President of the First Girlfriend's Club
May 9, 2014 11:15 AM   Subscribe

How do I NOT be a starter girlfriend? I'm 28, genuine, friendly, have hobbies, a great career, but for some reason, my relationships keep ending. I know, I know, is it me?

Well, it could be me. I feel like I invest all this energy into a relationship, just to have the person I'm dating break up with me once they've learned how to "be a boyfriend" and go on to make some other woman happy. Meanwhile, I'm left wondering and sometimes blindsided why the relationship didn't stick. I've had long-term relationships before, but I must be missing some red flags as to why it doesn't work out. And I'm sure every relationship will come to an end and that if we weren't right for each other, its ok things didn't work out. But is there something I can do or not do to stop this from happening? I'm only asking because this seems to be a trend with me and relationships and I'm tired of being hurt, and the one "left holding the bag" so to speak. Throwaway email:
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (33 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
forgive me if I'm being dense, but couldn't you just try not dating men for whom you would be their first relationship? if you're dating men around your age, that doesn't seem like an unreasonable criterion for you to have.
posted by dynamiiiite at 11:17 AM on May 9, 2014 [10 favorites]

Could be a dangerous idea and potentially upsetting, but have you thought about asking prior boyfriends why?

(Again - this could be a really REALLY bad idea!!!)
posted by JenThePro at 11:18 AM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I can't be clear whether you mean that you are dating men and being their "first girlfriend" or whether you are dating men for whom you are their first SERIOUS girlfriend.

Either way, maybe look for similarities between your exes. If you met most of them in bars then try meeting people different ways like a club or a class. If most of them were your age or younger perhaps look for older men to date. Change your methods and criteria for dating.

And really, I don't think this is uncommon. I know I certainly went through a spell where I seemed to be their first "serious" girlfriend, I "broke them in" (if you'll forgive the term), and then they went off and took all the stuff I exposed them to and taught them so that they could be an awesome boyfriend to someone else. Super annoying. But in every case it was very clear (in hindsight) that we had not been well suited and the relationship would never have worked anyway.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:20 AM on May 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

My first question would be "how many times has this happened?" because you may just be hurting and seeing a trend where there isn't really much of one.

This is a shot in the dark, but I also wonder if you may be picking guys who are a little insecure or inexperienced because you regard them as 'safe bets' who will stick around, and then you help them gain a little self-confidence but then they realize that the two of you aren't actually compatible long term.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:21 AM on May 9, 2014 [12 favorites]

I have a friend who was going through this. One day she decided, "the next guy I date will be completely different from all the guys I've dated in the past." She then went completely outside her comfort zone and picked someone who previously wouldn't have been her "type". That was the guy it finally worked with.

I'm not saying you should just go pick any old dude who isn't who you'd usually date. (And definitely don't date people you're not attracted to!) But, is there a unifying personality trait that all your previous boyfriends have shared? Next time, go with not that.

I'm also wondering if part of this is that your previous relationships all happened in your teens and early/mid 20s. A lot of dudes who are like 24 years old just are not looking to settle down, period, and it's not about you or really about them. I don't think you necessarily need to find an Older Guy, but what about someone who is a year or two older?
posted by Sara C. at 11:27 AM on May 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

Is there something that appeals to you about teaching a guy how to "be a boyfriend?" Is the energy that you invest into the relationship invested into changing the guy into a better boyfriend? Invest your self-improvement energy into yourself and let the relationship be mostly about shared fun.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 11:28 AM on May 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

Are you sure they're actually "learning how to be a boyfriend", and not just learning what you specifically like and don't like? In other words, learning how to be your boyfriend.

