They don’t take days to reply and you’ve agreed to meet for a coffee pretty painlessly. They’ve even arrived a little early and you’re having a pleasant conversation. But there just isn’t a spark, that hard-to-pin-down thing that makes you lean in without thinking. Or laugh at their jokes, a little louder and higher than another’s. Or, ultimately, see a future, a marriage, with this person.

Before you write them off, heading home in a whirl of frustration at the dating scene’s slim pickings, consider the following points:

1. Emotions in the early dating stages aren’t always reality

The point of the dating process is to see if your match is right for you, so try not to make any sudden decisions. At this stage, the ‘spark’ is largely infatuation, excitement and maybe a little anxiety. That’s not a reliable state of snap decision making.

Healthy romantic love often takes time, so it’s important to discuss your feelings and goals with any current or prospective partner.

When the spark is undeniably there, it can feel like job done (and a major ego boost). But be careful with relying on banter alone: charisma can be a red flag. It’s important to remember prospective partners are essentially strangers in the early days. Even if you know them already, friends and acquaintances are maintained in a different emotional context. Take the time to get to know your date and go from there.

2. Would you be a compatible couple?
This is a crucial component of a lasting relationship. It saves a lot of time to communicate what you’re looking for, and see if they’re on the same page.

Can you agree with (or tolerate) their politics? Do they want kids? How do they approach money and work? How do they treat people and talk to and about them?

Don’t overinvest without making sure this person’s needs, views and actions align with your own overall.

3. You may not know what you need from a partner
Dating is basically an interview process for your lifelong partner. You need to be clear about what’s important to you, what you are looking for and what your deal breakers are. It’s also important to remain open to change and new experiences, if you want to meet new people and find what works for you. Take moments to think about who you are, what you need, and realise these things don’t have to be firmly fixed.

There’s also no point trying to find a partner… if you’re not ready to! Society tells us we need to be married by a certain age and breaking the social contract is hard. However, it can be difficult to feel the “spark” if you are focused on other aspects of your life.

It can take time to find, never mind assert, who you are and what you want. This includes what you want and need from the right partner for you. Dating takes time, so you can only learn this as you learn more about prospective partners. Try to see where things go.

Our idea of the ideal partner is often rooted in familiarity, but this can get in our way.

4. Relationships Are Built with Time…
While you do get a sense of someone on a date, we all self-edit in the early stages of dating. It’s only when the rush of newness fades that we start to view the cutting room floor. That’s when the personal flaws and conflicts, irritating habits and embellishments show and this is what lasting relationships must weather. It’s very likely a spark is based on a limited perception of your date, so see how your thoughts and feelings evolve as you come to know them better.

When you don’t feel it, remember one of you could have had a bad day. We can get nervous, stressed, or distracted in high-pressure situations. Maybe we’re dealing with work and personal stuff, or it’s our first date in a while. This can make for an awkward date but things can be salvaged with time and grace.

Commitment is built on trust and trust is built on consistency and communication. You don’t need to decide on a commitment right away, so try to see where things go.

…and You May Be Expecting Too Much from Them
Don’t settle but…Settle? Now before you cancel me, or bring up Marge and Homer, settle down, not for less. There’s so much choice online and it’s easy to get too picky, creating surface level criteria to feel that spark. Aside from all the reasons above, this is why that’s a bad idea…

Your partner is going to fail, bore, annoy and upset you. And you will do the same to them. Worse still, the longer you’re together, the more likely both will happen. To be clear I’m talking about unintentional or occasional things – forgetting the groceries, telling the same jokes, a new and recurring argument, or maybe even the way they chew.

A spark is often based in the fantasy of romance, and while this should be a part of your relationship so should reality and the day-to-day.

You should also know that you and your partner may become completely different people. A decade can change a person significantly, not to mention life’s many curveballs that remind us of our impermanence. The spark you want to feel right now is based on who they are in this snapshot of time, though don’t fall in love with potential either. Go by their actions.

For a relationship to weather life’s many peaks and troughs: an approach rooted in realism and what the parties do.

A spark can rob you of the air you breathe and make your voice crack. It can transport you to a future where you’re safe and secure. But to save yourself effort on the dating scene, it’s not enough. An evidence based approach is best, rooted in consistency, communication and complementary styles.

That said, if the feeling is too strong to ignore, then listen to your intuition. There may be a red flag, or you’re really just not feeling it.

Categories: Relationships