Dating With Intention: Meaning And Rules To Set You Up For Success 

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Have you ever thought about what dating with intention means? Well, I have given it some thought. In an instance of serendipity, I came across this quote by author and YouTuber Jefferson Bethke: “Dating with no intent to marry is like going to the grocery store with no money. You either leave unhappy or take something that isn’t yours.” I thought it was a brilliant quote because it so aptly sums up why people date. For many, the intentions for a relationship have marriage as the end goal.  

But is that the only purpose of dating? What about having fun, great sex, tons of new experiences, and a summer fling? Doesn’t all that fall under dating with intention? 

That got me thinking more seriously about intentional dating, what it actually means, and how to be successful at it. And since I am no expert, I got fantastic input from psychologist Nandita Rambhia (M.Sc., Psychology), who specializes in CBT, REBT, and couple’s counseling. 

What Does Dating With Intention Mean? 

The textbook answer of dating with intention or dating with a purpose means entering the dating world with clarity, self-awareness, and purpose. To know if you are on the right path, simply answer the question of WHY you are thinking of pursuing a romantic relationship. Dating with intention provides a fantastic solution to the complexities of modern dating. You enter the dating pool with a well-thought-out understanding of exactly what you are and are not willing to settle for. 

Nandita says, “There are different connotations and meanings when talking about intentional dating. Some would refer to it as ‘old-fashioned’ or slow dating, which allows the couple to get to know each other better over a period of time. This is in contrast to fast or casual dating which seems to be the norm nowadays. Dating with purpose means getting into the relationship with clarity on what you are seeking. Clarity could be whether you are looking for a permanent relationship, casual dating, physical/sexual engagement, etc. This makes it easier to get what you need from a partner.”

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A Toronto Sun report shows that intentional dating is at an all-time high post-pandemic. People learned not to take life for granted and only focus on what matters. The article goes on to cite a survey carried out by Bumble. 

  • 54% of singles have become more reflective about dating
  • 79% of Canadians are embracing ‘slow dating’ for healthier relationships
  • 53% are willing to discuss relationship goals and priorities on the first date

Related Reading: 7 Reasons Why Modern Dating Sucks and How to Cope

What does casual dating mean?

Casual dating doesn’t necessarily look at the WHY of dating. It’s mostly about testing the dating scene and being open to exploration. If you have heard the term “seeing someone casually,” that would describe this type of relationship. Some of its characteristics are:

  • Less focus on long-term goals: The emphasis is on the present enjoyment. Rarely does commitment come into it 
  • Openness to exploration: It could mean having one or multiple partners while enjoying the dating scene. You may or may not seek clarity about what you want in the future while dating casually
  • Zero or negligible emotional investment: This helps to minimize potential heartbreak
  • Spontaneity and flexibility: This allows for unplanned or casual dates

A Reddit user summarizes casual dating so well. “Sometimes you want some company, some sex, a bit of companionship, but you don’t want to meet their family, have social obligations with them, or romantic expectations.” All of this begs the question: What is the difference between casual dating and dating with intention?

Casual versus intentional dating

difference between casual dating and dating with intention
It’s important to determine the type of relationship you want to have

Intentional dating is going into the experience looking for a particular kind of relationship, which is not the case with casual dating. But there are other differences worth noting. We can summarize the difference between casual dating and dating with intention as below.

Casuals datingDating with intention
GoalEnjoyment, exploring optionsCompatibility of values, present needs, or relationship goals
ExclusivityOften not discussed. Both partners are open to seeing othersDiscussed early on. There’s a high potential for exclusivity if both are looking for a committed relationship
Emotional investmentUsually lower with a focus on the presentHigher due to the focus on future potential
DatesSpontaneous and more relaxedMore intentional and meaningful
CommunicationSurface-level and lighter, aimed at funDeeper and more meaningful if it’s a serious relationship in the making. Honest and sincere even if it’s just a physically fulfilling relationship
Casual dating vs. dating with intention

There are rules to casual dating, though. For instance, a basic level of self-awareness is important to know why you are getting into it. Is it because you want sexual intimacy, or you feel no need for commitment, or you’re just going with the flow? Remember, you may get into casual dating and develop feelings. So, dating with intent may be the better solution if you don’t want heartbreak. And there are ways to date with intention to ensure success. 

How To Date With Intention: 10 Rules To Set You Up For Success

When I hit my mid-30s, dating for the sake of it lost its luster. I was ready for a relationship and I wanted a more meaningful connection. Interestingly, dating with intention of marriage was never a top priority for me. But I acknowledged to my friends that I was no longer in my 20s and needed to be more intentional with my life, including dating. So, here are the 10 rules to dating with intent for a successful outcome.  

Related Reading: 11 Types of Casual Relationships That Exist

1. Know yourself

You can’t be intentional about anything if you don’t truly know yourself. At 35, I was pretty clear about my interests and values. I knew what meaningful relationships looked like, and that is what I wanted. No more casual dating based on surface-level factors like physical attraction, good looks, or what my potential partner would offer in terms of a good time. So when you start dating, ensure you have a good understanding of yourself as a person. 

2. Define your dating goals

The first step to intentional dating is to define your goals. Remember the WHY question? I was very clear about wanting a healthy relationship going forward. Past experiences in casual dating were not always satisfying or even worth remembering. I was no longer willing to experience the same things that sometimes left me feeling so alone, unloved, and honestly downright cynical about relationships as a whole. I realized how important it is to be on the same page with my potential partner. 

Nandita agrees. “If you know exactly what you want out of the current dynamic or two years down the line from a potential partner, it helps you avoid wasting time. You get to sift through the riff-raff by intentionally stating what you want. That increases the chances of meeting people who want the same thing, thus higher chances of success in the relationship.”

