How to maintain my sense of self while dating?
March 9, 2009 1:00 AM   Subscribe

How do I maintain my sense of self while dating?

I am a 23 year old male with limited relationship experience. Here is how it usually goes down: I meet someone who I am compatible with and interested in becoming involved with. Things are great for a little bit, but I spend ALL of my time thinking about the other person. I ended up dropping out of college one time in part because of allowing one month relationship to monopolize my time. (THINKING about it, not necessarily actually being with the other person). After a while (and in the case of the last successful date I went on, immediately), I completely forget how to be myself. Gone is the hilarious, charming person I know I am capable of being and in his place is a boring, edge-less softie who I wouldn't want to hang out with let alone BE. Then, you guessed it, I get dumped, and I understand why at some level.

My friends all seem to think very highly of me, and on most days, I think very highly of me too! What worries me is that maybe a whole lot of what makes me great to know is tied up in being single, rarely having sex, and not getting inordinately upset over either of these things. It sounds like maybe I am answering my own question here, but I'd love it if there was a less gloomy explanation. Is there any way I can maintain who I am when good things are happening to me in the romance department?

related: I would LOVE to date more, and I feel like I am capable of finding people to do it with. However, the amount of thought time I dedicate to it is not practical. People always say things like "you're overthinking it," but I do not know how to NOT do this.
posted by plungerjoke to Human Relations (10 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
You're coming at this all sideways. It's not that there's something magical about being in a relationship that turns you into pudding, nor is it that there is some virtue in solitary abstinence which makes you a conversational glitterati.

Really, you've taken the first step already: you've identified a change in your behavior triggered by a particular stimulus and decided to take action against it. The next steps involve deconstructing your thought processes and examining your reactions. Imagine going on a date and liking the person. Imagine getting into a relationship with him/her. What are you doing, in your head? Why are you acting in that way? Do you fear rejection and try to become as accommodating as possible? Do you obsess over minute details? What is it about relationships that you enjoy? What is it about being single that you enjoy? How do you think of your friends and how does it compare to how you think of your girlfriends? What do you worry about when you're in a relationship? When you're not?

If you can identify the point where you start to manifest the negative behavior, then you have a shot at identifying the flawed thinking which causes that behavior, at which point you can go about trying to adjust your thinking/attitude/whatever with respect to the situation and hopefully alter your behavior. You may want to enlist assistance for this part, such as a professional therapist, of which exalted legion I am not a member.
posted by Scattercat at 1:56 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Think of all the things that you do that make you the wonderful person you are. Don't stop doing those things when you're dating. Don't stop investing in your education, don't stop working out, don't stop spending time with your friends (without the woman), don't stop spending time with your family, etc.
posted by blissing at 2:09 AM on March 9, 2009 [7 favorites]

I ended up dropping out of college one time in part because of allowing one month relationship to monopolize my time. (THINKING about it, not necessarily actually being with the other person).

How did you feel about college before you dropped out?

I say this because I think people invent this sort of drama to avoid thinking about something else. It is called obession and people use it to avoid thinking about things that make them anxious or angry.

If you want to reduce the effects which you describe, I suggest that you start training yourself to think of something that you might be avoiding as soon as you think a lot about a potential date.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:13 AM on March 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

Hello, me-of-six-years-ago.

As noted above by other commenters, there is no easy fix to a behavioural reaction like this. You have become fixated on the idea of being in a relationship, to the point where it is actively harming your ability to interact with others, live your own life and remain an attractive prospect for potential partners. Even a hint of success in a relationship reduces you to a ball of quivering anticipation and fear. Let me tell you, quivering balls of neuroses are not much fun to be around.

Also as noted, you could be using the drama of new relationships to mask other things in your life that you are scared of tackling.

My solution was to get a knackered laptop and write everything down. Spending half an hour at the end of the day typing out all the nonsense became a cast-iron ritual for me for over three years, and it's something I still return to when there is a lot going on emotionally for me. Knowing that you've got somewhere to put all of your concerns and circular loops of self-doubt and worry ironically lessens it, dramatically. You can be the biggest introspective freakball in the universe, because no-one is going to see it.

