I may be a relationship expert now but my own dating life used to be a disaster

As I sat across the table from the blind date my mum set up – don’t ask! – we started talking about his career as a personal trainer.

Suddenly, I found myself turning the date into a career coaching session because this was my comfort zone as a psychologist.

I was quizzing him about his business plan, strategy for growth and contingencies for risks. The poor guy didn’t know what had hit him – was he on a date or at a job interview?

Before we knew it, I’d dragged him across the road to a bookshop to pick out a selection of smart business books to help him on his way.

After the date, you won’t be surprised to learn that he wasn’t beating down my door for a command performance.

Later that night, I reflected on the whole experience and realised I wasn’t showing any vulnerability. I thought I had to play to my strengths, but I wasn’t opening myself up in the right way.

As a regular on both Married at First Sight (MAFS) Australia and UK, you’d think I’d have a glistening dating history, right? In actual fact, it took years for me to realise I wasn’t doing the right things to find love.

Those who know me know that I spent my entire 30s as a single woman. Sure, I had some relationships in my 20s – even some great ones – but my focus seemed to shift once I turned 30.

I travelled, built my business in psychology, worked overseas, and had a great time living my independent life.

As a single woman, I had built up some walls of self-protection.

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You know the ones; the barriers that you believe keep you safe from the outside world. From playing hard to get, being quite harsh when people show you attention, cutting them off before they hurt you or playing the role of the unavailable, unattainable, unreachable enigma.

I was casually dating, but only half-heartedly. I dated the Man Child, the Commitmentphobe, the Class Clown – the dating archetypes we’ve all encountered.

Perhaps the one that took me most by surprise was the guy who sat opposite me in a fancy bar and proceeded to interview my womb for future motherhood opportunities!

I told myself that I wasn’t interested in a relationship and everything about my manner represented this. It wasn’t until my late 30s that I started to notice all my friends coupling-up and the nagging loneliness started to set in.

After lots of self-reflection and conversations with close friends at the age of 39, I realised that the outside persona I was presenting to the dating world did not match who I was on the inside.

I felt like a fraud. When I took an honest look at myself, I knew that I was sensitive, loving, considerate and vulnerable. I really wanted to connect with a man who could be my equal in many ways.

First, I updated my online dating profile to present the real me, and this is when everything shifted. I made sure it reflected my values, my real life goals and my beliefs about relationships.

That’s when I started to attract a different calibre of man – I was no longer getting the Peter Pans or married blokes who wanted a bit on the side.

I also worked on my dating communication. I made a conscious effort to listen more to my dates, remain open without judgement, ask more questions and share a little more of myself.

I remember one date where I intentionally told myself to ‘turn off the judgement’ and I ended up learning all about the process of writing a book from this particular suitor.

Now, this didn’t turn into a great romance, but by having an open mind, I enjoyed our time together and was able to apply this knowledge when I decided to write my own book years later.

It took some adjustment though because I had spent years communicating with men in the opposite way, but eventually it started to feel natural. And I loved it. 

Within a couple of months, I connected with a Northern Irishman named Gareth and it quickly became obvious that he was my match. Everything just clicked and, most importantly, I didn’t try to coach him.

He was my equal and someone I could be vulnerable with.

On our first date – after six weeks of digital communication due to being based in different cities – he told me he could see right through my tough exterior into the woman within, and I was hooked.

We are now 12 years down the track – we’ve lived in Australia, Bali and the UK. After an IVF journey, we have our wonderful eight-year-old girl, Madison.

Having spent 20 years as a psychologist, my own personal (disastrous!) dating experience led me to specialise as a dating and confidence coach – that’s when I started coaching couples on Married at First Sight Australia – then eventually in the UK too.

I now get the opportunity to draw on my professional expertise, and more importantly, my own lived experience, when I coach our couples on the couch.

This has really helped me to relate to our contributors on a more personal and meaningful level.

So with the gift of hindsight and experience, I wanted to share my insights and help single people to date smarter so they wouldn’t have to make the mistakes I made.

I’ve distilled my lessons down into five simple steps that you can take to ensure you are dating strategically and maximising your chances of finding your ideal partner.

Married At First Sight’s Mel Schilling’s five simple steps to dating strategically

Nowadays, if you listen closely when I’m on MAFS, you’ll hear the former single woman with the disastrous dating patterns in the advice I dish out.

I do my best to inspire our couples to communicate with respect and nurture the bonds they build. You’ll notice this especially when I’m counselling couples on the way they deal with conflict and take accountability.

But sometimes – just sometimes – my inner single woman lashes out – especially when I observe one partner treating another in a toxic fashion.

If my years of dating, practicing psychology and being married has taught me anything, it’s that any interpersonal situation can be overcome with a little respect, emotional maturity and compassion.

Do you have a story you’d like to share? Get in touch by emailing [email protected] 

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