September 27, 2019

I was watching the TV show Transparent on Amazon Prime about a year ago, and one of the characters said something that stuck with me. As Entertainment Weekly recaps the episode, it says,

“Desire isn’t just about getting what you want. It’s about remaining, as Vicki describes it to Maura, ‘NATO — not attached to outcome.’”

The reason I love this NATO acronym is that it consolidates so much of the advice I give to clients in terms of how to view dating, not as a means to an end but more as a dynamic process. Not everyone will be “the one.” In fact, by definition, all but one will be this person. So many of my clients, wanting to find their future long-term partner or spouse, only have this one acceptable outcome in mind. And to them, they see anything short of that—which is most situations—as a failure. This is not how I recommend dating.

Instead, I recommend dating “not attached to outcome.” Not everyone will be compatible romantically, but does that mean that the whole experience was a waste of time? Of course not. For example, one of my best friends is someone I met on Tinder in 2014. Were he and I meant to get married? No. But we love having each other in our lives in a different capacity. Some dates might lead to business contacts… or tennis partners… or partners for our friends.

Many people think of point Z as the ultimate conclusion, whether that’s a long-term relationship or marriage. So, in dating, they have point Z in mind the whole time, trying to backfill into whether this person next to them drinking a glass of wine can fulfill that role. This mindset often causes dates to feel like interviews, which is not a pleasant way to spend an evening.

Rather, I would like people to start at point A—meeting a new person. Maybe that person will get to point D or maybe even point T but not make it all the way to Z. That’s okay. Maybe you needed a D or a T in your life. Try to be open to all the possibilities.

I send a survey to my clients after each date, and below are two of the more memorable ones recently:

She told me she had a great time and we texted all the way from leaving the bar until we got home. There was a lot that I do like about her but not sure this is really an ideal match.

We have a ton in common and he would be great to do things with – but I didn’t feel any physical/sexual attraction. I think he would be a great friend but probably not my ideal partner/husband.

Why were they memorable? Because these two people were trying to use the first date as a benchmark of future compatibility instead of simply having a good time and planning a second date to see if there is more of a connection. Remember that going on a second date with someone who is a “maybe” does not commit you to anything other than a second date! It’s not leading someone on to go on another date “just to see.” The whole point of dating is to see if there’s compatibility. Often, we simply can’t know that after one interaction. A NATO attitude would help here. And this advice is not limited to either gender.

So, continue going on your dates, but try to take the pressure off of yourself to assess everyone’s long-term compatibility. While that may be the ultimate goal, remember that there can be small wins in the process, if you’re willing to open yourself up to them.

Looking for “The One”? Try Dating NATO.

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