It’s Time to Start Using the 80/20 Rule in Your Dating Life

Picture this: You’re 22 years old, just graduated college via Zoom, and your first “real date” in NYC takes place streetside in 15-degree weather—with an 80-minute time limit on your reservation. The only option was to go back to his apartment; they were kicking us out of the restaurant, friends and I would justify after rolling into brunch like swamp animals. So then, after the era of pandemic Hinge dates and “deep talks” through K95 masks, the dating scene had to have gotten better, right? No such luck. Three years later, we were still finding ourselves in identical versions of different scenarios: emotionally investing in men too early—and dedicating (far too much) mental real estate toward figuring them out.

That is, until we started applying the 80/20 rule to our dating lives. 

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What Is the 80/20 Rule?

Named after Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto, the 80/20 rule stems from the Pareto principal. It purports that 80 percent of your energy should be geared towards identifying long-term goals (what you want), while the other 20 percent accounts for obstacles standing in your way. In short, it means spending less time fixated on what’s not working and more time trying to maximize what *is* working

In the past few years, 80/20 has gained traction as a buzzy dieting fad, where models like Miranda Kerr and Gisele Bundchen touted a well-balanced diet 80 percent of the time—allowing themselves only to “cheat” 20 percent of the time. Before that, however, it was mainly adopted as a productivity tool: economists would use it to yield maximum profits with minimal effort. Either way, the rule can be applied to virtually any scenario where you want to see results. While the 80 represents your goal in the grand scheme of things (beach body), the 20 offers some wiggle room (having a Big Mac). It basically means 80 is the lifestyle rule and 20 is the exception.

So, for the purposes of this article, it's time to target one area where the rule is being vehemently underutilized: Dating and relationships.

How to Use the 80/20 Rule in Your Dating Life

Let’s go back to the original scenario. You’re in the early stages of dating someone (we’ll call him Kevin) and you seem to be in a gray area between singlehood and exclusivity, losing sleep over the age-old question: what are we? Yet, instead of having the DTR talk too early—and risking the relationship before it even begins—psychologist and dating expert Dr. Lurve deems the 80/20 rule as your answer. “You need to lean back and let the other person reveal what they can bring to the table,” she says on her podcast, Between The Sheets. Meaning, if you’re giving an undefined relationship your all (and questioning whether they even give a sh*t), the doctor has a solution: only initiate with Kevin 20 percent of the time. The other 80 percent? That’s up to Kevin. If he can’t hit the mark, according to the 80/20 rule, he’s probably not worth your effort.

When Is the Right Time to Try It?

Whether you’re in a situationship or emotionally attached to the potential of a relationship, the 80/20 rule can help clear things up. “If you continually contact them to set up date nights, they’ll let you do all the work… you need to give them the opportunity to invest in you,” Dr. Lurve explains. “Let the other person make the first move 80 percent of the time and you initiate the other 20 percent. This is a good way to mentally give yourself a break—and they won't let you get away if they truly want things to work out.” 

What the 80/20 Rule Can Show You

Per the doc, the first few dates are a crucial time: “You could be missing red flags that pop up mid-conversation because you're too worried about them getting away… you're so anxious and stressed they might leave (or ghost) you, but this is actually the energy that’s going to eventually push them away.” Hence, why she says it’s best to take a break from your looming anxieties and allow your potential suitor to show they care. “You want to be with someone who will put in the same amount of effort—they need to like you just as much as you like them.”

To that end, the 80 in this scenario is all about prioritizing what you're looking for in a potential partner (and sparing yourself a mental breakdown). It represents a perspective shift, where you only view the relationship through the lens of, is this guy good enough for *me*? (As opposed to, am I good enough for him). The 20, however, allows you to self-doubt and question whether he's doodling your name in his notebook, too. You get one neurotic FaceTime to your friends per month, so use it wisely.

It's also worth mentioning that them 'making the first move' should extend beyond the physical (whether that's asking you to dinner or ripping your clothes off). When the other person comes to you—and you're focusing only 20 percent (max!) on trying to figure them out—take a look at who you’re left with. Does the conversation flow organically when you’re not doing everything in your power to ask amazing questions? Do they remember small details you’ve shared in the past? Pay attention to how the connection changes when there's no pressure to try and make it work. “Rather than stressing about how they perceive you, you need to be tuning in on how you feel when you're with them…you don't have to keep wishing for those one-night stands to magically turn into Mr. Right,” the doc adds.

The Bottom Line? The 80/20 rule isn’t about playing a cat-and-mouse game. Nor is it about antiquated norms that a woman has to wait for a man (this is the 21st century, people). But if you’re looking for something serious—and you feel like your efforts aren’t being reciprocated—it might be time to take a back seat. Allow the other person to put in some work and look closely at what they’re offering. The first few dates are scary for everyone, and you want to make sure that fear (read: ghosting) is present on both sides. If the relationship comes to a screeching halt the moment you stop putting in effort, you have your answer: It’s probably not meant to be. (And you just spared yourself months of psychological torture to reach the same conclusion.)

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Associate Editor

Sydney Meister is PureWow's Associate Editor, covering everything from dating trends and relationship advice (here's looking at you, 'soonicorns') to interior design, beauty...