After yet another disappointing date, you vow to come off dating sites for a few months, you delete all the apps and are certain that, this time, you are going to work on being happy as a single person. You are done with all the stress and anxiety this dating malarkey causes. Countless hours spent messaging, getting attached and then being disappointed when, once again, it didn’t work out. Yet, a few days later, you find yourself lonely and craving the company of a partner again. Oh, go on, it won’t hurt, you tell yourself. And before you know it, the apps are re-installed, and you are hopeful of finding love again. If this sounds familiar, you are not alone!
As a psychotherapist, I see this painful and endless cycle play out in many of my single clients and friends. The human desire to connect is as difficult to ignore as the primal needs for food and safety. As much as we would sometimes like to override these primitive needs, it is virtually impossible. This is exactly what is playing out here – a reaction to the threat response when it goes wrong, followed by a reaction to the desire to connect when alone. Our thinking brain likes to tell us that we can override these responses, but it is a tough battle to win!
So, how do you get out of this cycle?
If you are reading this, it is likely that you would like to find a partner. Perhaps you have been single for a while, are happy within yourself and just want that special someone to share your life with. Or maybe you find it difficult to be happy alone and are desperate to fill the void. Either way, these 10 tips to help you break the cycle are worth trying:
- Choose your app or website carefully. Yes, there are plenty of free dating apps and sites, but remember that the free sites will attract more users and some of those will not be looking for a serious relationship. In short, you will have to wade your way through more profiles to find the gems which is both time-consuming and risky.
- Build your profile Take the time to build a good profile which reflects your personality and what you are looking for in a match. It’s tempting to upload filtered photos and exaggerate your hobbies but being authentic means you will attract a more appropriate match. Creating a profile based on what you think others want to read won’t be effective in the long run.
- Know yourself. It may sound like a cliché but the relationship you have with yourself is the most important one. Learn about the themes of past relationships and the things you might be able to improve on. An understanding of attachment styles may help with this. If necessary, seek the help of a therapist with an understanding of relationships such as an emotionally focused therapist (EFT) to help you with this process.
- Clarify your needs in a relationship. Know what you are looking for in a partner and know your deal-breakers. Remember, nobody is going to fit your criteria perfectly but it’s important to know what you won’t tolerate. For example, would you date a smoker?
- See beneath the exterior. It’s tempting to choose someone based on their looks. Undoubtedly physical attraction is important but if you are looking for longevity the most important thing is the personality match.
- Limit your online interaction. Try not to spend countless lonely hours interacting by message. This is because at least two psychological phenomena occur when we communicate online – the disinhibition effect and solipsistic introjection. Simply put, people tend to be more open online than face-to-face, and as we read their messages, we interpret it through our own mind’s filter, therefore, hearing it in the romantic tone we hope it was intended to have. By the time you meet, the reality is likely to be nothing like the fantasy you’ve created in your mind. Keep communication to a minimum before meeting up to prevent this.
- Take the pressure out of the first meeting by reminding yourself that you are just getting to know someone new who you may or may not wish to see again. A simple reframe like this can make the world of difference to your nerves and expectations.
- Doing the rejecting. If you soon realise that your date isn’t someone you want to continue seeing it’s okay to send a simple no thanks text such as: It was great to meet you today. Unfortunately, I don’t feel as though we are the match I’m looking for but I wish you all the best in your search. Yes, it might hurt but better to do this than hurt someone by stringing them along.
- Dealing with rejection. Expect and welcome rejection. You are not going to be everyone’s cup of tea and it’s better to know that so that you can find someone who is right for you. It’s normal to feel hurt if you have been turned down from a second date. Feel and acknowledge the pain and pick yourself up to start again.
- Keep the balance right. Set yourself time limits to look at the app or website They can be very addictive, but the addictive nature can cause stress and anxiety in your body which then fuels the cycle mentioned above. Use those lonely evenings to take up something new or chat with friends.
Following these tips should make your dating experience more efficient, effective and hopefully less anxiety-provoking. If you still find you are struggling, get the help of a psychotherapist who has training in emotionally focused therapy (EFT) or another model of attachment therapy to support you and help you understand yourself better in relationships.
Alison Bickers is an experienced psychotherapist with a private practice on the South Coast.
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