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Archive for April, 2008

No doubt.

You meet someone great and you go out on a regular basis. Nothing’s official yet, but things could possibly head in that direction. Then: Doubt sets in. What if I like them more than they like me? What if the next time I see them, I’ll think it’s just a date, but they’ll use it as an opportunity to break things off? What if I’ll get the same lame excuses as I’ve gotten in the past? They’re not ready for a relationship right now. I’m totally their kind of person, it’s just not working out. They’ve met someone else.

I’ve been on the receiving end of the first two excuses. Yes, I’m the person who dispenses advice here, but I’m not immune to being scared. It’s not any easier when my heart gets broken! So I’ll own up to my own insecurities. My routine goes thusly: I meet someone, we hang out, things seem to go well, then I get nervous. I start over-analyzing conversations. Was he less affectionate-sounding today than he was last week? Are our conversations not flowing as easily? Seriously, I do this. And it’s aggravating because it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. I get freaked out for no reason, then things go south for other reasons, then I’m like, “Aha! I totally knew it.” Post hoc ergo propter hoc.

But it’s not that I predicted the end. It’s that my insecurities turned me into someone who’s less fun to be with. So I’ll set a mid-year’s resolution to cut that out, and I invite you all to join me. Stop inventing theories as to how the person you’re dating is acting and start watching how they act. Do they keep calling and asking you out? You’re good. No one, no matter how cowardly they are about breaking up with someone, will continue to dedicate time and effort into developing a budding relationship if they don’t think it’s going anywhere. Would you? If you weren’t really interested, you’d start distancing yourself. You’d let more time pass before returning a phone call, you’d be vague about accepting a date invitation, and eventually you’d drop the hammer. But you like them, so you don’t do these things. If they like you, they’re not doing these things, either. How they act reveals a lot more than what they say.

Stop letting doubt get in the way of something good. Don’t punish someone based on how your exes acted.

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Genius. Everyone, please read why you should treat your partner like your dog.

Jonathan Mead begins this post by saying “The biggest factor in determining the quality of our relationship is the way we view other people, particularly our partner.”  Yep, that’s what I’ve been saying all along!  How you change how you view other people?  By changing yourself, not other people.

We get disappointed with other people quite often.  They aren’t as attentive as we imagine they would be, and we invent reasons as to why they’d torture us so.  Odds are, they have no idea they’re neglecting us.  Clearly, when it comes to relationships, we need to lower our expectations a bit.

Yeah, you read that right.  We saddle people with the burden of unrealistic expectations, we never make those expectations clear, and then we get angry when they’re not met.  Does that sound fair to you?  If you were in school and you had a professor that handled papers and exams that way, you probably wouldn’t do too well in the class.

So, if you treat your loved one like they’re supposed to be able to read your mind, you’re setting yourself up for a miserable and very short-lived relationship.  Instead, treat them like you would a dog: as someone who is honest, faithful, understanding and eager to please, if only you’d teach them not to chew on your shoes.  Lower your expectations, and they’ll be exceeded every time.

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I got my first question from a reader! This one comes from Kristin, who wants to know why otherwise great women change their personalities for lesser men. I picked out the meat of her e-mail for clarity:

…It seems like a lot of really smart, independent women I know end up changing (like, in a bad way) after they start dating not-so-great guys. This is a general observation, certainly there are exceptions where these types of women do end up with guys who appreciate them. But, more often than not, it seems like women are very willing to sacrifice a part of themselves to be in a relationship…

…Also, and this is another general observation, but it seems like a lot of qualities women sacrifice for relationships are also the same qualities that are empowering: being outspoken, formulating independent opinions, speaking up for their beliefs, etc. Why is it that these characteristics in particular seem to be the first to go??

I’ll attempt to answer this by breaking down Kristin’s points into the individual issues. Now, I’m going to talk about women changing themselves because that’s the question, but rest assured that I’ve seen several men turn into complete doormats to hold onto their bitchy and manipulative girlfriends. My answers can also be applied to them if you swap some of the pronouns.

But, more often than not, it seems like women are very willing to sacrifice a part of themselves to be in a relationship.

A woman can be intelligent, educated and gainfully employed and still have no clue about relationships. The hypothetical lady in question looks great on paper, but she has yet to reach the level of emotional maturity and self-assurance one needs to recognize when a guy isn’t good enough for her. When you’re in a long-term relationship, yes, compromises must be made (after all, you’re a “we” and not a “me”). In theory, though, your boyfriend fell in love with you for who you are, so you can stay that way and still keep the relationship. The problem is, some women don’t know that, hence the sacrificing of a part of themselves. And now to another issue:

…but it seems like a lot of qualities women sacrifice for relationships are also the same qualities that are empowering: being outspoken, formulating independent opinions, speaking up for their beliefs, etc.

So we’ve already established that women sacrifice parts of themselves to remain in relationships with losers. Losers are often guys who don’t really like their women outspoken and independent. Case closed.

Actually, it’s not that simple. When someone you know becomes half of a couple, they change, which is usually not a bad thing (especially if they’re dating someone really awesome). Now, if they’re unable to unlatch themselves from the boyfriend for an occasional girls’ night out, or every sentence starts with “my boyfriend” instead of “I just finished this great book”, they need a bit of a talking to. Also, if you notice the following
1. they start dressing very differently (like, they used to show a bit of cleavage and now they cover everything and there’s no religious basis for it)
2. they need to check in with the boyfriend forty times a night, and if you tell them they don’t have to, they look scared and call anyway
3. they seem to shut themselves off from the world and you never see or hear from them
your friend might be dating someone who will soon become abusive, so help them get the hell out.

