How Our Disastrous Approach to Dating Results in Unsatisfying and Even Unsuccessful Relationships.
There is not much instruction for young people growing up with regards to dating, what makes a healthy romantic relationship, how to choose a partner mindfully, and even further, what makes you a healthy partner (or not).
Adolescents, instead, grow up and take note via watching their parents relationships, which are a toss-up (as plenty of us know, tons of parents have dysfunctional, unhealthy, resigned, or even bad marriages, while it seems to be a minority that has a truly healthy and happy one). And then, young people observe the relationships of their peers, who are equally fumbling around in the dark.
In school, we learn about math, science, history, and even physical health. Nowhere, though, is there a required course on healthy romantic connections, which is a problem, since romantic relationships are one of the central focuses of human life. If we are terrible at these, we are in for a lot of heartaches. And sadly, that makes up a lot of us.
So, we garner our lessons about love from the limited relationship examples in our own lives (parents, peers). And, those aside, we look toward the media for inspiration. Television shows, movies, books, advertisements, social media, etc. Yet, many examples of what a romantic relationship looks like in our media, especially on television, in movies, advertising, and on social media, are flat out unhealthy. They teach us junk values instead of nourishing, joy-inducing ones.
Much of our media landscapes sell us ideas such as love happens within just a few dates, that you can love someone you’ve only spent a handful of weeks with, that sexiness and looks are extremely important and a primary basis on which we should base our partner selection (money is a close second), that commitment and showcasing feelings for another person is lame, that putting in the effort and investing in someone is pointless because (with the false perception dating apps offer us) there is an abundance of other options out there, and, that “hooking up” is where it’s at. It’s what “cool” girls do and it’s a thing because “boys will be boys.”
As a culture at large, we do not really understand how to date. Nor do we understand much about healthy, emotionally mature, long-term, happy love.
Take a look around you. There are, I imagine, a few romantic relationships in your life (whether a close friend, sibling, extended family member, parent) that seem to be genuinely healthy, well-matched, and happy. And I bet there are also a whole bunch of relationships in your vicinity that seem resigned, dysfunctional, not so well-matched, and possibly even flat out unhappy.
My inspiration for this article has come from observing closely, the relationships around me, as well as, considering my own relationships over the years. I have had disastrous dating experiences and have made poor choices in the relational realm. There are also several people in my life, especially loved ones in the form of family, who seem to routinely choose mismatched and even terrible relationships. I’ve watched them over the years, my younger siblings date several disasters, as well as other loved ones (a parent, and extended family members), make similarly concerning choices. Thus, all of this is what inspired me to ruminate on and then write this piece.
If we strive to make better choices in our romantic relationships (this effort can also count towards friendships as well), we need to put a more intentional, mindful effort toward educating ourselves on how to do that. And this is not knowledge that just falls out of the sky. You need to seek it intentionally.
One surefire way of doing this is reading. The right book? It can shift your world on its axis. Books offer us wisdom, learning, and new ways of looking at people, the world, and love. Books make us smarter and frequently improve our lives.
Another way of learning more about healthy relationships? Find a great therapist and talk with them about it (and no, not all therapists are created equal. So choose carefully and pay attention to how wise, mature, empathetic, and focused they seem…or not).
And yet, another method of learning what smart dating can look like is to read an article like this, written by a person who has studied romantic relationships and friendship for years.
Here are several dysfunctional mindsets and approaches we take to dating which often yield not-so-great results down the road.
Infatuation = Love. Not so much.
Many of us seem to struggle with understanding the difference. People think, because I’ve spent a few weeks with this person, and because I’m wildly attracted to them, and because I think they are awesome, and because I think about them all the time, I love them.
This is not love. This is infatuation.
Infatuation is a wonderful thing. It’s one of the most awesome sensations of the human experience and being alive, so enjoy it. But, it is not love.
Love takes way longer. Love takes hundreds of hours spent with someone, and across varying situations. You need to have seen this person at their best, and at their worst. You need to have witnessed them among other friends, with their family, in stressful moments, how they behave when meeting your loved ones, how they react in an argument, etc.
This takes months and months and months of spending a lot of time with that person.
