Sadly, too many singles have expressed to me how years of enduring undignified dating experiences has taken a toll on their self-image, happiness, and overall ability to continue putting their “best foot forward” in dating.

As I listen to their stories, I can’t help but empathize with their pain, and understand why they would not want to invest themselves emotionally in yet another relationship that leaves them feeling so low.

Judaism teaches us that that the relationship of spouses to each other should be "to love her as much as he loves himself, and to respect her even more than he respects himself" (Yevamos 62b). As esteemed psychiatrist Rabbi Dr. Avraham Twerski noted in his article, Marriage That Endures: “It is of interest that Rambam, in citing the Talmud, reverses the order and places respect before love. Why? Because it is unrealistic to expect that one can have so intense a love from day one. It takes time for true love to develop. However, respect is something that can begin on day one.”

Reversing habits that are disrespectful to your date is key to both unlocking the real potential that exists between the two of you, and getting your relationship off to a healthy start. Here are 5 ways you can start off on the right track toward dating – and relating – in a dignified way:

1. Be curious: To build a real relationship, it isn’t good enough just to hear the words your date is saying. Take genuine interest in who they are and respond with a sense of curiosity. This person is an entire world, with a unique history and set of life experiences. Ask yourself: What is their world about? What are their goals? What values do they stand for? What might they be trying to communicate to you? The answer to these questions aren’t always apparent in the words that are spoken, but rather in the “subtext” of their words, their body language, and tone of voice. Don’t just hear the words – try to experience the entire person in their essence.

2. Ask for clarification: Learn how to withhold judgment until you know the whole story. People often forget that they are entitled to ask questions rather than assume the worst. We tend to imagine that someone meant something far worse than they did, and our off-base assumption might lead to the demise of the relationship. Asking, “I’m curious. What did you mean by that?” can be a life-saver, simply because getting clarity on the intention behind someone’s comment often makes all the difference in how you feel about what they’ve said. Making assumptions about their intentions, on the other hand, could easily lead to a hasty negative reaction and/or premature dissolution of the relationship. So don’t wonder what they meant – just ask!

3. Stay present: By being in the moment, you are giving your date the gift of having your full attention. So go ahead and silence your cell phone for a couple of hours. Not every text needs to be responded to immediately. Your sister got a splinter or your best friend passed her final exam? Get back to them a bit later. (If necessary, you may want to notify a few key people that you will be on a date and your phone will be off.) Unless it’s a truly urgent matter or you’re an ER doctor on call...it can wait!

4. Acknowledge your date’s needs and preferences: If you are planning a dinner date and you know s/he is a vegetarian, don’t make reservations at a steakhouse hoping s/he will be fine with ordering a salad. If you know s/he is giving a big presentation at work the next morning, don’t buy surprise tickets to a late-night show, assuming s/he wants to stay out til 2am. Being attuned to your date’s needs indicates that you are paying close attention to what matters to them, which is an important aspect of dating with dignity.

5. Play it Safe – Literally: Too many women have told me disturbing stories about being left alone late at night at the end of a date. Gentlemen, even if you’ve already decided that the woman you’re out with isn’t for you, be a mensch! Escort her home at the end of the evening, even if it means you’ll get home an hour or two later than you wanted to. Order a double espresso the next morning if you need it to get through the day. However tired you may be, her safety must take precedence.

And now, a word of caution: If these tips sound foreign or unimportant to you, or simply do not resonate, please use this article as a springboard for introspection about your own readiness to be in a long-term, committed relationship. These 5 tips are not meant to be used as superficial or temporary “strategies” for winning someone over (that’s called manipulation). When they are exercised in a vacuum and do not reflect one’s overall character, most of these practices are somewhat inconsequential at best – or at worst, they are downright deceiving. (Playing “the nice guy” (or girl) on dates #1 and #2 isn’t going to cut it if “the real you” who isn’t so nice, comes out on date #3!)

The pointers I’ve listed above are meant to help you achieve a real, lasting relationship built on the foundation of respect, which can only happen if you are a sincerely respectful person! Therefore, internalizing the value of respect is an absolute prerequisite to using these tips effectively, both in your search for your soul mate and to keep things going strong long after the chuppah for many years to come.