Maybe the men you're dating think you expect too much, or the relationship is too intense? (A guess based upon "I feel like I invest all this energy into a relationship").
posted by spaltavian at 11:28 AM on May 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I hope this doesn't come off as flippant, but in the same way that your lost keys are always in the last place you look, all of your relationships are going to end until you find the one that doesn't. 28 isn't that old, and "my relationships end and then my boyfriends go on to be happy with other ladies," isn't really a red-flag laden pattern: in a way, it's a good thing, because you're choosing guys who are apparently good, dateable people - they just haven't been right for you. It'd be way more disturbing if you were like, "All of my ex-boyfriends are sociopathic pickup artists who leave a trail of broken hearts in their wake." Or, "After we broke up, none of my ex-boyfriends ever dated again - they just devoted their lives to tending the candles in the shrine they kept to me in the basement."

I know it sucks, but after every breakup,you just have to comfort yourself with some friends and some dancing and ice cream, and then move on to the next one. You are doing what you need to do, and even though it doesn't feel that way right now, the odds are that things will work out.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 11:28 AM on May 9, 2014 [54 favorites]

For most of us, we only have one, or two relationships that 'work out'. The rest don't last. That's the human condition.

If you want to date seriously, and be in a monogamous realtionship that may lead to marriage, you need to make that clear up front. If you're afraid you may scare some guys off, well, you will, the guys who aren't looking for that kind of thing. It's a feature, not a bug.

Most people know if they want to eventually be married, have children, etc. If they don't know, again, not the guy you want to date.

Be pickier, only date mature guys who are wanting the same kind of relationship you want. Date men you don't have to train.

I've mentioned this before, and I'll mention it again, I have a cousin who sat down on a first date and said to the guy, "I think you're great, but I'm going to be honest here, I'm interested in eventually getting married and having a family. If you are too, then great, let's see where this goes, but if you're not, that's okay too, but I don't think we should waste each other's time." He was a bit taken aback, but realized that yes, those were both things he wanted. They have married and have two adorable kids.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:29 AM on May 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

I had a lot of this in my early-mid 20s, as well, always dating guys within a year or two of me age-wise. Then I met my current boyfriend, who is 8 years older and had had two serious live-in relationships before we met, and suddenly things were a lot different: communication between us was easier, there weren't any games being played, he was direct about his feelings for me, etc. Might just be that I met the right guy but I certainly thought a few of the other guys were the right guy. Think about dating guys a little older and maybe you won't encounter this so much. Good luck!
posted by jabes at 11:32 AM on May 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Date men who show confidence from the get-go.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 11:33 AM on May 9, 2014 [6 favorites]

She then went completely outside her comfort zone and picked someone who previously wouldn't have been her "type". That was the guy it finally worked with.

THIS is a scenario I have heard a whole hell of a lot and experienced personally. Maybe it is confirmation bias, but I have come across so many situations where a person had a type, or at least dated people who were similar in some way, and then they date someone who fell totally outside that type and was nothing like the people they had dated in the past, and THAT is who they end up with. People break out of their comfort zone, maybe hold themselves (and their prospective dates) to a higher or just different standard. That certainly is what happened to me.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:37 AM on May 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

date men who already know how to be a boyfriend, sparing yourself the arduous task of teaching them.
posted by bruce at 11:48 AM on May 9, 2014

I do this too. I pick emotionally unavailable men - men who straight up tell me stuff like "I am emotionally unavailable" - and I am kind and sweet and non-judgmental and loving... and then they break up with me and go on to successful relationships. I think they can't be with me because I remind them of how they used to be and they want to start fresh after learning a lot about being with someone who is genuinely a good partner (at least I think I am a good partner - I work incredibly hard at it, anyhow).

For me, I have noticed that the guys I have dated all have a lot in common. They play a lot of video or computer games. They don't have a big social life or any at all. They are insecure. They dislike or actively hate their jobs. They're pretty good-looking. They all seem to have some kind of unhappiness - major clinical depression or just general dysthymia. And they always, always put their needs first and act annoyed or even resentful when I have needs of my own.

Does any of that list sound familiar? If not, do you have a list of your own?

Also the truth really is basically "it doesn't work until it does." I'm 31 and it hasn't worked yet. It will or maybe it won't. I know I love myself, though, so there is that.

