All I wanted was an adoring boyfriend who loved me back.
I didn’t have any intention of becoming more evolved or spiritual. But that’s what happened, and I have my dating travails over the last several years to thank for this.
When too many relationships crashed and burned, I knew I had to find another way.
That’s when I did something controversial in this day and age. I gave old-fashioned courtship a try.
I learned about old-fashioned courtship from two mentors, who also taught me about boundaries and self-esteem.
Courtship provided a structure that gave me more control in romantic encounters. It allowed me to pace relationships.
While dating on Tinder, other apps, and going to speed dating and other singles-oriented events, I followed these courtship strategies like clockwork.
Having better boundaries spilled over into my life, and my encounters with everyone became much healthier. Through courtship and dating, I learned more deeply about love and life, patience, and compromise. About filling up the holes in my soul myself, instead of relying on a man to be Prince Charming all the time. I became my higher self in so many ways.
In a nutshell, courtship is about letting men lead, and learning to receive from masculine men who want to give.
You may think:“This sounds like something from the 1950s. This is ridiculous.”
I thought the same when I heard some women today were following courtship rules.
Old-fashioned courtship seemed too retro for an ambitious Ivy-educated woman like me. I was a hard news reporter who pursued stories. Yet, certain aspects of courtship resonated with me. I realized I couldn’t chase after men as I chased after stories. It never worked out for me.
I’m still that ambitious woman who goes after what she wants. Except I no longer go after men.
Courtship weeded out time-wasters and men looking for fleeting encounters. I was happier in relationships, and men cherished me. Men were bringing flowers and chocolates on blind dates. They were asking, early on, for exclusivity. Men were saying: “I love you” first and introducing me to their friends and family right away.
These are the 11 key things I learned about love and life through my dating adventures.
1. Nagging Gets You Nowhere
In true courtship style, I learned to be soft and more feminine. I led the man lead and rarely tried to change him.
Things didn’t always go my way or occur on my timetable. But when I was more laid back, my relationships flowed better.
Sometimes the urge to control or remake a man or a situation is there. We want what we want when we want it, and we sometimes want to force a man to do something.
I learned to accept everything about a man I was dating. The way he dressed, the restaurants he chose, the way he spoke, his opinions on life.
Occasionally, I brought up safety issues. Other times, if a man wanted me to do something that went against courtship, such as drive to him, I nicely told him: “It would be better if you picked me up.”
The rare occasions I mentioned anything that could be perceived as a criticism, I did so in a calm and unemotional way.
Before I embraced courtship, I offered unsolicited opinions and tried to change men. I thought my motives were pure. But nagging and controlling anyone often stems from insecurity. I wasn’t OK with my life, with the guy I was dating, with the rest of the universe. Instead of looking inside and trying to better myself, I picked on the guy.
If I get the urge to nag now, I ask myself: “What are my motives? Do I care what others think so much that I need to nag my boyfriend? Is this worth starting a fight over? Is nagging going to get me anywhere?”
If the character trait of a man I was dating was unacceptable, I found someone else. Or I altered my attitude, accepting him the way he was, and I learned instead to lead by example.
I became a better and more patient person overall, not only with men but with others in my life. I was my higher self, when with a guy or not.
2. Dragging a Man Into the Abyss With You Gets You Nowhere
While dating a man, I didn’t vent to him about things going on in own life.
I got support from others, so I wasn’t always dragging a guy I was dating or boyfriend down with me.
Once, when I had just started dating a guy I really liked, I was upset about a situation related to my business. I decided I wouldn’t bring it up on our Saturday night date. Instead, before the date, I talked to a friend who understood the situation, and my friend made me feel better.
If I’d brought it up to my new boyfriend, it would’ve ruined our special Saturday night together. We were in that early courtship phase, and bonding too quickly over a problem was TMI.
Sure, I could have used him as a therapist, but dating shouldn’t be therapy. I’m all for being authentic, but dating isn’t about spilling your guts to a man about everything going on in your life.
