“So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach so we never dare to ask the universe for it. “– Jim Carrey
We have all seen it, or more likely done it ourselves. Some great opportunity comes our way, something that could change our lives for the better, but rather than taking it we talk ourselves out of it. We give ourselves thousands of different reasons for this but at the end of the day they are all just symptoms of one thing; our natural tendency towards self-sabotage.
Human beings come with something that some therapists refer to as a negativity bias; we are hardwired to look for the worst possible scenario in any situation. It’s a survival instinct, intended to keep us away from animals that might eat us, fires that might burn us, or rocks that might fall on us. Like everything else it has evolved, and for many of us is now linked to a seemingly endless cycle of rigidity, numbness, and negative self-talk.
Recently a friend and I got together to discuss some of our views on self-sabotage and dating; what we’ve done, what we’ve seen others do, and what we try to do to prevent it.
The Happy Traveler (H.T.): What are some of the most common self-sabotaging things you’ve done, or that you’ve seen others do, when it comes to dating?
Sugar Beard (S.B.).: Overthinking things, seeing them through to the death once I’m in a relationship; then I have a panic attack and bolt. Also, I think because of my religious background and how that is, I go into a relationship knowing it is going to fail, and I’ll warn them it is probably going to fail but that I’ll still care about them. If the worst happens, and subconsciously I know that the worst is going to happen, I’m preparing them, and myself, for failure before it really starts. And then after I’m into it for a while I realize that this isn’t the relationship for me because it isn’t going to get me to a point where I am truly happy and with my family again and then I just lose it and run away.
H.T.: So you go into these relationships knowing that they are going to end?
S.B.: Yes. But hoping somehow they won’t. I guess what I’m doing is I’m starting it off denying what I know to be true, for me, and hoping that I’ll feel differently this time. And it never does.
H.T.: I go in too hard too fast, every time. From the beginning. Because I do this I miss signs that should tell me something is not going to work. I also have an unfortunate habit of losing myself when I date. I become what they want, I don’t stay who I am. I’d call that self-sabotaging, because then ultimately down the road when who I am starts to come out again it doesn’t work for this person; I’m not who they thought I was.
S.B.: Sometimes it’s knowing what you really want out of life and a relationship, and then doing everything but that because you feel that trying to get it has been making you miserable all the time anyways so you’ll try the opposite. That’s what trying polyamory was for me, denying myself what I really truly wanted and trying to distract myself from that. I’ll ignore my personal checklist hoping that I’ll come up with a better checklist later and that the parts will just fill themselves out, or I’ll create a new checklist that lines up with where she’s at. But that’s not right, it’s not true to myself.
H.T.: For me it’s more that I don’t know what I want. I have no checklist, no desired outcome, no end goal beyond happiness. I’m making it up as I go along. This leaves me open to a lot more opportunity, but also means it’s much more likely that things won’t work out.
H.T.: Do you have any ongoing negative beliefs or opinions about yourself, others, or the process when it comes to dating?
S.B.: I’m in a really good place right now so it’s kind of hard to speak to that. Thinking back, I think the feeling of ‘I’m better than every guy out there’ really caused me a lot of frustration. I would think ‘why don’t any of these women see that?’, and to this day I know that I’m probably better in a lot of ways than most of these guys online dating. Of course there are guys out there that are far better than me. They have jobs, a home, a dresser, etc., but I knew that I had a lot to offer and it just frustrated me that women couldn’t see that. Or the ones that could were ones that I didn’t want at all.
H.T.: What about the dating process, what’s your view on that, the way dating is now?
S.B.: I think it really is too reliant on checklists. There is so much competition online, and there is a sense of desperation amongst everybody. The women have the advantage in online dating, they get so much attention they don’t have to approach guys, but it is frustrating for them because they are overwhelmed with losers. The guys feel like they are having to send their messages, cast their seed to the wind, and are not getting anything in return. You feel like you have to be perfect; your pictures have to be perfect, your blurb has to be perfect, your opening line has to be perfect, how you say hi has to be perfect. In the old days you met in a lineup or maybe there’d be a get together with some friends and you’d meet someone and you would just hit it off and exchange numbers. The days where a natural connection was made are gone, and now it feels like you have to force a connection before you even meet.
