“I think I’m ready to start dating again” announced my client, a 30 something, divorced suburban teacher. “But this time, no jerks!” (Well, that’s not exactly the word she used, but you get the idea). ‘G’ had had a few short-term relationships since her last divorce but nothing really lasting. She joked “I will give a guy the best three months of his life, and then, he’s outta here!” It seemed that she hadn’t been able to find someone that really ‘clicked’ for her. She admitted that sometimes she’d stay with a guy because she’d rather have the company than be alone, but she’d find herself cancelling dates and making excuses until the inevitable ‘it’s not you, it’s me’ speech. Sometimes she delivered it, sometimes he.
I asked G. what she thought would be different this time. “This time”, she answered, “I want to find someone I’m excited to be with – something that feels like it could have a future.” She sighed and I suspected there was more she wanted to say. “You know, I would like an old-fashioned, honest to goodness romance!”
Here’s where we began:
Start with You
Up until now, G’s efforts at dating had been entirely online. She scoured the profiles looking for men who ‘didn’t look creepy’ and who listed a few things she found interesting. She went on many coffee dates, looking for red flags that would confirm her suspicion that it could never work.
“What are you bringing to the table?” I asked her. She was confused initially. All of her efforts had been to find someone who had traits she found interesting. And if things didn’t work out, she could be pretty hard on herself, assuming she was too old or tall or fat or thin or……
Our first task was to help G. identify the strengths she brings to a relationship. G is an excellent planner, she is able to throw a party or organize a trip with little notice. She is also outgoing and friendly, always doing things for others. Next, we looked at areas where G. might not excel. She wished she could be more spontaneous and people were always telling her she needed to take time out for herself. G. would need a partner who could appreciate her strengths, be comfortable with her taking the lead, but be able to take over planning sometimes so she could learn to be cared for by others.
Learn From the Past
This was a little harder. G’s divorce was a painful one and she still held a lot of anger towards her ex-husband. While she could easily identify what was wrong with him, it was harder for her to recognize her part in the end of the relationship. Gradually, as she realized she no longer had to ‘win’ or convince him she was right, she became more able to accept the fact that she wasn’t always as direct as she could have been and she had given up trying to understand his point of view. In an effort to avoid conflict, she had also avoided speaking up for what she wanted.
As we reviewed her more recent relationships she realized that she had been seeking a particular ‘type’, looking for traits she assumed to be completely opposite of her husband so she wouldn’t make the same mistake again. The mild-mannered banker who never yelled seemed so pleasant, until she grew bored of his inability to state any preference for a movie or restaurant. In her efforts to find something her husband was ‘not’, she had lost sight of what she wanted a partner to be.
Use Your Resources
Online dating certainly has its merits. For the working woman, it can offer a quick and convenient way to put yourself out there and to make initial contacts. The search parameters make it possible to limit contacts to college graduates or men who scuba dive but G. was finding that despite her carefully crafted profile she still wasn’t meeting men who were a good match for her.
I suggested G let her friends, family and co-workers all know she was on the market. She balked at the idea at first, not certain she wanted to let others know she was looking. While G. said she was optimistic about finding someone, she recognized a part of her was afraid of being rejected. She would frequently go out with people ‘because they asked’ rather than ask out the handsome man she’d noticed at the gym last month.
I suggested that she tap into her network. There is a good chance that someone knows someone who knows someone that could be a match for her. The people in her network are people she has chosen because they are people she enjoys being with or respects. A referral from these folks is much more likely to be closer to the mark than the options that get generated from a dating site algorithm. While it might mean swallowing a little of her pride, it is possible that her friends have just been waiting for her to ask so they could introduce her to a cousin who would be absolutely perfect.
Take a Chance
G. had been on a dating hiatus because it had started to feel like work. She had forgotten to have fun with the process. She even had a routine for setting up dates! She’d scour the matches, contact three a day and try to make at least three coffee dates a week. Dating is a numbers game for sure. Some sources say it takes about 50 dates for every promising match. So I didn’t fault G for her system. But I was worried she was going to develop a urinary tract infection if she kept drinking that much caffeine!! I encouraged G. to research local meet up groups and special interest clubs. If she didn’t meet someone every time, she’d at least be meeting people with similar interests and people who were also willing to put themselves out there.
Enjoy the Ride
My hope for G. is that she can start to think about dating as a way to learn more about herself and others and not just as a means to an end. Settling too quickly, taking the first partner to come along, might have felt like a relief in the moment but hasn’t been getting her closer to the relationship she’s always imagined. Every date that doesn’t work out gets you a little closer to what you’re looking for. I hope G. will be gentle with herself the next time things don’t work out. She will have just learned more about what she doesn’t want. And that’s a huge step towards getting what she wants.
In the end, the love you find will only be as good as the love you have for yourself. Trust that you’re worthy and make the romance you deserve.