How to Date with More Intention, and Why It Matters

By Wendy Rose Gould 

For many, the ultimate goal of dating is to find a meaningful connection—someone who champions you, challenges you, grows with you, and surrounds you with deep affection and love. But how do we narrow down a sea of singles with varying life goals and needs? The answer: with clearly defined intentions.

“When you don’t date with intention, it’s like driving somewhere with no GPS or map,” says confidence expert Erika Cramer. “Intention gives you focus, and allows you to really pay attention to where you’re going and why you want to go that way.” 

Add openness and a true desire to meet someone special, and you’re on your way to a fulfilling and meaningful connection. Ahead, we have guidance on how to date with more intention so that you can enjoy the dating experience and connect with the people you’re seeking. 

First, consider how you’re dating now 

Before resolving to date with more intention, you might want to ruminate on old or current dating patterns. These can help us better understand ways that we might not be dating with intention, for example: 

  • Dating déjà vu: You find yourself running into the same issues over and over again. “In other words, you find yourself in the same relationship, having the same relationship problems,” says life coach and relationship expert Maya Tyler.
  • You’re on different pages: If the person you’re dating is on a different page—maybe even a different book—that’s a sign that your intentions haven’t been clearly vocalized or that you’re sidestepping your own boundaries.
  • Playing pretend: Another way that you might not be dating with intention is if you’re pretending to like things you don’t actually enjoy, notes Cramer. You may try to be likable in order to get a date or have a relationship at all costs, regardless of whether you’re genuinely interested. 
  • Serial dating: Going from one person to another without pausing to ask “what do I want?” is a sign of dating without intention. This may even cause you to experience dating fatigue or burnout. 

Let your past relationships guide you 

Breakups are painful, but they’re an important part of the dating process that’ll eventually guide you to that special someone. “The silver lining to any breakup is that they’re rife with data—data around what works for you, what doesn’t, what your deal breakers are, what you need to prioritize, and patterns you tend to get sucked into,” says psychologist Dr. Andrea Liner.  

Oftentimes, we learn things from our breakups that we would have had no way of knowing before. So in a way, dating anew is less like “starting from square one” and more like starting again with a baseline of experience. Make a list of qualities you’ve learned that don’t work for you, then allow that list to guide you on the things you’re actively seeking. 

Stay firm on your desires and needs

Dating often has a way of making us bend a little bit, especially if we struggle with self-confidence, a fear of rejection, or loneliness. While rigidity isn’t always helpful—for example, you may need to sway a little bit to accommodate a partner’s harmless quirks—it’s important to stay true to your core needs. 

“It’s important to be honest and not alter your intentions,” says Tyler. “Don’t ignore red flags or misaligned paths just because someone is attractive, because you don’t want to hurt their feelings, because you are lonely, or because they seem great and you’re willing to give them a try.” 

Bending your boundaries in this way can lead to a misaligned partnership. Instead, if you find yourself in a situation where your desires or needs aren’t going to be met, remind yourself that walking away is a positive for both you and the other person: It releases you both so you can find someone more closely attuned to your values. 

Clearly communicate your intentions 

Whether you’re interested in settling down and having children or you’re dating to have fun, it’s important to communicate your intentions clearly to anyone you date. This ensures all parties are on the same page and prevents any big surprises down the road, like learning that they don’t want to have kids or that they’re eager to get married within the next six months. 

Have these big conversations early on and make sure to honor the other person’s intentions. Also, it’s helpful to have check-ins to reassess each other’s relationship goals and intentions along the way. “It’s important to know that intentions can change and when they do, we need to accept and be OK with moving on,” says Tyler. “Having honest conversations with your partner about where you are and where you’re heading is the best way to determine if you’re aligned.”

Prioritize your goals and pursuits 

While making a list of what you desire in a partner is important, also prioritize bettering yourself, reaching your personal goals, and becoming the type of person you’d want to attract. In other words: work on building a life you love outside of the dating world. “When you have a highly satisfying life outside of dating, you’re less likely to make space for someone who isn’t going to add to that quality,” Liner says. Not only will you feel more confident and secure in yourself by focusing on you, you’ll also have more to talk about while on dates. 

Dating with more intention requires diligence, but ultimately can allow us to find partners who meet us, understand us, and make our lives more fulfilling.