Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Looking for the Right Relationship? Make a Plan!

If you're looking for the perfect someone, follow these steps.

iStock, used with permission.
Source: iStock, used with permission.

Table for One, Please

Valentine’s Day has come and gone, and you’re still alone. Or maybe you’re just wishing you were alone because clearly you’re dating a total loser.

Either way, it’s entirely possible that you’ve just purchased several pounds of unsold V-Day chocolate, hoping to induce a sugar coma until at least July, when wedding season is finally over, and you no longer have to feel bad about the “happily ever after” that all of your friends seem to be finding. Or maybe you’ve decided to address your long-standing dating dilemma with a bold, new approach. If you’ve opted for the latter, read on.

What You Want (And Don’t Want): Part One of Your Plan

If you’ve been actively dating (going out at least once or twice per month on a consistent basis) without success, and you’ve been doing this for an extended period of time (a year or more), and you’re tired of watching everyone else fall in love and get married and have kids and move to a nice house in the suburbs, it might be time for a dating plan that doesn’t consist entirely of “hooking up with that hot new guy/gal in accounting.”

I suggest that you start by getting out your best pen and a piece of paper—or your laptop if that’s your preference—because you’re going to be writing some things down. (Trust me when I tell you that putting your new dating plan in print gives it weight and meaning in a way that simply thinking about it does not.)

So, do you have your pen and paper or your favorite digital device? Yes? Good. The first thing you need to do is create a list of goals for future dating. Obvious questions that you should probably ask yourself before writing this list of goals include the following:

  • Are you looking for a casual relationship or something longer-lasting?
  • How important is sex in your relationship?
  • Do you want monogamy or some other form of commitment?
  • Do you want kids of your own? Are you OK if the person you are dating has kids?
  • Do you care about the other person’s religious and/or political beliefs?
  • Does the other person’s age matter, and if so, what are your “age parameters”?

Less obvious questions that you might want to ask include:

  • How much time do I want to spend with my significant other? Do I need to see him/her constantly (or at least daily), or is time apart acceptable?
  • Do I want one of us to be the primary breadwinner and/or decision-maker, or do I want an equal footing?
  • Am I willing to physically care for another person as he or she ages?
  • Can I agree to disagree about certain things, or do my partner and I need to be “on the same page” with all (or at least most) major issues?
  • How important are the other person’s finances?
  • What qualities are most important in a long-term intimate partner? Am I looking for kindness and empathy, brashness and power, etc.?

After asking yourself these and similar questions, you can probably formulate a shortlist of goals and/or important traits that you are seeking in another person and a relationship. Obviously, every person has specific wants and needs, so everyone’s list of goals looks different. A client of mine recently wrote out the following list, and in doing so, he outlined a serious departure from his lengthy (unsuccessful) dating history:

  • I only want to date people that I feel comfortable introducing to my friends and family.
  • I only want to date people who have a life of their own—a job, friends, interests, opinions, etc.
  • I only want to date people who are more interested in companionship than sex. Yes, sex is important, but I’m seeking an emotional connection first, sex second.
  • I only want to date people who are trustworthy and keep their commitments (to me and others).
  • I only want to date people who are interested in a serious, lasting, monogamous relationship (and ultimately marriage).

Usually, it is a very good idea to review your list of goals for dating with a trusted friend, family member, therapist or spiritual advisor, asking for feedback to make sure the list is truthful, realistic, and complete. In other words, objective feedback from people who care about you can be both enlightening and helpful.

From Goals to Action: Part Two of Your Plan

Sometimes a clear listing of goals is enough to right the ship when it comes to dating. However, most people who’ve habitually struggled with forming and maintaining intimate relationships need a bit more structure and accountability.

In such cases, the development and implementation of a “traffic signals” dating plan is a useful tactic. Such a plan helps problem daters understand who is a good candidate for dating, and who is bound to disappoint sooner or later (usually sooner). As with goals, this plan should be written down and then discussed with at least one other person to make sure it’s both complete and realistically workable.

