Sometimes, the modern dating and relationship landscape can feel more like navigating a mental minefield than connecting with potential partners.
Like evolutionary psychologist David Buss told me, changing gender dynamics are “activating a subset of our psychology in an unprecedented way.” There have been major changes in the past few decades, like financially independent women flooding the workplace and academia, as well as shakeups in what a “modern relationship” can or should look like.
In addition to that, over the past decade, we’ve seen even more drastic changes, such as the emergence of an expanded pool of dating “options” generated by easy-to-use apps, and short-term mating patterns ending in trends such as “ghosting.”
If I’ve seen one trend among the uncoupled or recently coupled, it’s a boatload of anxiety. Perhaps one of my 30-something female interviewees put it best when she said she simply doesn’t trust that her relationships will continue on happy trajectories anymore. “I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop,” she explained.
The reality of modern dating is that it’s a numbers and timing game. You have to meet a potential right person at a good (enough) time for developing the relationship you both want. And then you have to work hard to let go of your baggage from past dating and relationship experiences.
While I do understand the jadedness of daters today, if you’re constantly entering into relationships with the mindset that they’ll fail or your partner will disappoint you, this will become a self-fulfilling prophesy. And you might not even be aware of some of the ways you’re sabotaging yourself from potential happiness. Let’s talk about a few.
Having silly expectations for your partner.
A big component of the dating phase of a relationship is trying to figure out whether or not to keep seeing someone. You can obviously do that any number of ways, and you’re going to have to filter prospects in and out somehow. Sadly, not every way of filtering is an effective way to determine whether or not someone is a good potential partner.
Many daters still use rules and tests (which they often don’t convey to the person they’re seeing) as means to prevent hurt and make dating decisions. It’s “he should call me every day” or “we must see each other three times a week,” instead of “our relationship should feel like it has positive momentum” or “she follows through when she make makes a commitment.” The former is sort of like insisting there is only one way to get from New York to L.A. There isn’t, and you’re limiting yourself unnecessarily. Have standards, but lose the expectations.
Blaming exes’ wrongs on new partners
It’s hard not to carry your baggage around with you when you date. It’s such a fine line, right? If you were mistreated in the past, or missed signs the relationship was wrong for you, you’re going to naturally want to prevent it from happening again. However, it’s also suuuuper-important to have perspective on your lifelong relationship timeline; it’s broken up into unique segments, not one long relationship.
Try to walk into every new relationship with a fresh slate and .000 batting average. Believe the good and earmark the bad — but don’t walk away at the first small signs of trouble, such as a canceled date or a minor disagreement. No one is perfect, and I’ve seen so many people become triggered when something goes wrong. You’re wiser because of your past failures, but don’t be owned by them.
Shutting down or withdrawing emotionally.
Sometimes, sabotaging behaviors aren’t as obvious as lashing out or walking away when something goes wrong. Other daters get stuck in the breezy times, and only engage in the relationship during easy times and positive moments. If you’re going out, grabbing dinner, taking a trip, or shopping at Ikea? Cool, you’re in. But when things get hard or difficult, or you’re vulnerable? You’re out.
Usually this isn’t obvious to the person who is withdrawing emotionally. You don’t actively notice that you’re deflecting when your partner asks how you feel, or you’re balking when they want to take another step in your relationship (like meeting family). But if you’re not trying to talk about your feelings, be them good or bad, you’re actively preventing your relationship from getting past the early stages (most partners won’t be able to be with someone who refuses to be vulnerable in any way). This comes from a place of fearing hurt or rejection, but it’s important to stay aware of your moments of “shutdown.”
Brushing off issues, large or small, that you know are important.
There are other ways to prevent vulnerability, too. Another common self-sabotaging behavior is refusing to give your opinion, asking for what you need, or bringing up things that bother you. If the fact that he always makes last-minute plans bothers you and you don’t tell him that you see it as a sign of disrespect, he may never know. Similarly, if you stay mum about your political views or long-term goals because you think they’ll scare her off, they’ll become harder and harder to share wth her down the line.
Honesty, vulnerability, respect, and compromise are cornerstones of any relationship. Resentment or fear tends to stack up, one brick laid on top of another, until you’ve got a tower too tall to maintain its height. You’ll either blow up down the road when you can’t hold in your emotions anymore, or feel anxious every day until you get an important revelation off your chest. The sooner you discuss issues that cause your emotions to stir in committed relationships, the stronger your relationships will be.
Listening too much to outsiders’ opinions (friends, family, etc).
After many bad relationships experiences, people frequently look to outsiders for feedback about their relationships — sometimes more and more over time. Maybe you just want to know whether your friends think certain behaviors are normal, or you want general feedback about someone from your fam. Other times, you want to vent your fears and frustration, and you’re looking for someone to confirm and validate how you feel. People we love tend to do that for us — but it’s not always productive, and might give you incorrect assessments of your relationship.
It is great to have friends you trust in your inner circle; people you know will tell you if they feel something is truly off about one of your relationships. But you also have to remember that your family and friends might have certain ideas about love that don’t align with yours. In addition, telling someone an isolated incident between you and a partner (like an argument) is like ripping out one page of the novel that is your relationship and handing it to your friend.
The problem is that you don’t trust yourself. After lots of relationship misfires, it’s common not to. But you are the best judge of your own needs and what your partnership really is. Assess your significant other’s behaviors over time, looking for patterns that are consistently positive. Again, those crazy-high expectations can deconstruct an otherwise healthy bond.
Jenna Birch is a journalist, a dating coach, and author of The Love Gap (Grand Central Life & Style, January 2018). Her relationship column appears on Yahoo every Monday. To ask her a question, which may appear in an upcoming post, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with “YAHOO QUESTION” in the subject line.
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