Good luck.
posted by sockermom at 11:48 AM on May 9, 2014 [26 favorites]

Nthing dating outside your comfort zone, and dating older men. By the end of my big OKCupid experiment, I'd broadened (not lowered) my standards so that the only 2 criteria that mattered were "sexy" and "fascinating." I dropped all the previous criteria, arbitrary preferences on hair color, height, age, career, music taste, etc., and decided to focus only on sexy and fascinating.

And I met a variety of very appealing men! And then I fell in love with one, and he is the actual opposite of my ex (who sounds a lot like your exes): nearly a decade older, not my "type" physically but sexy as hell, already been around the LTR block and armed with great communication and problem-solving skills, and a whole lot of other skills too.

Try new things (people), and even if you don't fall in love you'll gather a wide range of experience that will help Future You.
posted by magdalemon at 11:50 AM on May 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Next time you are at the car lot, don't test drive the Ford Pinto.
Test drive the Porsche Carrera.

If you don't want to be The Starter Girlfriend, quit dating guys for whom you are The Starter Girlfriend. Maybe go a few years older, outside your current comfort zone. Pick the ones with a stable job, a mortgage and no Spiderman Underoos.

Not that there is anything wrong with superhero themed underwear. Occasionally.
posted by John Kennedy Toole Box at 11:53 AM on May 9, 2014 [12 favorites]

You've gotten good advice about changing up the sorts of guys you date. You might also consider some therapy, because you're questioning patterns and whether you're responsible for them. Seeing a professional therapist helped me identify patterns and ways of thinking that weren't helping me, and then helped me be a lot better at identifying my own needs and asking for them. So if you feel like the way you've done relationships so far wasn't entirely healthy for You, consider talking with a therapist about it.
posted by ldthomps at 12:01 PM on May 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I feel your pain. This happened to me three times in a row when I was in my early and mid-20s. Then the next person was the keeper. FWIW, he was pretty similar to my exes in some ways, except that he was better-looking and more mature. Good luck with the next one!
posted by tuesdayschild at 12:10 PM on May 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I feel like I invest all this energy into a relationship, just to have the person I'm dating break up with me
Do you ever do the breaking up? If not, or rarely, any chance these relationships were going to end anyway, and your reaction was to throw energy at the relationship to fix the problem, when maybe you should have been the one thinking about ending things? Maybe, instead of figuring out how you could have made these relationships work, you should be asking how you could have figured out they weren't going to work earlier?

...or quite possibly you're doing everything right and you just haven't met the right person yet. That's usually the likeliest answer to these questions, though everyone likes to give dating advice based on their own personal experience nevertheless (as I am doing here).
posted by _Silky_ at 12:28 PM on May 9, 2014 [9 favorites]

How many times has this happened? How old are all the men you've dated?

What does "being a boyfriend" mean to you? What do you think these men are learning with you?

Since you mentioned that you invest a lot of time and energy into these relationships with men and then are blindsided when it doesn't work out, I'm wondering if you put a lot of time and effort in when the relationship begins and focusing on being a "good girlfriend" whatever that means to you, instead of truly getting to know the person you are dating.

Maybe when you are dating, you need to focus less on Making A Relationship Happen and more on getting to know people and whether or not you are truly compatible.
posted by inertia at 12:30 PM on May 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

What you said about "make some other woman happy" might be a hint at a potential issue. As a general rule, I don't think anybody can make anybody else happy. People make themselves happy. Happiness is internally driven, not externally driven. Are you trying to make boyfriends happy? Are you expecting them to make you happy? Maybe those are some things to think about in pondering the answer to the question you are asking.
posted by Dansaman at 12:41 PM on May 9, 2014 [8 favorites]

If you're dating people who are in their mid to late twenties and have never dated before -- are you sure they're into You and not just into the idea of having A Girlfriend?
posted by tinymegalo at 1:20 PM on May 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

+1 on figuring out what these guys have in common, personality-wise.