Let’s assume, though, that a woman is not dating an abusive guy, she’s just dating some creepy dude who’s way beneath her, and she doesn’t realize how much she’s watered herself down just so she can say she has a boyfriend. Again, this is her fault. Creepy Dude will always be creepy because it’s working for him. That she doesn’t know she can do better is her problem. That she holds onto him because she’s afraid of being single is her problem. That she feels as though she needs to turn into a shell of her former self to keep a man is her problem.

Again, this is a matter of the woman figuring herself out before getting into another doomed relationship. Why does she pick men who don’t encourage her to be herself? Why does she feel as though she can no longer have independent opinions once she is dating someone? These are issues that run deep, and they won’t be solved by hopping from one bad relationship to another.

Kristin said herself that

… certainly there are exceptions where these types of women do end up with guys who appreciate them.

Yes. These people get it. Smart, wonderful women do not change for ALL men. They change for BAD men.

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And it wasn’t even so I could date him myself!

While we’re covering the subject of not remaining in a bad relationship, I had met this guy through friends a few years ago, and I guess I seem like an understanding person, so he opened up to me.  He loved his girlfriend and he’d been with her for a long time, but she was kind of self-centered and did some inconsiderate things to him.

I said to him that she would never change.  What he’s getting now is what he will always get from her, so if he was okay with that, fine.  But if he didn’t like how she treated him, he’d have to break up with her.  He kind of nodded when I told him this, as if it were something he knew deep down but wouldn’t admit until someone else said it out loud.  Now, I didn’t tell him this thinking he’d actually pick a course of action.  It was just what popped into my mind when he told me what was going on, and within an hour, I had forgotten that the conversation took place.

A few days later, he told me he decided to break up with her.

Does that make me some kind of home wrecker?  Anyway, we didn’t keep in touch so I don’t know if he followed through, but I’ll give him credit for actually listening to my difficult-to-swallow advice.  I think at that point he was ready to hear something he didn’t want to hear.  This might have been why he took the advice of a relative stranger.

I said in my last post that you can’t change an asshole into a good person.  Most people avoid getting themselves involved with assholes, but they do get themselves involved in relationships that won’t work out.  You have different life goals, different family backgrounds or moral codes, etc.  These are solid reasons to end a relationship on otherwise friendly terms.  What’s important to do is
1. Recognize how you’re different
2. Establish whether or not you can live with those differences
3. Decide if you’ll stay with them or break up

It’s a simple three-part formula until you realize you’re dealing with your emotions, which tend to get in the way.  But the important rule to always remember is that when it comes to other people, what you see is what you get. This is important when you’re developing a friendship, and it’s even more important if you begin dating someone.  You can be friends with someone who, say, handles their finances differently than you do, but that kind of difference can ruin a relationship.  No one will magically change overnight, particularly if their current way of living works for them.  Even when presented with the consequences of their actions (their SO breaks up with them), most people will continue to act as they had before, and eventually find someone else who puts up with it (unless they come to realize that they are the common factor in all of their failed relationships and then take a break from dating to do some self-evaluation, but that’s expecting a lot).

My point is this.  You know that joke where the guy goes to the doctor and says, “Doc, it hurts when I do that” and the doctor says, “Then don’t do that”?  Relationships are the same way.  If you’re dating someone and you don’t particularly like how they act most of the time, don’t date them.  If you talk to them about what’s bothering you and they don’t change, there’s your answer.

So, to that guy whose relationship I might have inadvertently ended, I hope you found the strength to ask for what you deserve, and I hope you got it eventually, because you were too nice to be treated badly.

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Because they don’t think they deserve any better.

This topic has come up in conversations with friends a lot in the past week. I’ve been away and haven’t updated the blog as a result, but the idea for this post has been swimming around in my head for days. In an earlier post I covered how to work on yourself if you keep striking out, but what do you do if you repeatedly find yourself in relationships where you’re put down, unappreciated, cheated on or, even worse, abused? Unfortunately, some people are experts at making a good first impression and then completely changing into a horrible person a few weeks or months into a relationship. Even the most savvy dater can fall into a trap. The problem begins when you fall into this trap over and over again, and you don’t get yourself out of it as soon as you recognize something’s amiss.

Then, I’m sorry, but it’s your fault you’re being treated this way. It’s not because you’ve done something to deserve it, but because you don’t think you deserve better. That’s right, this has nothing to do with the crappy SO, and everything to do with you.

So much of dating, oddly enough, has little to do with the other person. A lot of it does have to do with the other person, but not as much as you might think. Like I’ve said before, you can’t change other people. You’re not going to magically turn some cheating, lying moron into a caring partner (really, you’re not, so stop trying). Before you can find a person who will treat you well, you have to work on yourself. You’ve read that in this blog before, and there’s a reason I repeat it. You are not going to meet and recognize a truly kind and compassionate person if you don’t know
1. Who you are
2. What you want
3. What you deserve

You can be a wonderful, loyal boyfriend or girlfriend, but if you keep dating assholes, you’ll just be a doormat. If you still keep them in your life after you learn who they really are, you’re letting them control you. And it’s your fault for not thinking you’re worth more.

Stop letting yourself be taken advantage of. Stop dating horrible people because you think anyone is better than no one. Stop ignoring it when your friends and family express serious concerns about the person you’re with. Stop refusing to learn from past mistakes. Take a six-month hiatus (or possibly more) to figure yourself out. It’s better to spend a year on yourself than waste it on an idiot.

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