The work problem resolved itself the following week. I was glad that I hadn’t used our precious date night to let off steam.
Instead, my date and I had fun that night at a cool restaurant on the water, where he made me laugh, and I forgot my work problem.
3. Accept What You Get and Don’t Get Upset
Even when something wasn’t going my way, I learned to be grateful.
For example, one boyfriend was nice but not romantic and a bit cold and withholding. He brought flowers, but rarely. He didn’t hold hands at the movies. The intimacy wasn’t there in other ways.
Telling him: “You’re too withholding and cold for me,” would’ve been an attack on him.
I tried not to let the lack of intimacy get to me. I worked at letting it go, saying: “This is who he is.”
I focused on good things about him. He was caring in other ways. He was never mean or critical. He was reliable and fun, and I enjoyed our time together.
When I felt alone, because our levels of intimacy didn’t match, I tried to let it roll off my back.
My other choice was breaking up, but I wasn’t ready to do that.
One weekend, when he seemed especially distant, I kept repeating loving mantras to myself. I built myself up inside. I knew no man would be my savior, and the mantras helped.
He was ultimately the wrong man for me. But I was proud that I never tried to get him to be something he wasn’t. Forcing a man to be more romantic and loving never works. Even if I’d complained or had a serious discussion about how he wasn’t warm enough for me, it would’ve ruined our moments together and likely would’ve caused fights. If he became more amorous and romantic, the change would’ve only been temporary. It wouldn’t have been the real him. People don’t change that quickly.
When we broke up, I was sad. Even though I knew he was Mr. Wrong, I missed the good stuff.
I tried to look on the bright side, listing the positive things that came from being with him. I knew I would be an even better girlfriend or wife to the next man. I strengthened that gratitude muscle and practiced being more serene with men and in life.
4. Love Isn’t Only About Me
I compromised on little and big things.
I let the guy I was dating pick the movies, restaurants and everything else. If he asked for input, I gave it.
This meant I didn’t always get to do what I wanted.
Maybe I didn’t get to watch Love Actually for the fifth time. Instead, I watched an adventure movie. I found when I let him pick, it usually turned out OK, and often broadened my horizons.
I learned when you don’t control things, in big and little ways, life throws you sweet surprises. If you look at life that way, you always win.
5. Being a Better Friend
Because I never accepted last-minute dates, I was never canceling plans with friends to rendezvous with a man. If a guy didn’t ask me out in advance, I didn’t see him.
Also, when I followed these strategies, there wasn’t as much turmoil in my love life. I became calmer. I didn’t obsess as much with friends about men or problems while dating.
A guy was courting me or not. When a man I liked was courting me, I was happy and content. When he wasn’t courting, I tried to move on fast. I realized I could never control who liked me and how much they liked me. I might’ve been upset, if I was attracted to the guy, but I knew the healthy thing to do was to keep moving.
I learned many men have types, and it’s best to wait for the man who liked my type to ask me out. Many women who pursue men find out he has a girlfriend, is living with someone or is married. By waiting for the right man, I was never confused about whether he was available. I never caused drama with other women.
6. Giving Men Space
Through courtship, you get to see how much men enjoy the pursuit. They love a challenge. They also crave space.
When I began following courtship strategies, I started to respect and appreciate the differences between men and women. Instead of getting angry that they need time in a man cave, I appreciated them for who they are.
By not texting or calling a boyfriend first, or getting into marathon texting exchanges or phone calls with a man, I gave him space. By not blowing up his phone in between dates, I let him miss me.
Our Saturday nights were special. They were something he and I looked forward to all week.
I exerted emotional control and tried to give a man I was dating room to miss me. By doing so, I had time for myself and my responsibilities, including spending time with family, friends, and on my career.
Instead of focusing on him during the weekdays, I concentrated on myself and on getting my life right. I focused on being there for friends and family and not obsessing over him and his life.
