Love Seekers, Level Up: Must-Have Qualities and Why Your Dating Plan Might Be Blocking Your Boo Status by Year's End

We talked to a sex therapist who believes finding true love starts with loving yourself first by “doing the work.”

If you’re submerged in the dating pool and think it’s contaminated with urine, it might be time to re-evaluate your dating habits and past experiences. But if you’re serious about meeting “the one,” this might even include scrapping any preconceived timelines you’ve given yourself. According to Intimacy Moons and Fertility Haven CEO and founder Marissa Nelson, subjugating yourself with an overzealous timeline for love is a toxic trait that could be hindering your journey to wholeness.

“What tends to happen with emotionally focused goals is that when we don't meet our goals, we beat ourselves up, and then we have guilt and shame," said the family and sex therapist. “Then we go on into a shame spiral, when in fact the self-compassion that we need is our own internal safe space to be able to explore and grow into our healing because it's not a linear process. It’s always unfolding.” 

Iris Mannings Photography

Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Marissa Nelson

Nelson –who also serves as an intimacy and relationship expert for the dating and lifestyle app BLK – says this year’s theme for attracting the right mate is to be “Out of your head and into your heart and into your body.” 

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“We're so locked into analyzing, forecasting, catastrophizing, [and] future planning that we are not present, and when not present, you're not getting the most out of every experience that [you could] be learning [from],” she continued. “And you're not getting the most out of your interactions because you're so busy being up here when you should be present, and allow. caught up with Nelson as she laid out her master plan with applicable steps on how being vulnerable and at “ease" by "doing your work” can potentially lead to the right one. What should single people do to prepare themselves to receive love this year properly?

Marissa Nelson: Do your work. I advise daters to show up in their life as they're trying to find love. Unless you do your work, you'll always be tasking your partner, your future partner, or somebody else to fill things within you. That is your own job.

When the work is not done, it shows up in how we treat ourselves and our relationship with ourselves. Perhaps withholding love and affection, touch, pleasure, or joy from ourselves is a huge cue. Sometimes we disconnect from our own body, from our pleasure, and also from ourselves, and when we disconnect from ourselves, we don't believe in ourselves. We're more likely to procrastinate, we're less likely to go after our dreams or our goals. The inner resistance will stop us dead in our tracks. It gets harder for us to have the reality that we desire, even though we cognitively want it. When I say do your work, it is unraveling some of these pieces of who I am and who I am in a relationship. If someone is serious about meeting “the one” this year as part of their goals, what should be their 3, 6, and 9-month game plan?

Marissa Nelson: My suggestion is not necessarily a three, six, or nine-month plan only because healing isn't structured. It might take a while for the unfolding but when the unfolding happens and things start to connect, you can move pretty fast, which you [might] think would take nine months can take two months or a couple of weeks. This could be your year of power, empowerment [and] reclaiming your joy. I think that if we can look at it as a year, we can acknowledge the unfolding of all the ways that all of our actions can contribute to our desired outcome, which is not just the relationship. Finding love is only the first step, but if we're doing all this work along the way, it will prime you for more meaningful relationships and more connected partnerships, which is the goal. What mistakes do you often see people make when looking to get into a relationship?

Marissa Nelson: I think discernment is a huge piece and then being physically driven. Attraction is totally important, I don't downplay that whatsoever, but I also think that what you are attracted to many times comes from your own past lived experiences of what you perceive as attractive. Personality is a big component of attraction, but I think too often I will see and hear stories of people going on dates. Because that person wasn't their 100% physical ideal, they're like “I'm done,” versus taking stock of what matters in a relationship. I have a lot of clients that have hot sex, but they cannot communicate or talk to each other, or they just fight, and they’re spending a lot of time working their way out into repair, as opposed to really enjoying the joy of connection. It's important to be dating while leading with values versus attraction. It has to go deeper than that. With the digital age comes digital dating. What should people keep in mind when looking for love on the apps?

Marissa Nelson: On one hand, it opens us up to a pool of possibilities that we otherwise might not have ever had. The other side we need to be careful with is that sometimes people don't always represent their fullest and authentic selves. I think that can create a trust barrier, where it can reinforce negatively like, “Can I trust that people say they are who they say that they are?” Many singles are putting up a projected version of themselves, and then when you meet them in reality, or you talk to them, the math is not mathing. For those who prefer to meet their next true love in person, what advice would you offer on how to meet single people?

Marissa Nelson: You have to stay open. A lot of times, when you're single, you have expectations about how things are going to unfold. Then, expectations create belief systems in which our subconscious dictates 95% of our actions. We're here from the whole range of the human experience, and I think we would be doing ourselves a disservice by not opening ourselves up and leading joyful conversations and vulnerable interactions so that when we're meeting someone, we are truly diving into the things that matter. If you want to meet somebody, then any time can be a time for meeting somebody. You could be walking your dog [or] sitting next to somebody on the plane. That's the joy of life so we can lean into these thrilling experiences with less analysis to be more present. Sometimes people break up, and then find themselves in another relationship shortly after. Is this good practice (I know what I want) or bad (I'm jumping too fast)?

Marissa Nelson: You got to do your work because you can jump right back on the saddle and if you're hurt, then you might really wound somebody else. It's good to feel the abundance of love and connection and knowing that no matter where a relationship takes me I know that I'm worthy and deserving of love, and I can get right back on the saddle. I also think that you learn a lot about yourself in a relationship. And so a lot of the work that you do individually is great, but you don't see your blind spots until you get in connection with somebody else. They're the mirror. They're mirroring back things to you. On the other side, we might be using relationships as a crutch that’s taking us away from doing the necessary work, and if we're not healed, hurt people hurt people. If you know all you want is to be in non-committed casual relationships with multiple people, how do you let that be known?

Marissa Nelson: Ethical non-monogamy is built all around effective communication that is open and honest because when you are navigating multiple relationships in multiple partnerships if you are not honest, trust issues and jealousy can come to the surface. You always have to maintain transparency with all of the partners you choose to be with.

I also think that you need to have conversations with each of your partners or potential partners about their expectations of your relationship and talk about what that will look like in bringing that person into your life and into your circle. Given that you may be dating multiple people make sure that they can choose with eyes wide open, whether this is a relationship or the circumstance they choose to be in.

If you're going to be intimate with multiple partners, you have to have honest conversations about sexual protection. However you gender identify, [if] you don't want pregnancy to be a consideration or [if] you are family building, then you have to have honest conversations with transparency. What do you say to couples who want to “spin the block” like Nelly and Ashanti? Leave the ex in the rearview, or be open to a second time around?

Marissa Nelson: An ex is nostalgic [because] it is you, somebody you know and care about. You could have been together at a time of your life [when] you couldn't be the person you needed to be in a relationship. Now, you're much more prepared to show up in a relationship. So I can see how that can work and how you can re-fall in love. It's like refinancing a house with a better interest rate.

On the other side, there are reasons why that person is your ex. So [does this person] have traits or characteristics that they had before that didn't serve the relationship? Did it evolve from that space? How much has it evolved? And is it still a roadblock? Has it become a strength for you? Have you been able to harness that so that you can show up fully in this relationship? Or is it still dragging the relationship or the connection down? Who are some of your favorite Black celebrity couples you think are the epitome of relationship goals?

Marissa Nelson: I love Barack and Michelle Obama because they're very open about it [their love] being imperfect, but perfectly imperfect. They have seen each other through some of the biggest professional career highs and lows. The lesson from them is that love is imperfect. Love is going to evolve and [can] change over time, as life will throw a lot of curveballs. Your job is to find someone and connect to them so that you can learn and grow together.

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