The other week I gave a talk at DePaul University. At the end of what I thought was a convoluted but informative lecture on Buddhism in today's world, a freshman raised his hand. He said, "When should you fall in love? I've been told by all the guys I know that I need to save my twenties for playing the field and only start to settle down when I'm thirty."
"When should you fall in love?" I asked, incredulous. As if this guy had a shot at picking and choosing his time for when he would fall in love. I replied, "When you meet the right person it will happen under one condition: you actually know how to love yourself."
I mention this event because all of a sudden the audience grew quiet. Gradually it came out: guys had received advice on how to be players. Women had received advice on how to seduce hook-up buddies into something more serious. No one had ever said that their romantic life should be predicated on self-love.
The most important step in meeting your next big love is: loving yourself. I can't emphasize that enough. What that looks like is different each individual. It might be marked by spending some time single or traveling on your own. But spending time alone allows you to get to know yourself better—what you like, what you don't like, and what you really expect from a boyfriend/husband. If you don't get to fully understand who you are, you're likely to hop from relationship to relationship unfulfilled.
Here are three basic tips that will help you nab your next big love:
If you do decide to set aside some time to be single, that's the exact moment when you are going to have a lot of guys throw themselves at you. A man can tell when a woman is comfortable and confident in her own skin. That's super hot to us. So don't be surprised if some tempting offers come along. However, you know your intention: you want to meet someone you can be in a long-term relationship with. Be clear with the people you meet as to whether that's their intention too. If not, it may be best to avoid the temptation of hooking up with someone just because you're attracted to them. Hold out for someone whose values are in line with your own.
You've kissed enough frogs to know how to spot one when said frog offers to buy you a drink. No matter how hot the frog, don't go home with him. If your goal is to enter into a long-term relationship, that move is only perpetuating unhelpful habitual patterns. The more frogs you pass by, the more the occasional princes shine forth from the crowd. You'll know them when you see them.
Along those lines, I'm often asked where single women should meet single men. I'm a traditionalist and social, so I speak highly of meeting people at bars. Shocked? I met a woman who, while she was drunk at the time, came straight up to me at a bar and said, "Do you come here often?" Her confidence and humor won me over instantly. We were together for three-and-a-half years after that.
Also, don't underestimate the power of a friend setting you up. Your friends know you well. They are looking out for your best interests. Give them a chance. My sister met her husband when friends introduced the two of them at their wedding. On a related note: being single at a wedding can be awesome, if you can get over being single at a wedding.
Last but not least: online dating. I'm all for people going on OK Cupid and Tinder, but I recommend you don't go to an extreme when applying discernment. You might have a list of things you think you need in a mate: particular height, color hair, and this sort of job. You could find a million versions of that online yet not connect with any of them chemistry-wise. Don't overthink online dating; trust your gut.
Get Out of Your Own Way
Drop fixed expectation. That could be "my partner needs to look like this" or "I need to be married at this age" or "we need to move our relationship at this specific pace." Whenever you set these sorts of parameters around your love life, you're boxing in your own heart.
For example, when you do find a prince, you might be tempted to lock that down quick. Instead, enjoy the time when you are just exploring one another and getting to know each other. The quickest way to ruin a relationship is to immediately form an attachment to what is going to happen next. Ninety percent of the time your expectations won't get met and you will end up disappointed. So just relax.
Another question I frequently get asked is "What are guys looking for in the LTR girl?" I'm going to go full circle here and say that men want what women want: someone who is confident in their own skin, who is open to falling in love, and is super fun. If you want to meet your next great love, my advice is to start by befriending yourself. From there, avoid doing things (or guys) that are sure to be short-term flings, and be discerning about who you date, but not rigid. Drop expectations around who your next boyfriend might be and don't be surprised if you find yourself in a loving relationship sooner than you think.