Mistakes are unavoidable in dating, and the best we can hope for is that we learn from them and go on to form good relationships. I find that women often make poor choices because they suffer from low self-worth. Unfortunately, they find themselves repeatedly attracting the very men who seek insecure women (either consciously or unconsciously), and a pattern emerges.
This can be difficult to break, but understanding how we sabotage our own happiness is the best start. Here are the 10 biggest mistakes I’ve heard from women in the years I’ve been coaching and counseling them:
1. We Sell Ourselves Short
You’ve heard the phrases – “We get the love we think we deserve” and “You are what you attract.” If we don’t believe that we deserve an attractive man of good character, we’re susceptible to attractive men of poor character.
A young woman once told me that she was ditching her “nice guy” boyfriend for her drug-addicted, unemployed ex, with whom she’d been on and off for four years. She didn’t want a good guy, and she made very sure she didn’t wind up with one.
Men with an Avoidant attachment style minimize closeness and view intimacy as a loss of independence. They are frequently drawn to Anxious women, who crave intimacy and worry about their partner’s ability to love them back.
If you find yourself winding up with the wrong men again and again, recognize that you’re attracting and choosing them. That’s where the change needs to happen.
2. We Use the Wrong Dealbreakers
There’s nothing wrong with a long checklist of qualities you want in a man. You have every reason to be choosy when selecting a partner for a long-term relationship. But too often we select for the wrong traits.
We like confidence, so we go for the cocky guy with the permanent smirk. Trouble is, he likes himself better than anyone else.
We like ambition in a man so we get stars in our eyes for the guy who works 100 hour weeks and has no time to dedicate to a relationship.
We like a challenge, even when the prize is not attainable. We say yes to the guy who keeps us on your toes. For years – that’s an exhausting posture to maintain!
We choose novelty, adventure and impulsivity over stability, loyalty and empathy.
If we want a stable, long-term relationship, we need to actively filter for those traits in dating.
3. We Wait Too Long to Date Seriously
There are a whole host of good reasons to find one’s life partner before the age of 30. From Meg Jay’s popular TED talk:
“The 20s are not a throwaway decade — they’re a developmental sweet spot as it is when the seeds of marriage, family and career are planted.”
Taking into account lifetime wages, divorce risk, fertility and the supply of marriageable men, a woman’s late 20s are the sweet spot for tying the knot.
4. We Give Too Many “Benefit of the Doubts”
We interpret mixed messages in the most positive light possible, when they are really just bad messages crowding out good messages.
We shoehorn a guy into the boyfriend role by creating a narrative that reflects not who he is, but who we want him to be. This kind of self-deception can go on for months or even years, until one day we realize we’re in a relationship with a stranger we don’t have anything in common with or even like very much.
5. We Fail to Set Boundaries
We find ourselves putting up with behaviors we swore we’d never tolerate. He flirts with other people. He flakes. He disappears sometimes for days, then reappears without explanation.
Yet we still don’t speak up for fear of rocking the boat (which is already leaky). We swallow our disappointment. This sends a clear message that we lack self-respect, thereby ensuring more bad treatment. (See #1)
6. We Forfeit Our Power
We’re all give and no get. We go all in when he hasn’t. We’re the Most Interested party who Cares More. Which means he’s the Least Interested party who Cares Less. That creates imbalance by giving him all the power in the relationship. And that never feels OK.
When we forfeit our right to stand up for our own needs and wants, our only strategic option is the Ultimatum. The Ultimatum Strategy produces Reluctant Boyfriends at best, Heartless Disposal at worst.
It’s crucial to know that we can survive without the relationship, and may be called upon to do so. Never give away 100% of yourself.
7. We Don’t Acknowledge Relationship Stagnation
We should see growth, or forward movement, in any healthy relationship. Increased intimacy, bonding, growing feelings of love and the desire to be permanently exclusive with our partner are the natural products of a compatible and promising relationship.
Because we face a more aggressive timeline than men do in terms of family formation, it’s especially important that we repair or exit stalled relationships. If your partner is content to “just leave things the way they are” the odds are that what you have now is the most you will ever have with this person.
If you’re not both enthusiastically headed towards real commitment, your best strategy is to cut your losses and get back into the dating pool.
8. We Fall Victim to the Sunk Cost Fallacy
We often stay in bad relationships because we’ve already invested lots time and effort to try and make the relationship work. We don’t want to give up after trying so hard. But this is a poor strategy, because our prior investment is immaterial. We shouldn’t “throw good money after bad.”
One set of studies found that as singles get older, they tend to “double down” with low quality prospects. This is not entirely surprising – it reflects reduced options. Rather than go back into the dating pool both men and women tend to reduce their standards.
“These studies found that fear of being single consistently predicted higher levels of romantic interest in less responsive and less attractive dating targets. Taken together, the present research suggests that fear of being single is a meaningful predictor of settling for less in relationships.”
9. We Figure That Anything is Better Than Being Single
Having a partner carries many benefits in life. Personally, socially, economically and even professionally, people fare better with a mate. So it’s understandable that we don’t want to remain single. Plus it’s fun to have a boyfriend!
The mistake we make is that we exit the dating pool too early out of fear that nothing better will come along. As we age and the supply of potential mates decreases, this fear is understandable. (See #8) But it makes no sense to settle early for someone we’re not head over heels for. And it never pays to settle for a man who isn’t cut out for marriage and/or fatherhood.
10. We Don’t Trust Our Intuition
We usually know when something isn’t right because our bodies tell us so. We have butterflies, or feel anxiety about whether our partner is as invested as we are. We may walk around waiting for the other shoe to drop. Or watch a movie about a cheating couple and feel extremely distressed as our own fears get triggered.
No matter what scripts we write to persuade ourselves that we have what we want and deserve, our bodies are always truthful if we will listen.
The right relationship should feel devoid of anxiety – you’ll be free of lingering doubts, and secure in the foundation you’re building with another person.
I’ve made most of these mistakes at one time or another. Most of us make them when we’re immature, and we learn through experience. But sometimes we get trapped in a mindset that devalues our own worth. When that happens, we need to stop and recover our self-esteem. We also need objectivity, so if you are having trouble seeing what’s really going on ask someone who loves you what they think. Or talk to a professional.
When we choose the wrong guys, we sabotage our own potential for contentment. We take the wrong fork in the road. I hope each one of us will find the strength to risk love but also to demand it. I urge you not to settle for anything less.
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