Because dating should be about the journey, not the destination.
Author: The Happy Traveler
The Happy Traveler lives in a northern Canadian community of about 80,000 people. She has a professional career, a wicked sense of humor, and a teenage son that spends a lot of time shaking his head at her. She is taller than most women, more robust than a fashion model, and smiles incessantly. In her spare time she immerses herself in sci-fi and fantasy culture, plays card and board games, and explores the outdoors whenever possible. She eats meat, nuts, and bread, and cannot stand the taste of artificial pumpkin spice.
Do you have that friend who just seems to blossom whenever they are in a relationship? Maybe they were quiet, or shy, or socially awkward in some way, but then they met someone and that all just seemed to melt away? They became this confident, outgoing, charming person that you could always see in them, but they never seemed able to see it in themselves. Is it possible that maybe you are that person, and just haven’t realized it yet?
That description used to fit me to a T. When I was single I was too shy to go out on my own, too introverted to speak to a complete stranger, and too uncertain to see the things I had to offer. When I didn’t have someone to believe in me I had a very hard time believing in myself. The longer I was single the worse it would get, until eventually it became difficult to even remember a time before I was the girl who was home alone every night. Whenever I found someone who saw something in me it filled me with a feeling of worth, like maybe because they saw something in me I really had something to offer, and I would actually start putting those parts of myself out there for other people to see.
Being in a healthy relationship can be a wonderful thing when you have self-esteem issues. You have someone to go out and do new things with, someone to cuddle up with when you are tired and want to stay in, and someone to help you out when you need support. Someone who likes you for who you are, someone who wants what you have to give, and perhaps most importantly, someone who chose you. Not because there weren’t any other options, or because they couldn’t think of a better thing to do today, but because of who you are, and what they see in you.
There are a few things I have learned that I had a habit of doing when I was in a relationship that I’ve realized are not healthy, and they stemmed from my own self-esteem issues. It had nothing to do with my partners, and the relationships themselves were healthy, but the way I allowed myself to change because of them was not. Yes, we all change when we bring a new major player into our inner circles, and a certain amount of adapting and adjusting is normal, but what I’m talking about goes beyond that, and often resulted in the relationship coming to an end. The changes I’m talking about are the ones we make to become more of what we think our partners want, not the ones that would be considered normal personal growth.
In my previous relationships I have felt like I am ‘less than’ or ‘not enough for’ my partners. I loved that they had chosen me, and I didn’t want to change their minds, but I also didn’t understand what they saw in me, or how they could want me. I didn’t feel worthy, and I worried that eventually they would realize that I wasn’t. In order to stop this from happening I would do everything in my power to become indispensable to them. My life became about supporting them, being there for them, and giving them everything and anything they needed. I would lose myself in trying to make or keep them happy, and my needs and interests would take a backseat to whatever they wanted or needed. None of my partners had ever asked me to do that, and most hadn’t even really noticed it happening, but in many cases it became the thing that ended the relationship. Everything I was and did became about them, and the person they fell for and wanted wasn’t there anymore. In trying to keep them happy I buried the person that peaked their interest in the first place.
Another bad habit I developed was letting my partners know I felt that they were better than me. It was the kind of thing that sounded sweet when I said it, usually with a ‘you are so great, I’m glad you decided I was enough for you’, or the even more blunt ‘thank you for settling for me’. The idea of the message came from a good place; I was trying to let them know how grateful I was that they wanted me. Unfortunately having that outlook and sharing it created a lot of problems. In some cases it put a lot of pressure on my partners and left them feeling like they had to carry the weight of my self-esteem. In others it created an unhealthy feedback loop where they needed to constantly reassure me that I was enough. And a few times it opened the door for them to really believe that they were better than me, and then they would start to treat me accordingly.
It took me a long time to learn to love myself, flaws and all, and it’s only been in the last couple of years that I’ve been able to see how much my self-esteem issues have affected the people who have chosen to love me. Watching the person you fell for bury all the things that made them special, or having to constantly reassure them that they are still what you want, is a lot for anyone to deal with. It’s a huge strain that not many relationships can survive.