My absolute best advice: concentrate primarily on yourself & not on finding a mate. There's something about being confident, independent, and genuinely happy with your life - it just attracts partners like moths to a flame.
Likewise, you shouldn't date men that need fixing or taught to be a boyfriend (whatever that means), get someone who's got their sh** together. You know: confident, independent, and genuinely happy with their lives. That doesn't mean their lives are perfect, just that they know how to be happy with what they've got.
Your role wouldn't be to fix them anymore than their role is to fix you.
posted by Neekee at 1:48 PM on May 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Can you update us with what the boyfriends weren't doing before they "learned how to boyfriend" and what behaviors they changed? Maybe you're dating immature guys (e.g. "they didn't know that they should shower periodically or pay their bills"), or maybe you have unreasonable standards ("they only bought me diamonds once in the first week! the horror!"). This information will help us determine whether you're selecting bad mates or if you're the bad mate. (The terms "unreasonable" and "bad" are used in a very loose sense here).
posted by melissasaurus at 1:59 PM on May 9, 2014

Do you respect these men? If you see them as unable to navigate their relationships, as needing to be taught*, then that's an inequality that will poison a relationship sooner or later. Get you an equal.

If you do genuinely respect them, please disregard.

*Whether or not that's true! Doesn't matter if that's a perfectly accurate assessment.
posted by The Gaffer at 2:28 PM on May 9, 2014

I think I understand where you’re coming from. Quite a few of my ex-boyfriends including even guys I’ve only gone out with a few times- actually, even male friends, now that I think of it- have been surprisingly naïve in a lot of ways I didn’t expect. Don’t really know how women operate, don’t really know some basic sex tricks, don’t know how long-term relationships work, or whatever.

I have no idea what to tell you. These are good-looking to okay-looking guys, early 20s and late 20s, students and guys with really good jobs, guys who “have it together” money-wise and life-wise and guys who don’t. There really doesn’t seem to be much of a pattern. I don’t really have only one “type.”

I don’t know why I draw out guys like this, but I suspect its maybe because of the giant albatross that is my kind heart and my deep-down nice streak, which I have attempted unsuccessfully to annihilate over the years. I mean, I am always, always the girl who learns that the guy is actually gooey on the inside/gets attached/wants mothering/whatever. Men as a whole are surprisingly needy. That’s one thing I really didn’t expect as a girl growing up with no brothers who formed her opinion of men via mass media. I’m trying to be more of a bitch, but it’s sometimes hard.

You could always just flee at the fist sign of inexperience or confusion, as heartless as it seems.
posted by quincunx at 2:43 PM on May 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

It's probably the age you are dating them. I think most guys imagine that they'll get married when they are 31-35, to a woman that is 27-up to their age (SO UNFAIR I KNOW). It might not be that you're not the right girl for them, but that you're not dating them (or catching them, in so many senses of the word) at the wrong time.

Also: All of them fail until one of them doesn't. None of them work except one. You only need one of them to work out.

Also: If you're taking the frame that you are helping them "learn how to be a boyfriend," you may be giving off a critical or condescending vibe without even realizing it. They may be happier with a woman whose vibe is: "You're so great! And you're such a great boyfriend, just by being you! You don't have to put in all this extra effect to "learn" and be good!" Again, that's an implicit feeling, not something I think you're saying out loud...but people can feel it.

If you want something serious, one thing you have to evaluate is the seriousness with which he is approaching the relationship. Go find a man who is looking for his wife.
posted by amaire at 4:00 PM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Girlfriend, I just don't think it's you.

As a wise Irish lady told me, "You have to kiss a lot of frogs."

