“Take your eye off the prize.”

I do realize this sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out…

In dating, many people see one goal is their “prize.” Especially with my clients, who have come to me, both emotionally and financially, in the hopes of meeting someone, that perceived “prize” is generally a long-term relationship, and often marriage.

I like setting goals. When I quit my job at Fannie Mae in 2011, my goal was to run a successful business. I set goals for going to bed before midnight every night. It’s currently 1:36 a.m. as I’m writing this, so clearly that goal is still a work in progress. What I forgot when setting both these goals is there is still room for success each incremental step of the way. And this is something I try to impart on my clients when it comes to their dating lives.

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I had a former client who was a wonderful woman in her mid-60s in a major U.S. city. She’s all the things someone might want in a partner — smart, professional, successful, beautiful, the list goes on. When she came to me, she said she was tired of spending Saturday nights alone at home watching Netflix.

So after a few dates with different men, she met Jake. Jake asked her out on their second date for a Saturday night. Then, for the next three months’ worth of Saturday nights, this client had plans with Jake. She was thrilled … and so was I.

And then Jake unceremoniously broke up with her. Over text. (Please, for the love of all things human, do not break up with someone over text.)

She was sad. Although, she seemed less sad about Jake himself, and sadder about missing out on Saturday night plans. She sent me a series of texts saying she was “back to square one” and “maybe she’ll never meet anyone” and “all of it was for nothing.”

If you set a goal of one thing — in this case, a long-term committed relationship — anything short of that will be viewed as a failure. And that is no way to live.

I expressed that Jake was an important part of this process for her. Besides all those coveted weekend plans, it awakened a desire for someone she had forgotten she even possessed. And it made her realize what type of communication, and its frequency, she wanted in a relationship. All of this information is really valuable and makes her even more knowledgeable, both about herself and what she’s looking for, when she meets new people. But to her, all was lost.

Goals need incremental steps. Maybe that’s Saturday night plans, then a weekend trip, then eventually meeting the family. That way, you can see that each step is successful in its own way. Each part of the process means something, so there can’t just be one right answer or outcome.

So I would say to this client, keep your eye off the prize. Thinking there’s only one acceptable result — and anything short of that means nothing — prevents you from seeing that there is something to be gained from the path.

For myself, I think I’ll work on shifting my sleep up 10 minutes every night so that I can see the value of moving things gradually … starting next week.

Erika Ettin is the founder of A Little Nudge, where she helps others navigate the often intimidating world of online dating. ©2020 Erika Ettin Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.