It's no surprise that reality TV is full of "You're Doing It Wrongs." It's like shooting (dead) fish in a barrel. But some of these cringe-worthy moments hold true in life as well. On a handful of occasions I've heard this from someone who is about to (re)enter the dating circuit:
"I feel like I've reached a point where I'm just ready to settle down with someone."
You're doing it wrong.
Before I'm pegged as a love-hating louse, let me clarify that I am not against marriage or long-term commitment. Far from it. But setting one's sights on wedded bliss before the first drink is like taking on a 30-year-mortgage at 13. You have no damn clue what that takes, or how you will get there.
Establishing a mental goal of "a life together" before you get to know someone also puts an unfair burden on your date(s). Instead of getting to know how they like their coffee and what countries they've visited, you're screening them for "future potential." This mindset, at its worst, means you make dates feel like job interviews, and at its best means you are too busy mentally weighing the pros and cons of a second date that you can't possibly remember "little skim milk, no sugar," or "Spain, France and Canada." When all is said and done, you likely didn't make for a fun time.
Trying to steer a relationship toward your goal of settling down makes you an un-fun companion in the short-term, but it also implies, if you keep things going, that you are constantly trying to fit someone into a mold that you created from the outset. If you've gone so far as to underline "settling down" as an ends to your dating means, you've likely thought about what that scenario looks like, and it stands to reason that you bring those expectations and hopes into your relationship. The issue? Your relationship is not a house that you can paint and re-tile at whim in order to create your vision. This is another person we're talking about here. Another autonomous person, with their own goals for his/her future as an individual and (hopefully, for you) as part of a couple.
It's great to know what you want out of a relationship - in terms of who you're attracted to, what values you share and what you enjoy in your free time. It's great to aspire to coupledom and a family. But starting from settling down is the wrong approach. It prevents you from enjoying your date (and/or those three glasses of mid-priced wine you had during the question and answer portion); it's unfair to the other person; and it undermines the (potential) couple you will be forming.
Put another way, consider how it would feel if, while unpacking your wedding china, your partner says to you, "I just had a plan, and I found the best available at the time. You, baby."