I'm all too aware that dating can feel like a grinding, painful roller coaster to nowhere. If you've hit your head against the wall as many times as I have, you know how frustrating, depressing, and downright disheartening it can be. Meeting someone new, going on a few great dates, getting excited, having one/both of you sort of stop calling and then repeating the process over and over is enough to make you want to give up for good.
The ups and downs in this cycle can make you feel unbalanced and nearly give you whiplash. While it can be fun to go on a bunch of dates with different people, it can also make you feel like you're floating alone on your own little island of solitude.
For happily married people, the trials of meeting a mate are ancient history that they often completely gloss over. So they often parrot off clichés like "you'll meet the right one when you most expect it" and "you'll find him when you aren't looking." When you're on this emotional roller coaster, these well meaning statements are enough to make you want to punch someone in the face.
How exactly do you even meet anyone if you aren't looking? Does someone accidentally fall on you in the grocery store? In the two-and-a-half hours I leave the house each week, is he going to trip on me at Starbucks while I'm nervously palming my skinny hazelnut latte and completely avoiding eye contact? Will I lock eyes with him at the library while I'm researching just how exactly relationships actually work? "Oh, hello beautiful. I see you're clutching every book on love ever written. I find that super intriguing. Want to go get a drink?" Said no one ever.
After a while, it's easy to feel like starting your collection of cats and totally giving up on the idea of ever meeting the right person. Several times during my dating experiences, I had to shut down my various online dating profiles for a few months and lick my wounds. It takes a lot of determination and/or masochism to keep putting yourself out there when Mr. Potential turns into Mr. Wrong with such break-neck frequency. It often became necessary to stop everything and reflect on why my dating experiences had been such abysmal failures.
Why wasn't it working? I went on so many dates that I was testing different outfits, different responses to texts, different time frames for everything. I tried every type of date I could imagine. I certainly could have won an award for persistence, but why did it still feel like not only were there great people out there, but they were behind some kind of sturdy glass wall?
Without fail, I would eventually put my rose colored glasses back on and try again, inspired by a friend meeting someone new or it being the absolute depths of winter. My best friend called it "going for another round." It took me years to realize that I was addicted to the experience of dating itself. There is a great deal of novelty in meeting new people and experiencing new things with them while clinging to the distant hope that one of them just might click.
The ups and downs were enough to keep me hooked, as I allowed my feelings about myself to be dictated by the opinions of people I barely knew. If they liked me, I liked me.
Somewhere along the way, I had let my ego get completely tied up in these experiences. I had fallen into the trap of letting my opinions of my failed relationships shape my opinion of myself. No wonder I felt horrible and had lots of go-nowhere relationships. I wasn't confident — I was afraid.
Dating was like trying on new bras. While it was often an uncomfortable, awkward, painful struggle, eventually I was ecstatic when I found a few that seemed to fit. Then, just like the lifespan of my favorite bras, the support system failed and the underwire started digging in. When this happened I felt horrible, and went out looking for my next fix.
One day this realization hit me like a ton of bricks while I was obsessing over the failure of my latest relationship. To stop feeling terrible and get off this emotional roller coaster for good, I realized I had a choice to make. I could either continue to view my failed dating experiences as abysmal failures that reflected poorly upon my self-worth and keep letting my self-esteem circle the drain. Or, I could manage my attitudes about my relationships in general and take a whole different approach to dating.
I could let myself off the hook and let the dating experiences just be what they were instead of tying my ego to them. When I stopped hanging so much of my feelings on these experiences, I started meeting completely different people than ever before. The best part about it was that even though I was still excited about a great date, there was no longer the subtle hint of desperation in my interactions.
To continue to date without this destructive emotional cycle was difficult but essential. Here is how I stopped tying my self worth to my relationship experiences.
1. Develop and maintain the belief that you are already whole without someone else.
Rather than looking for your other half and staying off balance, you must believe that you are worthy and whole right now. While it is a universal experience to want someone to share your life with, your value is not determined by your success or failure at searching for a mate.
When you strongly view yourself as a whole person who is looking for someone to share your life with, it takes away some of the fear that they won't like you, that your destiny is hanging on this outing, and that if they don't approve of you, you are back to square one.
2. Be mindful of your fears surrounding relationships.
So many people carry around the same negative thoughts about their desirability and about men. "I am flawed." "If I spill my guts to someone else, they will run." "I can’t be vulnerable." "I'm not enough." "I'm going to die alone." "If I commit I will be trapped." And on and on. These are all rooted in fear and are not facts.
When you hear yourself repeating any of these negative statements, say, "stop" and replace the thought with a positive affirmation. I like to use "I am whole, I am love," but use a positive statement about your worth that resonates with you. Too much fear will lead you to sabotage your relationship and potentially get rid of something good.
3. Know that rejection does not mean you are not good enough.
For whatever reason, you were not right for someone else. That decision is up to them. It is easy to get hung up on the “whys” behind their decision to dump you, but dwelling on it doesn’t change the reality. If you aren't right for someone else, they aren't right for you.
Each time someone isn't right for you and shows you that, honor their decision even if you feel differently. Move on and let them go. Do not use the experience as proof that you aren't good enough. For more about how to deal with rejection, take a look at this.
4. Get rid of the scarcity mindset regarding meeting the right person.
You have an infinite well of love to give another person. This love is extremely valuable. Do not underestimate its worth to a potential mate. There are lots of people in the world. You must maintain the belief that there are more than a few who would love your company. If it doesn’t work out with one, you are not doomed. In addition, there is not a timer on your desirability.
5. Be less serious about your search.
Go on fun dates. Refuse to turn your dates into stuffy job interviews in contrived romantic situations. Dates are not a matter of national importance. Show up, enjoy yourself and take some of the pressure off. Laugh and play. When you adopt a lighthearted attitude it is easier to be fully present and experience the other person in the moment. Fun takes the pressure off. Then if you two are not a love match, at least you had fun on the date.
If you are struggling with guys who constantly pull away, find out what to do here.
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