If you feel like you missed the class that taught everything you needed to know about dating and you just can’t make these things called relationships work, you may be stuck in some unhealthy romantic patterns. These default strategies can often kick in without us even knowing it — from the moment those first crushy feelings arise and take hold until the relationship inevitably crashes and burns and sometimes beyond, making it difficult to get over a guy and move on with your dating life. Ironically, the very behaviors you engage in to get into a healthy, loving, committed relationship do just the opposite, leaving you in tremendous pain and feeling like you’re destined to be alone forever. Looking back at the wreckage of your relationship history, you’ll know if it’s time to cleanse your dating palate of the chaotic and destructive patterns that have gotten you to where you are, overwhelmed by loneliness and afraid you’ll be perpetually single. Click through to see some of the biggest offenders and suggestions for how to let them go. If you can break these deadly dating patterns, you might have a shot at that love thing after all. Even though you clearly missed that day in class. I think all of us did.
Getting Lost In Fantasy
The Pattern: After a date, you lie in bed all day reliving every delicious moment from the night before. Or as soon as you meet a guy, you envision your future dates with him, marrying him, or just having hot sex with him. At work, you bump into cabinets and space out during meetings because you’re so intoxicated by fantasies of this guy. And reading a book? Your attention span is shot and you can only keep your mind off him long enough to read a Tweet. Almost.
How To Break It: Make a rule for yourself: No Fantasy. This is hard because we have no control over where our minds roam. But while you can’t choose not to have that first thought, you can decide not to let yourself follow it. Instead of lying in bed reliving a yummy date, go out to brunch with a friend. And don’t relive the date with her! Talk about something—anything—else. Force yourself to finish reading that Tweet, or maybe even that book you were so into before you met him. Vagueness breeds fantasy. So if you’re having a serious flirtation with a guy and feel like you’re getting swept away, get back into reality STAT. As uncomfortable as it might be, try to have a conversation about what’s actually going on between you rather than indefinitely staying in a fantasy relationship with him. The more you can interact with the real guy instead of the fantasy guy, the better.
Being Involved With Unavailable Men
The Pattern: If a guy is dating someone, married, or otherwise engaged, you’re intrigued. Or maybe you don’t deliberately seek out unavailable men, but find that all the guys you’re inexplicably drawn to are already taken. You start out thinking it’s just a fling so it’s fine that he’s in a committed relationship. After all, you’re not that great with intimacy yourself, so dating an unavailable guy gives you the space you knowingly or unknowingly need. But then you get attached. You think he’ll leave her. So you wait. And wait. And wait. Or perhaps the guy’s not in a relationship at all, but he’s emotionally unavailable. Guess what? Emotionally, this is just as devastating and destructive to you.
How To Break It: GET OUT NOW! Or even better, don’t get in to begin with. It’s masochistic to be involved with a guy who’s not truly available for a relationship with you, whether it’s because he has a girlfriend, a wife, or just issues. It will turn you into this person you don’t want to be—someone who stands by on the sidelines of life waiting for a man to get his shit together and leave another woman. Here’s how this situation works out: it doesn’t. Maybe it worked out well for one person, and the guy left his wife/girlfriend/issues, and they lived happily ever after. But for mere mortals, even in those rare instances when the man does leave his wife, all that happens is he transitions into the “emotionally unavailable” category, and it still won’t work out. If a man is newly separated or going through a divorce, chances are he’s unavailable. Wait until his shit is like, really together. Dating any kind of unavailable man is not fun. It’s not romantic. It’s torture. And you deserve better.
Chasing Guys And Trying To Manipulate Them To Ask You Out
The Pattern: When you like a guy, you try to orchestrate events that will bring you together, like organizing a happy hour after work or a night out dancing with your classmates. The morning after a date you text him, “Thanks so much for last night, it was amazing! I’d love to see you again soon!” But you are not really expressing gratitude. You are trying to push him to ask you out NOW so you don’t have to sit with your Will he ask me out again? anxiety all week. You feel like you have to plot out every step of this relationship and without your constant vigilance, it will wither away and die.
How To Break It: Let go of the reins. You are not really in control anyway, even though you think you are. Know that your efforts are not helping move things along. Stop planning group activities—if he wants to ask you out, he’s a big boy and he knows how to without Karaoke Night being shoved in his face. Before you text him to thank him for a date, check-in with yourself and notice what your true motivation is. It’s great to let him know that you had fun and give this guy a sign that should he want to ask you out again, you’ll say yes. But make sure you are being genuine and free of ulterior motives. And about that anxiety. Sit with it. It will pass. Warning: Some relationships will wither and die when you stop making all the moves. But these relationships aren’t worth being in anyway.
