1. Ask yourself what you want a relationship for: There’s nothing wrong with wanting someone for sex and socializing, but unless you’re insensitive to rejection and personality mismatches, you’d better give priority to finding someone committed, supportive, and hardworking, not just somebody suitable for short-term sexy times. Otherwise, you’ll wear yourself out with people you can’t force yourself to care about or can’t expect to hang around the moment you sound boring or stop looking good.
2. Write a job description for the position of life partner: Yes, you have to hit it off and get along and fall in love, et al., but only with someone who hits all the right marks on a checklist of required behavior. Since you need someone who can share social time, stick to commitments, and do her share while still taking care of her own shit, write up a job-listing-like description of the required duties, character qualities, and experience you require from a partner. In the absence of a romantic CV, look for those traits in her actions or in her relationship history. The more specific you are about the behavior you require, the more effectively you’ll screen out candidates who may be attractive but don’t have the credentials you need.
3. Consider and list the assets you offer a partnership: For this purpose, ignore superficial qualities, such as physical attractiveness and size of sneaker collection, and emphasize the Jane Austen-esque, bottom-line attributes such as financial security, honesty, and a willingness to work hard. Think of your assets in the same way as you would those of a prospective partner; if you don’t want to look for a life partner based on their fancy footwear, then putting your best metaphorical foot forward has more to do with who you are than what you have.
4. Put it in writing: Prepare a statement describing what you offer and what you’re after, as well as a list of the questions you want answered. You don’t need to read it to prospective dates verbatim, but you can’t let a desire to appear attractive and chill get in the way of your laying things out, so prepare as you would before a job interview of someone you want to hire. The idea isn’t to force you to ask intrusive questions instead of having a normal conversation, but to keep your mind on the information you’re trying to gather and convey, tactfully, while not being distracted by other things. The more businesslike you are, the more effectively you’ll screen out socializers and hook-up artists.
5. Don’t meet with anyone you haven’t vetted first: Until you’ve done screening by email, text, phone, and/or second opinion, don’t meet up and risk wasting your time. You can usually screen effectively for intelligence and sincerity if you don’t try too hard to be funny and entertaining as you’re doing it. Use a friend or a therapist as a coach to help you make contacts selective, brief, and efficient. If you see too many people for too long, you’ll burn out. Don’t meet until you’ve done good screening, and don’t continue to meet if you encounter a red flag. Your job isn’t to figure out why something isn’t working, but to protect yourself and your time by quickly ditching bad dates and using the experience to choose better candidates next time and keep burnout at bay.