Imagine me in my 20s. My self-care routine wasn’t so excellent but I was feeling fine and mostly at peace. I had a great job, I had a car, I lived in New York, money, friends, traveled a lot but there was still one tiny area where I couldn’t seem to make any progress at all: relationships and romance. And every relationship I had been in felt eerily similar. I would find a partner who was either great on paper or was a “project” that I had the urge to fix. He would either have an impressive job or would be someone I thought I should like. But usually, there was so much emotional baggage that our dating would end in disaster. Obviously, we all have our own baggage we carry into relationships, but I sometimes went for guys whose life was on fire. There was one guy who told me, on the first date while we were waiting for our drinks, that his dad murdered someone…but “don’t worry, he committed suicide… in jail…I am just not sure I will ever escape the overwhelming despair I feel!” DON’T WORRY???? Our drinks hadn’t even arrived yet. That is a lot for a first date. It seemed like I was seeking out men who were so damaged, so wrapped up inter past traumas, that they did not have the capacity to be kind or emotionally giving toward themselves or me. I would notoriously ignore all the warning signs that they weren’t a good partner and instead doubt myself, endlessly wondering what I could do to fix them. Then I would be upset when the relationship ended. And it always ended.
This was the time when I started journaling. Journaling about what happens in my life, with men and why I am repeating the same dumb mistakes. One of my entries looked something like this:
Mistake 1: Find someone who is good on paper but bad at life. One step up: Find someone who is bad on paper and bad at life. Look for someone who went to a “good” university, someone with a “good” job, someone I think is ambitious and will “succeed”. If he comes from a “good family,” bonus points! Completely ignore that this person is CLEARLY, FUNDAMENTALLY in an emotional crisis of some kind. Decide that I can fix and change him, or, even better, come to the conclusion that something is actually wrong with me!
Example: He is a successful finance executive who owns his house and is established in his career. BUT upfront he explained that he “must be wasted to enjoy sex, and that won’t change and has many women-friends.” Think to myself: That’s not great, but he hasn’t gotten to know me yet.
Example: He went to Harvard, which must mean he is exceptionally smart. Smart is something I am so attracted to and want in a partner. Forget the fact that someone going to a “smart” school is not the same as them being emotionally intelligent. Shake it off that my “date night” to see a movie turned out to be just a “stop” on his run. When the movie ended, he, dressed in a full work-out ensemble, said, “That was fun; now I have to go back on my run.” WHEN THE MOVIE ENDED, HE SAID, “THAT WAS FUN; NOW I HAVE TO GO BACK ON MY RUN.” Clearly, a winner.
Mistake 2: Get emotionally invested too quickly. Based solely on how good he looks on paper, ignoring the fact that I feel lonely in his company, despite my body screaming, “Noooo, we have been here before!” I give him a chance and convince myself he is someone I want in my life despite all evidence to the contrary. Or maybe I can repair him for further use? Project all of the good qualities I want in a partner onto him. I will make this relationship work, no matter the cost.
Example: After a great date, he asks if I would be interested in going to a Spa the next morning. Could he pick me up at eleven A.M. so I could continue talking about our mutual love of Tokyo? Take this all as a sign that he is open, honest, and not interested in playing games. I mean, a second date, THE VERY NEXT DAY!? Completely ignore the fact that he asked MULTIPLE times to sleep with me, didn’t take no for an answer, and when I finally said, “Listen, I don’t have sex on the first date,” he actually pouted and crossed his arms over his chest like a child who didn’t get the candy he wanted. Pretend that the image of him being angry in his brand-new black BMW didn’t make me vomit in my soul. I can fix this.
Mistake 3: Try to persuade the man to like you. I sincerely hope my sister reads this! Obsess over text messages, trying to decipher “what it all means.” Be whatever person I think he will like best, but DO NOT BE MYSELF! Never consider if I actually like him. I am now a new person, the person I think he wants me to be, which is tricky because it always seems to be changing.
Example: He is jealous of EVERY (male) person in my life. So I lie if my best friend David calls and pretend it was someone else. Cut all male friends out of my circle in order to appease the man I have been dating for a month. What if he is the one? I WILL FIGURE THIS OUT LATER. Maybe I can secretly call David once a month? Maybe from my work phone, so there is no evidence. But even then, best to erase my call history! I picked yet another winner.
Well, it turns out, knowing my pattern is a whole hell of a lot different from breaking it. From years of dating experience, here, my common sense list of dating and staying away from certain type of men:
- Be picky. Don’t settle for anyone if you don’t feel it. Don’t date someone “just because he has a nice ass”.
- Can you introduce your partner to your parents, friends, and family without being embarrassed?
- Is there a connection? Is there a spark? Is there an attraction? If there is not a “yes” to any of these questions it is a waste of time to go any further.
- Is this person kind and thoughtful? Did he ask questions about you? Does he show genuine interest in getting to know you? Don’t feel bad if the answer is “no”. But, again, know it is a GIANT FUCKING WASTE OF TIME to go any further.
- Does he love your dog more than he loves you?
- Can this person take care of themselves? Can they handle their own shit? Or do they constantly talk about what a disaster they are, how hard their life has been, and how they have no clue how to fix any of it, before lighting up a second bowl of weed and explaining that they wouldn’t blame you if you left right now. A partner should take responsibility for their own life. End of story.
- What does your gut say? Check in with yourself. Does this partner only want to impress you with materialistic gifts? “But my gut is all fucked-up from years of following a destructive pattern. Can I even trust myself anymore?”, you may ask. Start with self-love, self-care, self-trust, and keep developing the faith that you know what is right for you.
- Are there any red flags the person has shown you? Answer honestly. This is not a time to say, “Yes, he mentioned he is completely hung up on how his last girlfriend broke his heart and referred to her as a ‘psychotic bitch,’ but, whatever, let me forget that detail.” Is he broke, has debt? Depressed? Why? Take careful notes. Do not disregard red flags! I did it too many times.
- Can they meet you where you are? Is this person in a stage of life that is similar to or compliments your own? Can he be present with me? Can I be present with him?
- Does this person break my pattern? This might be a partner who is not super jealous of all the men in your life. Or maybe it is a guy who is not so busy with his career that the only plans he can make with you are in three weeks when his life “calms down”.
The way a person treats me has almost nothing to do with me. It is about them and their limitations. And I can choose whom I want to spend my time with and when it is time to leave.
Happy dating. Stay healthy. Stay happy.