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As someone who has a history of multiple unsuccessful relationships, I can tell you firsthand that there are common mistakes that thread failed romances together. And a lot of them can have been avoided from the start. The beginning of a relationship serves as the foundation for the future relationship. This is where you establish the dynamics of how you treat each other, the boundaries of what is and isn’t going to fly, and the compatibility of your personalities, lifestyles, and values.
But too many people find themselves trying to make it work with someone that they shouldn’t – whether it’s two dates, eight months, or six years in. My personal theory is that one of the reasons the divorce rate is so high is because people aren’t great about selecting someone who will be a good longterm partner, but they stay with the person anyway out of attachment and comfort until things unravel as they were destined to from the start. Avoid all of that bullshit by being real with yourself and your partner from the beginning about what is and isn’t going to work. These are pitfalls that will fuck things up.
1. Trying to make it work with someone when your connection is lacking certain components.
In order for a relationship to even have a chance to be successful, I maintain that you have to have an intellectual, an emotional, and a sexual connection with that person. Too many people make the mistake of settling for a relationship that is lacking one or more of these pieces and end up missing out on someone that would have provided all three. While sometimes a relationship can have all of these things and still not work out, it’s still a necessary starting point.
Looking back on my failed relationships, almost all of them had two out of the three but didn’t achieve the trifecta.
If you feel like this person doesn’t support you, and you usually have to rely on other people for comfort, dump them. If your sex life is fire, but they’re emotionally unavailable, dump them. If this person isn’t interested/can’t keep up with discussing the topics that you find fascinating, dump them. And if you’re trying to make it work with someone because they’re a great person but you just can’t manage to make yourself be attracted to them, dump them. You can even think somebody is good looking but still not want to get it on, and that’s because sexual attraction comes down to chemistry.
Now, I’ve heard of some people eventually discovering that they find someone attractive because they like them so much as a person, and if that works for you, great. Successful relationships, especially as you get older, aren’t based on who you want the fuck the most, but I still think chemistry is important. In general, I would say that if the spark still isn’t there after a few dates, it probably isn’t coming. Wait it out for someone that achieves the trifecta or you’ll end up unfulfilled or breaking up anyway.
2. Ignoring when your friends don’t like who you’re with.
If your friends don’t like who you’re dating, it’s usually for one of two reasons: a) This person has treated you badly, and your friends don’t forget that as easily as you do or b) They just don’t think this person is a great match and know you can do better. It’s rare that your friends are just jealous, haters, or don’t understand what true love is, so this isn’t the time to brush your shoulders off.
My best friend will introduce me to dudes that are nice enough guys but don’t leave me thrilled because it’s much easier for me, as someone who’s not emotionally entangled, to realize when someone just isn’t a naturally good fit for her personality and needs. Like all of us, she occasionally listens and occasionally learns the hard way. And, really, that’s what dating is about – experience is the best teacher. But you have to at least be aware that this one is a huge red flag. If the people in your life that know you and care about you aren’t into the person that you’re dating, it’s likely that they’re paying attention to something that you’re ignoring.
3. Expecting someone to change who they are as a person.
What do you believe in and what do you want out of life? Now, can you get on board with your partner’s answers to the same questions? Whether they’re differences in religious/political/social beliefs, the desire to get married and/or have kids, your thoughts on how other people should be treated, the lifestyles that you prefer, etc., you’re going to be a lot happier if you can find someone whose values you agree with, can respect, or at least can compromise with. A lot of people say these things aren’t first date discussion material. I disagree.
I think it’s better to put everything on the table at the beginning before attachment starts to hit, and just weed people out whose values are incompatible with yours. Of course, relationships take compromise, and if you’re waiting for the person that fits your cookie cutter image of a partner, you’re going to be disappointed. But when it comes to the important things, you have to make sure that the person is someone you’re willing to work with. It’s such a gamble, and one that usually fails, to date someone under the condition that they’ll make a complete 180. Or even a 90.
If they say they don’t want to settle down, don’t expect a marriage in the next few years. If they say they want to have kids and raise them with certain religious beliefs, decide if you’re willing to do the same. If they say that they’re liberal or conservative, expect them to voice their opinions (and vote) accordingly. If they’re not particularly ambitious, don’t expect work ethic to magically appear.
The thing is, If you don’t truly like the person that you’re with, you’ll eventually start to resent the person that you’re with. Don’t figure out that you’re on totally different pages a year into the relationship. Try to work these things out from the start and don’t underestimate how much these differences will matter down the road. Expect that your partner will deviate very little (if at all) from who they are at their core, and decide if you’re in or if you’re out.
4. Playing it cool.
Being direct about your feelings is anxiety-provoking. Being vulnerable opens you up to rejection. We avoid these things because we’re trying to protect ourselves from being hurt, but, in the long run, putting up walls is only going to lead to failure, too. It’s more effective to be honest about who you are and how you feel, even if it’s uncomfortable because it deters the people that don’t sincerely appreciate you and attracts the people that do. If you continue to play it cool or play games, you inevitably dig yourself into a situation that doesn’t serve you or the person that you’re with.
If somebody does something that hurts your feelings, evaluate why it hurts your feelings and discuss it with them. If you really like someone, don’t suffer in the friend (or friends-with-benefits) zone for six months because you’re afraid to lose the person if you go out on a limb and tell them how you feel. Don’t become a shell of yourself because you’re afraid of rejection. When somebody rejects you for being your authentic self, they’re doing you a favor, and it makes you available for someone who will love you for you, boo.
5. Making excuses for someone that’s putting in minimal effort.
When someone likes you, they want to hang out with you. They want to respond to your texts. They want to make time for you. I’m not buying the “Sorry, I’m too busy” bullshit, and you shouldn’t either, especially in the beginning when you should be brimming with excitement. I’ve talked to guys before that would always bail on or reschedule plans, answer my texts 12 hours later with a brief response, rarely be the one to initiate hanging out, or impose a constant nagging feeling in my stomach that they were doing shady shit on the side. What a fucking waste of my time and self-worth.
If this is the kind of treatment that you’re getting, it’s because this is the kind of treatment you’re willing to accept. Don’t. There is someone out there that will think you’re cool as hell and won’t pull this shit, and when you refuse to accept anything less than that, that’s what you’ll get. When my boyfriend and I first started dating, he was traveling all the time, but we would make dinner plans at midnight when his flight got in, we would go on coffee dates (even if it was just for an hour), or we would make plans a week in advance for the two days that he was going to be in town.
Later on, he would read the cold emails I was sending to PGP and help me revise them to be the most effective at getting a response from Dave, and he would answer my repeated FaceTimes about which used bicycle would be the best to cart me around town and put serious thought into it. He makes me feel cherished, and it’s because if you’re serious about someone, you make them a priority. If someone isn’t doing this for you, it’s because they’re not willing to make you a priority, and whether it’s because they’re just not into you, or they’re just self-absorbed, you can find somebody that doesn’t make you feel this way and you’ll be a lot happier.
Not only should you be really into about the person you’re dating (and that excitement should be reciprocated), but you should also be genuinely compatible with them. Red flags aren’t always a deal breaker, but they shouldn’t be ignored either. Investigate them and talk about them. Because deep down in our walled-off hearts, I think we all eventually want to be in love with someone amazing. So try not to fuck it up. And if (or when) you do, join the club. It’s a jungle out there. .