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10 Dating Questions with Unhinged Columnist Nicolle Monico

The mind behind the series talks the best first date and breaking bad habits in part one of a two-part series
Unhinged, a dating series: Nicolle Monico

For me, a museum is an ideal first date, offering a crucial balance between intimacy and casualness. These spaces are organically active and interactive. Art and history promote conversation. Want to know if your new date has bad taste? Take them to a museum.

But I’m not San Diego Magazine’s resident dating expert. What does Unhinged author Nicolle Monico think?

In this week’s column, we’re turning the tables. Usually, it’s Nicolle asking people about dating in SD. But this week, it’s her time to lay down on the therapist’s couch, getting deep about her longest relationship, her own dating dilemmas, and, yes, her ideal first date. After all, if you’re going to get dating advice, it’s good to know who you’re taking it from.

As one of Nicolle’s fellow editors, I get a unique view into her life and her process. When she pitched Unhinged, the main thing I asked her is if she’s ready to be truly vulnerable with her readers. Yes, she assured me. So far, she’s delivered. 

But there’s always more to uncover. So, I sat down with Nicolle to learn more about her dating journey, and how she got where she is today, exploring love and life in this increasingly popular magazine column. Here is the first part of our 10-question interview:

Mateo Hoke (MH): Ok, so with all of your experience dating, what’s the ideal first date?

Nicolle Monico (NM): I like a first date that involves something active. If you do drinks, do it where maybe you can also be playing cornhole. I’ve taken first dates climbing. You get to know the person a little bit better and see how you guys interact versus over just drinks. You get a sense of them—if they can joke with you, laugh with you. It loosens the mood a little bit. Never do dinner on a first date. It’s too long. 

MH: Okay, tell me about your journey to this place where you’re at now. Like, in terms of your relationships, how did we get here to Sex and the City-esque magazine columnist?

NM: I’ve dated a lot in my 40 years. I’ve had four long-term boyfriends. Obviously, nothing stuck, but in the last five years, I had one relationship that was pretty intense. I think it shook me. I learned a lot from that relationship because of how difficult it was and how I was treated during it. And in those years, a lot of my friends were struggling with dating, so we talked about dating all the time. It was a topic that was always top of mind. 

After that relationship ended, it took a solid year of therapy—learning, reading, talking with people— to understand the ins and outs of what had happened and how you can lose yourself in a relationship.

I feel like a pretty strong person in general, and I didn’t think that I could lose myself in someone, but it can happen to anyone. In my time of learning and growing, I realized that there’s a lot out there that isn’t always talked about or that should be talked about more.

A lot of people related to the things I was going through, and I felt like the dating scene—especially in San Diego—was hard. It was the ability to talk to people about it that made it feel easier. Like, you’re not alone. 

That’s where this idea came about: helping others see that it is hard, but we’re all kind of struggling. And it’s not just about you being not dateable or the guys aren’t right or the women aren’t right. There are things that are going on that are making it hard.

It was a year of these discussions. I wasn’t ready. And then, one day, I felt ready.

MH: What is your longest relationship you’ve been in?

NM: Three-and-a-half years. I think, other than my last relationship, I sincerely am proud of the few relationships I’ve had, and I think the men that I’ve dated have been really quality people. It just didn’t work out because it wasn’t supposed to.

I really couldn’t have asked for better boyfriends, for the most part. Even the last one taught me what I don’t want and what I will not stand for anymore. So, I’m a lot more diligent when dating, and I think that’s a good thing.

MH: What have you learned about yourself in hindsight that helps you understand your own patterns and why you have chosen certain men? Like maybe someone who didn’t show up for you?

NM: Ohh, I mean this gets into my therapy. This gets deep. Childhood stuff.

I think what I’ve learned through therapy is that my childhood has affected what I consider to be normal in terms of love and relationships. And stuff with my parents that I’m not quite ready to share publicly.

I’ve sought out something that makes me feel that up and down, highs and lows, because it’s what I’ve been used to previously. My last relationship was like that, 100 percent. I was always trying to get him to see me and love me.

And a lot of my people-pleasing tendencies come into play, too. I feel like that lends itself to me doing that with men. My ex made it almost impossible to feel secure and safe. Wanting him to like me, wanting him to care, and doing everything I could, like if I just did this, he’ll love me more. If I just say this, if I look like this. It never works. 

MH: How do you move forward with this knowledge and not repeat patterns?

NM: My intuition is really strong. And I’ve always felt that way, but when it comes to men, sometimes I just let it go. And I realize I can’t because obviously that leads to poor relationships. 

So, I know pretty quickly now whether this is a good thing or not. Also, as I’m dating, I’ve started to see the triggers in myself that are unhealthy, and I’m calling them out instead of just letting them sit there. 

I also like myself again. I am allowing myself to be liked for who I am, not trying to change. So I think that’s coming across. Me saying, “If you don’t like this about me, that’s fine. But I’m not going to be with you.” That’s me just being myself around who I’m dating, asking for what I need, telling them what I need—which, in the past, I hadn’t really done. 

I’m being way upfront early on and not trying to people-please in a relationship, and, currently, that’s working out a lot better, because then I feel like myself when I feel loved for being good and bad and messy and all the things that I have hidden in the past. 

More questions with Nicolle coming soon in part two of this interview.

If you’re new to Unhinged, catch up on all the dating chats you’ve missed here and follow along at @monicles and @sandiegomag on Instagram to know when a new article drops each week.

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By Mateo Hoke

Mateo Hoke is San Diego Magazine’s executive editor. His books include Six by Ten: Stories from Solitary, and Palestine Speaks: Narratives of Life Under Occupation.

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