Plus: I Don’t Regret Cheating
Mistaking Instant Emotional Intensity And Physical Attraction For A Soul Mate Connection
The Pattern: You lock eyes across a crowded room and feel magnetically drawn to him. Your heart races, your breath catches in your chest, and all you want to do is rip his clothes off. Or, on your first date, you already feel like you’ve known him forever. You’re so comfortable, and giddy that at last you’ve found a guy who you can really be yourself with. He laughs at your jokes! He hangs on your every word! He thinks you’re charming and adorable! There is never a lull in the conversation; you could talk for hours and hours so you do, and your date extends from a having one drink into the night and maybe even the next day. This is it! you think. He’s The One!
How To Break It: The problem with this pattern is that while emotional intensity and physical attraction are electrifying, they’re not love and definitely don’t mean that this person is your one and only soul mate. All this excitement and attraction can blind you from seeing red flags that could be popping up all over the place. Also, guys who come on really strong at the beginning tend to be the ones who shortly thereafter, disappear altogether. As good as it feels to have someone adore you, he doesn’t actually know you yet. And as for marathon dates: don’t have them. Keep your first few dates confined to a shorter period of time so as to avoid that We talked all night! high, followed by the Where the fuck did he go? low. Remind yourself that sex isn’t love, emotional intensity isn’t even love, and love at first sight is for rom-coms. You need to slow down and really get to know this person. And that, unfortunately, takes time.
Bonding Over Wounds And Wanting To Heal Each Other
The Pattern: When he tells you right off the bat about the medication he’s taking, you’re thrilled. “Cool!” you exclaim. “I’m depressed, too!” You commiserate about your rough childhoods, and how it’s so hard to set boundaries and stand up for yourselves. He’s in therapy, reads self-help books, and speaks the language of emotional awareness. He understands when you need Me Time, and lets you cry on his shoulder when life just feels too hard. This is great!you think, tired of having to put on a peppy, happy façade with guys. A sensitive guy who gets me, sees me with all my wounds, and still loves me. Together, we can heal each other! And then heal the world!
How To Break It: There is something comforting about dating a sensitive guy, especially if you’re a sensitive gal. But revealing such deeply personal information so early on before establishing a foundation of trust puts you at risk for being deeply hurt. It’s possible that two fragile people who come together in a relationship and accept and love each other can actually heal each other’s wounds. But if the guy doesn’t stick around, what happens is that the scab gets ripped off, salt gets rubbed in, and you’re left in excruciating pain, trying to bandage up your gaping wound. Hold off on the what’s-in-my-medicine-cabinet talk until you’re fairly certain that this guy is in it for the long haul, and that he carries plenty of Band-Aids.
Dating Men Who Are Successful In Your Field Instead Of Pursuing Your Own Career Success
The Pattern: You dream of being a writer so you date a well-known author while working as an administrative assistant. You long to be an actor so you date an accomplished performer while waiting tables. You love to sing so you date a rock star while your guitar collects dust in your closet. You put this person on a pedestal and worship him. He’s so brilliant, so incredible, so talented, you think. And he likes ME! You take pride in his accomplishments, and feel successful by association just because he’s dating you. And another year goes by of filing and expense reports, trying to make ends meet with crumpled dollar bills, and thicker layers of dust accumulating on your guitar.
How To Break It: Here’s the thing: while you’re focusing on his career, he’s focusing on his career, and no one is focusing on your career! Stop being a fan and start being your own person. Acknowledge what you really want to do with your career and take steps to make that happen. It isn’t enough to date someone who is doing what you want to be doing and it doesn’t bring you any closer to your goals. Take a class, apply for the kinds of jobs you dream of having, start a blog, go on auditions, dust off your guitar and hit an open mic. Do whatever it takes to get back into the starring role of your own life.
The Pattern: You want the guy you date to think you’re a great writer or singer or super-smart and savvy businesswoman. You need him to believe in you and your work. Love my writing, love ME! you think, as you send him links to every clip you’ve ever published after he expressed interest in your writing on your first date. Or email him YouTube videos of your latest gig. Or take him through your recent PowerPoint presentation. He believes in you and this feels wonderful, but you come to depend on his approval. Without it, you feel shaky and insecure.
