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Dear New Romantics,

The last time I was on Tinder, I included a screenshot of my birth chart in my carousel of profile pictures. It was kind of a joke, meant to signal that I’m a certain kind of queer (femme, alternative). But it also communicated — at least, to people who get it — a lot about who I am and how I operate in the world, including in relationships.

As a Capricorn sun, Virgo moon, Taurus rising, I am grounded AF. I tend to be very logical, rational, and practical in how I approach life — often to my detriment, where I can be a little neurotic (the dishwasher has to be loaded in one way, and one way only) or perceived as emotionally cold.

But because both my Venus and Mars are in Pisces, my romantic and sexual sides have a softness to them. There’s a dreamy quality to how I show up with my partners. And I cry. Like a lot.

And don’t even get me started on my Mercury in Sagittarius. When Taylor Swift said, “You should take it as a compliment that I got drunk and made fun of the way you talk,” I felt that.

There are parts of my astrological makeup that I identify with. And with only 500 characters to describe myself in the bio section, suggesting that someone look up my chart can be a great way for them to learn about me in more detail. Not to mention, it’s an easy starting point for conversation.

The truth is, when you look at astrology as a version of personality typology, naming your sun, moon, and rising as an introduction is no different from proclaiming your INFJ (Myers-Briggs) or 1w2 (enneagram) status. It’s not about when you were born; it’s about how you connect to the traits associated with your signs. Identifying with your chart says something about how you conceptualize yourself.

And this is where astrology can serve as a really unique jumping off point for diving into who you are, what you need, and gauging your compatibility with a potential partner.

Astrology has a long cultural and mathematical history, dating back as far as 3000 BCE. Thought to have originated in Mesopotamia, with the first organized form of astrology popping up in Babylon, astrology is the mapping of the planets to find patterns in what occurs on Earth.

Historically, astrology has been considered a scholarly pursuit, used in currently accepted sciences like meteorology, alchemy, medicine, and (perhaps most influentially) astronomy. And today, it’s still used in some religious traditions and considered helpful in everything from matchmaking to finding auspicious days for love, conception, career, and more.

The question of whether or not astrology is legitimate is brought up a lot, especially among those who struggle to connect every dot. And while some questions are legitimate, there is a sexist and racist undercurrent to the claim that some forms of making sense of the world that don’t adhere to strict logical understandings or science are fake.

Instead of asking if astrology is factual, a more helpful question would be, “Can I (or others) find this helpful?

While many of us use astrology differently today, it still has a very real and important legitimacy: It’s a tool for categorizing, reflection, and communication. It’s no surprise that astrology, as well as tarot and other forms of so-called “occult” practices, are showing up in therapists’ offices. They provide frameworks for discovery and understanding that we otherwise might not have access to.

Practicing astrology helps promote self-awareness. The ability to see and understand ourselves is a deeply beneficial practice, especially in dating. And astrology nudges us toward radically accepting not just what makes us awesome, but also what makes us flawed. No, we can’t help when we were born; but astrology asks us to work with who we are, predestined or not.

For example, it might be hard for me to accept that I lean toward self-righteousness, especially if I’m receiving that feedback directly from someone I admire. But seeing it on a Capricorn cons list (alongside a list of pros, like dependability), I might have more space to reflect on it in a meaningful way.

Astrology provides a safe way to contemplate our personality traits. Recognizing the traits that attract people and the ones that push people away is a necessary part of personal growth. A skill like that is important for any stage of life. And if astrology offers that to folks, who cares if it’s backed by science?

Whatever you use to gain self-awareness — and to communicate what you know about yourself, your needs, and your boundaries to others — is awesome. Astrology can be a particularly great tool for it.

Let me be the first to say that I am simply a consumer of astrology. I’m not here to tell you about degrees or aspects — although they matter. You can hire an actual astrologer for that. I’m just here to point out how astrology has given me a blueprint to reflect on why I show up in certain ways — and how you can practice that, too!

To start, get to know your chart

Your sun (identity), moon (emotions), and rising (perception) signs are known as “The Big Three” in astrology. So you may already be familiar with these. Together, they say a lot about you.

But the other inner planets — Mercury (communication), Venus (love), Mars (action), and Jupiter (philosophy) — plus Saturn (boundaries) are also particularly useful in understanding yourself. (The outer planets are great too. But because their orbits are so long, they tend to influence entire generations. So they’re a little less you-specific.)

