How A Risky Negotiation Tactic Taught Me That I Deserve Better Than Crappy Men

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man arguing with woman

After coming home from one date in a series of lackluster dates with yet another guy I felt OK but not great about, I confessed to my roommate that I wasn't sure why I kept seeing him — or many of the guys I'd dated, for that matter. Was it because I didn't have the "love yourself" mindset? Was I missing something in my life?

I'd dated someone who didn't believe in using phones and preferred to "just hang out when we run into each other," someone who flirted with other women in front of me, and someone who was literally a Satanist. Depressingly, I always stuck around long enough for them to dump me.

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"You just lack a better BATNA," my roommate said.

I'd heard the term BATNA, or Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement, before, but only to mean what you'll take if a business negotiation doesn't go your way.

For instance, if you can't negotiate your salary, your BATNA may be a different job.

But hearing this term in the context of dating opened my eyes to the "negotiated agreements" I was settling for in my love life.

We all have different criteria for who we date, but most of us want someone who treats us right and shares a few core values.

The BATNA comes in when we meet someone who possesses some but not all the qualities we look for.

Let's say you want someone with strong career ambitions. Then, you meet Joe Shmoe, who doesn't have a rewarding job and doesn't want to change that. Your BATNA could be:

  1. Decide you're willing to date someone without strong career ambitions if he has the other qualities you value.
  2. Remain single and keep looking.
  3. Pursue another relationship.

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The qualities that are and aren't negotiable vary from person to person. Maybe you're perfectly happy with someone who puts a steady job above a rewarding career.

Yet I've noticed many people, especially women, choose option A even when it doesn't satisfy them because option B (remaining single) is an unappealing BATNA and option C isn't always available.

People often scratch their heads over why women serially date jerks or people who are just not right for them. Some theorize that we like "bad boys" who mistreat us, but that's just insulting.

My theory? Many women are uncomfortable with singlehood as a BATNA, but that can change.

I know because it changed for me. 

When I realized I was entering unsatisfying (and sometimes unhealthy) relationships because singlehood sounded even worse, I asked myself what these relationships gave me that my single life didn't. I realized I craved excitement because I was bored with my job, validation because I wasn't accomplishing anything I was proud of, and companionship because I hadn't prioritized my friends.

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This realization motivated me to pursue my dream of being a writer. My subsequent success boosted my ego and gave me more to look forward to.

Instead of navigating to OkCupid to see who was checking out my profile when I opened my computer, I'd head over to Twitter to see who was sharing my articles. And instead of obsessing over why Joe Shmoe was ignoring my texts, I took the time to respond to texts from friends that I was ignoring. I started listening when my friends asked, "What makes him so great?" because I felt pretty great about myself.

Now I don't have time to let anyone I'm dating mess with my peace of mind because I'm too busy loving life. My standards have skyrocketed because I'll only date people who make my life better than it is already, and that's a tall order.

I'd advise other women who have chosen settling over singlehood to think about what they gain from dating, figure out what other parts of their lives can provide these things, and ramp them up. We only put ourselves in a position to settle when we lack a better BATNA.

Making an awesome single life your BATNA can also save you a lot of heartache because when you're already having a blast, the thought that things might not work out with Joe Shmoe is suddenly not all that troublesome — especially if he's an anti-Luddite, an incorrigible flirt, or a devil worshiper.

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Suzannah Weiss is a freelance writer and contributor to PopSugar. She has written for The New York Times, New York Magazine, The Washington Post, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, Elle, Playboy, and other publications.