H.T.: I never think I’m good enough for anything, so that’s a real issue for me. I fight it, I fake it really well, but when it comes down to it I’ll take almost anything as long as it wants me, which is definitely a bad thing. It’s something I’m working on right now. I encounter all those losers and their messages all the time. It takes a real effort not to assume everyone is a loser when 99% of your messages are from them. The process… I like online dating; I don’t have a lot of negative views on it. I think people approach it in negative ways, but the actual structure of it is sound; you get a chance to learn about people, communicate with them a little, before you decide to meet with them. That works for me. So many people go at it negatively, like it’s a numbers game. ‘How many messages did I get today’, ‘how many likes did I get on POF’, ‘how many matches do I have on Tinder’, ‘how many dates have I gone on’, etc. It becomes a popularity contest, not even with anybody else, but with yourself. ‘Oh god, I got 5 less likes this week than I did last week, what’s wrong, I’d better put up a racier picture’. ‘I went on 3 dates this week and they were all bad, dating sucks, I’m never going to do it again’. I just want to say to that person, ‘Honey, you went on 3 dates in a week, you are doing pretty good!’ People are approaching online dating too hard and too fast; ‘I’ve got to meet everyone at once, I have to do it all now, I have to find my person right away, because I have this tool that should do that for me’.
S.B.: And if I don’t get them somebody else will.
H.T.: Exactly. The process of meeting someone that’s right for you shouldn’t happen in a month, or 3 months, or 6 months, or even a year. There is no timeline. If you are really looking to find someone to spend the rest of your life with you are going to want to take the time to make sure it’s the right person, and not just go with one of the first one’s that kind of fits what you think you might be looking for, then scoop them up before someone else can get them.
H.T.: Have you ever been in a situation where healthy skepticism has turned the corner, and has begun to undermine how you feel about yourself or a person you are communicating with?
S.B.: I’m usually pretty patient with people, but I’ll use an example. I was talking to a woman online. There was no picture on her profile, and she started getting very negative, saying “Oh, well you’d never be interested in me anyway. I’m a big girl.” I told her the last serious relationship I had was a marriage of 14 years with a bigger girl, and that yes looks can matter, but there’s a lot more than just that. It’s connection. She just went from one negative thing to another, and I just got tired of it. I told her she really was coming across as bitter, and she was just offended at that. Eventually she did send me a picture and she was a very pretty woman, I could have easily gone on a date with her, but the negativity just completely threw me off. I was like ok, if you are that negative about yourself, and you don’t know what I like and are assuming things about me,this isn’t going to work. I hate it when people assume based on things they perceive from my picture, or my profile, or my interests.
H.T.: She may be coming at that from a place where she has heard those things from other people before, but she shouldn’t be assuming you feel the same way. Since we got into talking about negativity, what do you do to break the cycle when you mind slips into a negative self-talk loop? It happens to all of us.
S. B.: I used to have conversations in my head where I’d have confrontations with people. For example, I would fight with my 1st ex-wife. I’d be expecting a confrontation to come up and would be preparing what I would do. I’m not great at arguing, I would make a terrible lawyer, all of my clients would be going to jail and then about 3 hours later I’d be like ‘oh, if I would have said this they would have never gone to prison’. I was talking to a counselor once and he said there’s a reason I have anger issues, it’s because I am constantly fighting with people all the time in my head, and my brain doesn’t know the difference between a real fight and one that I have in my head. I was constantly battling in made up conversations with people. Even when I was communicating online I would do this, and eventually just had to tell my brain to shut up.
H.T.: Does your mind ever get down on yourself, or is it just your interactions with others you get insecure about?
S.B.: It’s more about interactions with others. Because of my background, injuries, and things I’ve done I have a pretty good self-image. I am a reasonably confident person. I have a belly, I’m missing a leg, some teeth, but I’m a typical sexy hollywood idol type guy.
H.T.: (after the uncontrollable laughter stopped) You are really selling yourself to my 5 readers in this article by the way. You are telling us you are homeless and jobless and missing all these body parts.
S.B.: And yet I am very confident. And I am better than everyone else.
