Dating is like a job hunt in all the worst ways. Both are tied up in all sorts of romantic notions about passion and purpose and the meaning of life. Both can feel like the wait that will never end. Both tend to involve a history of at least one terrible match that was really hard on the ol' self-esteem. Both tend to start with the optimistic feeling that YES, this is finally the one! It's hard to get sympathy from employed/coupled people, in the same way that students have trouble getting sympathy about Finals Week from people who have graduated. If you're doing it right, you're spending at least a little time wondering, Is It Me?
Take it from a remarried person. It's probably not you.
Here's the thing. There IS someone exactly like you in all important respects, sitting alone right now and feeling exactly the way that you do. Introverts specifically have a lot of trouble believing this, but it's true. If you hate going to nightclubs, there are plenty of other people who also hate going to nightclubs. If you're a morning person or a night owl, you have a roughly 50/50 chance of meeting another one. Whatever pet peeve you have, someone else has it too. Most of the things that make a relationship work are not qualities of personality or appearance. They're lifestyle components. When it works, it works because you can be comfortable with each other on a lot of identically ordinary days.
This is the great thing about being uncomfortable "on dates." Dating is a weird, unnatural activity. It's the single thing that makes dating the most like a job hunt: it's an interview! You're both wearing uncomfortable shoes and feeling like you're hooked up to a lie detector. Awkward. If only we could skip straight to the part where we're both just sitting around the living room, trying to decide what to make for dinner. Now there's a speed dating idea - sit on a couch and start asking, "What do you want to do tonight?" "I don't know, what do you want to do?" If you can get through the gauntlet of not knowing each other, within an hour you'll at least be a little more familiar with one another. It is imperative that you BE YOURSELF. If not, who's supposed to be you while you're trying to be someone else? If you act like yourself all the time, then the people who stick around are there because they like you. Trust in that. You have something to offer that nobody else does, which is your unique take on life. There is no other correct way to do this.
The other thing to know is that the objective on a date is not "acquire soulmate." It is to get to know someone and practice being together with someone. The worst case scenario would be that you both walk away with a little more focus on what you do and don't want. I once went on a terrible, boring blind date with a hot, blond, vegetarian firefighter. He was probably the dream date of someone else. We had nothing to say to each other, though, despite our similar dietary preferences. It confirmed for me that there is no replacement for great conversation. You can't force a click, no matter how much you wish for it.
Sometimes you meet someone and "all that happens" is a platonic friendship. This might be a better outcome. Each friend you make expands your social circle. The friend of the friend of that new friend might be the love of your life. What you're really trying to do is to meet more people in general, almost all of whom will stay in your life in a casual, non-sexual way. You'll give each other leads on new jobs or go on road trips together. Maybe you'll trade recipes or cat-sit for each other. Expecting that every connection will turn into romance is too high-stakes, not to mention discouraging.
They say you meet the right person as soon as you stop looking. It's true, but not in the same way that you quit looking for your keys once you find them. You can only meet the "right person" when you stop looking, because "looking for the right person" is an extremely strange way to introduce yourself to new acquaintances. "Hi, are you the love of my life?" "Um, I don't even know you?"
There is no one right person.
Think of it like a pyramid. On the bottom level are flirtations that didn't turn into anything. On the next, smaller level are people you might have gone out with casually or briefly. Next are longer-term relationships that were really painful. Above that are more serious relationships that simply ended. At the top would be the Mutual Admiration Society. There may be people in your Mutual Admiration Society with whom the romantic potential was explored and consumed. You still like each other, while realizing you don't want to live together or be romantic any more. That willingness to part due only to circumstances is what leaves room for The Person.
Not every pyramid is the same height. Putting too many expectations on love tends to cause us to cling to relationships that weren't a strong enough match. We don't get as much practice relating to other people. This is probably true of friendships and family relationships, too. The only way to succeed at loving someone in a romantic way is to also be good at loving people in friendly or familial ways. This is another set of traits that do not involve personality. Patience, compassion, generosity, listening, respecting someone else's boundaries, communicating your needs in ways that make sense, being a good roommate - these are skills. Whether someone puts his socks on the dining table or not is about behavior, not personality. The better we get at behaving in kind, loving ways, the kinder and more loving people we will bring towards us. The more practice we have at being with someone, the more and more likely it will work with the next person. It's not so much who we are as how we act.
A person with a bad temper may attract all sorts of people, but will only keep the kind of person who can tolerate angry outbursts.
A person who expects to be cleaned up after will only keep the kind of person who is patient enough to do this, and probably not for long.
A person who has trouble trusting or needs constant reassurance will keep a different sort of person than a person who is more confident. That could be the same person at different levels of emotional maturity.
Character determines everything. That's why this idea of The One doesn't make any sense. What if The One came into your life when you were both four years old and throwing a fit on the floor in preschool? Perfect for each other in every way, right? How silly. I think instead that there's a potential match for someone at each level of personal development. Think of it as an elevator that stops at fifty floors. A narcissist is only going to make it to the lobby, where the big mirrors are. An ordinarily selfish person may make it to the first floor. Someone who still carries emotional scars from a breakup in their teens or twenties is going to get stuck on a different floor. As we shed our fears and heal our wounds, we go up to higher floors. When we can give of ourselves, when we can think about someone as a person rather than a love object, then we start to see how this whole thing works. Then, one fine day, the door dings, and on the other side is someone who takes your breath away. There you are, you both think. There you are.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.