Do You Date like a High-schooler? a 5-step Guide to Letting Go of the Past

With Valentine's Day on the brink, think: Is your dating life like a high-schooler's?With Valentine's Day on the brink, think: Is your dating life like a high-schooler's?On Valentine's Day of my freshman year of high school, I went out on my first official date. The boy met me at a movie, carrying a stuffed teddy bear and heart balloons. I was 14, and he'd skipped a grade and had just turned 13. He was almost a foot shorter than I was. It was a scene that my mother, who watched from her car in the movie-theater parking lot, has recounted through snorts of laughter countless times ever since. That moment didn't capture the years of high school and college that followed that he spent tormenting me with insults and sarcasm under the guise of being a class clown or a buddy.

Sophomore year, I went on what I felt like was my first real date. The boy was older (17!) and, I felt, cooler, and the grown-up experience that oozed from his person made him irresistible. But I was mistaken. I thought that meant he'd have a driver's license, would pick me up in a car and probably even pay for the movie. Instead, he would take a cab to my house, ask my dad to drop us off at the theater, and proceed to look to me dopily to pay for the tickets and snacks. You may think that this lead up and then the fact that, when a piece of popcorn fell out of my hand and landed on my itty-bitty boobies, he leaned over, plucked it up and ate it, would sour me on him. But no, I was smitten. And when he kinda-sorta asked me to prom later (and never did follow up by taking me), I still swooned! I liked him and desperately wanted to believe it was a good date. It was not a good date.

I know that now.

Many dates, boyfriends, casual relationships, a marriage and a divorce later, I've come to learn how to distinguish a good relationship from a bad one. Still, I've been at dinners with middle-aged men and felt almost exactly like I did when I was 15 years old: horrified at the manners of the person sitting across from me yet steadfast in my forgiveness and desperation for wanting the relationship to work.

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What's different now is the voice of experience and confidence I have that tells me to politely say goodbye to the popcorn-plucker, prom-promiser and insulting Napoleonic guys -- and essentially, to break away from the bad eggs I've dated in the past.

That's why I've compiled a step-by-step tutorial on how to do just that: to move forward yet take past lessons with you in your dating endeavors.

Here are 5 steps to letting go of that inner high-schooler and becoming your very best dater:

1.) Travel back in time, and think of how it all began.
Go back to the days of doodling hearts and entwined bubble-letter initials. To having our moms drop us off at Olive Garden in the family grocery-getter. To debating whether we are "going out" or just "going together." Feel the newly sprouted mustache whiskers on the face of that kid on the wrestling team. Feel the cloud of sweat surround you as you steamed up your Pontiac 6000 in the Wal-Mart parking lot.

2.) Move forward.
Keeping your eyes closed and maintaining focus, recall what it was like to be a teen and a young adult. I think we have to really get in there, to remember what we were like as a date to a dance, how we felt standing in line next to that one guy from Geometry class at a kegger. From there, step into the 20s and bars and setups. For you, maybe that means recounting that first online dating profile, or running into someone from high school on the train then debating whether -- and how -- to contact that person again.

3.) Bring yourself, slowly and surely, to the present.
Step by step, make your way through the milestones and moments and relationships that brought you to where you are today. What was your last date like? What would you have liked it to be? When was the last time you shined with confidence, and felt gorgeous, sexy, brilliant, with another person? What do you need to do to feel that fire again?

4.) Hold on to some of the past, but let go of those memories that don't support your new mission.
I still absentmindedly doodle my guy's initials when I am on conference calls and get a little giddy-shy when I hear him say my name on the phone. Maybe stop at hiring someone to deliver a balloon arch so you can take prom-like posed photos together, but do let the birds sing and the the unicorns swoop over rainbows once in awhile.

5.) Practice being an adult dater -- even if it's uncomfortable at first.
It's also critical to affirm what has changed -- beyond the red plastic glasses and not needing a ride from your mom all the time. Are you more confident in your curvy body than you were when the hips and boobs were first blooming? Are you attracted to people who have jobs they love and are invested in and passionate about? Reflect on how you've changed, and be proud of the differences.

Then throw in what's hanging on from the high-school girl who could use some growing up too. How can you strip off the shame from traveling home after an overnighter? Why are you still squirmy when someone pays the bill? When is it time to stop accepting insults packaged as humor?

Finally, shake off the life-coachy stuff, put on your good-butt jeans, and order a glass of Chateauneuf du Pape.

With all of this, you can help yourself move into the present and become an age-appropriate dater. It might not be a romantic magic cure, but it'll help refine who you are today when you're on your first date. And you can always kick-off the conversation by sharing a story about your very first official date (after you're done with the popcorn, of course).

- By Jessica Ashley
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