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'Three Common Dating Traps and How To Avoid Them'

By Elizabeth Dickson, LCSW

Much of life’s wisdom is counter-intuitive, and this is especially true when it comes to dating. For many of us, our natural inclination is to try to “manage” our interaction with another person in the hope that we will appear more desirable, avoid rejection, get our needs met, etc. Yet these attempts at control often backfire, producing the opposite of what was originally intended.

Imagine yourself on a date with someone who you are very attracted to and hope will find you equally attractive. You find yourself fantasizing that this could finally be the person you’ve been looking for to fulfill your dreams and create the life that you have imagined. The problem, however, is that without consciously challenging ourselves, we may end up trying too hard to make the relationship work. 

The key here is one’s attitude. If we have a preference for it to work, we might say to ourselves, “I want to give this my best shot, and I’ll be disappointed if it doesn’t work, but I’m willing and able to let it go if that is the wisest choice”. Yet, if we need it to work, failure becomes unthinkable. Once we start down this path of “needing” it to work, we are likely to fall into one or more of the following three common dating traps:

  • Needing to “put our best foot forward”
  • Forgetting to evaluate the other person
  • Failing to set limits on what you will put up with

Needing to “Put Our Best Foot Forward”

You may wonder, what is wrong with trying to “put our best foot forward”? After all, airing all our dirty laundry and sordid relationship history on the first date would appear to be a far worse offense. And it is true that “putting our best foot forward” may be fine for the first couple of dates — but it can quickly become counter-productive if we systematically try to conceal our flaws, nervousness, weaknesses, feelings, fears, etc.

When we try to “play it cool”, win over the other person, or otherwise “manage” how they see us, we can end up giving away our power, which is ultimately unattractive. And, by trying too hard to make it work, we lose the freedom to be ourselves. By just focusing on the content, we are ignoring the process — or how we are actually coming off.

One of the most valuable lessons to learn in life is that what makes us attractive is not just the sum of our attributes (such as looks, money, career, etc.) but also our ability to be accepting and comfortable with the person who we are — warts and all. (And, if you ask what to do if you are not accepting of the person you are, you can try being accepting of your not being accepting — a subtle but powerful concept, if you think about it.)

So, next time you are tempted to “put your best foot forward”, consider that you also have the option of doing the opposite and revealing something that you might normally hide — but doing so in a way that conveys self-acceptance and a willingness to accept the consequences.

Forgetting to Evaluate the Other Person

When we “need” something to work, it is easy to get so caught up with how the other person is evaluating us that we forget to evaluate them. This can be a very costly mistake in two ways:  1) we are not attempting to protect ourselvesor to obtain information as to whether the two of us are a good match; and 2) we are giving away our power or otherwise disturbing the equilibrium of the process

This latter point is illustrated by a discussion I recently had with a former female client who has been going on many first dates with highly eligible single men in New York City. She is in the enviable position of being beautiful (clearly a “10” on looks and sexiness) and in no particular hurry to settle down. It may not be surprising that many of the men who she dated for the first time were interested in seeing her again. 

But what stood out for her about her dating experience was the fact that so many of these attractive and successful men had spent so much time talking and answering her questions about themselves and so little time asking her questions or showing an interest in who she was. Could it be that all these men were so narcissistic and full of themselves that they neglected to focus on her? 

A far more likely explanation is that these men, when faced with such an attractive woman, got caught up with how she was evaluating them and forgot to evaluate and get to know her. They were tying to make it work, but they failed to see the bigger picture.

Failing to Set Limits On What You Will Put Up With

Perhaps the most costly mistake that we make when dating is our failure to be 100% clear with ourselves right at the outset about what we will tolerate and what we won’t. Most of us know, intellectually, that we should set limits; we know, for example, that it is not wise to continue to pursue someone who mistreats us or does not appreciate us. Yet, without a plan in place, it is easy to fall into bad habits.

There are two key reasons why setting limits is so important. The first, and more obvious reason, is that we need to protect ourselves from people who will ultimately waste our time and possibly cause us considerable suffering. The older and more experienced we are, the more we are likely to realize how destructive failed relationships can be. 

So much of what distinguishes people who find the right match from those who remain single is their ability to say “no” to the wrong relationships. This is more then half the battle. It doesn’t matter how exciting or romantically charged a relationship may feel — if you know at the gut level that you are not being respected and/or fully appreciated, it is wise to cut it off at the dating stage.

The second reason is that our willingness to set limits sends a message to the other person that we are strong people who respect ourselves. It is human nature for both men and women to “test” each other (either consciously or unconsciously) during the dating process to see what the other person will tolerate. Ironically, people often “fail” these tests if they are too eager to please and/or too unwilling to confront bad behavior. Once again, the lesson is the same; we are more likely to get what we want if we also are willing to lose it.


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Elizabeth Dickson, LCSW | Relationship Realizations™
180 East 79th Street, Suite 1A, New York, NY 10075

To ask questions or set up an appointment, call 212-439-5102 or contact me by email at eli@relationshiprealizations.com

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