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Questions to ask yourself before dating someone

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of falling for someone new; everything is exciting and you discover so much about yourself and the other person throughout the entire process. It truly is a magical feeling. However, before you start picturing your life long-term with them, you might want to take a few steps back and evaluate the situation to determine if you really want to start developing feelings. The next time you start dating someone new, ask yourself these seven questions to see if you really should be taking that plunge into a potential relationship.

Before you can even attempt to start dating someone new, it’s best to sit back and reflect on what your personal goals are for a potential relationship. Are you interested in finding something serious, or would you prefer more of a hookup-only scenario? Determining what you want before you start dating someone new is absolutely essential so you can ensure you’re both on the same page. If you don’t know what you want, how do you expect them to know what to give you?

“First and foremost, it’s important to know what you’re looking for—a hookup, casual dating or a relationship?” says relationship counselor and dating coach Samantha Burns. “This impacts how you approach dating and the emotional energy you invest into the process. If you’re hoping to land a new relationship, you should reflect on your love lessons, which are things you’ve learned in your past relationship(s) so that you can become a smarter, more intentional dater moving forward. You should also ask yourself: what are you most proud of and most passionate about? Feeling confident in yourself and being able to speak energetically and engagingly about a topic is a big turn on when dating.”

Remember the popular phrase, “You have to love yourself before someone else can love you?” Well, this applies to knowing what you want out of life, too.

Having a compatible personality with a potential SO is such a key element of a successful relationship. A sense of humor is often something that is listed high on people’s requirements for a SO, so finding someone who can make you laugh is so important. “Nice gifts or fun dates are always enjoyable but the way to my heart is a good laugh,” Hannah, a senior at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, says. “Any guy I fall for has to have a great sense of humor and be able to make me laugh with his jokes.” Before you start actually dating someone, consider their personality and decide whether you two laugh at the same things. If the answer is no, you might want to reconsider pursuing a dating relationship with them.

Even if you aren’t looking for something too serious right now, it’s important to consider whether this person will get along with those who are the most important to you: your friends and family. Successful dates often end with that person being introduced to all who love you and their approval usually weighs heavily on the outcome of the relationship. Try to avoid any negative outcomes by considering whether your crush will get along with your friends and family. “I always like to think about whether my parents will like them,” Kandis, a senior at University of California, Santa Barbara, says. “If I don’t think they’ll get along, I don’t want to waste my time developing feelings just to have to cut things off later. I wouldn’t want to date someone who doesn’t want to come hang out with me and my parents for a casual night in; that’s such an important aspect of a relationship for me!”

We all know college can be an extremely busy time for everyone, and you have to decide whether you can squeeze in yet another thing into your already hectic schedule. Building a new relationship takes time, so you should really consider how much spare time you have to devote to something new. If you barely have time for yourself, you might want to pump the brakes a little and avoid starting anything new. “I always have the busiest schedule, but if I’m interested in someone enough, I’ll make time to grow that connection,” Carmen, a senior at San Diego State University, says. “It really depends on the person though. If I don’t see potential for something serious, I’ll just hang out with them when I can instead of actively making time for them.” Again, knowing what you’re looking for ahead of time is absolutely essential.

Honestly, what’s the point of dating if you don’t see some sort of future with them? You might not need to see wedding bells, but if you can’t picture yourself with this person for at least the next few months, save yourself the trouble and cut ties now. “It’s easy to get swept away in the early stages of a new relationship, when the neurochemical cocktail of hormones, such as dopamine and oxytocin, give you that lovin’ feeling,” Burns says. “This stage can last anywhere from about six months to two years, so to figure out if you’re truly a good match, you’ll want to see how your relationship grows and feels once you’re out of the honeymoon stage. If those smitten feelings wear off and you realize you don’t have a lot in common, have very different belief systems, or you don’t like yourself in the relationship because you’re constantly feeling needy, jealous, insecure or sad, then it may be time to call it quits.”

It might be tough to ask about their core values or beliefs early on in a fling, but it’ll definitely be worth the awkward convo if it saves you from realizing this person has a completely different life plan than you.

Physical attraction isn’t everything, but it is an important element when it comes to dating someone. It might take a little bit more than just being able to daydream about a steamy hookup with this person, but it certainly won’t hurt anything to have that extra connection! “I’ve tried dating the ideal ‘good guy’ but I just didn’t have that sexual chemistry with him…it just didn’t feel right,” Josephine, a sophomore at Arizona State University, says. “Even though he was everything I said I wanted on paper, it just couldn’t turn into anything because I never felt the urge to just make-out with—which is definitely what you need in a relationship!” After all, this is what sets someone apart from just being a casual friend.

Honestly, getting into a new relationship is scary AF. Letting yourself fall for someone new is a huge step, and some of us are just too afraid to even try. One of the biggest questions you can ask yourself when faced with the opportunity to start seeing someone new is whether you’re willing to take that chance of being heartbroken. If that person is worth the risk, then by all means, go for it! Not sure if you’re even ready for something that risky? You might want to err on the side of caution and slowly ease yourself into seeing someone new instead. “I’ve been burned too many times in the past, it’s sometimes hard for me to fall for someone new,” Madi, a junior at Colorado Mesa University, says. “If I think I could actually develop feelings for someone, I make sure they know how cautious I am about it all so they can understand why I sometimes act the way I do.” If they are worth it, they’ll wait for you to be ready.

