When Kindness Meets Dating

Crystal Jackson

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Kindness is highly underrated when it comes to dating and relationships. Some of the most complained-about dating behaviors are also the cruelest and most unnecessary. Ghosting is a prime example. It’s not pleasant, but it’s certainly easy enough to tell someone that we’re no longer interested, don’t feel like they’re a good match, or simply that we plan to move on. Ghosting isn’t kind, and it often does damage to those who are suddenly abandoned without explanation or closure.

Ghosting is far from the only example of how unkind behavior manifests in the wide world of dating and relationships. We also see it in the messages we send and receive, the assumptions we make, the way we objectify other human beings, and the games we play. Unkindness is prevalent — but it doesn’t have to be.

I believe that cultivating kindness is an easy life hack for better dating experiences.

Anonymity and Distance Pose a Problem

Part of the problem is that we’re often separated by technology. The worst parts of our character can thrive within the anonymity that comes with distance. It’s easier to be hurtful when we don’t have to see someone’s face and remember their humanity.

Too many people act as though it doesn’t matter whether or not they are compassionate to strangers on the internet. It isn’t seen as a necessary part of online interactions. Yet, I believe that cultivating kindness is the ultimate life hack for better dating experiences.

Be the Match You Wish To See in the World

We may not be able to individually change the culture when it comes to dating, but we can charge our contributions to that culture. I am trying to do the thing that most religions and spiritual practices teach us: to treat others the way that I would like to be treated.

Before I’d worked on my trauma in therapy, I was just as guilty as anyone else of jumping to conclusions and assuming the worst of my fellow human beings. Sometimes, that’s understandable when we find ourselves on the receiving end of absolutely abhorrent online dating behaviors, but the healed version of me now sees the walking wounded everywhere. I don’t assume that every person I meet has nefarious intentions; I assume that most of the poor choices I witness are likely due to unhealed trauma.

I am trying to do the thing that most religions and spiritual practices teach us: to treat others the way that I would like to be treated.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to date or partner that unhealed trauma, but it does mean that I can meet it with kindness. In the most extreme examples, that kindness might look like blocking the interaction to take away their outlet to cause pain. Often, it just looks like responding calmly and remembering that every person I encounter deserves basic courtesy and respect.

It doesn’t matter if we’re looking for casual hookups or lifelong relationships; the very least we can do when connecting with other people is to show them the kindness we would like to receive. When we start to look at dating from this perspective, we might re-think what we say, how we say it, and even our response times. We may begin to remove dehumanizing, demeaning language from our repertoire and begin to genuinely connect with others.

Being Kind Encourages Reciprocation But Doesn’t Demand It

There’s a common misconception that extending kindness entitles us to be considered as potential partners. We don’t treat other people with kindness because of what we can get for them but because it’s the right thing to do. The reality is that we can’t even guarantee that our kindness will be reciprocated at all. We cannot control other people’s actions, but we can choose how we respond to them.

Being kind encourages other people to be kind, too. It’s easy to see why. When we react rather than respond to others, their reactions often reflect our own. Anger begets anger.

Being calm and kind won’t always garner an equally measured response, but sometimes it does. I’ve had so many healthy conversations with people that I didn’t feel a connection with because I was both honest and kind — and they were, too. It’s that simple. Why do we make it so hard?

It’s strange how intentionally being kinder to others has altered my perception of dating. I used to get on the dating apps and laugh at some of the profiles I’d encounter. I made a lot of judgments, often harsh. Now, I see each person as a fellow human being looking for love or connection. I don’t assume the worst automatically. I assume most people are trying to find that elusive connection we all want. It’s just that some of us sabotage it along the way with our unhealed wounds and poor choices.

Being Kind Has Scientifically-Proven Benefits

Although I think we should be kind because it’s the right thing to do, kindness also has many health benefits. It boosts endorphins that reduce our pain. It contributes to stronger levels of serotonin and dopamine, which are linked to better mood and perceived life satisfaction. It increases our empathy and self-esteem and has been linked to a longer lifespan. It can even lower our stress. Even if someone doesn’t respond to our kindness with their own, we still get these mental and physical health benefits.

Being Kind is a Lifelong Practice

Anyone who knows me knows that I have no chill and a quick temper. I have been known to smite trolls on the Internet with a swift and sharp-edged retort. Being kind and compassionate is a practice I cultivate because I’ve finally reached a point of healing where I understand that angry responses don’t touch hearts or change minds. They don’t make me stronger or better. It doesn’t mean I’ll never again smite a troll, but it does mean that I’ll choose kindness more often than not.