How To Break It: As far as validation goes, the best place to get the approval you desire is from within yourself. However, to be able to do this all the time is an advanced practice for enlightened masters. Try to approve of yourself as much as you can, and in the meantime, don’t solely rely on your guy for validation. Because it’s a bit much to send someone you’re dating daily updates about your accomplishments in the hopes of receiving a gold star. And also, if the relationship ends and that guy was in charge of all your approval, it’s going to hurt like hell when he leaves and takes it with him. Whether you are in or out of a relationship, cultivate a network of supporters made up of friends, family members, teachers, and mentors, and share your accomplishments with them. Then give yourself your own gold star.
Becoming A Nervous Wreck Waiting For A Guy To Call/Text/Email
The Pattern: Your life stops when you are waiting to hear from a guy. Staring at the phone, you feel anxious and sick to your stomach. If someone else calls while you’re waiting for a call from him, it sucks to be them! Because you do NOT want to talk to them, and you are not good at hiding your disappointment. And how many times can you refresh your email in an hour? If you’re expecting an email from him, infinitely. Just sit in front of your computer and refresh. Refresh. Refresh. No email yet? Keep refreshing another million times. Eventually it will arrive.
How To Break It: Throw your phone and computer out the window. Kidding! There is a way to manage the panic and nausea of waiting for a guy to be in touch and fearing that he never will. Get busy with your own life in ways that involve leaving your home and preferably turning off your phone, like going to a movie or taking a yoga class. You may still be waiting to hear from him but at least your mind will be partially occupied with something else. At work, only let yourself check your personal email at set times, like once in the morning and once before you leave at the end of the day. They usually call eventually, this usually happens when you’ve finally stopped waiting, and staring at your phone/refreshing your email ad nauseam generally does not expedite this process.
Losing Interest In Your Life And Focusing On The Guy
The Pattern: You have a wonderful life filled with a great job and tons of hobbies and interests and you love it! You’re training to run a marathon, taking an improv class, in a book club, and experimenting with new recipes. But then you meet him. And nothing matters anymore. Except him. You skip running, ditch class, give up on the book you were reading, and start eating frozen dinners. All your energy is focused on when you’ll see him next and how he’s doing, and it’s a wonder you can even pay your bills and do laundry.
How To Break It: Guys really love it when the smart, interesting, vibrant woman they were attracted to turns into an obsessed girl who only cares about them. This doesn’t make them want to run for the hills at all. And forget what the guy thinks about you. Do you want to lose yourself for someone else? Hold onto your life at all costs, even if you have to hang on by your fingernails. Pay your bills, do your laundry, get up and run, buy that cilantro. Day by day, continue to invest in yourself and stay engaged in your life. If you’re going to drop your interests and single-pointedly focus all your attention on one man, you might as well sign up to be a contestant on “The Bachelor.”
Having Brief, Chaotic Relationships Followed By Long Periods Of Isolation
The Pattern: If you partake in any combination of the aforementioned patterns, you might find yourself in this one as a result. Because, when operating out of these behaviors, relationships hurt. They take you out of your life, make it nearly impossible to function, and are not sustainable for any length of time. There’s only so long you can hold down a job when you’re spacing out in fantasy during meetings, compulsively refreshing your email instead of reaching your deadlines, and using up your sick days to cry in bed because the guy you thought was your soul mate cut and run, or your married boyfriend cancelled another date. There’s only so much self-neglect you can take before you have to choose between falling apart completely and getting the heck out of these destructive relationships once and for all. So you isolate to protect yourself from ever having to experience this kind of pain again. And a few weeks alone turns into months and maybe years.
How To Break It: When you start to let go of patterns one through nine, relationships will stop being so painful and that’s half the battle. If you don’t lose yourself when you’re dating someone or become completely devastated when it ends, you won’t have to go to such extreme lengths to protect yourself. Work towards releasing unhealthy patterns gently and gradually, and you will have progressively healthier relationships that take less and less time to get over. Aim to date in a balanced way, where you can take some time off between relationships to process and heal, without this turning into years of not dating. If you find yourself getting stuck in isolation mode, reach out for help from friends or a therapist. And know that regardless of any unhealthy patterns you may have and no matter how checkered your relationship past is, you deserve love from others, and most importantly, from yourself.
– Jennifer Garam
This post originally appeared on The Frisky.