There is nothing wrong with feeling better about yourself when you are with someone, or having a partner who helps you see what a wonderful person you are. Just make sure that what you learn from them is something that you will continue to believe about yourself even if for some reason the relationship ends. Remember that your amazing, loving, perfect partners are choosing you because of who you were before you were a couple, and because of the things in you that were there before their influence on you became a factor. Remember that you are worth their love; otherwise they wouldn’t have given it to you. And make sure you aren’t asking them to be the one who makes you feel worthy; find your own worth, with their help if you need it, believe it, and hold onto it no matter who comes in or out of your life.
I am the first to admit, I have a hard time letting go. To be clear, I don’t mean I have a hard time ending something that isn’t working; I have no problem analyzing a situation and deciding it isn’t going to work, and I don’t have an issue communicating that. What I’m talking about is emotionally letting go once something is over. Whether it’s a romantic partner that didn’t work out or a friendship that became distant, I have a lot of difficulty allowing people to move out of my life on an emotional level. I continue to worry about them, wonder what they are up to, think of things I would like to say to them, and generally just keep them in my mind longer than I feel is healthy. And when I’m the one to make that decision, to make the call that something is over, it’s even harder, because then there is the guilt that comes from hurting them along with the rest. Losing someone, even if its someone I haven’t really known that long, is an almost physical pain for me. I feel the space they used to fill like an empty seat beside me for some time afterwards.
My last long term romantic relationship could have ended long before it did. We were both holding on for the wrong reasons, and things went on longer than they should have. As a result the ending hurt more than it needed to, and I held onto the pain from that for a very long time. I couldn’t let go of thinking about how he was doing, what could have been, and all the little things that had happened that had hurt me. It was my way of continuing to hold onto the relationship. If I was still being hurt by it, and still thinking about him all the time, then it wasn’t really over. At least not in my mind.
I don’t only have this problem with romantic relationships. I’ve had friendships I have lost that have been just as important to me. I love my friends as much as I love my partners. They are the family that I choose. When friendships end it is harder on me in a lot of ways, because I can never understand why they need to end. Friendships don’t have the expectations on them that romantic relationships can have; friendships don’t need to meet perceived goals or timelines, they don’t require you to merge lives or to commit fully to each other in order to continue. Most of the pressures that end romantic relationships aren’t there in a friendship, and yet somehow they end anyway, either abruptly or by fading away. It is a type of rejection that I have a lot of trouble letting go of, because I have a hard time seeing as anything but a personal one. I continuously wonder what I did to push them away, or what I was lacking in keeping them interested.
So how do I deal with it? I’ve learned over the years that it is important to mourn the end of a relationship without obsessing over it, whatever type of relationship it was. Let the feelings of sadness, loss, and even guilt run their course; don’t tell yourself you shouldn’t feel that way. You are allowed to feel the way you do, wonder what they are doing, and replay any moments that you want to. Accept the feelings, acknowledge them, really feel them, and then let them go. Take as much time as you need. The important thing is that you don’t act on them, and that you don’t let them consume you. Don’t become angry or bitter, don’t obsessively stalk anyone in person or online, don’t blame yourself for everything that goes wrong in their lives, and don’t wallow in your memories. Don’t try to keep someone in your life that isn’t there anymore. Take the time to clean out that empty seat, so that someone else can sit there.
I’m just going to come out and say it; I love sex. I love the intimacy, the connection, and yes, the physical release of it. I love the way it feels when my partner and I look into each others eyes and see the passion we have for one another shining through. I love exploring each others bodies, finding all those special places that result in shivers or giggles, learning how to touch to tease and where to stroke for results. I love discovering all the different ways to move together to get the desired results, and I love trying new ideas to see if we can get different or more intense ones. I love the moments after sex, cuddling up together, talking or laughing about what happened, or discussing things we might try next time. I love sex, and everything that goes along with it.
I know sex isn’t like this for everyone. Not all sexual experiences are positive ones, and a history of negative ones can make enjoying sex very challenging. Sometimes self esteem issues make being naked and exposed around another person a terrifying experience that might result in nothing but rejection and embarrassment. Some people have difficulty enjoying the physical aspects of sex, and find orgasming or even enjoying intimate touch without an orgasm challenging. And some people simply don’t have much of a drive, and find the idea of having to physically please a partner all the time an exhausting or trying experience.
