For single people, the last two years have really impacted their dating confidence.
Our capacity for making small talk with someone we haven’t met before has lessened, as we’ve spent more time at home and less time socialising and putting ourselves out there.
In many ways, the stakes also feel higher when we’re older – when we’re looking for a second chance at love.
But the good news is that meeting new people is like a muscle, and by that I mean the more you do it, the easier and more natural and enjoyable it becomes.
Here’s how to prepare mentally ahead of jumping back into the dating pool …
Sort your mindset
One of the biggest mistakes I see with women in the dating world is having unrealistic expectations and not being prepared to flex.
I like to talk about a thing called realistic optimism, which is having all the dreams and hopes and wonder about the future while also keeping your feet on the ground.
Yes, you have every right to talk about what you deserve and think about that positive, nurturing relationship that will bring out the best in you; but you also need to make sure that you’re being realistic and not looking for a partner who is superhuman.
Know your deal-breakers
A genuine deal-breaker is something that is connected to the core of who you are.
It is a value that is so critical to your wellbeing and happiness in life that if someone turned up to a date showing signs of not sharing this value, you could quite comfortably walk away and never look back.
Most people, if they are honest with themselves, have between one and three.
Here’s an example: If your highest value is honesty and you get a sense on the first date that a person is contradicting themselves, not seeing them again is an easy decision.
By committing to those things that determine long-term happiness in a relationship for you, it’s easier to spot a good match.
WATCH: Mel Schilling’s expert advice on MAFS UK. Story continues after video.
Learn to flex
Where it gets tricky is that there is a difference between genuine deal- breakers and relationship preferences.
The latter are those things you might want, but if the deep stuff is there then you will compromise on them.
There are usually eight to 10, and it might be something like “I’d like someone who lives within 10km of me.” And that sounds reasonable.
But I have to admit that when I met my partner on eharmony, I actually muddled up the online dating criteria, and somehow told the system I was interested in meeting someone in another state.
And we didn’t realise until we were a couple of weeks into chatting online and really connecting – so in the end, this was a preference I decided to let go of.
We had a long-distance relationship before eventually moving interstate to be together.
Find your flow
This may sound like a cliché, but it is true: The first step in returning to the dating world is dating yourself.
It is all about going within and getting in touch with your passions and those things that bring you joy.
And that’s because one of the things we know is that when people are genuinely engaged in a flow-state, which is all about playing to your strengths and living your best life, they become magnetic and most attractive to other people.
To find your own fairytale love story, sign up for eHarmony today!
Look back to move forward
One activity I like to do with my clients in terms of emotional readiness is a dating timeline, which is when you map out your life from when you started dating up until today.
On a graph, consider the age you were when each of these relationships happened, and the personal growth you achieved in them.
Ask yourself: What are the lessons I can take from the relationships I’ve been in? How did I contribute to their breakdown? What can I take responsibility for?
Put “He was such a bastard” to one side and use that helicopter view to look down on those relationships and be objective.
Putting your big-girl pants on and considering those lessons in a mature way can allow you to spot any patterns you want to change for your next relationship.
Understand your worth
A great way to enter the dating world again is knowing what you bring to the table. And by that I mean what are your greatest strengths?
As women, we can talk about why someone wouldn’t want to date us all day long. We know our weaknesses so well, but can rarely list our strengths as easily.
A good place to start is authentichappiness.com (run by the University of Pennsylvania), doing the free character strengths questionnaire.
Once you have your top three, try to recall a story from your life where you demonstrated each of these strengths.
And this is the important part, because what you want to share on a date is an authentic picture of who you are, and these stories allow you to highlight positive things about yourself without saying “I’m so great”.
Plus you’re telling stories, which is incredibly engaging.
WATCH: Dating tips from expert Ané Auret. Story continues after the video.
Technology doesn’t have to play a role in meeting someone – it really depends on your time frame.
You have every right to choose the retro style of dating and essentially wait for a date to fall out of the sky and land in your lap.
But what I say to women is: Would you do that with your career? Would you be so reactive and passive? No way!
Online dating sites and apps are really just tools to help you speed up the process.
What a site like eharmony does is use questionnaires to tap into your values and beliefs about relationships – the stuff their research has found actually predicts compatibility – so you wipe out a lot of the first stages of dating.
You’re not going to have people land in your inbox who are wildly inappropriate at that all-important values level.
Rejection always hurts because our self-esteem suffers and it’s very easy to spiral into “What’s wrong with me?”
So when it happens, debrief with your girlfriends and loved ones. Don’t let yourself stew on it alone.
Instead, have a laugh and talk it through with someone who knows you. And when you’re at a point where you feel more comfortable, ask “What can I take from that experience?”
Be clear about what you want
One of the biggest changes in the dating landscape, if you haven’t been out there for a while, is that you can be quite up front about what you want these days.
And by that I mean, if you are a woman who is clear on what you want from a relationship, then you know that you’re going to take one of two paths; you’re heading towards casual hook-ups or a relationship.
For people who say to me they are ready for the latter, I tell them to take those hook-up apps off their phone.
You don’t need the noise – it’s just a distraction that will lead you away from what you really want. The last thing you need is some toy boy coming into the mix and trying to bat his lashes at you!
And just remember that having the courage to take some social risks and put yourself out there is usually all that stands between any woman, of any age, and finding the love she wants and deserves.
Married at First Sight season nine premieres on Monday January 31 at 7:30pm on Nine.
You can read this story and many others in the February issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly – on sale now.