To prepare for a sprint triathlon last year, I got a coach, signed up for a gym with a pool and threw myself into training. It became a daily framework and began to overlap with the rest of my life. Swimming was my weakest sport. I wasn’t about to drown, but six months before my race, I was still just flailing around.
Which, if I’m being honest, is also a fair summary of my dating life. I started to wonder if I could apply some of my triathlon training to other parts of life. After all, dating for me is goal-driven: I want a life partner. Yet I’ve applied only a fraction of the discipline to my dating life that I apply to physical training.
Dating is haphazard for most of us. Nobody teaches us how to date. (I’m not the only one who missed out, right?) And trial and error is a heartbreaking way to learn when emotions are involved. Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it did raise my hopes of success. And so I wondered: Can I train to date better?
I tried it. Ever since since the triathlon last August, I have applied 8 principles that I learned from my triathlon training to my dating life:
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▪ Motivate. Take time regularly to think about why you’re doing this, and to determine whether you’re seeing other people with goals that are compatible with yours. After the get-to-know-you’s, the question I often pose on dating apps is: What do you hope to get out of this?
▪ Train. Know your goal. Come up with mini-goals that work for you and do something every day that gets you where you want to go, like starting or continuing a conversation on a dating app once a day.
▪ Rest. Take a day off once in a while to recover and rebuild your center so you don’t get completely consumed by this one goal. Don’t run yourself into a wall by becoming single-minded about your goal and losing the big picture. You have a life beyond training or dating. For example, my limit is one date a week. That’s all the energy I can commit to an effort as big as dating.
▪ Advice. Get a coach, or solicit advice from people who have successfully done this before. If you want to get married eventually, look to married couples who went through a process similar to yours. A really good exercise is getting someone with expertise to watch you do your thing, whether it’s flirting or texting. Feedback, while potentially embarrassing, can up your game.
▪ Partner up. Make sure your partner is working/training as hard as you are. I cannot emphasize this one enough. If you are training with (or dating) someone who is less committed than you are, they will hold you back. A little compromise might be worthwhile if you’re getting results. But if you have a routine that works and theirs is completely out of step from yours, refocus on your goal and say goodbye. They’re an obstacle to reaching your goal.
▪ Celebrate. This is hard. Enjoy it when you can. If you find someone you enjoy spending time with, celebrate that in the short-term. The small things lead to the big things. If you’ve made progress, be proud of it.
▪ Track. Check in on your goals every once in a while. Don’t just keep doing the same thing for six months and then realize you’re headed for a dead-end.
▪ Warm up. Start slow and use intensity wisely. Yes, I’m talking about sex. And deep conversations about your hopes and dreams in life. Personally, it’s hard for me to take a step back once I’m emotionally, physically or even intellectually invested. Don’t jump straight to the 1,000-meter swim or the hard stuff on the first date. Take it slow. You’ll be glad you didn’t strain that muscle later.
Completing a triathlon was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. But dating is probably harder because it takes even more endurance. I measure my triathlon success by the fact that I finished. I don’t expect to “win” at dating, but with my new process I am less inclined to drop out because I got frustrated or hurt. So long as I keep trying, I always have a chance at achieving my goal.