So today I want to do something you don’t see very often in the Dating Advice Industry: I want to tell you why you shouldn’t be dating.
I know, I know, you’re thinking: “I understand the individual words, but when you string them together like that they make no sense…”
Stick with me here. I’m going some place with this, I promise.
I spend a lot of time talking about how to get better at dating, how to get people interested in dating you and the process of going from casual dating to a committed relationship. But I don’t spend that much time talking about all the times when dating somebody is a bad idea. And frankly, it’s something more people need to talk about. Watching relationship drama on social media may be one of my favorite hobbies, but I have seen so many relationships that frankly should never have started in the first place. Sometimes you’re simply just not in the right place to be dating anyone — or at least not more than incredibly casually. It ends up being hurting you, or hurting women you’re hoping to date or both. On a more enlightened self-interest level, dating at a time when you’re simply not ready for it tends to actually make you worse at dating. Those failed relationships become so much more emotional scar tissue on your heart, making it harder to improve.
So let’s talk about some of the times when you really shouldn’t be dating… and why.
1. You Shouldn’t Be Dating When: You have something to prove.
This is an incredibly common issue, especially if you’ve been working at improving your dating life. It’s a very understandable motivation, when you get right down to it. When you’ve been branded a loser or The One Who Was Not Good With Girls as I was, there are times when you feel like you’re the Last American Virgin. It seems like everyone else is looking at you with a mix of contempt and pity. You feel like you have a neon sign over your head that screams “this guy can’t get laid” and everyone is snickering at you whenever they see you. So you get into self-improvement. You get into pick-up. You start to turn things around. You’ve been learning how to talk to women. You’ve been reinforcing your archetype, building your new style and you’re starting to have some successes. In fact, you may be having more success than you ever believed possible.
Small wonder then that you might feel like demanding some acknowledgement from the world. And what’s one of the best ways to show that you’re not the same loser you used to be? You go out and parade your girlfriend around like a banner.
Or maybe you just want to prove something to yourself. After all of those years of being terrified to talk to women, finding a girlfriend is like starting a new phase of life, a way of proving you’re not that guy any more.
Or maybe you’ve been dumped. Who’s really at fault doesn’t matter. What does matter is that you want to show her that you’re over it. In fact, you’re so over it you’ve gone out and found someone better than her. You didn’t get dumped, you traded up! And nothing would make you happier than to just rub her face in it. Are you jealous yet, Amanda? Huh? Huh??
After all, the best revenge is the number of “happy new couple” pics on your Facebook page…
I’m going to be honest: I’ve fallen victim to this more times than I care to think about — for just about every reason you might think. But when you’re in this “out to prove it to the world” headspace, you really shouldn’t be dating. You’re not getting into a relationship with somebody because you have an amazing connection and you have so much in common and she makes you laugh. You’re doing it because you don’t trust yourself. You’re using another person as a prop — waving her around and saying “See? See?” This is a horrible thing to do to another person — you’re denying her humanity and just using her to aggrandize yourself… even if it’s only to yourself. And frankly… nobody’s buying it. Showing your girlfriend off like a prize isn’t going to convince anyone that you’ve changed. It betrays that — for all the improvement you may well have made — you’re still looking to other people for validation. It’s a sign that, deep down, you don’t believe you’ve actually gotten better, you just want other people to think you have. And that break-up – because you’re going to break up – is going drop C4 on the child’s popsicle stick house that is your ego.
2. …You expect her to “complete” you.
This is one tends to trip people up. When we hear people talking about how someone “completes them”, we’re picturing Tom Cruise in the rain, desperately trying to convince the latest of his L-Ron-Hubbard-approved girlfriends that a) she should never wear heels again and b) she should love him and squeeze him and call him George. He likes it when they call him George.
“Look, the casting director said we test well together. That’s enough for marriage, right?”
It’s a very romantic scene. It’s also not how things play out when Cameron Crowe isn’t directing your life. More often than not, people who are looking for a woman to “complete” them aren’t looking for a soul-mate so much as a lifestyle accessory. They’re looking for someone who is making up for some supposed lack in their life… usually a hole marked “girlfriend”. Often, when guys talk about wanting someone who completes them, it means that they want someone who will change them or fix them. They’re looking for someone someone who is going to help them see what they “missed out on” in life or who magically negates some quality they don’t like about themselves. They want someone who will take them out on adventures and show them the magic that is the wonder of life… never mind the fact that they’re not particularly adventurous and get seriously annoyed when their commute is 10 minutes longer than normal because now they’re going to miss part of Game of Thrones and have to wait until the DVR is finished recording. Even when they’re not looking for an explicit Manic Pixie Dream Girl, they usually want an incredibly improbable — and often conflicting — collection of attributes.
Much like the guys with something to prove, this isn’t about connecting with a person, so much as finding some combination that’s equal parts blow-jobs and life-coach.
The thing is: your partners aren’t there to fix you or fill a hole in your life. That’s why we call them “partners” instead of “repairmen” or “tech support”. When we talk about someone “completing” us, we’re not talking about rolling along until we find our Missing Piece, we’re talking about someone who we never realized we needed. If you feel like you have a hole in your life, then you need to fix it yourself instead of relying on other people to do it for you.
