The Slippery Slope of Dating
It happens to people who are young, divorced, widowed, middle aged and elderly. Sooner or later, most of these people face the complicated fact of dating. It should go without saying that people date because they want to fulfill the human need for intimate relatedness, companionship, sexual satisfaction and, for those who are younger, the wish to start a family. However, many individuals who are looking for a partner, regardless of their age, express feelings of fear and insecurity about the dating process.
For example, a number of patients discussed doubts about finding someone appropriate for them. What do I know about this person I have started to see? Should we kiss, hold hands and embrace after the first meeting? What should I do if he or she wants to have sex on the first or second date? If I say no to this person, will they stop seeing me? What if this person is divorced and has children, serious debts, drinks, smokes pot or has serious health problems? These and many other questions confront those who start to see a new person.
The interesting fact that I observed during the years of my practice was that people who are embarking on the hunt for a partner worry more about what the other person thinks of them rather than what their evaluation is of the potential intimate partner. Some of the self doubting questions often have to do with whether or not this new individual finds me attractive, intelligent or interesting enough. Underlying these questions is the fear of rejection. In other words, "Am I good enough for him or her? Will he or she like me?" Hidden behind this is the deeply held conviction that "no, I am not good enough and, no one will find me likeable." Actually, many of the conflicts felt during adolescence can come surging back, particularly for those who were already married divorced.
The dating process often reawakens thoughts and feelings about coming to feel trapped in a relationship. It is not unusual for people to fear becoming dependent on the other. Often, this is based on childhood memories of parents fighting and being abusive towards each other. For those who are divorced and has this experience in their former marriage, this takes on a life all its own because the memory is so very recent and fresh. "Am I picking another abuser or not?"
There are no easy answers those who are pursuing permanent relationships. Nevertheless, there are some guidelines that might just help. Some of these may appear old fashioned but, what is wrong with that anyway?
1. Focus your attention more on what you want rather than the other person wants. "Do I like him or her" is more important than "does he or she like me."
2. Remember that it takes time to get to know another person. "Love at first sight" is great for Hollywood movies and romance novels but has little to do with real life.
3. Take the time to learn if the two of you share the same or similar values and attitudes to life. There needs to be some shared values you and the other may soon find yourselves alienated from one another.
4. As a follow up to number 3, keep in mind that it is not opposites that attract, but those with similar backgrounds. The sense that two people have similar roots can be very assuring.
5. It has long been my observation and belief that, if people truly want an intimate and permanent relationship, sex should wait. If the other person does not want to wait, it may indicate a lack of respect or impulse control. This has nothing to do with religious attitudes but the fact that, engaging in sex too soon, can undermine the continued development of real intimacy. Sex brings with it lots of pressure and uncertainty if it occurs too soon. Of course, I can hear the reader saying, "Well, how soon is too soon?" There is no easy answer to this either except that two people usually have a sense of when they are ready.
6. A deep and troubling question is whether or not you trust this person to be around your children if you are coming from a divorce similar situation. It is always important to learn why this person left or divorced their mate. I do believe that past behavior is a guide to what will happen in the future.
It is important to normalize your fears and doubts about dating. These feelings are normal. Rather than fight these feelings and beliefs, accept them and keep focused on what you want in the person you are hoping to spend your life with.
Your comments and questions are encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD