It was a classic situation. We were going through the motions of dating without actually dating—half in, half out. At first I was okay with the ambiguity, thinking, “I can keep it casual, can’t I? People do this all the time. I won’t get hurt since I know this isn’t a real relationship.” But of course, as we grew closer, I got more attached.

When we finally faced reality, knowing we weren’t meant for each other, our relationship (situation-ship?) ended. And although I was never fully committed, I was sad, confused, and disappointed. Why did I feel so hurt when I knew it wasn’t going to be forever? My mind was prepared for it to end, but my heart wasn’t.

Dating and relationships, even “situation-ships,” can bring on unexpected or unwanted emotions in addition to the positive emotions we all hope for. The ambiguity and vulnerability that comes with dating makes it easy to fall into thought spirals that leave us feeling anxious, insecure, or uncertain. When we’re in it, we can get caught up with our emotions—what may seem obvious in hindsight or to outsiders can seem muddled and confusing to us. So here are some dating truths that we can all take to heart to calm our minds. 

Wanting clarity isn’t being needy

Neediness is a relationship taboo. No one wants to seem desperate, jealous, or clingy—demanding to know what he’s doing all the time, getting jealous about his interactions with other women, fishing for his validation, etc. These aren’t healthy relationship habits, but there are some actions that are often labeled as needy but actually aren’t.

One of these mislabeled things is the DTR conversation. Questions about defining the relationship—“What are we?” “Is this exclusive?” “Do we feel the same way?”—are completely normal, but we often project neediness onto them. Of course, the timing has to be right (you wouldn’t ask these questions on a second date!), but trust your instincts. You have every right to feel what you’re feeling and think what you’re thinking—and to express it.

I used to struggle with this, holding back because I didn’t want to seem needy, which led to a lot of inner turmoil and uncertainty. Other times, I just didn’t want to know the answer—we’re having fun, so why start a conversation that would probably end things? But ultimately, if you’re dating intentionally, then you need to face reality and have the hard conversations. Staying in a relationship where you don’t feel comfortable being honest and open about your needs will only increase the chances of getting hurt later on.

Dating isn’t mind reading

You can’t assume you know what others are thinking or feeling, no matter how well you know them. If you try to interpret someone’s actions or words on your own, you often come to the wrong conclusion. Making assumptions also builds resentment, which can cause tension and lead to emotional outbursts. This goes for all types of relationships, romantic and otherwise.

Communicating directly always pays off. There have been times when I was caught up in my head, imagining someone’s thoughts and emotions, but my anxiety went away when I simply asked for an explanation. So when you’re puzzling over something, just ask: “What did you mean when you said that?” “Why did you do that?” This way, you’ll get an answer from the source to stop your guessing game and clear the air.

Knowing what you want helps the process

In the early stages of dating, know what you’re comfortable with when it comes to intentions and clarity. Ambiguity will always be present to some extent as you get to know each other and explore your connection. Maybe you enjoy the flirtatious uncertainty and want to see how it plays out. Or if ambiguity around your relationship status is driving you crazy, then ask for clarity. Again, it’s not annoying or needy to want to ease your mind.

When you feel confident in where you both stand, you’ll be more present in the relationship. Check your own actions, too. Maybe he’s holding back since he isn’t sure how you feel—no one wants to get hurt or rejected! He might be shy and need a little prompting and encouragement to ask you out or go to the next level of your relationship. Simple things like body language, physical touch, and flirting are all signals you can use to communicate your interest. Or, again, you can always communicate directly by sharing frankly your own intentions and desires.

Rejection doesn’t define you

If a relationship doesn’t work out or never takes off, it does not mean you aren’t lovable or enough. It just means that person isn’t right for you. Every woman is completely worthy of love, companionship, and affection. It’s easy to lose that perspective when you experience rejection or are going through a breakup. We can’t help but feel hurt, and it’s healthy to process those emotions, but draw the line when it comes to doubting your worth.

Thoughts like these are unproductive: “Why didn’t he want to be with me?” “Did I do something wrong?” “Will I ever find someone else?” There are more healthy thoughts that can help you work through your disappointment: “I’m disappointed it didn’t work out, but I’m thankful for everything I learned getting to know this person” or, “This person wasn’t right for me, but that doesn’t mean I won’t find someone in the future.”

Realize that there are two people in a relationship. If the other person decided you aren’t right for them, then that person isn’t right for you! It’s hard to accept when you were hoping for something more, but with time you’ll realize it’s true.

If self-doubting thoughts come up, consider if they’re a recurring pattern of self-talk. If so, it can be helpful to work through these thoughts with a therapist. Regardless, it’s important to acknowledge them and know that although they might feel convincing, they’re not true.

It’s okay to feel disappointed

Every person deals with disappointment and heartbreak (of any kind) differently. You should never feel ashamed about how you react. Let yourself experience all the feels without wallowing in them—there is a difference! Experiencing your emotions means giving yourself the time and space to process and learn from them. Wallowing is letting those emotions consume your mind and mood, preventing you from finding peace and moving on. If you suppress your emotions, holding in the tears or putting aside sadness, it will just postpone your healing and potentially cause a burst of emotion later on.

And don’t let anyone belittle your emotions. Friends or family might encourage you to just get over it or try to convince you that there isn’t a valid reason to feel hurt. But whether it’s dashed hopes of a crush or the end of a long-term relationship, know that it’s okay to feel hurt.

Be kind to your heart and allow yourself to grieve in a healthy way. One of the best things you can do is surround yourself with people who love you. Call or meet with your mom, dad, sibling, best friend, therapist, or other confidante to talk about it and receive sound advice or encouragement. Plan a fun girls night in or out. Know that it may take some time to completely get over it, but positive distractions help you avoid too much introspection.

As you go through the ups and downs of the dating game, holding on to these truths can help bring you clarity and affirm your worth and emotions. Although you might know and accept these truths, it’s different to actually put them into practice in your love life. Like any kind of mental health care, getting to a place of emotional wellbeing is an ongoing process. And if your relationship anxiety and stress continues or worsens, consider seeking the support of a therapist. Do what you need to put your single-lady mind at ease and care for your heart.