I don’t have to practice being afraid of a lion charging at me—my instincts tell me to run. But when I started dating, my instincts weren’t that reliable when attempting to attract a partner. They needed to be recalibrated. Author Matthew Hussey talks about retraining your (likely faulty) dating instincts in his book Love Life:

One of the love life myths is that somehow love is a special realm where we can be guided by instinct. But this assumes that in childhood we all developed great instincts for every situation.

[As an example], in the early stages of attraction…there’s a temptation to just surrender to the feeling, clear our schedule, and see if they’re game to fly to Paris together. [This is all for a person who] wasn’t even on our radar a month ago. We give in to our romantic instincts and rocket into a realm of fantasy romance.

This instinctive, emotional reaction is similar to what author Daniel Kahneman calls System 1 thinking in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. System 1 thinking is that quick, off-the-cuff response we have for certain situations. Contrast that with System 2 thinking which is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. 

It’s System 1 thinking that used to get me in trouble when it came to my dating life. For example, when partners would pull away, my instincts told me to push more to try to keep them around. Or, when partners I’m enamored with did something rude in front of my friends, I would immediately start rationalizing their behavior as “just one of their fun quirks”. What changed my dating life for the better is when I started to integrate more System 2 deliberate thinking. What changed is when I developed the following heuristic[1]:

My Dating Heuristic → when in a dating context, I ask myself: what would an emotionally healthy person do? Then I do that.


Cosplaying as a mature adult

When I invented my dating heuristic, everything that used to suck about dating started to suck less. Why? Because in asking what an emotionally healthy person would do in any given situation, I gained the ability to view things as if I’m an impartial observer who is not invested in the relationship.

My dating instincts, which were poorly tuned to reality, were recalibrated over time when I started cosplaying as a mature adult.


Mistakes I’ve made that were improved by using my dating heuristic

  • My instincts once told me that I ought to scour the internet to discover everything about a person before a first date. Why? Because extra information could help me impress them. But this typically led to disappointment as it caused me to show up with unrealistic expectations of them. To remedy this, I asked what an emotionally healthy person would do before a first date:
    • Turns out, nothing! No internet sleuthing needed to have a good time[2].
    • Plus, accidentally revealing a date’s personal information they haven’t shared yet would be super awkward: 

Me: “So, uhhh, you ever have any embarrassing moments when you were 10 years old at Disneyland and peed your pants in front of your whole family?” 
Date: “What??!” 
Me: “I’ve heard it’s a common experience.”

  • Another mistake I used to make was trying to win someone over who doesn't like me. Would an emotionally healthy person do that? 
    • Nope! They would shrug their shoulders and move on to the next person.


Leveling up emotional intelligence

Sometimes the heuristic fails because of a perceptual blindspot. If I’m left unsure as to what an emotionally healthy person would do in a situation, I remember that emotionally healthy people ask for help. My friends, or a trusted internet source, can usually close any gaps in my understanding of a situation.

After enough repetitions (~25 dates over the course of a year), I gradually developed good judgment such that I no longer need the heuristic. Today, my instincts are now fully calibrated to that of an emotionally healthy person.

  1. ^

    Heuristics are “mental shortcuts for solving problems in a quick way that deliver a result that is sufficient enough to be useful given time constraints.”

  2. ^

    Maybe for safety reasons, I’ll quickly check online to see if my date is who they say they are. But if I discover this person’s shoe size from studying their digital footprint, then I’ve gone too far.

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An unintended consequence: While writing this post, I realized that adopting this heuristic for my dating life led to it bleeding into other parts of my life. In conversations with friends, family, bosses, I found myself asking what an emotionally healthy person would do in this context and it improved those interactions, as well.


Magnificent, and thank you for sharing! I was curious who your youtube link would be about trusted sources and delighted to see Dr. K's channel on the mouseover.

Why? Because extra information could help me impress them.

I've always been pretty against the idea of trying to impress people on dates.

It risks false positives. Ie. it risks a situation where you succeed at impressing them, go on more dates or have a longer relationship than you otherwise would, and then realize that you aren't compatible and break up. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing but I think it is more often than not.

Impressing your date also reduces the risk of false negatives, which is a good thing. Ie. it helps avoid the scenario where someone who you're compatible with rejects you. Maybe this is too starry-eyed, but I like to think that if you just bring your true self to the table, are open-minded, and push yourself to be a little vulnerable, the risk of such false negatives is pretty low.

I think this is especially relevant because I think the emotionally healthy person heuristic probably says to try to impress your date.

My original intent was in talking about how I shouldn't use information I found online about the other person to try to impress them (e.g., I find out they used to play volleyball, then slip into conversation that I like volleyball). It makes things messy.

What you're talking about is whether one should try to impress their date in general. In this case, my dating heuristic on what an emotionally healthy person would do is up for narrow interpretation. I say 'narrow' because lying to impress someone would be out of scope for the heuristic. But your interpretation (trying to authentically impress and attract someone), I think most people would agree, would be within scope.

Personally, I try to live a diverse lifestyle and let the other person decide on their own if they find me impressive.