Spring-Clean Your Love Life!

Yup, it’s time to dump your emotional baggage, do some emotional housekeeping, and clear the way for romance. Here’s how to do it.

By Julie Taylor

hink about it: When your home is a mess, it’s impossible to find things, think clearly, or get anything done. Well, the same goes for your love life. If your dating landscape is cluttered with emotional baggage, hang-ups, and preconceived notions of how a relationship should happen, it will be impossible to find the very thing you’re searching for: Your ideal mate. So, since it’s the season for a little spring cleaning, we figured we’d offer some advice on how to get your amorous intentions in order, too. Heed this advice to dust off your dating habits and breathe fresh life into your search for love.

Unpack your emotional baggage
First, deal with any unfinished business: Are you still carrying a torch for an ex? You need to
Contact up to 5 people at a time online, and no more.
extinguish it before you can move on to a new relationship. “If you can get closure by talking to your ex, do it,” says Elizabeth Hurchalla, author of Getting Over Him. “If speaking with your ex is not a possibility, write him or her a letter—but don’t send it. It’s important to get those unresolved feelings out somehow.” Hurchalla also recommends trying not to idealize your ex. “Because you’re not with this person anymore, it’s easy to just remember the good times and block out the bad. Writing down a list of pros and cons of your past relationship will help give you a much-needed reality check.

Delete self-defeating dating habits
Look for patterns in your dating life that get in the way of success. For instance, perhaps you have a tendency to pursue attached people—or, like Jennifer Graham, you never seem to like the people who like you. “I noticed that the nice guys who liked me never held much appeal,” recalls the 33-year-old from Tulsa, OK. “But the guys I was attracted to were all jerks. I got into therapy to figure out why I was drawn to people who were so bad for me—and now, a year later, I’ve explored the root of my issues and am dating the nicest guy on the planet.” While a year’s worth of therapy might not be what you need to change your ways, it sure helps to do your homework, advises Beatty Cohan, co-author of For Better, For Worse, Forever: Discover the Path to Lasting Love. “Ask yourself: What was your role in the demise of past relationships?” she asks. “It’s very easy to blame your exes, but unless you identify your own destructive dating patterns, you’ll be doomed to repeat them.”

Lose those unrealistic expectations
If you’re holding out for a perfect 10, be warned, it could be a very long wait, as perfectly wonderful 8s and 9s pass you by. Michael Parada, 38, of Tujunga, CA, wasted years with this unrealistic approach. “People always told me I set the dating bar too high,” he recalls. “I was looking for someone with the perfect body, the perfect personality, the perfect job… and when a woman didn’t live up to my impossible standards, I’d immediately move on.” Eighteen months ago, his brother pointed out that if Michael wanted to realize his dream of having a family someday, he needed to realize that, well, nobody’s perfect—starting with him. “Then he proceeded to rattle off a few of my own faults,” Parada recalls. Hearing someone else tell him the cold, hard truth woke Parada up. “That talk with my brother was a turning point in my dating life,” he says. “I vowed to give each woman I dated at least three chances. That allowed me to really get to know the women I was meeting much better.” He hasn’t found his match yet, but feels like he’s closer—and is finding his dating experience much more rich and rewarding.

Target your prospects more effectively
Many people consider dating a numbers game—and, as a result, end up taking the spam approach of sending 50 identical emails at a time to 50 different romantic prospects in their area. But why so few responses? Because when it comes to love, everyone likes to feel special. “It’s much smarter to be targeted about whom you contact,” explains Evan Marc Katz, founder of and author of Why You’re Still Single: Things Your Friends Would Tell You if You Promised Not to Get Mad. “Never contact more than five people at any given time, and don’t talk to more than three of them on the phone. This allows for more personalized interaction.” When you contact a select handful of singles, it allows you to comment on specific things in their profiles that caught your eye. That will boost your odds of success tenfold,
Make time for activities—a great way to meet like-minded potential matches.
says Katz: “By sending personalized responses, you show you’re someone who’s thoughtful and selective.” And that’s exactly the type of person most single sorts want to meet.

Jettison those dud dates
Perhaps you’re seeing someone who isn’t quite right for you, but who in your mind is better than nobody. Time to lose this so-so suitor and move on to someone who truly feels right for you, says Hurchalla. “In your quest for Mr. or Ms. Right, it’s easy to waste time with Mr. or Ms. Right-for-Now,” she says. “But every second you’re with the wrong person is really just another second you’re not with the right one.” How do you cut bait and let the person down easily? Hurchalla says honesty is the best policy. “Just tell your date he or she is a great person, but you really don’t think it’s the right fit,” she advises. “Most people will be happy you’ve been upfront rather than stringing them along, wasting both of your time.”

Get organized
When you dive into the dating pool online, you’re meeting tons of people at once—which means you’re forced to keep a multitude of facts straight. Being organized about who’s who will help keep you sane—and is certain to boost your odds of dating success, says Alyssa Wodtke, co-author of Truth, Lies, and Online Dating: Secrets to Finding Romance on the Internet. She recommends printing out the profiles of people you contact, along with any correspondence, then creating files for each person. “Be sure to take notes about what each person tells you over the phone,” she recommends. This will help you avoid embarrassing mix-ups. Creating a dating spreadsheet in Excel, like Wes Dixon, 29, of Boston, MA, does, is another option. “I keep a detailed spreadsheet of who I contact, and when, along with relevant info and dates I need to remember,” he says. “This helps me organize my thoughts. Rather than worrying I’ll call someone Kara instead of Sara, I can instead feel confident I have all my facts straight. That way, I can focus on what the woman is saying rather than stress about screwing something up.”

Streamline your schedule
Too busy to date? Streamline your schedule so you have more time for activities that will help you meet someone, recommends Cohan. “If you have kids, get a babysitter one night a week,” she recommends. “If you’re in career overdrive, leave at six a couple of nights a week instead of nine. You might very well be using work as a crutch to avoid having a personal life. But life should be about love and work, in that order. If you’re putting work first, evaluate why, and vow to strike a better balance.”

Once you free up your schedule, put yourself out there. “Recruit a friend to go along with you,” Cohan continues. “Join a club. Go to a play. Give yourself permission to research all the places you want to go, then explore them. Patricia Firestone, 41, of Lahaina, HI, did just that with great results. “Even though I’m a single mom who works full-time, I vowed to devote one night a week to myself,” she says. “I used to feel guilty about spending time on myself, but now I realize it makes me a better mother if I can have some kid-free time to see friends, meet new people, and socialize with others. If you want to meet someone, you can’t use your kids as an excuse to hide out from the rest of the world.”

Jumpstart your love life
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. So if your dating life is not going your way at the moment, mix things up. Freshen up your profile, cutting out any and all clichés. Widen your geographical search. Buy yourself a new outfit. Take some new photos. If you normally meet dates at the same coffee shop, suggest that new tea house around the corner. By shaking things up, you can expect the unexpected… and change your dating success rate.

Julie Taylor has written for Redbook and other publications.
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