones. So, you might say to yourself that three weeks from today, I’m going to start dating. Then, you can look at the things holding you back from dating. Maybe you don’t have any pictures of yourself that are flattering but accurate. So, you make a specific plan to go take pictures with friends. Maybe you’re nervous about doing a virtual date; so, you practice doing that. Some of it is just breaking down what can feel overwhelming into smaller, doable parts.
In my book, I wrote about a client of mine who said on our first phone call, “I’m very fat, and I just can’t date until I lose weight, because I don’t want anybody to see me naked.” He had this story in his head that he wasn’t lovable unless he could lose weight.
I helped him understand that he needed to see himself as dateable, someone who was actively looking for love, not just somebody who would one day be doing that. He didn’t need to lose weight; he needed to lose his limiting identity about being good enough.
JS: What do you recommend once someone has actually overcome these barriers and starts to date?
LU: One thing I talk about in the book is how we have a natural tendency to see the negative sides of people we’re dating—like he split the bill with me instead of treating me, or he wore socks with sandals, or she told a bad joke. We have a negativity bias where we focus more on people’s flaws.
But we can train our brains to actually focus on the positive. One way to do that is an exercise I call “5 Good Things,” where I have clients text me after every date and say five things they liked about the person they went out with. It trains people’s brains to look for the positive and to be more imaginative about what is attractive about someone. (If anyone reading this wants to participate, they can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org after their next date.)
JS: In the book, you write that having “instant chemistry” with someone can throw you off finding a life partner. But isn’t sexual attraction really important in a relationship?
LU: Sexual attraction is absolutely important! I’m not saying you should discount sexual attraction. But you should be wary of an emphasis on instant chemistry. People can be led astray by looking for that pang of excitement or obsessive feeling you get, where it feels like you’re the only two people in the room. That’s because certain people are just very “sparky”—meaning, a lot of people are attracted to them, maybe because they’re very charismatic or very attractive. Even though you might feel something special unfolding between you, what’s really happening is that the sparky person tends to give that feeling to a lot of different people.
When people reject potentially great partners because they didn’t feel instant chemistry, they’re making a mistake. There’s lots of research that shows attraction can grow with time through the “mere exposure effect”—the more you’re around someone, the more you like them. That’s why people end up dating and marrying their roommates or somebody at work. The more you’re exposed to them, the more you develop an appreciation for different sides of them.
It’s also important to recognize that when you feel a spark with someone, you may be actually experiencing anxiety—the feeling of not knowing if someone likes you or not and wondering if they’ll call you. One of the most helpful interventions that I do is help people rewire their thoughts from, “Oh, he’s so exciting!” to “He makes me feel insecure and unaware of what’s going to happen next.” Maybe you don’t want to pursue somebody who’s not reliable.
The antidote to looking for an instant spark is to focus on the slow burn—the person who gets better over time, who’s reliable, kind, and thoughtful, who really is who they say that they are. Focusing on the slow burn helps people get into relationships that are fulfilling and strong for the long term.
JS: Once you’ve been dating someone for a while, how do you decide to stay or move on?
LU: I never expected I would help people with breakups, because I’m so focused on helping people find love and keep it up. But one of the best ways to help get people into great relationships is helping them get out of ones that are no longer fulfilling to them.
Some people tend to stay in relationships too long, in part because they fear losing someone and worry that they’ll never find somebody else. That’s the “hitcher” type. Alternatively, some people are so addicted to the feeling of falling in love, they jump from early relationship to early relationship, always pursuing that high. That’s the “ditcher” type. When my clients are wondering whether they should stay or go, I first look at their historical tendency to see if they fall into the hitcher or ditcher category.
I also ask them to consider whether something external to the relationship may be making it hard to connect right now. Is your partner going through a period of depression? Do you have little kids at home that are making it harder for you to connect? All relationships go through highs and lows, so understanding that external factors are making it harder to connect can help give people a reason not to leave.
Other times, it helps to have people ask themselves questions like, “Have you brought your best self to the relationship? Is there more that you can do?”
Sometimes, I like to ask them something I call the “Wardrobe Test Question.” If your partner were a piece of clothing in your closet, what would that be? One male client once said, “My boyfriend is a wool sweater, he keeps me warm, but then the sweater is itchy so I have to take it off.” One woman said, “My boyfriend is a scrubby old t-shirt that I would wear to the gym but hope no one sees me in.” This question is just abstract enough that people are able to access what is really going on for them, instead of trying to convince themselves to leave or stay for other reasons. The key is understanding what’s really going on so you can make a good choice.