So how important is sex to a relationship? Is romantic success linked to the number of orgasms you and your partner give one another? Should partnerships be ranked like sporting events, where the teams who score the most often are considered the winners?
It’s important to remember that in most cases sex isn’t actually about sex; it’s about the affection and emotional connection that comes out of trying to make one another feel good. Yes, there are some proven physiological benefits of having a healthy sex life, but those same benefits can be found in other places. Going to the gym or eating a quality chocolate bar for example. Physical connection is important, but that connection doesn’t have to come from sex. Hugging, cuddling, and sleeping together can bring the same level of intimacy, and have their own health benefits.
Despite what you may read online there is no set number of times per day, week, or month that you should be having sex. Do you know why? Because sex isn’t meant to be about what you should do, and intimacy won’t come out of something that feels like an obligation. Sex should always be a choice, even in a relationship, and couples need to come up with their own rhythm, one that will meet their needs. Don’t get caught up in what’s ‘normal’, and don’t look for outside validation.
If you or your partner are unhappy with your sexual relationship don’t look to the internet for answers; look to each other. Yes, it is ‘normal’ for desire to diminish over time, but don’t use that as an excuse not to look under the surface. Maybe there is an imbalance because one partner feels like they are always giving, and the other is always taking. Maybe someone isn’t being completely honest about their inner desires, insecurities, or fears, and that is affecting their ability to get intimate. Maybe there’s a physical issue, and you need to consider alternate forms of intercourse or intimate touch. Maybe you have forgotten to cherish your sexual energy, and need to spend some time focusing on your partner as an object of physical desire. Whatever the answer is, the only way to find it is by talking with each other.
“Might as well face it, you’re addicted to love.” – Robert Palmer
New love is an amazing thing. It’s warm, fuzzy, comforting, and makes you smile at the most random times during the day. You will find yourself humming miscellaneous Sarah McLachlan songs, replaying romantic comedy scenes in your mind with yourself as the lead, and endlessly googling to find just the right pet names to describe your person. Colors are brighter, food smells better, and regardless of how shitty your mattress was last week now all you want is to be in bed with your partner. You feel wanted, cared for, desirable, and happy, all the time. It becomes hard to remember a time before you felt this way, and difficult to relate to people who don’t. And all you want all the time is more of that feeling.
This kind of obsession and preoccupation with anything else would be considered an addiction, and something to be avoided, treated, or cured. Physically ‘falling in love’ triggers exactly the same feel good hormones as many drugs; dopamine, oxytocin, opioids, and serotonin. Relationships follow a similar path as addiction. In the beginning everything feels great, like your first dose of something wonderful. As relationships develop we build up a resistance to those hormones, and it becomes harder and harder to feel the same hit that we did at the beginning. When the relationship ends and the break up happens we suffer withdrawal symptoms, which combined with stress hormones make us feel sick and leave us looking for our next fix. We do everything we can to find that ‘feel good’ feeling again.
Despite all of this evidence we as a society are in love with being in love. Countless books have been published on how to find it, endless songs have been written trying to describe it, and there are always new movies coming out telling us stories about it. We spend our lives chasing it when we don’t have it, and wallowing in it when we do. So does this mean love is a drug that we misuse and abuse, or are we smart enough to know a good thing when we see it and hang on?
We have all seen the people out there who react to falling in love like an addict does to their drug. Take a look at the short term serial monogamist. They meet someone, fall in love, are deliriously happy, and yet a short time later the relationship ends, and they are on to the next ‘love of their life’. They are addicted to that initial dose of love, but lose interest when the hormonal reaction starts to drop off, and they go out looking for something similar but just different enough to count as new. Or look at those couples that are so wrapped up in each other that they forget about everything else in their life. They become completely dependent on each other for their happiness and have difficulty finding it anywhere else, much like an addict becomes dependent on their elixir of choice. Their only positive emotion comes from their partner, and it becomes an unhealthy obsession and attachment that can be extremely difficult to break.