You cannot know another human being with depth and nuanced intimacy until you’ve been with them for a couple of years, and even then, there is still much you do not know about this person. We cannot love someone we do not know. And you do not know someone after a few weeks or even a few months. It sure feels like love. Infatuation feels and is marvelous. But, it is not love. This is something deeper, and it takes much more time.
Dating long-distance is not a sound method of getting to know someone in the beginning.
If you’ve been a couple in the same city for a few years, and then you go long-distance temporarily, that is different. You already have a strong foundation built. And you likely know this person pretty legitimately well. If you begin with long-distance though? This is then going to make it quite tough to truly know this person before making a significant leap (aka, taking a major risk) to live near each other (if that is the end goal, and it is for most people).
I define long-distance as, someone you cannot reach easily in an evening after work. Someone you cannot hop in the car after work on a Friday night and reach by like 10 pm at the latest. This would then be long-distance.
When dating long distance, during the weekend, or week, or two weeks at a time that you spend together? Emotions run high. Everyone is on their best behavior. It’s thrilling. Both of you are psyched to be around each other. You avoid disagreements because you don’t want to sully the limited time you have together, so you want it all to be great.
This is not a real relationship. It’s a fantasy. It’s a romance lived only in the high moments. It’s seeing your partner through a lens of idealism, and not the complete reality.
You cannot know someone well only seeing them once a week for a few hours at a time. Or, spending time with someone once or twice a month for a week. This is, instead, seeing and experiencing them through a mirage.
Then, when one of you inevitably moves and uproots your whole life to head across the country (or state) to be with the other, there is a decent chance you are in for a shocking surprise. That you will then realize, there was a lot you still did not know about this person. And, there is a significant chance you may further realize, much of it does not jive with you as well as you thought.
Relationships started and created over long-distance are built, somewhat, on clouds, fantasy, and air. They are not concrete and real. You need to live within close vicinity (a couple of hours, max), and be able to spend ample time with this person on a regular basis, to truly come to know someone. Long-distance does not really permit this.
We choose partners based on shallow traits.
“He or she is hot.”
“They have money.”
“He is financially stable.”
“She is sporty.”
“He makes me laugh.”
None of this tells you what kind of partner that person will be. And, none of it indicates what kind of person they are, in terms of their character, deep inside their soul. And, this is the stuff that determines how lasting and good a relationship will be…or not.
Instead, these are shallow, fluffy, ultimately meaningless traits. These are not traits that make a relationship great. They are not qualities that are synonymous with making someone a great partner. And, they are not things that determine whether a relationship has the potential to be healthy and long-lasting.
Far more important criteria to judge by: are they kind-hearted? (And no, “nice” and seeming friendly is not the same as kind. Anyone can seem “nice” and come across as relatively friendly and outgoing. This is not one and the same as having a kind heart. Kindness is something deeper). Are they honest, even when it’s difficult? Are they emotionally mature? Are they patient? Are they a good listener most of the time? Are they humble? Are they forgiving, while also having confidence and strong personal boundaries? Are they respectful to others? Do they have any substance addictions?
These are the things to watch carefully and to figure out with regards to if someone is a good potential partner and a possible solid, long-term match.
And, they are not things you figure out after just six dates. These can only be observed over much time spent with someone. They will also be quite challenging to glean within long-distance relationships.
We base too much of our interest in someone on their looks.
“She has great boobs”
“He’s so tall.”
“They have great hair.”
“They have an awesome butt.”
Guess what? All of this is fleeting and temporary. We all age. Our bodies will sag. We will lose many of these “hot” attributes unless we go the route of becoming more plastic than human (like Joan Rivers), but then she is not someone anyone would describe as “hot.” Instead, she just looks scary. So, we will all eventually lose our looks. This is part of aging.
Yes, you should be attracted to your love. If you aren’t, and if you do not enjoy sex with your romantic partner, it is likely going to be a far less satisfying and way harder relationship to maintain over the long-term (unless both people are not into sex, and that would then be different). So, I am not saying that attraction isn’t important. It is, very much so. It is one of the factors which connects a couple to one another.
What I am saying is that there are far more important questions to consider about your romantic partner. You may find them hot, but, do you love who this person is on the inside? Are they interesting and intelligent? Is this someone you will enjoy conversing with once the two of you are no longer “hot”? Do you love their mind and intellect?