Traffic signals dating plans are straightforward in nature, with red lights, yellow lights, and green lights. Red lights, obviously, are characteristics that are unacceptable in a dating partner. You should not date anyone who displays even one red light trait. Yellow light characteristics should cause you to proceed with caution. Green lights, of course, are character traits that are healthy and desirable in a potential partner.

Below is the dating plan created by the individual whose goals were just discussed.

Red Lights: End It Now

  • I won’t date a person that I wouldn’t feel comfortable introducing to my friends and family.
  • I won’t date a person who is actively addicted (to anything).
  • I won’t date a person who is still seeing someone else or living with a past romantic partner.
  • I won’t date a person who lies to me.
  • I won’t date a person who exhibits poor self-care—lack of exercise, bad eating habits, smoking, etc.
  • I won’t date a person who is habitually unemployed and lives off the largesse of others.
  • I won’t date a person who has no hobbies or interests of his/her own.
  • I won’t date a person who habitually ignores my calls and texts or fails to keep commitments (to me or others).
  • I won’t date a person who seems more interested in sex than an intimate connection.

Yellow Lights: Proceed With Caution

  • I will be cautious about a person who seems self-centered—more interested in himself/herself than anything else (including our relationship).
  • I will be cautious about a person who is habitually late.
  • I will be cautious about a person who recently ended a long-term relationship.
  • I will be cautious about a person who thinks that I (or he/she) should always pay for everything.
  • I will be cautious about a person who expects me to make all of our dating plans, or to let him/her make all of our plans.
  • I will be cautious about a person who seems uninterested in my friends and family.
  • I will be cautious about a person who doesn’t want me to meet his/her friends or family within a few months of dating.
  • I will be cautious about a person who tells me all about his/her inner world, including past dating experiences and therapy, on the first date (i.e., a person with poor boundaries).
  • I will be cautious about a person who doesn’t seem to appreciate my opinions or my individuality.

Green Lights: Move Forward

  • I can feel good about a person who wants a long-term, monogamous relationship.
  • I can feel good about a person who is interested in me as I really am and who interests me as he/she really is.
  • I can feel good about a person who cares about my thoughts and feelings.
  • I can feel good about a person who will value our relationship as much as I do.
  • I can feel good about a person who shares at least a few common interests with me (movies, art, sports, food, hobbies, etc.)
  • I can feel good about a person with similar values and religious beliefs.
  • I can feel good about a person who has a life of his/her own and doesn’t expect to simply glom onto mine.
  • I can feel good about a person who either has or wants children.

Admittedly, creating a dating plan in this way may seem simplistic and possibly even juvenile. However, if you’ve had trouble finding “the one,” and you’re tired of kissing one frog after another, such a plan may keep you focused and stop you from getting caught up in the moment when you meet someone new.

With a traffic signals plan, you can look objectively at a potential partner before getting involved (or during the first date or two) and say, “Gee, this person is really attractive, but he/she is ‘between jobs,’ living with an ex, and seems uninterested in who I am as a person. Maybe I should forget about how hot this person is and move on to someone better.”

Finding the Right Person Is a Numbers Game

Dating successfully is often a matter of persistence. In fact, studies show that people in search of a long-term relationship (marriage, for instance) usually date at least 15 or 20 people before finding the right one. This doesn’t mean you have to spend months and months dating someone before discarding that person and moving on. It does, however, mean that you may need to go on a coffee date or two with quite a few people before one of them turns the majority of your traffic signals green.

If you look at dating as a process with definite goals in mind, it takes the pressure off and allows you to have more fun with it. When a particular person doesn’t work out, you can simply consider him/her a practice date that helps you prepare for the next person. So just accept the fact that most of the people you meet are not going to be your soul mate, nor you theirs. This doesn’t mean that either of you is a bad person; it just means that you need to keep dating until you find a proper match.

No matter what, don’t get down on yourself just because a few dates fall flat. Having a few bad dates does not mean you’re too fat, or too old, or too anything else. It simply means there is someone out there who thinks you’re perfect exactly as you are, but you’ve not yet met that wonderful individual. You’re doing that person (and yourself) a disservice if you get discouraged and quit dating before you ever meet, so stick it out. Good things will happen if you do.