Near the end of many therapies, when the trauma has been cleared, the distressed ego states have been integrated, and the clients are making concrete changes in their lives, many single clients think about finding a mate. They turn to online dating, which brings up piles of therapeutic issues: "Am I lovable, attaractive enough, capable of finding someone who will be good for me, etc." Here is my best dating advice to them:

  • Come as yourself. You are looking for someone who wants to live with you, not some made-up projection of who you think you ought to be.
  • Think of yourself as an employer, looking for the right employee, for the job of being your mate.
  • Your prospective date is an employer, too, looking for the right employee.

  • Go ahead and "clean up" before the date, but come as you are. That's who you're selling, not a Barbie doll or G.I. Joe action figure.

  • You are not the employee that everyone is looking for. Some people have a specific employee with a specific profile in mind. If you don't fit that profile, you're out. It's not personal.

  • Meet as many people, that seem to fit what you're looking for, as you can. (I tell them that I went out with 120 people over 3 years before I met my husband through a magazine ad, 17 years ago. 4 or 5  of them fit my employee criteria: intelligent, progressive, attractive to me, moral, communicative, funny, financially o.k., not addicted, local, etc. But I didn't fit their criteria. It only took one for mutual employment to occur.

  • Know your criteria. If you keep dating "the same disasterous person", figure out that profile (and, often, which parent that is) and avoid that person. For me it was anorexic guys with personality disorders. They're still cute to me. And I'm so glad that I've got a sane guy, who eats well, now. Be clear on the most important issues (Including that they have to really be into you) and know in advance what's negotiable. (I've got a bald guy now.)

  • Know that you don't have to date the wrong person in order to spare their feelings.

  • And know that they don't have to date you.

  • You may grieve "the ones that got away", but do your utmost not to take it personally.

  • Be methodical in your approach. You're looking for a job. In a job search, you don't stop because you've been turned down. When I was hunting, I answered a minimum of two ads each week. I had a template letter that I modified to fit each ad that I answered, in order to respond. I placed an ad every three months. In internet dating, keep your profile on line. If you're not getting the responses you want, ask your friends to help you update your profile and consider other internet services.

As a therapist, I get to make therapeutic hay out of many dating issues. While clients are dating we may work on self-esteem, self-awareness, assertiveness (just say no!), worthiness, attractiveness, and differentiation. Often, I find that a client's baby ego state is going on the dates, looking for a mommy in the other person. In that case, we turn the baby around until it faces the adult self, and I say, "Look into the eyes of that child. Are you (the adult) willing to be the one that takes care of her, holds her, comforts her, and makes sure she's never alone? Are you going to be her grown-up, 24/7? Does she feel your grown-up presence? Take her on a tour of your adult life: your job, car, apartment, good friends, dog. Let her know that you're the one she needs to turn to. And let her know that you're picking the guys from now on, because she keeps picking the old inadequate mommy/daddy/same boyfriend. . . Are you ready to hug her into you, where she can feel your adult presence holding her all the time? Great. Now when you think about dating, what feels different? Remember, if she pops up and adores someone, that might be your signal to run away as fast as you can."

As you accompany clients through the dating process, keep doing therapy. Look for issues to clear. And sometimes, lending your common sense is adequate. "So which of your criteria does this guy fit?"   "How many of your 'absolute nos' does he fit?" "Is cute enough?" I've seen clients become more assertive, more differentiated, and more sure of themselves in the process of dating. And I've seen many settle down with a "good enough" partner, which brings a whole new set of issues.