Space was good for both of us.
7. Combating Negative Feelings through Journaling, Mantras
Because I never texted a man first, I had to wait for him to text first. There were many times when I wanted to text a boyfriend during the week, for many reasons. To complain about a work problem. Or to say “Hi, I miss you!” Or to ask: “Hey, where are things going?” Or even “Are we on for Saturday night?”
Waiting for a man to text can be nerve-wracking, so I learned coping skills to help with patience. I got good at surrendering and giving up control.
Wondering if a guy is The One stirs up your emotions. Sometimes it’s all you can think about.
I started journaling and using mantras to work through my feelings.
I remember once liking a man so much, when he didn’t text early in the week for our Saturday night date, it upset me. I thought it was over. I journaled and meditated because I needed to combat my nerves. I got to such a good point inside that I knew whatever happened was what was supposed to happen.
Part of my journal entry at the time looked like this:
“Rejection is God’s protection. If he doesn’t call, it’s because God has a better plan. God loves me. It will all work out the way it’s supposed to.”
Rejection is God’s protection,” was a mantra I repeated a lot. And this spilled over into life. I learned to accept whatever life threw my way, realizing there’s a lesson in every setback. I stopped using the word failure. Instead, I realized what I used to think was a failure was a learning tool.
I learned to be comfortable with rejection. I know there are only a few men who I’ll connect with in that special way. If a guy dropped off, I realized he wasn’t for me.
“The right one is just around the corner,” is what I would tell myself.
It’s not to say I was never upset or sad when a cute guy I connected with dropped off.
I’m human, and there were times I got frustrated because I wanted to make things happen with a man. But I realized I was dealing with divine timing. What was supposed to happen would happen when it happened.
When a relationship didn’t work out, I always later found that God was protecting me from something.
8. Faking It Till I Made It
Even when I was crying, I was moving on and taking action.
There were times I wanted to give up. But I knew I needed to keep one foot in front of the other, at all times.
I learned how to fake it until I made it while in a relationship and during a breakup. This is a great tactic not only for dating situations but in life.
After a recent breakup, I forced myself to take action right away. I met men online and in real life. I went to mixers, where I would meet single men. I asked friends who were matchmakers to set me up.
I was sad, but I knew persistence pays. I knew to take action before I felt like it.
I became inspired by famous people who never gave up until they achieved their goal. They never gave up, and neither would I.
This is one of my favorite inspirational quotes, from basketball great Michael Jordan:
I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.
Positive thinking helped me in other areas of my life. I applied it to my business as a dating coach, especially early on, when I was trying to run a business with no business background. I wasn’t sure a creative type like me could turn my passion for helping other women into a full-time job. But just like putting one step in front of the other after a relationship didn’t work out, I did the same in business.
Inspirational stories gave me hope during the dark days when I didn’t feel like taking action.
9. Comfortable Being Very Uncomfortable
Through this process, I became much more confident and less worried about what people thought of me. I had a worthy goal: finding and keeping a loving relationship. That mattered more than what anyone thought of me or my dating strategy.
If someone attacked me for my courtship beliefs, I learned not to care. I know myself and what works for me. I whittled down my tribe into people who had similar goals and high vibes.
Of course, I’m human, and the opinions of certain people matter, but I take criticism with a grain of salt.
I also became comfortable being very uncomfortable. I put myself out there. I went to singles-oriented events and on blind and online dates. I forced myself to meet and interact with strangers.
I became much more confident walking into a room filled with strangers (and cute guys!). By becoming more Teflon in the dating trenches, I became tougher in all areas of my life.
Many single daters are nice online and in real life, but you always get a few bitter apples. I’ve had to develop a thick skin. Every once in a while, a guy lobbed criticism my way, saying something like: “You’re too quiet.” Or a man would make sexually suggestive or rude comments. Or a guy on a dating app would send naked photos. I try not to let nonsense like this get to me.