3. Be upfront about your intentions

Intentions for a relationship
Outlining your relationship expectations will lead to greater happiness

Honesty about what you are looking for with potential partners is key. If you are dating with intention of marriage, lay the expectations down from the beginning. From the get-go, I communicated that I was looking for exclusivity and not casual liaisons. It was hard to see some people I truly fancied walk away. But hey, I saved myself a lot of time, and possible heartache with upfront honesty and clarity on what I wanted.

So, does intentional dating work? A Reddit user summarizes their experience, “Went on countless dates. Never backed down on what I was looking for. Came across my current lover on Grindr of all places. We met, talked for four hours, and didn’t have sex until a month into dating. Been together for almost a year, and he just moved in about a month ago. Seriously, it’s been great. I’m so glad I didn’t settle. He’s hot, thoughtful, caring, a great listener, and extremely emotionally mature (he is a therapist). Couldn’t be happier. “

4. Be your authentic self

I can describe myself as having a few quirks that some people may find challenging, like taking solo trips when the fancy hits. But I realized stifling that part of me to attract someone would not make me happy. Remember, the dating pool is full of potential partners who want the same things you do. But to attract the right person, you must present your authentic self at all times. You might block some amazing connections if you keep your mask on. 

Related Reading: Exclusive Dating: Meaning, Readiness And Rules

5. Create meaningful experiences deliberately

In casual dating, the aim is to have fun, perhaps a quick tumble in the bed and everyone leaves with no strings attached. There are no deep connections or conversations, so you can pretty much do anything. But intentional dating should allow for meaningful conversations and shared experiences. So how about being respectful toward each other’s basic needs throughout the intentional meet-up even if all you both want is sex? 

And if you’re serious about the relationship, instead of meeting at a loud nightclub, how about a quiet dinner where you can dig deeper into knowing each other? I prefer long walks, picnics, or even cooking together with my partner. That’s not to say we don’t go dancing when the mood hits. But we are more intentional about the quality of our dates. And when we are away from each other, we keep the spark alive with some excellent long-distance dating ideas.

I posed a question to Nandita on whether there is a downside to dating with intent. While not necessarily a downside, she cautions against having a fixed mindset or rigidity about the intentions. “There is a possibility of missing out on meeting a good person who doesn’t fit your strict criteria. That tends to limit your social connections.”

more on dating tips

6. Intentional dating requires active listening

Do you know why intentional dating requires active listening? The simple reason is that it allows you to know what your potential partner also wants. This way, there are realistic expectations all around. 

There’s another benefit: In the early stages, some may say they want the same things you do. But with time and active listening, you may pick up on things that tell you otherwise. Some potential partners may even resort to romantic manipulation in order to get what they want. 

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What’s more fun: dating or being in a relationship?

7. Quality trumps quantity

Yes, the expectation is that you will have to kiss many frogs before you find your prince or princess. And that’s fine if you are doing the casual dating thing. In fact, take that time to have as much fun as you can; you don’t have to plan a thing. 

But dating with intent is a bit different. The focus should be on quality connections with partners/dates who align with your values. Once you find your potential partner(s), invest time and energy into knowing them and better. It’s also the first step to building emotional intimacy and bond with them if that’s what you both want.

8. Dating with a purpose means respecting boundaries

From a young age, I have defined how I live my life by creating healthy boundaries of what I will accept or not. For example, I will not accept any form of blatant disrespect like being shouted at or insulted. I outline them to my potential partners and expect them to respect these boundaries. 

I have also asked my dates to tell me what they are not okay with. Setting boundaries is critical in any healthy relationship, even if you are just starting out as a couple. That’s a key ingredient for safety and comfort in any dynamic. 

Related Reading: Building Healthy Boundaries: The Key to Trust and Respect in Relationships

9. Evaluate compatibility with your date

When I started dating with a purpose, I found someone who pretty much wanted the same things I did. The physical attraction was also very much present. That should have been a pretty awesome solution to my intentional dating plan, right? But the problem was that we did not have shared values. He also had what I considered a rather abrasive communication style, which did not sit well with me. It was clear that long-term relationship compatibility was not in the cards for us. 

10. Enjoy the journey

Now that you are pursuing dating with a purpose, it doesn’t mean putting pressure on yourself. There is no timeline for dating nor a penalty if you don’t. Enjoy the journey and look at every experience, whether good or bad, as a lesson. You might not get the partner of your dreams but you can build many other connections as you travel. 

The man I talked about above is now one of my good friends. It did not work out romantically but to date, we get along so well due to some of our shared interests. Sometimes, your dating life doesn’t work out the way you think it will. Learn to be okay with that. Go back to short-term relationships for some fun while you regroup. Or spend some alone time focusing on yourself rather than searching for romance.  

Key Pointers

  • Dating with intent means having clarity on what you want to achieve in the relationship. Your goals are already established in your mind
  • Knowing how to date with intention requires active listening, an open mind, and having a transparent purpose of dating
  • The difference between casual dating and dating with intention is that the former is more about fun and less emotional investment, without having marriage as the end goal. The latter is about defining your dating goals for yourself and potential partners, in order to not waste time and avoid heartbreak

It’s always important to have honest intentions for a relationship. Nandita agrees that it doesn’t have to be all about marriage. It’s okay to have fun and explore your dating life without having expectations of commitment. And once you decide to pursue intentional dating, don’t settle for less, and don’t be pressured into giving more than what you’d discussed. 

Enjoy the journey and do not place any unnecessary timelines on the process. Also, find your people and community with whom you are on the same page with. This would ensure validation and support as well as more success in your romantic relationship(s).

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