And 2 years after breaking up with a guy I dated/lived with for waaaay too long (wasted my entire 20s on that dude and when I broke up with him all my friends asked me what I ever found attractive in him (!)) and having 2 pretty fun years of real life dating/relationships under my belt and meeting tons and tons and tons of guys (successful and attractive dudes on paper, but rejecting some and having 2 fun relationships since then (in one now that I'm slightly ambivalent about because I don't see a longterm future but let's just say he's kinda talented so basically I'm having fun)----

basically the wise Irish lady is right. Keep having fun, let life unfold. I was surprisingly sad after the guy I dated last summer broke it off with me, but since then, I met 2 or 3 more guys, and now I'm with the very talented individual, and I realize that the dude from last summer was sooooo wrong for me. We stayed in touch, and I realized he is clearly not what I want. And I think back to my ex of 12 years and I'm so glad I'm not missing out on dating lots of guys.

Babe, you have to kiss a lot of frogs and let them hop away. My advice, be happy, and never, ever work hard to suit yourself to some dude. Too much work and no fun. It's your life, have a good time, kiss all the frogs until you find the right one.

And remember, it's just not you. You tried, they left, and they're not worth your time or energy. Next!
posted by discopolo at 4:17 PM on May 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, and stop investing so much. Just have fun and enjoy. And separate the reality from the fantasy of wanting something to work. Focus on the reality of the situation. There was a study that 50% of women regretted marrying their husbands. It's really easy to cling to a relationship you think you're happy in and are actually very unhappy in (it's got to be a form of Stockholm Syndrome). I've been there and see it all the time. My married girlfriends miss being able to crush openly and get excited about the possibilities of a new relationship. You can settle down with some grouch who forget to flush the toilet and leaves his gross nail clippings and whacks off to everybody but you and causes you daily disappointment whenever you want.

You're young, you're alive, go meet tons of frogs. And kiss them! You'll never get to be 28 again!
posted by discopolo at 4:25 PM on May 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Heather Havrilesky, the genius advice columnist at The Awl, had the same experience in her 20s and writes about it a lot. You might find it useful to read back through some of her archives, especially about relationships.

But basically, the conclusion that she came to is that she was doing so much of the emotional heavy lifting in her relationships that she attracted and kept guys who were looking for a sort of "relationship boot camp." She also talks about having tried really hard to make things work with guys that weren't right for her or were sort of "meh" about things. She writes about how, once she started being more authentic with guys and expecting them to meet her halfway, the less-mature guys fell away and she was able to meet her now-husband.
posted by lunasol at 8:29 PM on May 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

You are possibly always looking for a guy who is "clueless", finding this attractive, and wanting to help them learn about life and relationships. Some people are educators by nature, and there's nothing better than a partner as a willing participant in the classroom of life!

Start looking for guys who already have their life sorted, who know about relationships and women, and who don't need your tutelage. Find guys you admire for who they are right now, not the potential of what they could be. Start there.
posted by shazzam! at 9:42 PM on May 9, 2014

All relationships end... until you find the person with whom it doesn't. It's not a personal failing, it's a part of life. Try and relax.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:32 PM on May 10, 2014

When you say you "invest a lot" and these guys "learn how to be a boyfriend" I immediately wondered if maybe, just possibly, your investment comes in the form of criticisms, guidance, long talks about how they can be a better boyfriend, etc. If this is not something you do , please disregard.

Often this comes from a place that feels like you are being helpful. And up to a point, it is. But after that it just turns into ego-destroying lack of approval from a partner. Also, most people don't like to be molded, even when it's in good ways. There may be a building resentment of your constant 'investment' in teaching them to be a good boyfriend. Yes, they do learn, but they also don't want to stick around with someone who has pressured them to change, so they go 'make someone else happy' with all these skills, who will be appreciative of their current state of boyfriendhood and not try to fix them so dedicatedly.

My advice is not to date people who don't already know how to be a good boyfriend. It should not be your job to teach these skills. You have to be able to accept the person in front of you, as they are now. Never make the mistake of falling in love with someone's potential. That way lies heartbreak (ask me how I know!)

This is probably found more readily in an older age range, as several people have already pointed out. Good luck!
posted by ananci at 1:58 PM on May 10, 2014 [2 favorites]

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