My dad is a clinical psychologist, and I’ve grown up learning the “right” way to do relationships. Still, establishing healthy dynamics in my relationships (romantic or otherwise) has always proved difficult for me.
Pretty much everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from doing it the wrong way first.
I’m getting better all the time and with each new phase of life I can see the mistakes of my past in a whole new light. So now that I’m married, I thought it might be valuable to share the biggest mistakes I made when I was dating.
I’m sure there are more, but here are 10 that come to mind.
1. I had tunnel vision
I kept a long (mental) list of qualities I was looking for in a man and dismissed anyone who didn’t fit the bill. Or, I would have a single person in mind that I wanted to date, and wasn’t willing to pay attention to anyone else.
I don’t think it’s bad to know what you want, and hold out for it, but I can see now how the mental lists I kept were limiting; and that waiting around for “the one” person stunted my progress and personal growth.
2. I wasn’t honest about myself from the beginning
I was often dishonest (or silent) about who I was or what I wanted or needed or was expecting from a relationship because I worried my honesty would cause the relationship to end. What I found was that being dishonest about myself to keep a relationship felt worse than actually losing it.
Being in a relationship as someone I was not felt worse than not being in a relationship at all.
3. I made dating all about finding “The One”
Now that I’m married I have to say I’m not sure I even believe in “The One.” Or I do, but I believe my husband is “The One,” simply because I chose him and continue to choose him every day.
When I made dating all about finding my husband, I put way too much pressure on myself and the men that I was dating, and in the process missed out on a ton of really wonderful opportunities for growth and learning and (heaven forbid) fun.
Looking back now, I can see how dating was practice. The dynamics and patterns that played out in my dating life are the same habits and patterns that present themselves in my marriage.
I wish I would have gotten started “practicing” healthy habits sooner.
4. I stayed in bad relationships too long
I would like to say it was loyalty or long-suffering or devotion, but mostly I think it was just plain fear of the unknown. More than once I knew a relationship wasn’t right, but stayed because I didn’t want to experience hurt and because I didn’t want to cause hurt to someone I loved.
What I found was that, in the end, staying in a wrong relationship never made the leaving less painful. Delaying the leaving made the inevitable pain worse.
5. I trusted before it was time
I move fast at everything. I don’t know why I would expect it to be any different in my dating life. But while my efficiency and ambition have worked to my favor in almost every other area of my existence, they have never been my allies when it comes to relationships.
Trusting people is good. I want to be the kind of woman who can trust. But I’ve learned to hold onto my trust until I’m sure a man is worthy of it. Time reveals character. If I can be patient, time is on my side.
6. I didn’t require clarity
I was in too many relationships where we never clearly articulated our feelings for each other and as a result we were both confused and disappointed. I’m not suggesting a DTR before you even order appetizers, but I do think it’s important to talk openly – even about the difficult stuff – from the beginning.
It may make you (or your date) a little uncomfortable to talk about expectations in the beginning. But I’ve learned that the way I communicate in the beginning of a relationship sets a precedent for how I communicate in that relationship later.
7. I ignored my instincts
My instincts aren’t always right. But even when my instincts don’t tell me the right thing about a person or situation, they do tell me something, usually something about me (fears, insecurities, etc).
I’ve learned to see how that the voice inside of me is screaming for a reason. I just have to figure out what the reason is.
8. I valued words above actions
When I was dating I was too easily won with words, and and was too liberal with my own words before I was ready to back them up with actions.
Words are easy. Talk is cheap.
I’m learning to see how trust is built on actions, not just intentions. If your date says one thing, and does another, take note. If he says he’ll call at a certain time, and he does, be impressed. If she is honest with the people around her (other than you) you can guess she’ll probably be honest with you as well.
9. I wasted too much time complaining
For most of my twenties, I went to a church where you could hardly throw a Skittle without hitting a handsome, intelligent, well-meaning man in the head. Still, I wasted time whining about how I couldn’t meet anyone.
Our external realities are often a reflection of our internal worlds. I’m learning to see how at least half of the problem was me, and my bad attitude.
10. I made the wrong conclusions about red flags
First I had a problem dating men with tons of red flags, so I made a vow to stop doing that. Then I found my new problem was that I wasn’t dating anyone at all. I expressed this concern to a friend and he said, “that’s because we all have red flags.”
I’ve learned that the trick isn’t finding a person with no red flags (I have plenty of my own, and so does my husband) but finding someone who is aware of their own shortcomings and failures, willing to talk about them openly and honestly, and ready to do the hard work it takes to turn them into areas of growth.