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Why Dating Often Fails and How You Can Succeed

Important dating steps you might be missing.

As part of my graduate education in industrial/organizational psychology, I learned that business activities were successfully accomplished through specific steps and operations. When something "failed," it was often because someone missed a step or didn't perform the operations in order.

Dating is no different. There is indeed a correct set of steps for dating. "Failure" is often a result of not knowing those steps, missing some, or not performing them in the correct order.

Below, I am going to teach you those general steps for successful dating. But first, we need to take one more detour into business psychology. Particularly, we will consider personnel and human resource processes for hiring and training the right job candidate, which have a lot in common with "finding and keeping" the right person in love too!

Major Personnel Processes

Generally, when an organization has a position to fill, it goes through the following steps:

1. Develop a job description. The duties, tasks, and behaviors expected of the position are assessed and written down. Most importantly, what the employee is expected to "do" is clearly specified. This is necessary so that there is a good fit with the organization and a satisfying level of performance by the employee.

The job description also will include the compensation the employee will receive for that performance. In other words, it specifies what the organization will also "do" back for the employee. All other steps result from this job description and the required behaviors it contains.

2. Solicit potential applicants. The organization then looks for potential job candidates who might be interested in the job and qualified for it. Various forms of "advertisement" are employed, often depending on the specificity of the job requirements and the compensation given to the employee. For example, specific, difficult, and high-paying jobs often have very small and targeted applicant searches. General, easy, and low-paying jobs, in contrast, have large and public advertisements.

3. Evaluate applicants. Once applicants have shown interest, they are then "screened" or "evaluated." This may take the form of resume reviews, interviews, personality tests, and background checks. The idea is to identify applicants with the "general" knowledge, skills, and abilities to "potentially" be a good fit for the job position.

4. Train and assess temporary hires. Finally, applicants are usually hired on a "probationary period." During that time, they are trained on the specific behaviors required for the position. This is necessary because even the applicant with the "best fit" on a personality test will still be unfamiliar with the tasks required in a new job for a new company. So, he/she is trained specifically for that role and his/her performance within that role is assessed. After a period of time, either the trial employee has taken to training well and performed the duties successfully (in which case they are hired fully), or he/she has performed poorly (and is let go).

So, Why Does Dating Fail?

Believe it or not, the steps above are exactly the same ones required for dating success. You need to:

  1. Know what you want and what you're willing to give in a relationship (develop a job description).
  2. Find and attract potential partners (solicit potential applicants).
  3. Evaluate their general ability to be a good partner (evaluate applicants).
  4. Date them for a while, educate them about what you want, and see whether they can deliver (train and assess temporary hires).

The problem is that most "current" dating approaches focus on steps 2 and 3 almost exclusively. They focus on the "middle" of the process, which is particularly weak, especially without the other steps. In fact, the most important steps are usually 1 and 4 (which I heavily focus on in my own dating advice and consultancy). So, the usual dating advice is missing the most important ingredients for success!

For example, many dating books out there discuss how to "find and attract" Mr. or Mrs. Right. Those books make the assumption that there is one correct set of characteristics that makes a person "right" or "wrong". If that were so, then everyone would be after the same small few people. But, we all have different needs, wants, and desires. Therefore, who is "right" for me isn't necessarily "right" for you.

Without the previous step of a "job description," however, each dater is left hunting blind. He/she doesn't know what to look for and therefore cannot successfully "find and attract" the right person. Likewise, a business couldn't "find and attract" the right candidate either if it didn't have a job description. So, these approaches leave daters finding and attracting a lot of "generic" partners that never quite satisfy.

Similarly, just focusing on the "evaluating applicants" phase falls flat too. This strategy is popular with personality tests and "profile matching" such as eHarmony. Taken as part of the process, these are fine. But, advertised as a "complete solution" to dating and relationships, they fall flat.

