Are you starting 2023 feeling disheartened by the dating game, or as if your partner doesn’t give you the respect you deserve?
Have you tried to be kind and caring in relationships, only to end up feeling as if you’re constantly taken advantage of? Does each date wear down your selfesteem a little more, leaving you exhausted and unhappy? I suspect many women will answer ‘yes’ to these questions. If you’re one of them, you need to read my story.
I’m no ‘sexpert’ or vastly confident relationship guru, promising easy answers. But I have found a way to truly enjoy dating without feeling crushed by it — and that is by being just a little more selfish in my approach.
When it comes to love, I was a ‘late bloomer’. In my teens, when fitting in was paramount, I noticeably didn’t. I wasn’t thin like my friends, I was mixed race and, after a childhood punctuated by serious illness, I was marked with surgery scars on my stomach that resembled an incomplete game of noughts and crosses.
Take away toxicity: Author Michelle says the key to successful dating is not to sacrifice too many of your own feelings and needs
When all my friends started getting crushes, I remember thinking there must be something wrong with me.
It hurt even more because, at heart, I was a romantic. I wanted the fairytale, too — the soulmate, the deep mutual love — but the world told me I had no choice. Because I was plus-size and not conventionally beautiful, I would have to accept whoever wanted me.
Little wonder my first relationship was emotionally abusive or that, as the years went by, I ended up dating a slew of awful men. I’ll never forget the ex who screamed ‘you want to make me fat just like you are’ when I fried his egg rather than boiled it, for example.
Or the one who ghosted me, then reappeared three weeks later, saying his dishwasher had broken and his mates had moved in next door ‘so understandably it’s been rather hectic’. When you come second to the washing up, you know you’re in trouble.
Men have been dating selfishly for years — and getting results. It’s time women did the same
Yet I stayed with some of them because I thought I was lucky to have any relationship. Women who look like me can’t be picky, I thought — and I’d sit, phone in my hand, waiting desperately for a crumb of a text.
I think it’s a common pattern among the very many women who don’t fit so-called beauty ideals, as well as the many who do — and it’s not only about a basic lack of selfesteem. It’s about being too selfless, too.
We are taught always to be nice, to think of how the other person is feeling. But when the other person doesn’t care about your feelings in return, this can add up to making excuses for their bad behaviour.
The older I became, however, the more I realised how badly I was being treated and how unhappy it was making me. My dating strategy was broken and would never produce a loving partner.
The selfish dater doesn’t take rejection personally but realises that everyone — even the slimmest and most conventionally beautiful — has bad dating experiences
So, after a period of being intentionally and happily single, I decided to make a radical change. I would stop being the people-pleaser the world trained me to be, the stereotype of the easygoing and low-maintenance woman, and instead do what I noticed the men were doing all along. I would start being selfish.
The word ‘selfish’ holds a stigma because it is associated with the idea that you treat other people badly. But that’s not how I see it. I would do things for others, but not at the expense of myself. When we are ‘selfless’ and care too much, we do things like get married for the wrong reasons or stay in relationships longer than we should, or put up with more bad behaviour than we deserve.
Men have acted selfishly for years. It’s why they plan a date when it’s convenient for them, and text whenever they feel like it. Why they date more than one woman at a time.
I don’t blame them in the slightest. If they can get the same result with less effort, why would they make more? Of course they are going to organise their life in a way that is most convenient for them. The question is, why aren’t women doing the same?
For women, selfish dating — or empowered dating, if you prefer — is the revolutionary idea that you can meet other people without sacrificing self-esteem, self-worth or happiness. It’s the way to make dating work for you.
It was certainly an effective strategy for me. Today, I am in a relationship with someone who values me for who I am and doesn’t call me ‘high-maintenance’ the moment I ask for my needs to be met. Is it the fairytale? I can’t say (I don’t think anyone truly can) but what I can say is that it is far healthier than any relationship I could have imagined for myself ten years ago.
Conventional wisdom says that if you sleep with someone on a first date, the other person will assume that what you’re after is purely casual
Indeed, my whole life has benefited from putting myself first in matters of romance. Today, I am an indemand life coach with 250,000 followers on Instagram, two bestselling books to my name, and a third, The Selfish Romantic, about to hit the shelves this month. I hope it will teach more women to find true happiness, as I have.
Here’s my guide to how you, too, can embrace the game-changing power of selfish dating.
