I first heard the term, “duty dating” a few years back when I was reading a book by Dr. Patricia Allen. I’d gone through a messy divorce after a tumultuous marriage and after I’d recovered, I decided that I was never going to be in that situation again.
I went on a quest at that point to learn everything I could about dating and relationships. I read every book I could get my hands on and wrote many of my graduate papers at the time on the dynamics of relating well.
It was on that quest that I learned about duty dating.
Duty dating is what Dr. Allen describes as a tedious, often boring practice where one goes out on dates with people to whom they don’t necessarily feel attracted until they find someone that they do.
Duty dating is done for a number of reasons and has a number of functions. The first is that duty dating is good practice; if we’ve been single for a while and haven’t been dating, it’s good to get out and learn how to relate to another person again. Because we’re not super attracted to the other person, there’s a lot less pressure, and we won’t feel as anxious as if we were going out with the person of our dreams.
Duty dating allows us to learn more about ourselves. There are many things that we think we want, and then we get them and realize that we didn’t really want that. Duty dating exposes us to a lot of people, and as we meet others, we will be able to ascertain which qualities we really like, and which we don’t.
It also helps us get clear about who we are in relationship. When we’re dating a lot of people, or meeting a lot of people, we will find new things about ourselves and maybe even discover new hobbies, pastimes and passions.
Furthermore, duty dating helps us learn to accept “rejection,” because that is easily one of the hardest things about dating. People who are duty dating learn that rejection is just part of the process. After we’ve had enough dates who never call again, we learn not to take it personally and just keep going. If, like a lot of people, we take every perceived rejection personally and wonder what is wrong with us that someone didn’t like us (whether we liked them or not), learning this skill is vital.
Finally, as my friend and dating coach Devon Kearns says, duty dating can help us to not obsess over a person we like. Too many people put all their eggs in one basket when dating, and when the handle breaks, they are devastated.
When we’re duty dating, even when we meet someone we like, we know we have options. Keeping our options open allows us to keep our perspective and distance so we don’t get overly invested in someone who hasn’t expressed their desire to be exclusively committed to us. When Devon has clients contact him asking him what to do when the guy they are dating hasn’t called, he says, “it doesn’t matter. Keep dating.”
Dating well is an art form. It takes practice and skills that many people don’t possess naturally. When we duty date, we can learn new ways of being in relationship with others that will help us to cultivate the kind of relationship we truly want.
Duty dating helps keep the pressure off, too—after we’ve gone on a number of coffee dates, it doesn’t seem quite so serious anymore. We learn how to have fun, communicate openly with others, and learn to enjoy another person’s company freely. Duty dating frees us up to let go of our dating agenda, because we realize that not every person we meet will be a good match, but we can still have a good time.
When I was revamping my relationship style a few years back, I went on a lot of duty dates. In fact, I went on a summer-long experiment where I said “yes” to almost anyone who asked, and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had. I made some great connections, made some friends who are still friends today, and even made professional connections that were important to my career. Mostly, I learned how to relate to people in an authentic, honest manner, and how to let things unfold organically instead of trying to force my agenda.
My advice to singles who come to work with me in hopes of finding a life partner is to always duty date. It is easily one of the best ways in which to radically transform how we date, how we relate and the types of partners we attract.
If you’re single, try it. Go on as many dates as you can in the next 30 days and see what happens. Keep a journal and note what you learn after each date. You may learn something about yourself, or you may learn something about what kind of partner you want.
You may never meet some of these folks again, but you may end up meeting someone amazing. You’ll never know if you don’t try, right?
Author: Lisa Vallejos, PhD
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Mirøslav Hristøff/Flickr