H.T. I think you need to write the next article on confidence. When I hit a cycle of negative self-talk my negativity is usually at myself, and I usually find a physical way out of it. Exercise, going out, things that take my mind off of me. Endorphins. Get out of the house, go for a walk in the woods, sit in the sun. Once upon a time it was reading a book, but that’s not enough for me anymore, I need more stimulation than escapism provides. I need something physical to take my mind out of itself. I’ll find an event and go out with a group of people, because if I’m focused on them then I’m not focused on me. If I can’t do that I’ll put on my headphones and go for a walk through the forest with some upbeat music. In the winter it’s the gym; treadmills suck but they are better than nothing. If you’ve got a partner sex is a great one. There’s nothing quite as handy to getting out of any negative space as a couple of orgasms, especially when you aren’t giving them to yourself. The closeness and the intimacy of sex or even a good cuddle can knock you out of something like that. Touch is huge. If there’s someone that knows you well enough to get you out of your negative loop that can help. Lately it’s been writing.
H.T.: Do you believe people’s biggest hurdle when it comes to finding someone is themselves?
S.B.: 100%. There’s never any other reason. There’s 8 billion people on the planet.
H.T.: You’re not a believer in there’s ‘a one’ true person for you?
S.B.: No, there’s a lot of them. Over time you change, so what you want changes, and relationships you have change. For me one of the biggest things is finding someone who has a lot of the qualities of one of my ex-wives, because those matter, those made me happy. Mostly. And then not some of the other qualities. What I want, my needs, and my requirements are always changing, so therefore my potential person out there will also change. We live in a city of 80,000 people; I believe that even in a city this size if you are patient and not just jumping at the 1st opportunity then you will find someone you really want.
H.T.: I definitely think people’s biggest hurdle when it comes to finding someone is themselves. Everyone goes into it with ‘I need to find my other piece, find the person that completes me.’ I disagree. You need to be the person you want to be when you find the person you want to be with. You shouldn’t be still becoming them, or if you are then acknowledge that and realize that the person you find while you are still becoming who you want to be is probably not going to be the person you are going to stay with. They can be good for you for a while and that’s fine; I don’t believe all relationships are meant to last forever. But don’t think you are going to go into dating as a very imperfect version of yourself and find the person who’s going to want you for the perfect person you might be one day. You have to be that before that person will find you.
H.T.: What is the biggest relationship opportunity you’ve missed out on because of something you did that sabotaged it?
S.B.: My second marriage. I allowed stress to get to me, and I had a very unrealistic view about the relationship and myself. I actually at one point went into counseling to see if I was delusional and couldn’t tell what reality was anymore. I totally sabotaged it by seeking stress relief by going online and talking to other women. It never became sexual or anything physical, but it completely destroyed my relationship with my wife because I lied about it and hid it. As hard as she tried she couldn’t trust me, because I didn’t give her any reason to.
H.T.: So the relationship opportunity you missed out on was that marriage being a lifelong one?
S.B.: Exactly. It was because I didn’t manage my stress level. I didn’t trust her enough to talk to her about it. Anybody who thinks that they can use a crutch to get through a relationship is guaranteed to fail.
H.T.: For me, I didn’t try to have any relationships for over a decade. I missed out on all of opportunity. There were good reasons, but not doing anything is the biggest way to sabotage everything. Then I came out of that and I didn’t know who I was as a dater, a girlfriend, a partner, or even as a friend. I had been so shut off that I had to spend a lot of time learning that all over again. It was a long term sabotage. It took me a long time to come out of shutting everything off.
S.B: I never really dated much, and dating is not like riding a bike. Or it’s like learning to ride a bike, except that the bike has now got square wheels, and the road isn’t flat; it’s a roller coaster track, and you aren’t the one actually controlling the handlebars. I thought it would be easy because I had a friend that was dating online and getting some, and I was like ‘you are hideous, and you are not even a good person, I am going to get on there and clean up.’ But that wasn’t the case. He was actually doing a lot better, because he’s not picky at all. He genetically doesn’t know how to swipe left.
There are hundreds of ways people self-sabotage; from overthinking to negativity to shutting down, and everything in between. Everyone does it to some degree, some are just more obvious about it than others. What we need to do is identify the ways we do it, see the warning signs, and try and course correct before we crash our ships on the reef of destruction. Again.