Does this mean we should all start avoiding love, out of fear of developing our own addictions? Of course not. Love doesn’t only feel good; it can also be very good for you. It can help you build a more positive self-image, introduce you to new ways of thinking and living, and give you a feeling of security and support that you may not be able to find anywhere else. These are all good things. So how do you know if this love is a good one, or an addictive one? Keep in mind a few key points. A healthy relationship isn’t possessive and is based on mutual respect; encourages growth and serious interests outside of the relationship; leaves you feeling improved by the relationship and not stifled by it; and is a part of your life, rather than separate from it. There are millions of healthy, loving relationships out there, and like anything else we cannot let a few negative examples destroy our image of them.
I started my journey into ethical non-monogamy alone. I don’t mean without support, information, or mentoring, I have all of those, in spades. I am very lucky in the people I have around me who are there when I have questions or need reassurance; discovering this community has been one of the most positive influences in my adult life.
Most people I have encountered who identify as ethical non-monogamists are on their journey with a primary partner, or at least started their journey while they were with someone who fit that title. Because of this a lot of non-monogamy I have seen is hierarchical in nature; there is a core couple that ‘comes first’, and other partners are secondary or tertiary. That’s not to say that other partners can’t be as cared for or loved, or that those relationships are less fulfilling or important because of it, but the distinction is there, and it is something that needs to be respected for things to work.
I identify as polyamorous, but I do not have a primary partner. Emotionally I want multiple, loving, long term, committed relationships, where all partners feel that they are valued, cared for, and wanted at all times. No part of that requires me to elevate one above any other. From a practical ‘real life’ standpoint I am not looking to merge homes or finances with anyone, get married, or have more children. I am quite happy in my independence and am able to support myself.
I have occasionally been told that I’m “doing poly wrong” or that I’m “not really polyamorous” because I don’t have a primary partner. Whenever I hear this it sounds like an echo to me of something I’ve been hearing my entire life in mainstream culture; that something is wrong with people that are “single”. It seems sometimes like the expectation of “coupling up” is still alive and well, even within the non-monogamous community.
I recently came across a term that I feel describes my situation perfectly; solo polyamorous. Like any other label it means different things to different people, but most agree that it is the decision to be your own primary partner. This is not a decision made out of lack of other options, but because you have made a conscious choice to have your primary allegiance be to yourself. It doesn’t mean you are being selfish or that you don’t care about others wants or needs, but is because you are strongly motivated by your autonomy, you value your freedom, and you are most comfortable identifying as an individual.
Solo polyamory opens a lot of doors that may not be there for couple based relationships. First, it allows you to put the emotional energy of maintaining a primary relationship into yourself, to come into each new relationship strong and whole, the best version of yourself that you can be. It gives each new relationship a chance to be what it will be, with no potential to be vetoed and without rules that can be hard to understand or fit into. It can make it easier to date people who do not identify as polyamorous, as they do not need to feel that they are coming second to anyone else, and because there is no need for them to build relationships with or get permission from your other partners. Any or all of your partners can be identified as a girlfriend, boyfriend, or whatever term you prefer, depending on the relationship itself and not on how it relates to your other partnerships. You can commit to doing what is best for everyone, even if that means splitting up with someone for a time so you can grow separately.
Defining myself as solo polyamorous allows me the option to care about each of my partners as if they were a primary partner, if that is the way each relationship goes, and if those partners do not have other relationships with rules that need to be followed. It allows me to love them as deeply as I want, if love is there, or to enjoy the journey together for as long as it is enjoyable if it is not. I can develop relationships without feeling like I am suffocating, giving up too much of myself, or endangering something I have with someone else. It lets me develop the skills necessary to advocate for what I want, and it gives me a chance to find out what that is. It gives me the ability to discuss options with others, get their input and consider how it will affect them, but ultimately make my major life decisions on my own. It allows me to have deep, intimate, long term relationships, but still maintain my independence.
I’m not saying that solo polyamory is easier or better than any other type of ethical non-monogamy; it isn’t, it’s just different, and it comes with its own set of pros and cons. There are still moments of loneliness, times when you wish you had more support, and the occasional bouts of wondering why you don’t fit into something more traditional or accepted. Sometimes it means standing up for yourself or doing something alone, and disappointing others who might want to take on something for or with you. And just like any other relationship, sometimes it means missing out on something because the other person doesn’t want what you want. I don’t know if I will always identify as solo polyamorous; I am very happy in all of my current relationships, but I am as prone to what I want changing as anyone else is, and sometimes people already in our lives or new people who come into our lives can make us want to change with or for them. All I can tell you is that right now is that this is how I identify, it is what I want, and it is making me very happy.