The failure here is that even the best personality test will not find someone who is "perfectly suited" to perform every task you need, without them also being educated and trained for what you like. For example, you may be able to give a test and find someone who is generally "neat and tidy," but you will still have to show them how you like dishes to be done. Or, you may find someone who also has a high sexual appetite, but you're still going to have to teach them how you specifically like to be pleased in bed.

Essentially then, perfectly matched "soul mates" leading to an effortless relationship forever does not exist. Even with the most "compatible" partner, there is still much work to be done. Good relationships require education, "training," and communication of your wants, needs, and desires — which you should have set out in step one. That's why you're setting yourself up for failure if you just jump to step two or three. You've missed the first step of setting the foundation by knowing what you want. You also don't perform the very important last step of educating your partner and seeing whether they are truly right for your specific wants, needs, and desires.

What This Means for Your Dating Life

In order to have true dating success, you need to perform all of the steps in order:

1. Describe Your "Job." Know what you want from the other person and what you are willing to give. Keep the description concrete and behavioral. In other words, dig deeper than general things like, "I want him/her to be loving and intelligent."

If you come up with vague terms like that, ask yourself why. What do you mean by loving? For some, that might mean the partner doesn't cheat (a behavior). For others, that might mean he brings her roses on her birthday (also a behavior). Similarly, "intelligent" can also have many behavioral meanings — from she can discuss Tolstoy, to he can make a million dollars a year. Be specific.

Also, remember to think about what "behaviors" you're willing to give in return. Relationships, like employment, are an exchange. How are you going to "compensate" your partner and keep it fair? (See here for more).

2. Seek Partners. This is easier now that you have a "job description." Think about the types of behaviors you'd like your partner to perform. Then go to where people congregate who perform those behaviors. If you want a partner who "exercises regularly," then go to a gym. If you want a partner who "will stay faithful", then perhaps go to church. If you want that Tolstoy fan, then roam the bookstores or libraries. In addition, if you're into online dating, check out people's profiles for specific features that might "match up" with what you're looking for in a partner.

Attracting an applicant (i.e. getting a date) also becomes easier. You already have something in common! So, just talk about it with them, highlight a common interest, and perhaps even invite them to partake in it with you. (For more on being attractive and getting a date, see here, here, here, here, and here).

3. Evaluate Partners. Consider the first few dates an interview (everyone does anyway). Learn to gently "screen," "qualify," and assess whether the person has the general aptitude and motivation to fulfill your "relationship role" and be worthy of dating. Use personality tests and matching tools here too, if you wish. But remember, this isn't the last step! (See here, here, here, and here for more).

4. Date and Assess. For those who have the general characteristics, give them a "trial period." Date them for a while and see whether they can fill your personal "relationship role." Do they really like video games? Will they actually be nice to your cat? Can they really do "that thing you like" in bed?

All the while, ask for what you want. Motivate, reward, influence, and persuade. See whether they are capable and motivated to give you what you want and need. But remember, they are "dating and assessing" you back. So, give them what they want and need too. Remember to "pay" the trial employee! (See here, here, here, here, and here for more).

When you find someone who performs the necessary behaviors, hire them. That is the goal after all. For those who are "not quite working out," give a deadline (let's say six months). If they cannot or will not do what your "job description" requires, then cut them loose. Find another applicant. If they cannot perform under motivation to keep a "temporary" job, they certainly won't perform well when they have the comfort of full status and commitment.


If you want to date successfully, don't skip steps. Also, don't be fooled by dating fads that promise "one size fits all" or "a single personality test for happily-ever-after." They all miss the important parts.

Instead, figure out what you want. Then find people who might fit and give them a date or two and see. Date those who show potential, tell them what you like, and see how they behave. Hire those who can truly fill the "relationship role" and fire the rest. (Oh, that actually works if you're running a business, too. I've been successful with that model in both "consulting" arenas!)

Until next time,

Dr. Jeremy Nicholson
The Attraction Doctor

Go to Attraction Doctor for more dating and relationship advice and be sure to follow my Facebook page.

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© 2011 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.