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One of my vision-clarifying exercises was to reexamine how I perceived my date's imperfections. (This was tricky because I had the capacity to find fatal flaws before the bartender took our order or the latte got its foam.) Some of the faultfinding was accurate, but most of it was defensiveness and anxiety. So I began to practice grace and charity, to give these near strangers a wide berth, to allow them the sincere, complicated, and glorious humanity that I, too, was working so hard to let out.

Even if nothing resulted between us—the usual scenario—we had shared a reasonable attempt to make a connection. Thinking of us as colleagues and not adversaries helped me relax, and I often enjoyed myself even when no sparks flew.

Just when I was getting the hang of being myself and disentangling nervousness from neurosis, I went on a date that ended my need to date...possibly forever. I didn't automatically write him off just because he got the time wrong and seemed a tad pessimistic and repeatedly pronounced Europe absolutely superior to the United States—in everything from transit systems to architecture and motorcycles. I was cautious but not condemning. I talked to him about my work (all of it) and my hobbies (all of them). He was interested in some, not in others. By the third date I knew which of my first impressions held up (the good ones) and which didn't (the not-good ones). Fate played a part: We were lucky in our timing and fortunate in having great chemistry. But we each made the choice to be ourselves—to be aggressively true to our own strengths and weaknesses, our hopes and disappointments, our clarity and our murk—and that has made the deepest impression of all.

Here's what I learned: In order for dating to work, stop trying to make it work. I don't mean to suggest that you'll suddenly be having the time of your life. I found dating—my three-year bout of it—difficult and challenging and sometimes heartrending. But I was determined to approach it with a gentleness toward myself and the other sorry sot across from me, and to breathe, breathe, breathe through it all. What a difference that has made.

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