Ask Emily: How Do I Attract a Healthy Relationship?

Dear Emily,

Since getting out of a long-term relationship a while back, I’ve been dating around a bit, but nothing seems to “stick.” I can’t tell if I’m just not meeting the right people, or putting out the wrong vibe, or what. But I finally feel like I’m ready for a real relationship again, and all these casual dates are getting a bit old. How can I find and attract a healthy relationship?


Looking for Love 

*       *       * 

Dear Looking for Love,

You are so not alone on this! I feel you: there’s a difference between dating for fun (meeting new people, working your conversation skills, enjoying casual sex), and dating to find a life partner. For the latter, I spoke with Drs. John and Julie Gottman of the Gottman Institute, and they provided some excellent tips, backed by longitudinal research studies. When in doubt, check the facts, right?

Here’s what the science has to say about how to find a healthy relationship when you’re single:

1. Be intentional about WHERE you’re meeting people.

According to the Gottmans, you probably don’t want to do it at a bar. Why? The environment is already working against you, since it’s a space specifically designed for light recreation…not deep intimacy.

That being said, meeting someone with relationship potential isn’t impossible at a bar (or, anywhere else). You just have to know your audience, so to speak. Ask yourself: where do I like going in my day-to-day life, that’s also conducive to conversation? Maybe it’s the gym, where you can chat with someone between workout reps. Maybe it’s a dog park, where you’re sure to meet other animal lovers.  No matter where you go, I want to bring in some advice from Matthew Hussey, and that is to keep your energy open to the world. Aka: don’t go out in public, only to stare at your phone. You’re much, much more likely to meet someone when your energy is outward-facing.

2. Be fairly sober.

Okay, okay… maybe you went to the bar after all—but it’s the “right” bar! As in, a place where you can actually sit down and talk to someone. Although you might be nervous, the Gottmans advise avoiding the temptation to drink away your anxiety. Alcohol is a social lubricant—but it’s also a depressant, meaning if you have too much, you’re likely to lose track of the conversation, get tired, and watch your mood tank. So when you’re scouting for a relationship partner, stay fairly clear-headed. A little is fine, but too much won’t help you with your goal.

3. Ask questions, and be an active listener. 

Have you ever heard the old adage, “the most interesting person in the room is the one who asks questions?” When you lock in with someone energetically and ask questions that help them open up, you instantly become more captivating. Why? Because people love to feel heard, and there’s a magnetic quality to individuals who really listen. Be sure to keep this in mind as you try to find a healthy relationship, as listening will instantly make you more attractive. 

But what do you ask? If this is your first time meeting someone, find a middle ground between small talk and deep, probing queries. Here are three ideas:

  • What’s your story?
  • What excites you right now?
  • What’s the one thing I should know about you?

If this initial conversation goes well, the Gottmans have more question ideas for you, to suss out true relationship compatibility—more on that in a moment.

4. Get a little vulnerable.

Don’t be afraid to meet this new person at their level, and share pieces of your life that you feel comfortable revealing. Assuming this is your first meeting, the Gottmans advise that the best thing is to simply be yourself. Which might sound cliche, but think about it: if you self-present as one thing (an empowered sex goddess, for example), when your truth is a bit more nuanced (yes, you love sex, but after getting out of a relationship that didn’t serve you, you’re trying new things and figuring out what you like), you’re just going to worry about living up to the hype you’ve created.

Therefore, don’t create the hype in the first place! Trust me: someone who’s confident in their truth, and secure enough to share it, is sexy.

5. Experiment with conversation topics.

Let’s say you’ve met someone intriguing, and are headed to a second or third date. Yay! If a relationship is what you’re after, consider introducing conversation topics that allow you both to share your values. You can try the Gottmans’ book Eight Dates: Conversations for a Lifetime of Love if you’d like some inspo; it draws on their years of observing successful couples. But book or no, the main idea is this: you want to start asking questions that help you understand each others’ worldviews, and discover whether you’re a good match for the long haul. 

For these topics, think basic life philosophies, like: what’s your attitude towards work? Are you a driven, ambitious professional, always jet-setting around the country for commitments and opportunities? Or are you more laid-back about it, earning just enough so that you can enjoy your free time? Neither way is “better,” and even if you’re different, you can still enter into a relationship. But as Julie Gottman said on the podcast, all of us are philosophers. And we all have a built-in system of values. The trick is to figure out whether these values mesh together, to form a healthy relationship foundation. 

6. Know that compatibility is a myth.

Finally, here’s a zinger for you: compatibility is a myth! Yes, you want your values to align so that you don’t accidentally fall for someone you don’t respect that much. But if you found someone you were 100%, perfectly compatible with, they would be a clone of you, and you would get super bored. So if things are progressing with a darling new somebody, and you suddenly discover a big difference between you (they love to travel, you’re a homebody), don’t fret. Successful, long-term relationships are the ones that allow for mutual growth and learning, not one-to-one sameness. 

I hope that helps give you some guidance! I think you’re going to quickly notice a difference in the types of dates you’re having, and I applaud you for being so intentional about the process. Good luck!