So there I was sitting in my therapist’s office. It was more than a handful of years ago, therapy was something that I would never have considered on my own, but it was a benefit of my post-accident, car insurance plan.
My Ex-Narcissist was long gone, my physical injuries from the accident, healed, I was starting to date again. I looked better than I ever had, but I had not unfortunately done enough, or at least I hadn’t done the right kind of self-work. I was still codependent, the issue, never addressed or even acknowledged by my therapist, but I knew although my body had changed, my self-image had not.
Getting back out there was difficult. I knew I was out of my element. The rules had changed since I’d been out of the game. I didn’t know how I was supposed to act, or how I should feel. Suddenly I felt like I was 20 again. I was no man’s land for sure. Online dating was an acceptable thing now, but what I didn’t know was that really unhealthy people used it as a playground.
I was to discover that I wasn’t nearly healthy enough, or experienced enough, to maneuver through the maze of men that I would encounter. I was still fragile. I had just put my shattered pieces back together again – the glue hadn’t finished drying and I still felt quite vulnerable and there I was putting myself at the mercy of strangers, who couldn’t care less about what I had just been through.
So that day, as I sat in my psychologist’s office, I had an epiphany – I realized that I was more concerned with how my dates felt about me, than how I felt about them. This was an important discovery. I didn’t know what to do with it, but it was a huge revelation nonetheless.
This need to be liked, even by those I didn’t like, had me feeling really insecure. I still felt like I had to be perfect – I still felt like I had to look perfect and act perfect. My strength I believed was my intelligence and my sense of humor, so I would put on a show, all with the hope that they would like me.
Sometimes this need to please had me going further than I would have liked, if you know what I mean. I remember meeting a guy at a sports bar, we had dinner and while I listened to him talk, it was clear he was a massive player and had a huge harem. At least that’s what he wanted me to believe. I had this pull to want him to choose me, but I wasn’t interested in him enough to jump through all the hoops I knew he would have laid out for me. But I was still polite, still content to sit through it all and smile. At the end of the date, he asked me if I wanted to go to a hotel room. I told him I had to get up early (a lie), but he ended up walking me to my car and once we got there, he leaned right into me and started kissing me. The make-out session was so over the top that someone drove by and screamed, “Get a room.”
The problem was I had already made up my mind at dinner, that this guy wasn’t for me, so what the hell was I still doing there with his tongue down my throat? If it gets to the point where you are sleeping with someone on the first date, all in the name of just getting them to like you, you’re doing yourself a massive disservice and are likely going to get the opposite of what you’re hoping for. I’m no prude, but I’ve been there done that and felt like shit after.
Another first date I had was in a nice restaurant in the harbor, with an attractive man. The problem was that he kept going on and on about his ex-wife. It was clear he wasn’t over her and was still devastated by the break-up and most definitely emotionally unavailable. He shouldn’t have been dating. He wasn’t ready, but more importantly, I should have cut the date short when I realized it, but I didn’t. Instead I felt insecure, in some way, because he wasn’t choosing me over his ex-wife. Because I was codependent I was listening and being way too sympathetic to his sob story, when I should have been upset that he had wasted my time.
I still had a great fear of hurting others, or of being confrontational, which meant that often my dates would go home thinking that it was a great date, while I had already made the decision that it was going to be a one and done. I didn’t have the stuff to say to someone that I wasn’t interested in another date, I’d smile and nod, then do the avoiding dance over the next few days, until they got the message.
While there is nothing wrong with being nice or compassionate, there is something wrong with allowing yourself to be used, or not pressing your own self-interest, especially when you are meeting a stranger on a first date. When your need for external validation exceeds your ability to practice self-care, you should not be dating. Period.
It was a long time before I learned how to conduct myself on a first date. I had put a lot of hours into my healing and could approach a potential partner being fully whole and not needing anything from anyone. When you are not desperate for a mate you have a lot more options and you make better choices.
What I started doing was really listening on my dates. If I heard things I didn’t like, I wasn’t going into ‘uber understanding/compassionate mode,’ which meant I continued on when I shouldn’t. Instead, if I heard, “I used to have a drinking problem,” I would think, yeah that’s unfortunate for you, but it’s not a gamble I’m willing to take and I’d end the date early and not contact them again. If I heard I’m 35 and I live with my parents, I’d be thinking, yeah not for me. Is it being judgmental? You bet it is and it’s my right to be. The role of significant other is the second most important role in the play of my life. That role doesn’t go to just anyone.
The key to surviving a first date is to always be mindful of your codependency, which means if you recognize that you are being too nice, too understanding, too interested in whether or not they like you, then you need to take a step back. Instead ask yourself, does this person have their act together and look at your decision to continue from a logical point of view. That doesn’t mean that being attracted to the person isn’t important, but if looks are your only focus, you’re probably going to be disappointed somewhere down the road.
Before you date have an idea of what you’re looking for, that way it’s not just a shot in the dark. If having a good job, being stable and family oriented is on that list and your date is unemployed, living on his friends couch and hasn’t talked to his parents in 6 years then don’t apologize – be ok with wanting what you want, but do learn how to politely and respectfully end a date without wasting a lot of your time and theirs.
The key to beating codependency when it comes to dating is being in charge of yourself, knowing what you want, actively seeking it, walking away from what you don’t want and not feeling the need to apologize for putting your interests first. When you can do that, you’re ready to step back out there and be part of something healthy.