find your partner offline

Where Do You Seek Your Soulmate? Online Dating is Failing Us All

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Don’t be afraid to fall in love. Be afraid of not having the opportunity to explore your own heart during those moments when it is bursting with passion and joy, as well as the moments when it is breaking with loss and loneliness.

Let’s get one concept straight, right off the bat, I don’t really believe in soulmates. I believe in love. I believe in chemistry. And I believe honest long-term relationships are hard work and a lot of commitments to “turn towards your partner” in times of trouble and stress. I do believe in falling in love. And I do believe you can find a near-perfect match out there. But, I’m guessing you’re going about this “dating” thing with some flawed logic. Let’s explore modern dating and what’s not working about the amazing dating apps.

Where Do You Seek Your Next Partner?

Here’s the first big hint of the day: online dating is not as successful as the dating app companies would like you to think. If you are primarily relying on dating apps to bring you the next awesome relationship, well… You might be spending a lot of your time and effort working a theoretical vein of gold that is actually “fools gold.”

You want to find a partner who does the kind of things you do, and love to do. CHECK. And you want to find someone who’s attractive to you. CHECK. And, finally, you want to find someone who’s honest, loyal, and interested in the same type of relationship you are looking for. FAIL.

If you are using online dating as your primary input funnel for potential partners, you’re missing the larger piece of the relationship puzzle. It might be convenient to browse rather than go out on “hello dates.” It might seem like we’re casting a wider net when we sign up for several dating services at once. And it might be quite entertaining to sort, swipe, hide, and message a large pool of candidates, as your quest moves along. But, unless you are looking for another person who’d rather spend time on social media (or dating sites) in the evening, you might be calling up the wrong type of potential partner.

Where Is Your Next Partner (In Your Mind) Right Now?

It’s Saturday morning. You’ve had your cup of coffee and are ready to take on the day. Do you (a) check your dating sites and see if any new fish were lured in overnight?; (b) get the kids ready for soccer practice and head out the door without a second thought about your “dating” life?; or (c) imagine what your ideal partner would be doing on a Saturday morning? Perhaps, imagining what you would do TOGETHER on a Saturday morning?

In the online portion of my dating quest, I did spend a good amount of time using the sites to seek out attractive (and theoretically available) women and craft some witty “hi, I noticed your profile on Match, and…” message. I sent out hundreds of messages. I filtered and hid profiles that didn’t appeal to me. And I reached out again. And I joined 4 sites/services at once. I was into the idea of “being in a relationship.” And while I was not desperate, there was a desperation to my “fire all of your guns at once and explode into space” approach to online dating.

Here’s What I Learned When I Tried to Find a Partner Online

  • Many of the profiles were fake
  • The women of a certain beauty-level never, ever, ever, messaged back
  • The women who reached out to me were often frightening (OMG, if this the kind of woman who is actually attracted to me, I’m doomed.)
  • After hundreds of messages (90% of them unanswered) and thousands of swipes, my actual pool of honestly attractive and active women (attractive to me – a one-way desire) was very small
  • Finding a woman who played tennis (not just “knew how to play tennis) was like searching for a unicorn
  • Often, “hello dates” were a total waste of time

So, What’s Wrong With Online Dating?

What I found, after spending hundreds of hours and more hundreds of dollars buying flights of red wine at my favorite wine bar, was this: I was no closer to finding my next long-term partner than I was nine months earlier when I started. Sure, I’d been on a few interesting first dates. I’d even had a few sexual chemistry bumps, but nothing I wanted to follow up on. And mostly, I had spent a lot of time crafting my profile, picking cute selfies, and trying to be charming via instant messenger.

I did have two fruitful relationships via online dating, in the nine years, I was single. Neither of them were long-term fits for me. However, both of them provided me a ton of data about myself and what I WAS looking for in my next long-term relationship.

And the main message I learned from online dating: DON’T SETTLE FOR LESS THAN 100%, NO MATTER HOW LONELY YOU GET.

What Do You Spend Your Time Doing When You Are Happy?

My first girlfriend, post-divorce, was via And after we’d been seeing each other for a few weeks she asked me the million-dollar question: “What do you look like when you are really happy?”

I didn’t really know how to answer her at that moment. I said, “That’s a really great question. I need to think about it.” And I thought about it for a long time. I was thinking about it when we broke up as friends, six months later. While this woman was amazing in every way, we didn’t share enough of the daily passions and motivations that were going to keep us together. I did not know this when we started. I knew two things: (1) this is an attractive and honest woman; (2) she is very comfortable showing affection.

What I learned from my friend, referred to in my book as GF-1, was how to appreciate being genuinely adored. I knew I had the capacity. I knew I was a warm fuzzy teddy bear. But I had not felt this level of ease and joy in my 10-years of marriage. I learned that I had to have someone who could just say, “I really appreciate you. Just for being you.”