3. …. You think you’ve “earned” it.
There’s a difference between deservedness and entitlement. We all deserve to be loved. We’re not entitled to it.This particular issue comes in many flavors. The classic White Knight is someone who tries to “earn” a relationship by “saving” a woman in some form of “distress”. The Nice Guy, on the other hand, is the guy who complains that he didn’t get a good-night hand-job after holding the door open for her and generally didn’t act like a douchebag.
It’s the “Come on, helping you with your coat is worth at least a minute of oral sex…” logic.
There’s the Alpha Bro and the Men’s Rights Advocate who get annoyed that women refuse to give in to their obvious male superiority and in the guy who complains he deserves a 10 because REASONS.
The attitude may be dressed up in flowery language about “deserving a chance to win her heart” or it may be more blatantly mercenary in the “I did X for you, you should give me Y” vein of the commodity model of sex and relationships, but either way it comes down to the same basic idea: that relationships are something you get when you collect enough metaphorical proofs of purchase and five bucks shipping and handling.
People with this attitude towards women and relationships betray a sense of misogyny. They may not realize it — in fact, White Knights and Nice Guys explicitly pride themselves on loving and respecting women — but it treats love as a transaction. At best, the idea that you “earn” a relationship means that you see women as gold-diggers or prostitutes. At worst, they’re the prize at the bottom of the cereal box, just waiting for someone to dig them out of the piles of Captain Crunch. It not only implies that women have no agency, but that relationships aren’t about chemistry and mutual attraction, but about earning enough points until someone is obligated to date you. And that attitude is relationship poison.
If you are working with the idea that you are somehow owed a relationship… well, it’s probably time to sit things out until you can get past that.
4. …Life gets in the way.
Sometimes it’s not about you. Sometimes shit just happens that means you’re not in a position to date, no matter how much you might want to. No matter how much we plan or prepare, life frequently finds a way to kick our legs out from under us and drop us on our asses. Relationships, after all, take time and energy. New relationships especially require careful nurturing; it’s all-too-easy for a new or burgeoning relationship to fall apart because of unintentional neglect. You may want to spend more time with that awesome woman you met off OKCupid but… well, shit just keeps coming up, responsibilities or problems that by necessity have to take priority.
It might be that your job has piled on the hours until you’re working 12 to 15 hour days without a break. Or you’ve been put on the graveyard shift and when most people are out socializing (or asleep), you’re stuck at work. You might be trying to hold down a job, even two jobs, and get a degree. Or hell, just going to grad school in general. It might be that you have family issues — having to care for a relative, or an incredibly stressful intra-family conflict. You might have health issues that limit your ability to function. You may be dealing with financial hardship that means you’re constantly working your ass off, running as fast as you can just to stay in one place.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you can’t date if you’re not solidly middle class; you can date quite successfully on the cheap. Nor am I saying you shouldn’t be dating if your life isn’t somehow perfect… but it should be stable. Constantly changing circumstances — never being sure when you’ll be available, always having to cancel plans at the last moment — is hard enough on an established relationship. It’s almost impossible to start a new one under those circumstances. And if/when they do fail, it leaves you feeling even worse and blaming yourself for not being able to make it work despite everything.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of bad timing.
5. … When you just aren’t ready.
Sometimes we just aren’t ready to date… no matter how much we may want to. The most common example of this is after a break-up. There’s a lot of social pressure to “get back on the saddle” after a break-up — almost doubly so if you were the dumper instead of the dumpee. Or we might be the ones trying to convince ourselves that we should be over things by now, that hurting this much for this long is just kind of ridiculous. And as a result: we go diving in head first before we’ve actually healed up and end up reopening the wounds… and creating misery for the people we’re trying to date as well.
Other times we rush headlong into something more serious than we are ready for because we assume that we’re supposed to want it. It may be that you’ve just gotten out of a long-term relationship and feel as though you need to be in something serious and committed right away because… well, you’ve been in one for so long, you’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to be single. Or we might push for a committed, exclusive relationship because we’re deeply insecure and feel like we need to lock this person down before they have a chance to realize that they could do better. Or you may just not know what you want — only what you think you’re supposed to want, and you haven’t really had any chance to explore what your actual options are.
You may rush into a relationship because you’re in love with the idea of being in love. Or you might have always wanted a girlfriend but simply don’t have the emotional tools to actually handle a relationship. You may still be working on being able to enforce your boundaries. You may be trying to unlearn the lessons from an emotionally abusive relationship.
Regardless of the reasons, we live in a culture that believes that we’re supposed to be in relationships. Pop-culture tells us over and over again that being single is the worst thing possible and that if you’re not part of a couple then there’s something wrong with you. We’re not encouraged to appreciate the value of being able to be alone, or that sometimes no, you shouldn’t be dating anyone. Quite the opposite, in fact — more often than not, we’re taught to cling to our relationships like a love-sick barnacle to an especially sexy rock.
But sometimes we need to be single for a while. Part of being successful in dating means knowing yourself. You need a certain level of self-awareness if you want to avoid the mistakes you’ve made before and not inflict more unnecessary pain and hardship on yourself or on the people you want to date. So it’s important to recognize that there are times when we shouldn’t be dating… at least for a little while.