I am not a trained psychologist. This information is completely anecdotal, gathered by being an outsider to the very system that will be described. While some may claim this means an inability to comment on the topic at all, I think that being an outsider and observing others has provided a lot more valid lessons than one would think.
This will be my top thoughts on dating, spread over a couple posts because lets face it I can be verbose. Let's get started!
1) Portion Control
Healthy relationships come out of existing relationships that have been worked on and maintained by two individuals. You cannot "cold-call" someone into a healthy relationship.
If we use food as an analogy, let us say that humans require relationships to survive. Not too out there. We'll say that having a relationship interaction is the occurrence of a meal, and the depth of that relationship is the quantity of food being eaten.
Lets say that you want to make food taste really good. The most obvious option would be to not eat until you're really hungry. The problem is that when you're starving, your sense of taste is completely shot, and so is your self control. Your ability to make smart decisions is gone.
We've all known a guy or girl who goes from being in a relationship that's horrible, to being single long enough to get desperate and try and get back into a relationship even if it's bad for them. They'll also try and be very intimate ans serious right off the bat as well, no easing in slowly.
Contrast this to smaller consistent relationships, which doctors say is actually a much healthier way to eat as well. You never get desperate, but you're never engorging either.
To move the analogy even further - eating the same foods on a consistent basis will provide a greater sense of "full" than when always changing the palette. While this may sound counter-intuitive...when you eat "boring" food, your body doesn't want as much before it sends the "full" signal.
So how does that apply to relationships? It means that instead of sporadic intense relationships to sustain us, we need shallower, but more consistent, relationships and with the same folks. These relationships need to be healthy, and that can be more work to maintain, but in the long run we are better for it.
This is even how things would work in a long-term committed relationship...though the two have become one and the dietary requirements then also change. That said, most actual psychologists will agree that couples need activities they share, and activities they have with separate friends, in order to help maintain a healthy balance.
2) Ends Justifying the Means
The intent for your eating will change what your expectations are for that meal. If you are eating to meet your dietary needs you will pick different things than if you are out for comfort food.
In the same regard, if you date with intent to marry, your expectations are different than if you date with intent to familiarize. This is not to imply sexual familiarity, but emotional.
The feeling of "love" in which you are so enamored of the other person you are willing to look over their flaws is called the "honeymoon period" for a reason - it doesn't last. And this is where the word "love" has become diluted for the sake of our culture's instant gratification desires.
When you love someone in the long-term sense, what it means is that you are dedicated to the relationship continuing moreso than getting justice for the ways you're going to be wronged in the relationship. This is why dating for familiarity is a much better option, because what you are doing is trying to get past the honeymoon period where you're both willing to do anything, and get a sense for who the person is when they're not giving their 100%. Because when you are in a relationship, especially with kids, you don't have 100% to give to the relationship itself. Even though the two are one in a metaphorical sense, you will spend the rest of your lives learning new things about each other and learning to communicate in each others love language.
As a case in point, and I do hope they don't mind me bringing this up, but there are some personality traits that my parents have which push each other's buttons. But until my sister and I moved out for good, the last time they had the time to interact in that way was well over twenty years ago.
So they've had to learn and make changes, and in turn they have an even better relationship because of it. It's that love for each other, in spite of the ways they may infuriate each other, in which their love for each other and commitment to the relationship is more important than being "right" or getting the last word, even though choice words may definitely be shared.
Now, this isn't to mean that you can try to find someone with the least annoying habits, or that you "try before you buy", this means that you need to get to know the specific person when they are comfortable being around you. You need to know how they're going to push your buttons, and you have to decide if struggling with that is worth the effort.
And it's hard to do that when your goals are so far out that you don't have realistic in-between steps. This is why dating for familiarity, for the intent of getting to know someones habits and thoughts, to understand who the person is and how they jive with your life.
The very things that attract you may become the greatest annoyances.
S/he's independent? S/he remains emotionally distant.
S/he's sexy and playful? S/he invites attention from other men in an inappropriate manner.
S/he's quiet or shy? S/he rolls over for the sake of maintaining the relationship at the cost of her own emotional health.
S/he's outspoken and bold? S/he'll say stuff that will push all your buttons in the wrong way.
So either gender can have flaws in the combination of behaviors which may turn things we've been attracted to against us in the long-run. Still, the key isn't in trying to find "the best" as even the same combination of traits in two people will result in two still unique personalities...but the key is in finding the combination that works best and then committing to making it last a lifetime.
The criteria for searching is almost completely different, and in many ways completely predictable...but that will have to come for another day.
To Be Continued...