The larger question that my friend opened up was: what would I look like if I was happy? I was not happy. I was probably still not ready to date, but if I tried to wait until I was 100% stoked, I would’ve never gotten out there at all. The question, what I looked like when I was happy, was a key piece of the puzzle that I came to understand later, after a number of years swiping, liking, and messaging on Bumble, Tinder, OK Cupid, and

If You’re Happy and You Know It

When you begin to get happy in your own skin, even while single, you begin to see the world through different eyes. Rather than a lack (me not in a relationship) I began to imagine the world and my place in it as blessed. “Sure, I’m alone,” I would tell myself. “But, I’m happy today, just as I am.” And much of this happiness came from doing things that I loved.

For me, those things were:

  • Spending time with my two kids
  • Playing tennis
  • Working on music as a songwriter and a band member
  • Writing (this blog, books, and poetry)
  • Taking naps whenever I wanted
  • Walking around the lake with my music jamming

When I started letting go of the “hot pursuit” mode, I began to ease up on my own expectations about when and how I was going to find my REAL girlfriend. I wasn’t interested in dating, or finding a near miss to have a short-term liaison with. My motto was: give me 100% or leave me alone. This was a great tool in navigating the “dates” that I did go on.

If the person I was saying hello to over a glass of wine was not absolutely fascinating, I was not interested in a next date. If the person I was having a discussion with was not able to talk about her own life with some sense of purpose and glee, I was not interested. And, finally, if the person sitting next to me was not asking, “So what’s next…” I was not interested. I was tired of generating all the romance, all of the ideas, and all of the motivation. I wanted a woman who SHOWED UP, and WHO EXPRESSED HER DESIRE TO SEE ME AGAIN.


Where To Seek Your Next Long-Term Partner

For me, it happened on the tennis court. It happened months after I joined a mixed-doubles tennis league. It happened six months after I met this amazing, and single woman, who loved to play tennis.

What I wrote (Actions Not Intentions Will Determine How Long I Am Single) back in 2015, I was still almost three years from meeting my partner. But I got the idea back then.

If I love tennis so much. Perhaps I need to start with tennis first and seek the relationship second. And that’s exactly what happened. And without going into any of the details of my personal relationship, let’s just say after six months of being friends and infrequent tennis partners in the mixed league, we contemplated a relationship. We were already friends. We had already aligned with a tribe of tennis friends. And, according to another woman friend in the mixed league, “We knew before you guys knew.”

What You Look For First In a Relationship

First, you want joy. If a person is of a certain age and hasn’t mastered the art of self-awareness and self-determination, well, they will probably not figure it out as a response to your awesome relationship. You want a partner who is already done the work of growing up and taking responsibility for their own happiness.

Second, you want alignments. Are there things you like to do alone that would be more fun together? Do you want to make time to do them with each other? Are there simple things that continue to draw you towards this potential partner? Are there ways that you find yourself fascinated and in awe of them and their “mysterious ways?”

Third, is the timing right for both of you? As we’ve heard a thousand times, “Time is everything.” Get this idea straight. When the timing is right for both of you, the relationship will present itself. You still have to do the work. This does not mean you get to sit around and wait for the perfect partner to show up. But it may mean you need to meet this person and not immediately pursue a romantic relationship with them. You might just need to show up, be part of the tribe, and see where things go. I don’t think either of us was waiting for the right time. I do think we were friends long before we began to imagine what else we might be interested in becoming.

Fourth, can you weather the storms that will eventually show up in your lives? I write a lot about emotional intelligence, and this is what I mean. When things are troubled, can you find ways to stay connected, stay safe, and maintain an honest dialogue about how to resolve differences? Can you take responsibility for your own baggage (issues that come up) and work on your own problems outside the relationship? Can your partner also pause when things get overheated, and ask to rejoin after a cooling-off period?

If You’re Not Falling You’re Not Learning

In skiing (both water and snow) there is a saying, “If you’re not falling your not learning.” I think it’s a great philosophy for relationships and seeking a partner. In the last five years, I’ve had three relationships. One was an engagement and cohabitation arrangement that had gotten quite serious. In the two relationships preceding my current one, I believe I was able to fall completely and madly in love. I could’ve been afraid or hesitant. But I allowed my heart to lead from a very open and passionate place.

I learned in my dating experience, that I could put everything I had into a single relationship. And if the relationship failed, I could close things out “as friends” and regather myself as a single person. Both times I reset my life, I came back to the playing field with new wisdom. Each deep relationship taught me very specific lessons about myself and what I needed and what I could not tolerate. Without my fearless-love failures, I would not have learned the valuable lessons that led me to “what’s next.” I would not have evolved as a man, as a potential partner, had I not given myself fully to the relationships, and fully to the disappointing demise of each one.

Don’t be afraid to fall in love. Be afraid of not having the opportunity to explore your own heart during those moments when it is bursting with passion and joy, as well as the moments when it is breaking with loss and loneliness.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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My offline dating strategy began with these three posts:

And here are a few more posts about deep relationships:


You can find all of my books on AMAZON.

Dating 2.0

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