Finding the perfect woman can feel like an obstacle course: there are pitfalls everywhere waiting to sink your chances of success. It’s time to give your dating strategies a much-needed update. You have a great job, super bud- dies, cool digs – the only thing missing is the right woman. How many times have things ended before they began – the first date, even that first swipe? You’re after a solid connection, right? We get it. Good news: most women are too. Here’s how to turn that first spark into a lasting bonfire.

1. Stop Searching

In the bar, at the gym, on Tinder: you’ve encountered many amazing women, then lost track and missed out. Time to take off those blinkers.

BEFORE You’ve stuck doggedly to your type, whatever it is. She could be the blonde with an hourglass figure, or the blue-eyed hippy dream girl with a penchant for adventure. But despite sticking to the pattern, you’ve never felt the need to get down on one knee and pop the question. That spark, it just isn’t there.

NOW Forget appearances,they’re not everything – otherwise, you would’ve settled down with your high school squeeze. Branch out, break the chains – chances are, what you’re looking for may be the opposite of what you’ve been chasing. Give her a chance to surprise you. Take a moment to consider what you want in life. How do you imagine the ideal partnership? Do you prefer profound unity or a bit of friction? And what are your dreams? Do you want to travel the world or settle down and start a family? Your methods matter; it’s time to be smarter. If you want a backpacker with a spirit of adventure, you’re not going to find her at a bar. Better bets: park runs, hiking clubs, even your local beach.

If you’re looking for the silent intellectual type, think bookshops, coffee spots, and vinyl stores. Remember, the trick is to learn from your mistakes. There are two kinds of guys in the world. Those who imagine they have a type, and those with their dream girl. If you’re doggedly chasing after a (real) blonde bombshell, you’re going to miss out on 98% of the world’s women. True story. Like idiots, we tend to associate appearance with personality, you know, blondes are more fun, and dark haired girls are higher maintenance yada yada yada. But the opposite is often true, as women actively work against their stereotypes. So if you go in with unrealistic expectations, you’re sinking the relationship from the start. That’s not good for you, or her.

2. Do Something

An attractive woman sits across the bar, laughing and touching her hair. (Stop staring, man.) Here’s what you want to do.

BEFORE You make your “move”: mumble a hello, hope for a hello back, and ask if she’d care for a drink. By now, even if you haven’t spilt your beer down your front, she’s bored. And that cool, carefree, charming guy you manage to be around friends, he’s left the building.

NOW Stop thinking about how you’re going to do things, and just do them. Count down in your head, 3, 2, 1, and go. Spontaneity is the best wingman you’ve ever had – it’ll surprise her, and it’ll jolt your mind into the moment too. That means fewer stupored pick-up lines and a lot more natural conversation (you want her to get to know you, not some pseudo-imagined version of what you want to be). Anything that aids said conversation will help: the right accessories, like sneakers with that sharp suit, will give you an air of easygoing unstaged approachability. Bonus points: keep props handy – a well-placed gig flyer or two can rescue a flagging exchange about terrible the music is in this place, for instance. Did you guys click? Great. The trick now is to be honest, learn to open up. Tell a funny story, or two – don’t try to embellish the truth, and most importantly, learn to listen. Her stories are more interesting than yours because (a) bud, you’ve heard yours before, and (b) the more she talks, the more you’ll know if she’s the one or another “that one time at a bar”.

3. The First Date

You can’t light a lifelong fire without a little spark. Make sure your first touch is a roaring success.

BEFORE You’d pick a restaurant to suit her tastes, the more expensive the better. But the result? Dry conversation, a few awkward glances and a waiter who keeps interrupting anytime you guys start to click. It’s stiff, it’s claustrophobic, neither of you is feeling comfortable and after a while you’re just worrying about the bill. It’s just not going to work out.

NOW Have you heard of the Pizza Technique? No, we’re not talking about calling for a delivery. This is when you divide the date into slices so it never gets stale. Pick spots that are new to both of you. Start with tapas at the local Cuban spot, skip over to the beachfront bar, play a round of putt putt, then finish with dessert at that ice cream place you’ve always wanted to try. The emphasis is on variety, not peacocking with an expensive menu. The result: you won’t be short on talking points, and the shared novelty will bring you closer together. You’re trying to create unique, memorable moments. What are the chances you’ll find those while waiting for a table at an overpriced eatery? Nada. Remember, it’s not just about the destination. How you get there is just as important; on foot or in an Uber, you’ll create opportunities for intimate conversations and closeness. Doing something new together will take away the pressure – you can focus on the moment, and each other.

4. Have Conversation

After 3 or 4 or 300 dates, at some point you’re going to feel, it’s time to change gear. Here’s how not to stall.

BEFORE You once had a buddy, the pick-up pundit, who seems like he had all the single ladies wrapped around his finger. Maybe you even put a few of his tips to the test: talk to one pretty girl to get another one jealous, or reject a woman to make her want you even more. Yeah, that pick-up playbook stuff never works. (Mostly because it makes you look really desperate.)

NOW Remember that pen from Men In Black? Time to use it. Wipe your memory and start over. That dream girl you’re looking for has a brain. Canned pick-up lines aren’t going to cut it – plus, they’re manipulative, creepy and just plain degrading, for her and you. If you’re looking for dating advice on the Internet you’re running the risk of being just like every other dickhead out there. A winning move: be genuine. Sincerity, with a little real emotion thrown in, goes a long way. But don’t take yourself too seriously. Get her smiling, or better yet, laughing, and the chemistry will follow. Yes, literally – studies show chuckling releases mood-boosting hormones, like serotonin, into the body. Another plus: dopamine, which increases a sense of relaxed wellbeing. Let the good times roll, and she’ll want an encore. And about that: don’t rush to get her into bed. Instead, linger on the kissing – her lips are packed with touch-sensitive nerves that send signals of arousal to her brain. This way, when it happens, it’ll be explosive.

5. Set Targets

Real love isn’t witchcraft. You can’t force it, but you can make sure you don’t miss out on it.

BEFORE This is where it usually all goes wrong. Throw sex into the equation, and you guys are suddenly inseparable (or what your mates would call sickening). Your family’s given up on you, your mates think you’re dead. Can you blame them? You rarely leave the bedroom, and when you do, it’s in a glassy-eyed, zombie-esque, totally-in-love stupor. There are passionate declarations of love, the odd snatches of poetry, even edible bouquets. What they hell is happening? Almost overnight, the rose-tinted gloves are off, and you can barely go a few minutes without getting in another shouting match – the toilet seat, the laundry, anything and everything. Pretty sobering, right? Those mates who wrote you off would call it a slow death, but from the inside it can all seem really, really fast.

NOW It’s not often we’d say this, but Bono said it best. “We’re one, but not the same.” You want to spend every waking minute with each other, we get it, but you’re in danger of suffocating each other. She fell in love with a guy with friends, family… you know, a life. So don’t lose that. If you go too far down the rabbit hole, soon you won’t recognise yourself – and she won’t either. The roses, the poetry, the big banners over bridges? It’s sweet, but be wary of overkilling it before it even gets going. Think of a real-love, forever-and-always relationship as an ultra-marathon. Do you really want to burn out after 100 metres? Pace yourself – you’ve seen the finish line before, remember, and it’s not pretty. Want to spend the day fishing with friends? Cool. You have our permission, now let her know in advance and don’t just disappear. No man is an island, except that pick-up artist buddy who probably never gets laid anyway. The real deal is something that evolves – enjoy the process, revel in the experience and that long-term relationship you’ve always wanted will come slowly into focus.