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Dating can be draining, time-consuming, and just plain horrible. Between catfishing, misrepresentations and exaggerations, and the plethora of emotionally unavailable people on the dating apps, the struggle to put yourself out there is real.

The almost 2-year long pandemic has been a blessing to some and a curse to others. Some singles have taken a more intentional approach to dating amid Covid concerns, while others have found it even more difficult to meet someone.

As 2022 draws near, some of you may be getting ready for a fresh start, and “Dating Sunday” is around the corner. 2021 will be behind you, and with a new year comes new hope and a renewed desire for love. If you’re ready to find love, here’s a 9-step guide to maximize your dating potential:

1. Get photos ready.

2. Pick out your outfits.

3. Download 1-2 dating apps.

4. Choose your swipe times.

5. Mentally prepare yourself.

6. Meet IRL asap.

7. Consider the singles around you.

8. Stay present and engaged.

9. Nix the excuses.

1. Get photos ready. If you’re not getting many swipes, start with your photos—you know, ones filled with good lighting and real smiles. I can’t stress enough the importance of this. Enough with the car selfies, bathroom selfies, group shots, and sunglasses in almost every photo. Have 2-3 pictures with a clear, non-blurry view of your face, and at least 2 full body shots. Keep them recent within the last 2 years. Get feedback from your friends on which pictures they think are best. Hire a professional photographer if you need to. Misrepresenting yourself reflects your insecurity, and deception is a bad way to start off a date—so just don’t do it.

2. Pick out your outfits. Pick out your power date clothes. Maybe it’s a shirt that accentuates your broad shoulders, or a skirt that shows off your killer legs, or nice jeans that cinch your waist at the perfect spot. Confidence is sexy—and one of the main characteristics that singles look for in a partner. Because when you look good, you feel good, and it can give you that added boost against first date anxiety. Get input from your friends or go to Nordstrom and ask for help from one of their stylists.

3. Download 1-2 dating apps. Clients will ask me what dating apps are the best, but I tell them it depends on each person. Some people have met their spouse on Tinder, others call it a “cesspool.” Others swear by Bumble. Hinge has marketed itself as a relationship app, attracting singles who are ready to find a long-term relationship. So start with 2 apps and use them for a few weeks. Each has their pros and cons, and you can stick with 1-2 that suit you best.

4. Choose your swipe times. Some of my clients who are single also think in order to maintain a connection, they have to communicate throughout the day—but for most people, this isn’t realistic. Dating fatigue is real. Finding motivation to not only swipe but to engage in conversation and get yourself off the couch can be downright taxing. If you dread something, you won’t do it, so make it manageable by choosing the right swipe times. Instead of scrolling through social media when you wake up or before you go to sleep, connect on the apps instead. If you’re finished with lunch a little earlier, take a few minutes to respond to messages. Play around with your environment and set yourself up for success by finding the times that work best for you. You can even make it a ritual!

5. Mentally prepare yourself. Rejection sucks. I know it’s easier said than done, but do try not to take things personally. You’re meeting all kinds of people in various stages, and some people will not be honest or forthcoming, at least not at first. It can be easier on your mental health if you keep a healthy pipeline of options instead of just focusing on one person at a time (unless you’re avoidantly attached—then don’t do this. For you avoidants, focus on why you should be dating someone as opposed to why you shouldn’t).

6. Meet IRL asap. Once you’ve established a decent connection with a match, meet IRL as soon as possible. An online connection doesn’t always translate to an in-person connection. Picking a partner involves all five senses…how they look, how they smell, the sound of their voice, how they taste when you kiss, whether you welcome their touch or withdraw from it. You can’t make it work with just anybody, even if your online connection is strong.

7. Consider the singles around you. Although dating apps can introduce you to people you wouldn’t normally meet, single people are alive and well off of the apps. Maybe the cute guy in the checkout lane at the grocery store or the woman sitting at Starbucks. Some people abhor dating apps, so make yourself available to meet someone in person. I’ve worked with too many people who are anti-app but when I ask them, “Oh, so you approach people when you’re out?” They say no. You won’t get a date if you don’t put in the effort. Flirt: make eye contact, smile, and see what happens. Use your swagger, not your swipes. If you’re too nervous, take on the mindset that you’re just having a conversation with a stranger. Who knows what will happen!

8. Stay present and engaged. I’m sure every person who’s used a dating app has experienced conversations that go nowhere, a match who doesn’t respond at all, and has met a ghost or two. If you’re on the apps, stay engaged when you’re on it. Ask questions — and answer them (as long as they’re reasonable). It really fucks with people to connect over and over again with zero results—so respect people’s time, and don’t go MIA. If you can’t commit enough time on an app to get to know someone, then find another hobby until you can.

9. Nix the excuses. I’ll date when: I lose 10 pounds, when I get a better job, when all my friends are married and I’m actually alone. You may never be fully ready to date because no matter what, dating requires vulnerability. Acting perfect is a façade—and no one should expect that perfect reality. Life is messy. Love is messy. Relationships are less about being perfect and more about handling the inevitable missteps along the way. Don’t waste time waiting for the ideal time when opportunity could be passing you by.

Despite what Hollywood and Hallmark tells you, love doesn’t just fall into your lap when you least expect it. You have to put in the time and the effort to find the love of your life—which will make a wonderful story worth telling.

As originally posted on Pattiknows.com.