CHANGE YOUR MINDSET WITH A DATING DETOX
For me, the first step towards selfish dating involved the somewhat counterintuitive step of stopping dating altogether. I knew I needed a ‘dating detox’ because the whole business was assuming far too much importance in my life.
My mood had started to rise and fall with each date I went on. I lost the drive and ambition I usually had at work, and instead spent hours texting the latest man I was seeing.
I told all my friends how special he was, although in reality he wasn’t.
A dating detox is what it sounds like — a complete break from dating — and the key to making it work is that it needs to be intentional. Mute or delete the dating apps altogether. Decide how long you’re going to do it for — it could be weeks, months or even years. The point is to consciously choose being single, in order to find out who you are without a love life.
Here’s the real benefit of the dating detox. While actively choosing to be single, you suddenly get your time back, meaning all those evenings with another not-great date are now repurposed as time for you.
Fill them with things you love, or try lots of new things. Plan the next stage of your career. Sign up to study something. I tried axe-throwing and aerial meditation classes.
The point is, the better your life is, the less likely you are to let just anyone walk in and disrupt it. Your standards are naturally raised because you consider it an honour to let someone else share your wonderful life with you.
POST PICTURES OF YOU LOOKING BIGGER!
Honestly. Bear with me. You know how everyone tells you to post your most flattering pictures on your online dating profile? It seems like an obvious move. But let’s be clear here: your profile isn’t meant to snare people who won’t find you attractive in real life, but to do the opposite and filter out those people.
The version you present of yourself should be the one that most closely matches reality because you don’t want to mislead the consumer. You are just asking for additional hurt if you don’t do this.
We are taught that love means putting someone else first, but that doesn’t work for the selfish dater
The fact is, ‘flattering’ in this context generally means thinner, or more conventionally attractive than you actually are. Yet your body is not something to hide and it certainly should not be something you reveal when you first meet someone.
So that means no Photoshop, no editing, no filters, no airbrushing and no weird angles. There are people who will want to date you at your real size.
In fact, I think it’s better to put up some photos where you look bigger than you actually are. That way, you are only dating people who would still be attracted to you if you were 10lb heavier or gained weight.
BE AS DIRECT AS A MAN WOULD BE
There is something fundamental going wrong in the dating world: men are dating one way and women are dating another. When a woman matches with someone on an online app, she often stops talking to other men immediately — or, at a push, waits until a date is confirmed and then stops swiping.
But men keep swiping past the first date, right up until the ‘shall we be exclusive?’ conversation (and sometimes after that). The truth is, most men — and far fewer women — have got a rotation.
Why has this happened? I suspect it’s a result of simple sexism that attaches a moral judgment to women who date more than one guy at the same time. But until men and women both start dating in the same way, the woman will always be the more attached party.
Do you need a dating detox?
Take this quiz to find out if you need a dating detox. The more questions you answer ‘yes’ to, the more likely it’s the right time to take a pause.
- Does your love life dictate most of your conversations with friends?
- Do you get attached on the first date?
- Does your mood rise and fall with the online matches you get?
- Are you more pessimistic about dating than you were in the past?
- When you go on a date, do you compare the person with an ex?
- Do you struggle to be yourself on dates?
- Do you see being single as the worst scenario?
- Does your productivity decline at work when you are dating someone?
- Do you feel completely drained after most of your first dates?
If you answered yes to 3 or fewer… you know how to value your time and understand that dating only works if both partners put the effort in.
If you answered yes to 3 to 6… you may be letting your dates’ needs come first. Taking some time off through a dating detox could help you work out what you really want — and how to ask for it.
If you answered yes to 7 or more… you’re probably feeling pretty disheartened. You’re using so much energy keeping others happy, it’s exhausting. Consider a longer dating detox of a month or more to reconnect with your most basic needs.
The solution is to change the game by getting some detachment. Having several ‘first dates’ lined up at one time slows things down and lowers the pressure of each date, meaning you enjoy yourself more.
I found that it forced me to evaluate the person in front of me, as opposed to just getting hooked on the first potential match. When you have other offers, you don’t put up with flaky behaviour. This way of dating also taught me to end a relationship as soon as I stopped enjoying it.
Dating selfishly doesn’t mean treating other people badly. When I dated two people at the same time, they both knew. I didn’t go out of my way to tell them, but I didn’t hide it.
If someone asked me out on a night when I was going out with someone else, I’d say: ‘I have another date that night. How about Monday instead?’