The longer you date, the more you will notice that you keep getting asked the same questions over and over and over again. It doesn’t matter if it’s online during the messaging stage or in person when you meet. The same ones always seem to come up, and you can feel like a broken record on an endless loop, repeating yourself forever. It’s exhausting. At one point I was seriously considering starting up a document on my phone with the paragraphs all pre-written, so I could just copy and paste the answers in every time I was asked a question that felt like a rerun. I still might; sometimes I can be pretty lazy.
There’s a few important things to remember when you start to feel this way. First, if they are sending you questions then at least they are actually trying to get to know you. You could have just gotten a list of demands or a dick pick or an invitation to a hotel room or something. Second, you may have heard this question a hundred times, but they haven’t heard your answer at all. It’s old hat to you, but you are still new to them. Third, and possibly most important, consider this; if they ask you a question and you answer it, you get to ask it back with the reasonable expectation of a response. It might start an actual conversation. If you have been online dating for long you know how hard that can be.
If you are also considering setting up a few prepared answers, want a little preview into what you will inevitably be asked eventually, or need ideas for starting a conversation, here are the most asked questions I’ve received while online dating.
“How are you?” Generic. Boring. Uninspired. But at the same time, it is how most conversations with people you already know start, so it’s not entirely unfair. It even has the potential to show genuine care or concern. It most likely doesn’t, but the possibility is there at least. The biggest issue with this question is that in most cases you are going to get too short of an answer or too long of one. It’s not technically a closed question, but it is very easy to answer with just one word. Good. Fine. OK. Or if it goes the other way you might wind up with a 3-page diatribe about how they are feeling about something that happened at work or with an ex. Valuable information maybe, but not something you need right now.
“What’s up?” Or it’s backwoods cousin “Sup?” Similar to “How are you?”, this is a very common message, and a very lazy one. Let’s face it; if you were currently up to anything really interesting you wouldn’t be online answering your messages. Yet somehow something that used to be an actual exploratory question about why someone was contacting you has turned into an introduction designed to force the recipient to say something that entertains the sender.
“What do you do for fun?” Depending on your dating platform this question is either good or lazy. If you are on something like Tinder that doesn’t allow you much space to write a profile then it is good, the person messaging you is trying to find out what you like, if you have any compatible interests, what kind of free time you have, etc. However, if you are on a site like Plenty of Fish and have completed your profile then this information should already be out there for them to see. By messaging you and asking you something they could see with just one mouse click they are telling you that they aren’t interested enough to do even that.
“What are you looking for?” This is a great question, if you know the answer. If you don’t, well, you are probably going to fumble a few times trying to give one. In general, it’s a good idea to know what you want before you go looking for it, but when it comes to dating, most people don’t. Answering this a few dozen times might actually help you figure that out.
“Why are you single?” In my opinion this question is a little mean, even when asked in the most flattering way. First, it is very difficult to answer with any kind of positive spin. ‘I’m picky’, ‘I haven’t found what I’m looking for’, and ‘I am only recently single’ all have negative connotations that go along with them. And those are the easy answers. Second, a person who has been online dating for a while is probably already asking themselves that question. The realization that finding someone online isn’t fast or easy hits us all differently, but having someone else point out to you that you haven’t found someone yet and that they can’t see why is hard for anyone to hear. Particularly if they wind up being yet another person that isn’t for you.
Your moment has finally come. It’s time for your prince or princess to see you, be swept away by your good looks, charm, and wit, and fall deeply and madly in love with you. But how should your fairytale ending begin? What story do you want your children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren to pass down for generations to come?
One of the biggest decisions you will face once you decided to meet is where you should meet. What place should you sit in or which activity should you engage in that will best help you determine if this is someone worth getting to know? There’s no one right answer to this, but there are a lot more options than you might realize.
