Like many women fresh out of college, I thought dating would come easily. After I graduated, I moved to Washington, D.C., had a great job, great friends—but the dating situation wasn’t going as smoothly as I had hoped. I was dating people, but things just always felt a little off.
It was tempting to blame my dating troubles on the men I dated or on the fact that I just hadn’t met the “one.” When I sat down to really look at why things were as they were, I realized it wasn’t that the guys were necessarily to blame. It was a series of bad habits on my end that were hurting my romantic efforts.
As I began to address some of my dating foibles, my dating life definitely took a turn for the better. If it feels like you are making the same mistakes over and over or if dating feels harder than it should be, I encourage you to take a look at the patterns in your dating life and see if some of my former dating habits might be tripping you up, too.
01. Apologizing for Everything
This is a big one for many women. From my first real boyfriend in college all the way up to my last one (my now-husband), I developed a habit of apologizing for everything. Literally everything—from getting my coat stuck in the car door to being sick. I was constantly saying sorry over and over again for stuff that wasn’t my fault. At one point, I had a guy tell me to stop because it was getting on his nerves.
In my desperate desire to please others, I convinced myself that by saying sorry, I was somehow alleviating a situation and pulling guys closer when, in fact, I was pushing them away. As I went deeper into relationships, I saw how unhealthy my overly apologetic ways were.
Julia Hogan, LPC and Verily contributor, describes this behavior as common, saying that many people pleasers “don’t have clearly defined boundaries, and so they constantly seek the approval of others as a way to measure and/or boost their self-worth.”
A few years and several growing experiences later, I’ve learned to set solid boundaries by asserting myself with clear communication. Rather than always assuming the blame with unnecessary apologies when I was unsure if I had crossed a boundary, I began to express my opinion about what I really wanted.
02. Refusing to Be Needy
I know this will ruffle a few feathers, but yes, sometimes we women want so badly to be seen as independent that we don’t allow men the things they need most in a relationship—such as the ability to serve others. This often tied in with my insecurities about dating in general. I wanted to prove to these men that I was my own person, a responsible adult who could take care of herself.
As my friend Melissa said so eloquently in her latest article: “In recent decades, boys have been told that they must not be overtly masculine, let alone chivalrous, because that would be sexist. American girls, meanwhile, have been taught that they must be strong and assertive and that they don’t need a man.”
I remember that when my husband and I had just started dating (I don’t think I even called him my boyfriend yet), I had come down with a nasty case of the flu. Rather than listening to him and staying home on the couch, I convinced him to take me to watch a band play at a local bar. I wanted to prove that I could rally for a good time and not be mopey at home. Plus, I had told a friend I would be there and didn’t want to let him down. Two hours later, however, we were back where we’d started as Brian brought me pillows and chicken soup. I realized that having someone to take care of you really isn’t so bad.
Boundaries in Dating explains: “When we ask, we are owning our needs. Asking for love, comfort, or understanding is a transaction between two people. You are saying: ‘I have a need. It’s not your problem. It’s not your responsibility. You don’t have to respond, but I’d like something from you.’ This frees the other person to connect with you freely and without obligation.”
When we refuse to be comforted, it becomes difficult to feel fulfilled and build intimacy in a relationship. That’s the trouble with us “I’ll do it myself, thank you very much” girls. We don’t like to “need.” But the fact is, everyone needs help sometimes. And it means a lot to a man to feel like he can be there for the woman he loves.
This is going to sound bad (and it is), but when I was dating one of my boyfriends, I lied. Less than a month after we started dating, he leaned over the couch, looked deep in my eyes, and told me earnestly that he loved me. In an effort to spare his feelings, I lied to this guy—and to myself—for months, fantasizing that our principles and values were the same until I convinced myself it was true. I told myself I was happy, that everything I wanted was in this relationship. I kept lying until a friend called me on it and forced me to tell the truth.
Girls, the next time a guy does this, think hard before you respond. Do NOT tell him you love him back if it’s not the absolute truth. Again, Henry Cloud hits the nail on the head when he says, “Values are sometimes worth living and dying for and are certainly worth dating and breaking up over.” It took months for me to finally be honest with myself, but it’s an invaluable lesson I’m grateful to have learned. Without it, I would never have overcome my tendency to put others’ comforts above my own feelings.
I have always loved people—caring for them, making them happy—but when my time wasn’t managed well, my priorities got jumbled, and sometimes I would put my relationships second when they should have been first.
My first college boyfriend bore the brunt of this habit as I learned to manage my time among school, family, and a budding romantic relationship. A prime example is when I managed to miss an anniversary dinner because a girl in my dorm was homesick. I ditched my long-standing plans with him because I felt bad leaving her. But really, in that case, he should have been my priority.
Later when I got married, I began to realize that this well-intentioned desire to be everywhere for everybody at once was hurting my relationships. I can’t tell you the number of times I tried to change date plans at the last minute to help a friend or how often I flaked out on a party to do a favor for someone I barely knew. After my wedding my husband asked me to consider that the plans I made and changed at the flip of a switch now affected his life, too.
It was an important moment in our relationship that took the “two become one” thing quite literally. If I changed my entire day around to help someone, I changed his, too. Friends, boyfriends, family—everyone had experienced this side of me at one point or another. My desperate desire to serve and please others often caused me to be unreliable, but in reality, it was simply an inability to prioritize my relationships.
If any of these dating habits sound like you, do yourself and your future husband a favor, and start working on them now. With some practice and a lot of determination, you will have these bad habits beat in no time.
Photo Credit: Shannon Lee Miller