The alternative is never to leave the house and give up on my worthy goal of finding love. I didn’t let the rude guys dampen my enthusiasm for going after my goal. I believe in love too much
10. Easygoing, But Not a Doormat
I realize some people think courtship encourages women to be doormats. But I learned the delicate balance of standing up for myself while being gentle. This wasn’t easy, and it wasn’t something I learned overnight. I got adept at having good boundaries without being a bitch.
Even though I let most things go, I stood up for myself if something was unacceptable or a safety issue. It was a delicate balance. I was never a doormat.
If someone was behaving abusively or did something I couldn’t live with, I was out of there. Or if they did something concerning but not quite a deal breaker, I mentioned it.
For example, once I was dating a very romantic man who one night lit several candles in his bedroom. He wanted to fall asleep with them on. I wanted to yell: “Seriously? Do you want us to die tonight?” But I nicely said: “This is so romantic, but I can’t sleep with all these candles on. What if one catches on fire?”
I could’ve gotten the message across with an angry and emotional message (and frankly, that’s what I wanted to do in that moment). But I forced myself to stay classy. When your partner’s making a bad decision, being nasty drags the relationship down. It makes it less fun and drives small wedges that lead to big ones.
If he insisted on keeping the candles on all night, I would’ve left.
11. The Beauty of Imperfection
This may not seem like a good thing, but it is.
My perfectionism was about fear of committing to the wrong person. Fear of intimacy. Fear of getting hurt.
I forced myself to accept imperfection in others and myself. I realized that no man is perfect. Neither am I.
I realized I’d be alone if I continued to search for perfection.
Knowing I had a tendency to look for perfection, I worked on internal blocks and fears.
I also realized something essential about love: A man will love me even if I’m not perfect. True unconditional love isn’t about perfection.
Time-wasters Drop Off Fast
When you’re strict about courtship, men who aren’t in it for the long haul disappear quickly.
When you decline last-minute dates, don’t sleep with men right away and when you don’t drive to their houses early on, the men who like you aren’t deterred.
Courtship frees you up to meet men who truly like you.
When time-wasters dropped off, I had more time to focus on my business and finish my dating book. I had time to be a better friend and family member and for spiritual pursuits and self-care.
Courtship Can Be a Lot To Ask Of Modern Men
You need to be the best that you can be for a man to want to court you.
Women today spoil men by driving to them, and by sleeping with them right away.
For a contemporary man to pursue, and jump through courtship hoops, which include driving, paying, calling, and moving the romance forward, I needed to be the best version of myself on the inside. I also needed to be my best on the outsides, too, keeping up with diet and exercise and dressing well.
Spreading the Word To Other Women
These strategies worked so well for me, I wrote an advice column at the news publication where I worked. I became a full-time dating coach, helping other women learn about courtship. I helped them weed out time-wasters and get their fairytales.
I noticed the same thing that happened to me, happened to them. They transformed, too, becoming better versions of themselves on the inside and outside.
Waiting For My Mr. Forever
I still haven’t found my Mr. Forever, although I’ve been with a few Mr. Rights and came very close. (Of course, like most daters, I’ve been with Mr. Very Wrongs as well). I believe it was supposed to happen this way. If at the beginning of this journey, I met and married a great guy, I would’ve ruined it. I wasn’t my higher self back then.
As frustrating as it can be to wait for my Forever guy, I feel like this journey’s part of the divine plan to make me a better person. I’ll be a better girlfriend and wife to the right man when he comes along.
Karenna Alexander is an Ivy-educated journalist turned dating expert. A former hard news reporter, covering high profile criminal trials, Karenna has a graduate degree in broadcast journalism from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. She’s also a former matchmaker, certified by the Matchmaking Institute of New York City, and a dating coach certified by the authors of The Rules books. You can find Karenna on her website or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Image courtesy of Olivier Rule.