The canvas of dating has changed drastically over recent years. I cannot recall seeing so many people struggle with dating in the past as I see today - and it's not specific to a particular gender, either. When I was in the dating game several years ago, I don't recall it being this complicated, overwhelming, and anxiety-producing. But, it is. And those feelings are magnified with sheer frustration.
The frustration is magnified by a few factors. One, the number of apps that are continually developed to help people pick their path: hook up, have casual sex, have a relationship, or find 'the one' is simply mind boggling. My patients who I help with their dating life, keep me informed! I don't know how people do it. Two, the pace of dating has become the rat race on steroids. And, three, many people are caught between two different worlds - meaning they struggle to honor their values and what is important to them (not rushing into sex, wanting to be courted, take time to get to know someone) but still try to keep up with the dating scene. It creates tremendous pressure on a person.
5 Ways to Manage Your Dating Life
1) Forgo the dysfunctional timeline. Tina, 31 is starting to feel the pull and pressure of falling behind her friends of which many are in relationships, married, and/or starting a family. However, things are starting to change with her. Working together, she is beginning to realize that how she has been dating is actually counterproductive. She often does not continue to date someone if she doesn't feel the feelings right away or finds something wrong (even if it's something that is potentially insignificant). Her thinking is that this allows her to weed out non-potential guys right away, but the paradox with this situation is that she might be saying no to someone when a little more time could become a yes. She also admits to being stuck in a timeline – "after this number of dates I am expected to feel a certain way, have sex, or be a certain place." A dysfunctional timeline creates a sense of desperation (and people feel that), which usually results in poor decisions and regrets. It also results in going on a lot first dates - and more frustration.
2) Examine lofty expectations. People say they don't have expectations, but we all do. Being active in the dating world, often forces these expectations to the top even though at first glance it might not appear that way. Ask yourself - Do you have lofty expectations? Do you expect your future partner to be the 'be all to the end all?' Do you expect him/her to be everything? Do you date with that mindset and if something is amiss or doesn't align perfectly, do you 'move on to the next person?' Do you put too much on the other person without taking responsibility for your life? We go in with hope and often a bar that is raised to high (and this doesn't mean you should settle). If your expectations are too lofty - or if you are too picky - you might find yourself alone or discarding someone who is right in front of you.
3) Let society dictate. This can really go both ways. On the one hand, people still want to be coupled up, even as time marches on and we are becoming more of a society of singlehood than marriage. People are not so quick to buy into the marriage/kid narrative like they once were. They are bucking the old system and doing their own thing. If that's a good fit for you, that's a great feeling. However, if you are like many others, finding 'the one' begins to take on a path all its own. It becomes all too consuming. It dictates your behaviors, choices, friends, direction - and that's not always a good thing. People become ruled by society; they want to fit in and feel good, as they think that they need to have someone in their life. Societal timelines also extend to evaluating the dating process in the number of dates. For example, do you feel pressured that after a certain number of dates you are expected to feel a certain way, have sex, or be a certain place? I hear this a lot from people - especially about sex.
4) Not honoring your red flags and deal breakers. It's one thing to have red flags and deal breakers, but it's another thing to actually honor them. Many people say they have red flags and deal breakers but continue to move their 'line in the sand' when it comes down to it. As a result, they begin to settle - too quickly - rather than be alone. They settle on their values, lifestyle, dreams, and goals. They prefer to be unhappy and ultimately miserable than face their fears and their own issues so they can end up in a satisfying and healthy relationship - even if it takes more time and self-exploration. However, the red flags will continue to pop up and force you to examine what is really going on. Because if you don't take the time, history repeats itself - through chronic poor relationship choices - and you just end up feeling bad about yourself and question your judgment.
Ask yourself, what are my red flags? What are my deal breakers? I have people examine not just their values but what are the traits they are most looking for? What are the traits they can compromise on, and what are the traits or things about a person that don't bother them? Knowing yourself and what your red flags and deal breakers are, will help you stay the course and honor what's important to you in a relationship.
5) Have the intimacy illusion. A few texts and following on Facebook and/or Instagram and bam – people feel they have connected and have created an illusion of intimacy that doesn't actually exist. That illusion gets many people in trouble, thinking that they are a couple or onto something good – but they are actually moving way too fast. As a result, they find themselves in an uncomfortable place and doing things (mostly sexual) that they really don't want to do. People say, 'we are so close,' 'we have shared so many stories about ourselves.' But is this really a sign of a true, solid relationship? Having sex too soon can result in feeling bad about yourself and it certainly clouds the issues that are often hiding in plain sight.
Finding the right partner means you make decisions based on the right reasons. Here are a few:
- Similar lifestyles and values.
- Several similarities and some differences – this is a great combo!
- They bring out the best in you.
- You have fun.
- You look forward to seeing them.
- They are on a similar timeline.
- You don't feel pressured.
Now for the wrong reasons:
- You don't want to be alone.
- Someone is better than no one.
- He/she will change.
- Pressure from family, friends, co-workers.
- Feeling you are never going to find someone – so why not?
- Expecting him/her to fill a void.
- Your biological clock is ticking…fast.
In life - and especially while you are dating - the most important gift you can give to yourself is acceptance, meaning recognizing the qualities that are important to you, and honoring them. Know who you are and where you are in your life and where you are not, as well as what's important to you and how to honor your values. This will guide you down your own path instead of taking a path dictated by society or another's rules.
Dr. Kristin Davin (AKA "Dr. D") is a Divorce Mediator and Clinical Psychologist practicing in New York City. Her approach is based upon Cognitive Behavior Therapy combined with Solution Focused Therapy. You can learn more at www.kristindavin.com.