Expand Your Dating Pool

Maybe it's been a while since you played the dating game - or maybe you just have never really understood how this whole thing works. Why did the girl with the attractive photos and vibrant smile "wink" back at you online and exchange a few positive emails with you, only to suddenly stop responding? Why did that sweet, sensitive guy who took you out on a lovely date never call you again for a second one?

Obviously, you could have misread the chemistry between you two. But it's likely that the person did like you and see potential with you - just not enough to give up another person they were seeing. That mysterious other person (or people) will probably never be mentioned to you, but that doesn't mean he/she/they are not there. Especially with the help of online dating sites and apps, finding and getting in touch with a lot of potential matches is now easier than ever. People start by talking to multiple potential matches, and ultimately they choose the one that they like best.

If you feel like you are being repeatedly "phased out" by those you are talking to or casually dating, it can be discouraging. However, you need to remember that you have control too. You should be providing yourself with a pool of applicants, giving yourself a variety of personalities to sift through, before you decide who deserves a more serious commitment.

There are three steps of the dating process, and they are as follows:

1. Casual Dating

At this first stage, you should be focused on meeting as many people as possible. Oftentimes, people have a preconceived idealization of who they are looking for, but it's important at this stage to keep an open mind. The man or woman who will be your best partner in the long run may come in an unexpected package! Put effort into setting up thoughtfully written and well-photographed profiles on dating sites, and check and respond to your messages regularly. Go to events and actually mingle and make friends with people you didn't know before. If someone seems potentially date-able, hang out casually. Stop hanging out with those who don't seem as good of a match as others. In this stage of casual dating, it is not necessary to provide detailed explanations and apologies for your decisions - you can simply phase someone out by not talking to them as much anymore. 

2. Exclusive Dating

What happens when you meet someone that you really, really like? Hopefully for you, that person likes you back equally, and you can agree to date each other exclusively. Whether you or are your partner should be the one to bring it up is another topic. However, the bottom line is before you have that "exclusivity talk," you are technically still single. While it may be morally crossing the line to lead others on by exaggerating your feelings for them or making promises you can't keep, you are still entitled to explore your options with them until that special talk happens. Burning your bridges prematurely to put all your eggs in one basket is not advisable. If you do agree to date someone exclusively though, it is now appropriate at this stage to give a sincere explanation to those whom you are still seeing. It doesn't have to be long, but a "Hey, let's just be friends. I'm seeing someone exclusively now, and I want to do the right thing" is an appropriate and respectful acknowledgment of them and the situation.

3. Boyfriend/Girlfriend Status

After dating someone exclusively for a while, it is natural that the two of you should progress to an established relationship. There is no standardized right or wrong time to have that boyfriend/girlfriend talk, but beware of someone who seems to want to avoid labels indefinitely. If the two of you mutually agreed to give up the dating pool in order to exclusively nurture this growing relationship, you have a right to expect your efforts to lead somewhere. It is selfish for someone to withhold the boyfriend/girlfriend title from you while continuing to insist that you date only them. People may try to avoid this stage if they are for some reason ashamed of being with you, think a better person is around the corner, or want to claim an ambiguous singleness. Know that this stage is where a healthy dating process should lead to, and be strong enough to drop your significant other if he/she refuses to reach this stage with you.

Once you know how to date, you will recognize these stages as they come and know the mentality you should have at each one. Balancing your desire to be a good person with your desire to do what is best for yourself can be tricky in today's dating world, but as long as you follow these steps, you should be good to go!