Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge and writer of the RELATE-DATING-TIPS column.

Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge and writer of the RELATE-DATING-TIPS column. (Alexander Morozov/TNS)

About two-thirds of the way through every meeting with a new client, I get to the part about what he or she is looking for in a partner. (The first, longer part is dedicated to learning about the client so I can write the best online dating profile possible.) It's very easy for me to tell who is in the right headspace for meeting a partner ... and who isn't. How? By listening for whether a client's list contains qualities they are looking for in a partner versus those who list qualities they are not looking for.

For example, when I ask, "What are you looking for in a partner?" (I try to leave it open-ended to get their raw answers), I might get some of these responses:

- I don't want someone who has a temper.

- I won't want a one-night stand.

- Someone with young children won't work for me.

- No one who's an atheist, please.

- He or she can't have a 9-to-5 job.

The list goes on. When this happens, the first thought that crosses my mind is that this person is not over his or her ex, likely listing qualities that are the opposite of what was present in the last relationship. In general, after a relationship, we assess what worked and what didn't. If you think you want the complete opposite in a person, then I'm guessing not enough time has passed since that relationship. Clearly you liked something or else you wouldn't have been together! Over time, when the dust settles, you'll likely be looking for a mix of similarities that you'd like to carry into the next relationship and differences that you want to change this time around.

Next, when someone lists negative qualities, I automatically think they've had one bad experience leading to this generalization. For example, the "someone with young children won't work for me" person likely had one partner whose young children posed a problem. Does this mean all people with young children are the same? Of course not.

Lastly, when someone has a long list of negatives, it means to me that he or she is more concerned with the person on paper than the person in real life. This person is looking to dismiss potential matches, not let them in. I tell people to keep their eyes open, of course, but to look for green lights over red flags at the beginning. And of course, the minute you start writing negative language in your profile, you'll get negative results.

So let's turn all of these phrases around:

- I'm looking for someone level-headed (or even-keeled).

- I'm looking for a committed relationship.

- I prefer dating people with grown children.

- I'm looking for someone similarly invested in faith.

- It's nice when we both have a flexible work schedule.

Notice the difference? These second statements are open and inviting versus negative and bitter. They talk about the future, not the past. They will work much better online and in life.

So take a moment to think about what you're looking for. And for every statement you make about what you don't want, turn it into one that you do. You'll feel a difference immediately.


(Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps others navigate the often intimidating world of online dating. Want to connect with Erika? Join her newsletter, for updates and tips.)

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