Kindness really is a dating life hack. It adjusts our standards. When we choose to show other people basic courtesy, we start noticing when others disregard it. The date who treats a server poorly falls in our estimation. The online match who has nothing good to say about anyone or anything throws up red flags that put a stop to the interaction.

Being kind and compassionate is a practice I cultivate because I’ve finally reached a point of healing where I understand that angry responses don’t touch hearts or change minds.

At the same time, we start noticing more dating green flags. We honor vulnerability, appreciate honesty, and pay attention when someone is kind — especially when they are stressed, uncomfortable, or facing confrontation. We may even find that we attract more kindness because that’s what we put out in the world — or maybe it’s just that we no longer choose to engage with those who lack common courtesy.

Either way, dating gets better — or we do.

How to Cultivate Kindness

#1 Remember that it’s difficult to show kindness to others when we don’t extend it to ourselves.

Therapy is a good starting point for anyone who wants to practice kindness. It’s important to work on our own baggage so that we can learn to better communicate, resolve conflict, and create stronger boundaries. The practice of self-compassion is a good first step to becoming a kinder person.

#2 Pair honesty with kindness for best results.

We can be kind without being honest and honest without being kind — but it’s better to do both. Dating would be immeasurably better if this was practiced more often. Saying “I’m not ready to date right now” might seem kind, but when we really mean “I just don’t want to date YOU”, is it really?

It would be more kind to say that we don’t feel that someone is a good match for us rather than giving them the brushoff that they won’t really believe anyway, especially when they continue to see our active profile on a dating app. Being honest doesn’t have to be brutal, and a kind lie really isn’t kind at all.

#3 Be accountable.

If we really want to make our dating experiences better, we need to shift the focus to our own behavior. When I started interacting with more kindness, I found that I had fewer negative dating experiences. Of course, part of the reason is that I’m now more aware of red flags and screen them out. Still, my focus is on making sure that my behavior aligns with my core values, which include kindness.

In short, I am learning to honor other people, but I focus on myself. I make sure my behavior is reflective of who I am, not how other people treat me. It won’t change the wider culture, but it certainly changes my personal interactions.

#4 Consider how we want to be treated.

I also ask myself how I would like to be treated. I apply that answer to the way I treat others. I opt for kindness. I opt for non-judgment. I make sure that I’m giving the energy I’d like to receive whether or not I receive it.

People want to say that dating is what it is, but I think it’s what we make of it. I’m choosing to be kind — not because it entitles me to better treatment but it certainly encourages it. Moreover, it gives me comfort to know that I am not contributing to the modern shit show of dating by throwing my unkindness on top of all the others.

#5 Be curious, not judgmental.

Instead of focusing on all the bad behaviors I see in dating, I’ve gotten better about observing with curiosity and then making a judgment about how I want to proceed based on what I want and need. I don’t ghost people. I’m honest when I think someone doesn’t seem like a good match for me. When someone else shares they want to move on, I don’t try to convince them they’re wrong or try to make them shift their boundary to accommodate my preferences.

I’m truly listening to what other people tell me about themselves without trying to twist it to suit my preferences. Curiosity lends itself to compassion. Judgment lends itself to unkindness. Which one we choose often influences the outcome of our experiences.

#6 Remember that being kind isn’t what has hurt you.

Too often, we think that being kind is what hurt us in past relationships. It’s not though. Our kindness isn’t something that leads to our hurt; the truth about toxic relationships is so much more complicated than that. It’s not our kindness but our lack of boundaries, self-worth, and even communication skills that can trip us up and lead to our downfall.

We weren’t hurt because we were too kind; we were hurt because there were lessons that we needed to learn. I look at my own history and see this. I see the red flags I ignored, the flimsy boundaries I set, and the ways I failed to adequately communicate my needs. I’m not taking responsibility for the way that others treated me, but I am taking responsibility for how I responded to that treatment.

Kindness doesn’t make us fools for love; it just makes us human beings who are trying our best not to add more unnecessary hurt to an already hurting world. It may seem like a small thing, but imagine how the world would look if we all had the courage to be a little kinder!

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Crystal Jackson is a former therapist turned writer. She is the author of the Heart of Madison series and a volume of poetry entitled My Words Are Whiskey. Her work has been featured on Medium, Elite Daily, Thought Catalog, The Good Men Project, and Elephant Journal. When she's not writing, you can find her traveling, paddle boarding, cycling, throwing axes badly but with terrifying enthusiasm, hiking, or curled up with her nose in a book in Madison, Georgia, where she lives with one puppy and two wild and wonderful children. Crystal writes about relationships, mental health, parenting, social justice, and more. Never miss an update. Subscribe to emails: https://crystaljacksonwriter.substack.com/

Madison, GA

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