Basically, being open and honest with yourself about your dating goals and intentions is absolutely crucial when you’re faced with dating a potential new beau. As cliché as it sounds, how can you expect someone to be honest with you if you can’t be honest with yourself? Save yourself (and the other person!) some time and consider these questions before you pursue a new relationship!

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This morning, I read an article that highlighted the reasons people find themselves; or perhaps lose themselves in relationships that are not a good fit.

I noticed myself nodding in recognition as I ticked off the kinds of issues that clients I have seen as a therapist for the past three decades have presented in our sessions. They range from not knowing the person in the mirror well enough to being disillusioned by the person on the other side of the bed.

While it would be easy to maintain my professional objectivity, what remains with me that is fodder for this post is how deeply and profoundly the concepts presented touch on my own journey.

Married at 28, with a history of multiple relationships prior, widowed at 40, following a 12 year “paradoxical marriage,” I have been ostensibly single for nearly 16 years, with the exception of a few short term relationships and friends with benefits interactions.

I could chalk it up to fear of loss and re-creating the worst dynamics of my marriage, analysis paralysis about what I did that contributed to some of the dysfunction in that decade plus two, regret and shame about some of my choices, raising my son as a single parent, experimenting with relationship paradigm options, re-inventing myself, busy-ness with life stuff, focusing on career building and at times, truly enjoying being single and now that my son is an adult, making choices that primarily affect only me.

I could second guess “If I knew then what I know now,” and beat myself up over all of the shoulda woulda coulda’s and believe me, I have.

I would much rather explore and examine, from the perspective of being on the other side of the experience, not just what I want, but what I don’t want, even though relationship experts generally encourage focus on the positive. I am a believer, based on my own personal and professional perspective that I need to clear the detritus of previous encounters in order to build anew.

So many people create new relationships on the wreckage of old interactions. As Joe Jackson sagely says “You can’t get what you want, til you know what you want.”

There are questions I didn’t ask myself in earlier years, both pre and post-marriage and conversations that I wish I had back then. Of course this seasoned woman has had time and life enough to make these queries. Perhaps they would be helpful for you as well.

What do I truly want in a relationship?

Not what someone else thinks it should be. Not family, friends or society. I’ll live with myself 24/7 for the rest of my life and if I choose to blend my life with another’s, that is crucial. My vivid imagination conjures up images of a dynamic, ever-growing “third entity” that combines the sum of the parts of the two of us.

At this point in my life, I have accumulated experiences and life lessons that I desire to share with a partner. I consider myself a wealthy woman since my friends and family are my treasures. The other person has “been there, done that, got the t-shirt” too. Together, we share the wealth.

How do I define relationship?

My current definition involves two people who have a common and merged vision, who communicate it openly and who take steps daily to strengthen and support that bond. As a minister who has married over 300 couples since 1999, I have witnessed this dynamic with many of them. Although my parents came from “different sides of the track,” with divergent socio-economic background, love and that intention sustained their nearly 52 year marriage.

A huge dose of love, fun, affection in word and action, co-creating wonder, thinking of the other person and what will delight them, shared responsibility for maintaining a household, flexibility, willingness to work through “stuff” when things get messy, taking time and space to breathe and respond, rather than react and attack, knowing that we have each other’s backs, open mindedness and openheartedness, creativity, play, spiritual practice, sexual nourishment, mutual support of each other’s dreams (even if they are not in lock step with each others’), are on my desire list.

What am I unwilling to accept?

Control, abuse, addiction, emotional manipulation, my own co-dependent tendencies taking hold, selling my soul for love, financial irresponsibility, lying, expectation that I act as caregiver and primary emotional strength in the relationship and that I clean up the “messes,” literally or symbolically.

It’s my take that relationship breakdown has a better chance of occurring because we don’t ask certain questions from the get-go and instead, make assumptions that love is enough to sustain it. This isn’t necessarily so.

The questions to ask if you are face to face with a prospective partner and if asked of you, to be answered with naked honesty:

What models did you have for loving relationships when you were growing up?

What did you learn from them and what did you learn from those that weren’t healthy?

What did you learn about self love?

How was love expressed in your childhood?

If you were a survivor of abuse, how have you done your healing work?

If addiction was present in your family, how has it impacted on you?

How do you want your relationship to mirror that of your parents and how do you want it to differ?

If someone disagrees with you, how do you face it?

When things don’t go the way you want, how do you handle disappointment?

How do you express emotion, most especially anger?

What was the best thing that ever happened in your life?

What was the worst thing that ever happened in your life?

How do you deal with change?

What brings you joy and satisfaction?

What are your values—particularly social?

How do you take care of yourself physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually?

What is your take on child raising when it comes to discipline and consequences?

When the inevitable dark nights of the soul occur, what sustains you until the morning comes?

What are your spiritual beliefs? (For some who see themselves as atheist or agnostic, what enlightens and enlivens you and from where do you get your sustenance?)

