“If you love love, look for yourself.” - Rumi
Like Rumi centuries before us, we love love. However, unlike the Sufi mystic, we don’t always look for it in the right places. There are 270 million active dating app profiles: a digital testament to our collective longing for love and connection. We search, swipe, and wonder when we’ll find the partner who’ll bring this love to us.
When we think of love as something external that has to be found, we bypass why we’re so drawn to love in the first place. Love is our inherent nature. To feel separate from love is to feel separate from ourselves-- like we’re not whole. But love, like compassion, originates from inside us. For those of us focused on our dating lives, Rumi tells us the first thing we need to do before we can find a meaningful partnership: Look for yourself. By tapping into our self-love, we’re better equipped to cultivate a loving, meaningful relationship with another person.
Practice Mindfulness to Cultivate Nourishing Connections
I’m newly single myself. The last time I belonged to this demographic, I approached dating as an excavation site: I met people with the hope that I could mine their hearts for that precious stone. I’d make impulsive judgments about whether or not I could connect with a potential partner based on narratives that were far removed from the present moment. Like the majority of singles, I would’ve said that my dating life was not going too well-- maybe not well at all.
In the time since then, I adopted a mindfulness practice. When we can treat dating like another branch of our practice and operate from a place of self-love, the experience suddenly becomes more pliable. We step into our innate power to create the life-- and the type of relationship - that we want.
When we let ourselves feel our loving nature and realize that we’re already whole, loved beings, we’re empowered to connect with others on a deeper level. Instead of treating potential partners as a means to an end, we become open to spontaneity and nourishing connections. However, like any mindfulness practice, it takes training.
If we can return to the present moment-- whether that’s reading a dating profile out loud or noticing how a cup of coffee feels in our hand on a second date - we pause and create space to remember the already-whole, vibrant love inside us. When we do this, we’re no longer stuck in a lack mentality. We tap into an abundance that we can share with another person. Even when things don’t go as we hope, we know it’s not because we’re not deserving of love.
Approaching Dating with Self-Love
Guru Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj writes, “All you need is already with you. You must approach yourself with reverence and love.” Approaching ourselves with love in our dating life can take different forms. It includes reminding ourselves that we’re lovable without conditions. It also means allowing ourselves to feel any anxiety that arises around dating without judging or reprimanding ourselves.
Other strategies include:
- Treat your dating profile like a creative project celebrating what makes you you, rather than designing it to appeal to someone else.
- Keep reminding yourself that love is already yours. Repeat “I am love” or “I am already loved” throughout your day.
- Remember, self-love isn’t always easy, and it doesn’t prevent us from ever experiencing disappointment. Have compassion for yourself along your journey. As Pema Chodron writes, “To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else's eyes.”
- Give yourself permission to keep your heart open and vulnerable.
Practicing self-love has an expansive effect. When we love ourselves, we attract healthier relationships. Like attracts like. This isn’t a passive process, either. We’re able to communicate our needs, interests, and desires more effectively because we know ourselves more clearly. This type of communication is the foundation for healthy romantic relationships.
Use Dating to Practice Mindfulness
When we’re mindful, we accept the moment for what it is. This allows us to notice what we’re feeling without being controlled by it. When we’re meeting a new person, it can be hard to stay present-- especially if we’re interested in them and are wondering if they’re interested in us, too. Our thoughts anticipate what they’ll say next, how we’ll respond, and where we see this relationship going. Therefore, we can view dating as our greatest practice ground for cultivating mindfulness. As in our existing mindfulness practice, we work with the breath and mantras.
- If you’re reading an online dating profile, read the text out loud to create a sensory experience that lets you engage with the words. Contemplate what catches your attention about the person and the reason why.
- If you use dating apps that require swiping yes or no on a person, pause before you swipe. No matter which way you swipe, practice wishing happiness for that person. Slowing down the experience can help make the person behind the profile more “real” to you. It also lets you observe your decision-making patterns.
- Before each date, set an intention to be present with the person you’re meeting. Listen to them without anticipating your own response when they’re talking.
- When you feel nervous or excited, bring your attention to your breath or your body.
These practices stabilize our emotional experiences around dating. Plus, they help us give more of our attention to the person we’re with, which shows them that they’re valued and we’re invested in getting to know them on a deeper level.
My best friend recently asked me a question. “Will you be open to love?” she asked with a hint of skepticism that comes from knowing me and my defenses since we were little girls. In another time, I would have pulled out my phone and shown her my dating profile as proof that I was open, only to then bemoan the fact that love was just so hard to find.
Instead, I said yes. This yes came without conditions. It was not a “Yes, but.” It was a genuine yes that comes from opening self-love’s floodgates and realizing that love never was, never is, and never will be, a scarcity.