Go for coffee. I know. Cliche. Ovedone. Stereotypical. Boring. But here’s the thing; it’s still one of the best options out there. Why? Each person attending has the ability to control the length of time of the meeting. Not the one for you? Drink quickly and get out. Really enjoying yourself? Savour your drink, get a snack, maybe order a few more. Not sure if they like you or not? Pay attention to how quickly they are consuming their beverage. A coffee date has the ability to last 20 minutes or 3 hours, which makes it a lovely flexible choice for a first meeting.
Go for a walk. This one is my personal favorite. For one, it’s outside. Fresh air is energizing, natural light brings out the beauty in everyone, and you aren’t looking at the same boring backdrop wall the entire time. On top of that you get to experience how you move together, find out if you will help one another over difficult parts in the path, and will get an idea of what each of you notices about the world around you. It will also tell you if you are able to keep up with each other physically, and if you do it right it might even give you the opportunity to touch. A walk can be as long or short as you want, and as public or as private as you want. Personally I prefer well used forest paths in the middle of the day, but if your thing is meeting strangers from the internet in a deserted park after midnight all power to you. Maybe bring some mace or something though, just in case.
Meet for drinks. The “adult” version of the coffee date, this can happen at a restaurant or a pub. I don’t recommend a bar or strip joint, there’s just too much noise and too many distractions. Meeting for drinks can go really well, or really badly, depending on the individuals involved. Do you drink the same thing, or at least compatible things? If one person is into high end wine and the other drinks Bud Light things might not go so well. If they need 5 or 6 drinks to relax and you don’t drink at all that can be pretty awkward. Meeting for drinks will tell you a lot about a person, but it can also be a little riskier than meeting for coffee. Not just because of the things you will learn about each other’s drinking habits and comportment once you have had a few, but also because for some people meeting in the evening and consuming alcohol comes with expectations about what will happen once you leave the establishment.
Play a game or do an activity. Mini golf or billiards are my top choices, but if your city offers different options by all means use one of them. Board or card games work too, if you can find a public establishment that provides or allows them. Bowling isn’t great as it is difficult to maintain a conversation when you are taking turns going up to throw the ball. Games are a great way to learn about someone; how they think, how they react to winning or losing, and how well they can maintain a conversation while engaged in an activity. One on one sports work if you are both fairly fit and don’t mind getting sweaty in front of one another. Rock climbing offers all kinds of opportunity for touch, particularly if one person is teaching another. Having something to do when you meet can make things a lot easier, whether you decide you like the person or not.
Check out an event. If there is a trade show in town, a fair, a game, or a weekly trivia night at a local pub, go check it out. Even if you don’t want to spend any money crowd watching together can be a lot of fun. Bonding through experiences and learning what someone else sees in a moment you share is a great way to see if you want to share anything else. If you can’t find an event then you probably aren’t trying very hard but don’t worry, there’s a backup plan for that too. Go shopping. Even a couple laps around your local Costco can tell you a lot about the person you are with, and at the very least you might get a few free samples out of it.
Get a meal together. Another classic, but not one that I am a fan of. The principle is the same as going for coffee or getting a drink, but there is an added level of expectation with a meal; that you will stay until the end. One of the worst first dates I’ve ever been on involved a brunch that just would not end. I love brunch, but we were such a mismatch that all I wanted was out. Unfortunately, he ordered two courses and held the bill hostage until the date stretched out to almost 2 hours. Which is forever when you aren’t interested. Then there is that awkward moment of who pays to deal with. Personally I recommend leaving meals until you are sure you want a second or third date with the person, but again, it’s up to you.
See a movie. Probably the most ‘done’ date in human history, it is also a horrible way to get to know someone. On paper sitting close together in a dark room sounds great; in reality, you may as well go alone. You can’t talk during a movie, so how are you supposed to get to know one another? Sure, you will be able to find out if they can sit still in a chair for a few hours, and might get some insight into how they smell or how well their digestive tract does or does not work, but that really isn’t enough information to determine if you want to see someone again. Or at least it shouldn’t be. Save movies for after you already know you want to hold hands, cuddle, and see what you can get away with doing to one another in a public place.