Let’s talk about our sexual desires, experiences and needs.

I am a big believer in full disclosure; knowing that there is a difference between secrecy and privacy. Without necessarily disclosing the names of all previous lovers and interactions, it is important that a partner know if there are others still in your life. Safer sex practices are crucial as well.

If you were in a committed relationship that shifted, how has your heart healed and are you ready for a new one?

Do you remain friends with former partners? (By the way, I see that as a strength if the friendships are healthy and not fraught with jealousy and manipulation.)

How do you balance needs for “we time” and “me time,” so that you nourish yourself as well as the relationship?

How do you use your resources…saver, spender, sharer with money, time and energy?

Do you want a relationship, or do you need a relationship?

Of course, these are inquiries that take place over time and not all at once on a first date. The professional interviewer in me laughs at the Ally Mc Beal internal dialog absurdity of that scenario.

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Do you know your significant other?

I mean, do you really, truly, deeply know who they are as a person?

I’m a victim of the How Trap. The How Trap is when you know how someone is because you ask what they are doing, what they have been up to and follow them on social media, but you don’t ever get to ask the deeper questions. Put simply:

I don’t want to know just how you are. I want to know who you are.

Sometimes we feel like we really know someone, but on the surface we are only familiar with the day-to-day. For example, when my husband and I get really busy, we can go days without asking any questions beyond logistics-type questions. We see each other at the end of the day and ask “How was your day?” and we go through what we did and what happened. We talk about plans for the weekend and updates from friends we saw on Facebook.

The other day, I had this big Aha moment. I realized We were talking, but we weren’t sharing.

I think this happens with couples, friendships and especially parents and their kids. We get so wrapped up in the day-to-day that we are lucky to get to the ‘how are you?’ but we very rarely get to the ‘who are you?’ Especially when you have known someone for a long time, we forget to ask how they have changed. We let the deeper questions fade away.

Psychology Professor Dan McAdams has studied what it takes to truly know someone. He believes there are “three levels of knowing” and that these are the three stages people progress through to become intimate friends, lovers or companions.

    Level 1: General Traits At this level, you get to know someone’s general personality traits. Specifically, where they fall on the Big 5 spectrum: how high or low they are in Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness and Neuroticism. See our overview of the personality traits here. Level 2: Personal Concerns This is where someone gets to know a person’s goals, values and motivations. They also get a broader picture of the decisions and attitudes that shape their life. Level 3: Self-Narrative Finally, when you truly know someone, you know the stories they tell themselves about themselves–how they have made sense of their journey and purpose through life.

The question is: How do you move through these three levels? Level 1 is easy–typical conversation can help you with this. Level 2 can happen naturally as you live with someone, travel with someone and have shared experiences. But Level 3 only can be done purposefully–with the right questions in a safe space. This brings me to the 36 couple questions.

Social psychology researcher Arthur Aron of the Interpersonal Relationships Lab at Stony Brook University in New York developed 36 questions to help people break through each of the intimacy levels. You can do these with your partner or with friends. I highly recommend them to parents and teens. Keep in mind:

    Vulnerability brings people closer. The point of these questions is to have sustained, escalating and reciprocal self-disclosure. Take time having both people answer the questions and truly listen to the answers without judgment. There is no such thing as rapid intimacy. I would NOT recommend doing these all in one sitting. One per dinner perhaps or one per car ride. Take your time, savor them, expand on them and see where they take you. One of my friends and I answer one of these each week. Okay, here are the questions for you. Feel free to print these out or email them to a friend.

Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest? Would you like to be famous? In what way? Before making a phone call, do you ever rehearse what you’re going to say? Why? What would constitute a perfect day for you? When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else? If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the mind or body of a 30-year old for the last 60 years of your life, which would you choose? Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die? Name three things you and your partner appear to have in common. For what in your life do you feel most grateful? If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be? Take four minutes and tell you partner your life story in as much detail as possible. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained one quality or ability, what would it be? If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about yourself, your life, the future or anything else, what would you want to know? Is there something that you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? Why haven’t you done it? What is the greatest accomplishment of your life? What do you value most in a friendship? What is your most treasured memory? What is your most terrible memory? If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are living now? Why? What does friendship mean to you? What roles do love and affection play in your life? Alternate sharing something you consider a positive characteristic of your partner. Share a total of five items. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel your childhood was happier than most other people’s? How do you feel about your relationship with your mother? Make three true “we” statements each. For instance, “we are both in this room feeling…” Complete this sentence: “I wish I had someone with whom I could share…” If you were going to become a close friend with your partner, please share what would be important for him or her to know. Tell your partner what you like about them: Be honest this time, saying things that you might not say to someone you’ve just met. Share with your partner an embarrassing moment in your life. When did you last cry in front of another person? By yourself? Tell your partner something that you like about them already. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about? If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven’t you told them yet? Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have time to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be? Why? Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing? Why? Share a personal problem and ask your partner’s advice on how he or she might handle it. Also, ask your partner to reflect back to you how you seem to be feeling about the problem you have chosen.

Check out these real life strangers asking each other the deep stuff. You won’t believe what happens at the end:

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