If not? It’s unlikely to be a healthy, fulfilling, and happy relationship that will go the distance.
All of this is more important, and more enduring than “hotness.”
We commit too quickly.
Within dating, we commit far too fast. Consider this: committing to someone via monogamy is not so far off from committing as in marriage. One entails vows and a ring, the other does not. They are similar, though, in that both involve saying, “yes, I will only date, only sleep with, only be deeply emotionally attached to you and no one else. I will invest entirely in you, at the exclusion of all other potential mates.”
That is a huge deal. It is putting all your eggs in one basket.
Do you really know someone well enough after, say, six dates, or one month, or even three months, to pick them at the exclusion of any other potential options? How do you know this? Did you really date around? Scope out several people to see who might be a truly good match for you…? Did you make this decision mindfully, carefully, and after considering several other options to see who might be a great fit with you?
Or, did you go on three dates with one person and decide, I like this person, and then lock it down? Which, in reality, means you’ve put all your eggs in one basket and essentially jumped into the pool of water headfirst without looking closely to make sure it’s safe, with someone you know almost nothing about.
Even knowing someone for three months, you hardly know them at all.
Ruminate on how long it takes to really, intimately get to know someone. Say, a best friend. It takes months and months and months. A year or two. And even then, things happen which you then think, wow, I didn’t really know this person as well as I thought I did.
We commit way too quickly.
Likely, partially out of emotional immaturity, it may be partly out of insecurity and desperation, and it can also be because of societal pressure. We are told, all the time, constantly by the culture at large, that “once you find a partner,” then your life will be complete. This is why so many people settle. It’s why they pick fast and later realize, they picked wrong. It’s why so many of us make poor relationship choices impulsively.
Don’t want to keep picking wrong? Learn to slow way, way down. And, learn to love time spent in your own company. Do not view your own company as a deficit or hole to be filled. That is where trouble in dating begins.
Just because you are attracted to and feeling thrilled in spending time with someone does not mean you know them, and it does not necessarily mean they are a good match for you. That takes much time to figure out. Enjoy the thrill, keep getting to know them, but do not commit so quickly. Pump the breaks and explore other people as well. This is what dating is all about.
We have sex too soon.
Don’t get me wrong, I am all for people having sex whenever they wish. If it feels right for you, there is nothing wrong with this morally or otherwise. I am not condemning those who love sex and who choose to have it on their own timeline. With my first love, we had sex on the third date. So I get it. Sex is fun. It feels good. It’s thrilling. And, we also live in a culture that encourages a lot of casual sex.
Yet, chemicals are released in the brain on orgasm which bond you to the person with whom you are having sex.
Thus, if you have sex with someone after just a few dates, you are going to become emotionally attached to them. And this can be dangerous because it blurs our vision and our ability to see this person clearly while still getting to know them.
Many, many, many a person has stayed in a relationship for good sex, even though it was otherwise not a good fit. And, a plethora of people has had sex too soon, gotten attached, believed it was “true love” because of this, and later on realized they made a terrible mistake when the rose-tinted mist fades from their glasses.
I understand. It’s way hard to hold off when the tension is high and you are into someone. Know what’s more fun than having sex right away though? (And I am speaking from personal experience). Letting the tension stretch and draw out. The thrill building. Waiting. Wondering what it will be like when you are finally intimate with them. Aching. Wanting. And allowing this to draw out for several weeks. It’s difficult. It’s a challenge, no question. It’s also wildly sexy and erotic.
There is only one time during a relationship when you get that sexy, flirty, infatuated, tension-laden stage. Once it passes, it’s done for good. So, why rush it? Why not draw it out and revel in it more? This benefits you twofold. With making more mindful, thoughtful decisions as you get to know someone, and, it’s sexy and such fun.
Ponder more carefully, with thought and consideration, the ways in which you approach dating. All of the above are common methods of dating in our culture today which frequently result in problems and regret later on down the road. They can contribute to impulsive, rash decision making, choosing wrong, and ending up, over and over again, in ill-fitting relationships. Choose, instead, to seek learning, wisdom, and better dating practices. Your romantic relationships will become that much the better for it.