Learn which traits are associated with your various placements and ask yourself: Does this sound right to me? Does this describe me? And if not, is there another placement in my chart that might explain my experience? For example, maybe your Aquarius sun feels a little off — because while yeah, you’re unconventional, you’re definitely not free-flowing — but your Saturn in Capricorn is why your boundaries are more rigid.

Going a bit deeper

The planets don’t just fall into certain signs, where associated traits are illuminated; they also fall into certain houses, which indicate which key parts of your life are most impacted by the placement. For example, my Saturn is in Scorpio, which means I may struggle when I feel restricted or controlled. And it falls in my seventh house of committed partnerships, which means this might pop up for me more often in relationships.

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Some other tips for getting started:

  • Spend some time with your chart (or, even better, an experienced astrologer) to see how your placements interact.
  • Try writing a list of the gifts — and another list of the difficulties — that come when someone dates you, based on your chart.
  • Then write a dating profile for yourself, using elements of your chart to describe yourself. You don’t have to post it. It’s just an exercise in figuring out which parts of your chart you identify with!

There are lots of ways to look up your birth chart. But I highly recommend Chani Nicholas’s new app for a deep, social justice-oriented exploration of your chart. It’s worth the cost!

Next, learn the birth chart of your potential partner

Yes, this is why all of those “What time were you born?” memes exist: because you can use a comparison of two charts to gain insight into compatibility!

Sure, technically, if it’s all written in the stars, you could determine by the charts alone if you’re a good match. But that’s not effective and collaborative communication, is it? Instead, give them some room to understand (and communicate to you directly) the basics of their chart.

Then, you can use your two charts as a jumping off point for meaningful conversation about who you both are and what you’re each looking for. Because even an astrologer can’t determine your potential compatibility better than you two can together!

Take a look at the following placements together as a way to start intimate (and even sometimes difficult) conversation:

  • Sun: What are your most important identities? What roles do you play — and are they intentional? How do you think about yourself, and how is that different from how other people see you? Who do you want to be, and what steps could we take in our relationship to move you toward that actualization?
  • Moon: What’s your relationship to being alone? Who are you when you don’t have an audience? What do you struggle with emotionally? How do you manage difficult emotions? What kind of support do you need when your feelings feel unwieldy?
  • Rising: What do folks’ first impression of you tend to be? What snap judgments are you afraid I might make? What’s the truth behind the mask? How might you show up on a first date differently from how you behave in a long-term relationship?
  • Mercury: What is your communication style? What’s an effective way for me to let you know I’m hurt? How do you tend to process information, especially if it’s a sticky situation? What’s your favorite way to flirt and be flirted with? What’s an area of growth for you, and what do you enjoy learning about?
  • Venus: What’s your love language? How do you like to express (and receive) affection? How do you like to connect with others? What’s your relationship to community? What are you drawn to, in other people and in life? What romantic relationship patterns do you have that you’d like to shift?
  • Mars: What are you like when you’re angry? How comfortable are you with asserting yourself? Do you lean toward aggression or passivity? Are you more of a “take action” or a “sit back” personality, and how do you hope your partner supports you in that? What is your sexual energy like? What helps you feel sexually fulfilled?
  • Jupiter: What is your philosophy on life? Which values play the biggest role in how you show up in relationships and in the world? How do you feel when your actions don’t align with your ideals? What is your vision for the world? Which values (family, political) feel incompatible with yours?
  • Saturn: What are you afraid of? What are some boundaries do you need in place for your relationships to thrive? Where is the wiggle room in those boundaries, if any? Where do you think those needs come from? In what ways do you feel limited? What (and who) do you feel responsible for?

Of course, you can venture into Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, too (or get really wild and start looking up asteroid and comet placements). But this is a great place to start.

Want to skip all the beginning work and just have an app tell you your compatibility instead? I recommend downloading The Pattern. Instead of using astrology-heavy language, it simply explores who you are on a foundational level, what’s happening for you currently, and how you relate to others.

These conversations around boundaries, emotional support, and handling conflict are important ones — as they will arise in relationships eventually. Astrology simply gives us a framework for having these conversations in a way that can feel lighter and less daunting. And that is how it can be a powerful tool, whether it’s considered “real” or not.

Besides, diving into the complexities of your charts together is an automatic couples achievement level unlocked: astrology memes!

Melissa Fabello, PhD, is a social justice activist whose work focuses on body politics, beauty culture, and eating disorders. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.