Netflix & chill. If all you are looking for is random stranger sex or the exciting possibility of becoming someone’s backup skin suit then by all means, Netflix and chill away. Otherwise just don’t. Anyone offering to host is looking for some serious action, and anyone accepting an offer, even an offer with pre-defined restrictions put on it, is still going to be expecting something. Plus, do you really want a complete stranger knowing where you live? There’s a definite air of desperation that comes with an offer to ‘chill’, or with the acceptance of an offer to ‘chill’. If that’s your thing then good for you, not judgement here, but if you are looking for more you are not going to find it down this road.
Do you ever have those days when you are just feeling tired? I don’t mean physically, although that can be a part of it, but mentally and emotionally just plain run down? Exhausted, drained, and like all you want in the world is to curl up somewhere safe and protected from everything that is demanding things from you?
It happens to me sometimes, and I have a really hard time with it. I am a naturally sympathetic person, and as such in most of my relationships I am a supporter. Most of the time this works for me, as I truly enjoy the feeling of being able to help someone who needs something, whether that need is physical, mental or emotional. It makes me happy when I make others feel better.
The problem comes when I need the support. Because I’m so independent and so quick to help others most of my relationships don’t get the chance to develop in a way that makes them able to support me when I need it. Most of them can’t even tell when I need it, and I have yet to find a person who knows exactly what I need, or who can give it to me even if I spell it out for them. Because of my habit of supporting I get into a cycle of pouring so much of myself into others that there is nothing left in my batteries when the time comes to take care of me. Even if I knew how I wouldn’t have the energy to do it.
So what is the solution? I don’t really know, it’s one of the things I haven’t figured out yet. Sometimes I try reaching out to people, and once or twice it has helped, but never completely, never in every way I need. Most of the time I just ride it out alone, or find something or someone to distract myself with until it passes. I know that’s not the healthiest approach, but it’s what I’ve got until I find something better. Part of my personal journey is trying to find new ways to take better care of me, or maybe one day find someone out there who knows how to help me when I need it.
“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.
Being single can be a lot of fun. You get to meet new people, experience things you may not have otherwise, and build new social circles. You will encounter other single people who may not fit as partners, but who will still become great friends. You will find you have a unique camaraderie and companionship with these people, and you may even find yourself spending more time with them than with your existing friends.
New friends can be just as exciting as new lovers; you get that surge of excitement at the prospect of something different, the feeling of self-gratification that comes from a total stranger liking you, and the opportunity to swap stories you haven’t told in years. You get to be you, without having to worry about being sexy at the same time. It is important to remember to still be careful though, as there are a few things you need to watch for when you are making your new friendship connections through online dating.
The first thing you should keep in mind is your existing friendships. No one expects you to take your friends along on your dates, that’s just weird, but that doesn’t mean you can’t include them in anything. Talk to them about what’s going on and introduce them to the new people who become important in your life. Most of us have a habit of keeping our circles separate; we have our work friends, our school friends, our weekend friends, etc. Now you will be adding your dating friends to the mix. If you really think about it though there’s no reason all those groups need to be kept separate. If you make friends with someone through online dating because you have a lot in common or share a similar outlook on life with them, it’s pretty likely that at least some of your existing friends will like them just as much, for the same reasons. Merge your circles and you will have lots of time for everyone.
It is also important to remember that most of the other people you are meeting are trying to fill a space in their lives. At first your friendship may seem like a great way to do this, but as time progresses and particularly if they find that person they are really looking for, you may find that your services are no longer required and that they don’t have time for you anymore. This can be a heartbreaking experience, whether it is a conscious decision on the part of your friend or an involuntary side effect of their new relationship. They may not have realized there was something you were lacking until they found someone who had it, or they may have hoped that they would have time for both of you only to realize they were wrong. Either way it is very likely that you are going to come out second best in that equation, and that it is going to hurt. A lot.
There are few things in life quite as tough as feeling like you have made a great connection with someone who will be in your life forever, only to find out later that you were just a placeholder for them until they found the thing they were really looking for. We expect to spend less time with someone when they are building a new romantic relationship, what we don’t expect is to be left behind completely, or to be replaced by a shiny new friend. Friendships should be something that fall outside of the dating cycle, that are immune to it; unfortunately they often aren’t and they suffer as a result of new relationships. Try and keep in mind during your dating journey that your friends are important too, the existing ones and the new ones.