Try it — as a bonus, their reaction to your direct honesty will tell you a lot about them.
MAKE DATING WORK FOR YOU, NOT HIM
Dating selfishly means making it as convenient as possible for you.
- You don’t need to dedicate a whole evening to searching through dating apps. Don’t worry about messaging him back as soon as possible, or calculating what he’ll think of your response time. Just use the apps whenever there’s a gap in your time, whether it’s on your commute or during the ad breaks of your favourite TV show.
- If you want to start the conversation, do it. The orthodoxy in heterosexual relationships is still that the man initiates an exchange, but you don’t want to be in a dynamic where you are only allowed to speak when spoken to. If a woman starting the conversation is off-putting to a man, he’s the wrong man.
- When you meet, value your own convenience. If he suggests somewhere that’s too far for you, say no and offer an alternative. Dating selfishly means you stop rearranging your life for strangers. You shouldn’t be making sacrifices this early on in a relationship.
- Choose a date you want to go on, so even if you don’t like them, you don’t lose the time entirely — a gallery, an ice-cream parlour or an interesting walk are all treats you’ll enjoy whatever the outcome.
MAKE HIM DO THE LEGWORK
So you’ve asked him out. Do you have to plan the date? No, let him do it! This creates space for him to make more effort.
When a man asked where I wanted to go, I’d often say ‘I don’t mind, you pick’ or ‘Surprise me’. If he didn’t make a plan, I was happy to, but I gave him a chance first.
Fundamentally, it doesn’t matter who asks who out. What matters is that there is effort on both ends — because if there is a discrepancy at first, it will likely be there throughout. Let them meet you halfway and, if they won’t, consider what that says about them.
IS HE TICKING YOUR BOXES?
We are taught that love means putting someone else first, but that doesn’t work for the selfish dater. If you spend the whole time wondering whether you are ticking their boxes, how are you meant to know if they are ticking yours?
Stop obsessing about their opinion of you and flip the situation. Don’t try to impress them; ask yourself if they impress you.
ACT LIKE YOU’RE HOT AND YOU ARE HOT!
I can’t tell you what a difference it made to me when I started walking into a bar and assuming that everyone I found attractive there also found me attractive. Even when I was over a size 14!
The selfish dater doesn’t take rejection personally but realises that everyone — even the slimmest and most conventionally beautiful — has bad dating experiences.
BE MORE SELFISH ABOUT SEX
Conventional wisdom says that if you sleep with someone on a first date, the other person will assume that what you’re after is purely casual. If you wait longer, on the other hand, they will think of you as ‘higher value’.
I understand the psychology behind this, but I also believe people who think this way are the kind of people who like playing games. If you don’t sleep with them until the fourth date, it still doesn’t guarantee they’ll stay after the fourth date.
In fact, there’s no way to make someone stay with you if he doesn’t want to. So take the timing of sex out of the equation. There isn’t a single man in the world sitting around asking his friends: ‘Do you think it’s too soon to sleep with her?’
More important is why you agree to sleep with them. What does it give you? Does it give you connection, intimacy, a chance to relax? Does it give you attention? There is no wrong answer to this.
When you understand your relationship to sex, you can make decisions that are based on what you truly want, not what the other person wants from you.
GET NAKED THE EMPOWERED WAY
With such an emphasis on physical appearance, it’s no wonder many women are so insecure about being naked. They suck in their stomachs, wonder which sexual position is most flattering or feel the need to turn the lights off. But let me be blunt.
If you are fat with your top on, you’ll be fat with your top off. Even with the best Spanx and push-up bras, you cannot look that different in person. They already know what you look like.
If you are naked with another person, accept that the other person finds you attractive!
The truth is, if you’re focused on what you look like, you are not focused on what you’re feeling. Unsurprisingly, poor body image is associated with lower sexual satisfaction and a struggle to have orgasms.
If you can’t love your body, then at least stop thinking about it. Focus on where they are touching you and concentrate on the sensations. And yes, that means training yourself to be selfish in bed, too.
- Adapted by ALISON ROBERTS from The Selfish Romantic: How To Date Without Feeling Bad About Yourself, by Michelle Elman, published by Welbeck at £15.99. © Michelle Elman 2022. To order a copy for £14.39 (offer valid to 19/01/23; UK P&P free on orders over £20), visit www.mailshop.co.uk/ books or call 020 3176 2937.
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