Doing that allowed me to carry on being me, throughout a number of short-lived and variously successful relationships. Not co-incidentally, they also helped me to move away from the fixation of being in a relationship, towards living a life and seeing what happened. Almost exactly a year after finally chilling out about the whole thing, I met, wooed and ultimately married the amazing woman I'm with now. I'm not saying that that happens for everyone, but a lot of the drama we create for ourselves around love and relationships comes from a not-often-verbalised conviction that the whole thing is a precarious, heart-destroying house of cards that we must deal with. Approaching relationships with fear and self-doubt usually leads to fearful, self-doubting relationships that go nowhere, hurt yourself and others and re-inforce your perceptions of the whole 'dating game', which doesn't really exist outside of Sex and the City and a bunch of stupid newspaper columns. There's no game to it. There's just people.

Write it down. It'll help, honestly.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:07 AM on March 9, 2009 [18 favorites]

I suppose most people fix this by prioritizing real goals over relationships, like say joining the peace core, i.e. just break the drama cycle by deprioritizing it. I think the many guys fix this by making dating into a game for a few years, and a few others simply avoid relationships until they grow up more, but these both still represent elevating other goals over individual relationships.
posted by jeffburdges at 3:55 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

You are over analysing.

Dating takes practice, and you say I would LOVE to date more well, go do that then.

The more you do it, the less of a big deal it is. And, anyway the other person will usually be as uncomfortable and as nervous as you.
posted by mattoxic at 4:38 AM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

To my mind, 23 and in college is a lousy time to have Massive Commitment in mind. Flirt and have fun, by all means, but don't get hung up on any single girl. There isn't a woman in the world worth dropping out of college and compromising your career goals for.

This may sound cold-blooded, but understand that I had to waste a number of years on serial monogamy before I figured it out: Invest in your own life and people will want to be a part of it without you getting all romantical. You maintain your sense of self by focusing on the stuff you're into and not giving up your former life just because you've got some company. If she likes you, she ought to like you and not who you could be. If you give it all up to become her willing slave, what becomes of what attracted her in the first place?

And the best way to avoid getting hung up on a solitary woman? Pay attention to lots of them. I think the ideal number for most guys is somewhere between 3-5 different girls. This way, you don't put a ton of stock in how any single encounter plays out because you've got options. This way, any girl you wind up seeing exclusively is more likely to arrive in that position due to a genuine attraction and affinity, not because you're desperate for anyone to play that role in your life.

You're overthinking things because your relative inexperience has you over-inflating the importance of single relationships. You're afraid you don't have a lot of options and must hold fast to whatever works out first. This need not be the case. Women are amazing and there's lots and lots of them out there. Get to know a bunch of them and, for now, don't be thinking of picking just one of them. Relish being single, revel in your freedom, be on fire about your own life and girls will want in on it of their own accord.
posted by EatTheWeak at 4:57 AM on March 9, 2009 [6 favorites]

Yes, right. Forget about having a relationship and focus on having a life. Go out, see friends, cook, eat, join some stuff. Relationships can't be engineered or controlled. They happen or they don't happen. They endure or they don't. Get some Paxil or Xanax and go with the flow. Don't journal -- that will just make your cycle of obsession even worse. Get out of the house. Get out of your head!
posted by Londonita at 6:25 AM on March 9, 2009 [3 favorites]

n-thing everything upthread - the reason you're in this bind is you're allowing far too much time to fostering these binding thoughts.

You need to forget yourself and lose your ego a little. My advice is always get beyond the subjectivity - lose yourself entirely in a project that's beneficial to others and bigger than you.

What are you most passionate about other than your status in a relationship? What do you find yourself doing that you love? Now take that thing out into your community and make someone else's life better by sharing it with them.

I guarantee that as soon as you start doing this, you'll meet fascinating women who not only are in-line with what you believe in, but who also see you living your passions and there's nothing more seductive than that.

Having some humility in your life and doing for others is always a great thing. That's also where you'll find happiness in your relationships.
posted by Lipstick Thespian at 9:25 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

Sounds like the reward center of your brain is out of whack. Love is an addiction*, and you should learn to treat it like one. Get a support system, get lots of friends & go out and do meaningful things other than date.

That's not to say that you should give up on love, but rather, you should recognize why these things are happening to you. It's all chemistry.

* Helen Fisher studies the brain in love and Helen Fisher tells us why we love, cheat
posted by MesoFilter at 10:25 AM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

« Older How to combine multiple physical shops and an...   |   Printing not squinting. Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.