When it comes to the age-old practice of auditioning people for romantic involvement—otherwise known as dating—there are always going to be wild cards. Like people canceling at the last minute…or when you show up at the bar and realize the bartender’s your ex. But there are some factors you can control: namely, your own behavior. And if you’re leaning on less-than-healthy routines, you could be sabotaging your love life. Here, nine toxic habits to banish ASAP.
1. Talking too long before meeting
Every once in a while, you match with someone and the banter is off the charts. Before you know it, you’re chatting every night before bed to the point that you know each other’s childhood hopes and dreams (to be an astronaut, of course). Only you haven’t actually met in person yet. It’s nice to be able to open up, but that digital wall between you can foster a false sense of closeness. Aside from not knowing if there’s in-person chemistry (which, contrary to popular belief, isn’t strictly physical attraction), you’re not seeing them in the context of the world—how they interact with other people, how they comport themselves in public, whether your conversation styles actually mesh in person. (Remember, this is how people get catfished.)
2. Writing people off for insignificant things
Six-foot-two? Check. Has a cute dog? Great. Oh wait, he’s a Cancer? Pass. Sound familiar at all? Whether you’re swiping left on a less-than-ideal profile or mentally rejecting someone mid-date over their drink choice (who orders a piña colada at a dive bar?), you might just be looking for an excuse not to engage. Note this is not the same as being picky or having high standards—you can and should be as picky as you damn well please—but if you’re ruling people out for things that you logically know don’t matter, especially before meeting them, you’re prematurely shutting down potential connections.
3. Expecting an immediate spark
Pre-first date, it’s totally normal to feel a flutter of anticipation. What if they’re everything you hope they are? But don’t let your expectations color your evaluation of the in-the-flesh version when you finally meet them. Again, this isn’t a purely physical thing—you’ve likely made some assumptions about their personality based on their profile, their photos, the handful of messages you’ve exchanged. Instead of fixating on what they’re not, keep your eyes open to what else they reveal to you. Maybe they’re a little less outgoing than you’d hoped, but under that reserved exterior there’s a wry sense of humor.
4. Getting too many second opinions
Met someone you like? Great! Except, oh right, now comes your brain, over-complicating every interaction. Discussing your feelings with your BFF is one thing, but if you’re workshopping every text response in your friend group chat, you might need to take a step back. Ultimately only you can know what’s right for you, and the more opinions you get involved, the less you’ll behave authentically. Overanalyzing is the enemy—and in my experience, second (or third or fourth) opinions just lead to more of it.
5. Just going along with it
You matched, you met, you went on a handful of dates. Suddenly it’s three months later and your friends are asking if they can meet your girlfriend. Except you’re not sure you even like her that much. Yes, it’s good to give people a chance, but it’s also important to check in with your own feelings and not just default to being amenable to what the other person wants. You’re not doing her any favors by dragging it out—you actually might end up hurting her more if she misconstrues your passiveness as commitment.
6. Not being honest with yourself
You’re 90 percent sure you want a relationship. The guy you met last weekend has been upfront about wanting something more casual. But he seems emotionally intelligent and the chemistry is unreal, so…why not see where it goes? You can win him over. While this strategy may be known to work on (rare) occasion, pay attention to whether choosing people who don’t align with your needs is a pattern for you. You don’t apply for an internship and hope the company suddenly decides to make you CEO, do you? The same goes if the roles are reversed, for the record: If you’re a lone wolf who keeps dumping well-meaning romantics when it gets too serious, maybe be more straightforward from the get-go.
7. Internet stalking before the first date
Look, I get that this is a touchy one. We all do it! But aside from, say, a very basic search to ensure someone’s not a murderer (or a catfish), most digging is just going to put you in a weird headspace and do more harm than good. Here’s an example: I matched with someone I’d previously known as an acquaintance, and after a quick Google discovered that he’s been sober for years. Not only did this cause me to completely panic when the waitress came to take our drink orders (I landed on herbal tea, of all things), I then had to pretend I was receiving new information when he told me about his sobriety. And while that may be an extreme example, knowing what someone’s ex looks like or that they used to have a beard is not relevant at this exact moment. (Would you want them finding those sexy Max from the Where the Wild Things Are Halloween pictures from 2013? I rest my case.)
8. Not being straightforward when you don’t like someone
After two dates, you can definitively say that your latest Hinge match isn’t for you. Only he keeps texting and asking to hang out again. You don’t want to be rude, so you start tapering off your replies and hope he gets the hint. Nobody likes rejection, but think of it as saving yourself time and energy by closing that door neatly instead of doing the old fade-out. A quick “Hey, I had fun, but I don’t think this is a good fit” should do the trick. If he keeps bugging you after that, you have permission to ghost. And if things escalate from there, report his butt to the app.
9. Opting out because you can’t be bothered
Unlike IHOP, not anytime is a good time for dating. Maybe you’re focusing on work, prioritizing self-care or devoting your free time to finally watching The Wire (all worthy pursuits). But if you’ve been avoiding taking the plunge for a while—assuming meeting people is your eventual goal, that is—you might be building it up into something bigger than it needs to be. Yes, sometimes dating can be emotionally taxing. But a lot of the time, it’s just an excuse to go out and drink rosé on a Tuesday. Don’t psych yourself out by thinking too much beyond that.