After more than two decades as a psychotherapist specializing in relationship and intimacy issues, I can’t even begin to count the number of ways in which I’ve seen clients ruin a perfectly good romantic relationship. Sometimes they manage to kill the vibe in the first date or two; sometimes they get past the all-important first few dates and then screw it up; other times, and most painfully, they self-sabotage just as the romance starts to get serious. For the most part, these errors fall into nine basic categories, discussed below.
Oversharing: Some people try to go from zero to married in 15 minutes flat. That’s not called “getting to know you,” it’s called “vomiting your life onto a person who would probably prefer that you didn’t.” In the first couple of dates, your potential paramour does not need (or want) to hear about your ongoing battle with depression and addiction, your abusive father, your various physical ailments, or that thing that happened at sleepaway camp that you’ve never quite gotten over. The first few dates are a getting-to-know-you period, not a test to see if the other person can tolerate your emotional challenges and imperfections.
Being Overly Opinionated: Yes, everyone has opinions, especially about religion and politics. And if you’re going to get serious with someone, you probably want to be at least moderately in agreement on these issues. However, the first few dates are not the right time to share your innermost thoughts about church, mandatory healthcare, and how to fix the world. (A possible exception is if you met at a spiritual gathering or a political rally and therefore know that you already have some common ground. But even then, keep the conversation light.)
Talking About Your Ex: Your date does not want to hear about how awful your ex was. In fact, he or she probably doesn’t want to hear about your ex at all. If you’re talking about an ex, the message you’re sending is, “Sure, I’m on a date with you, but only because my last relationship didn’t work out. And no, I’m not over that breakup yet. So you’re going to hear about him/her endlessly and in-depth.” If you need to whine about your ex, do it with your mom or your BFF or your therapist – but not your date.
Desperation: After the first couple of dates, if things seem to be going well, it’s perfectly OK for you to say, “Wow, I’m really enjoying my time with you, and I think you’re kind of awesome.” That is not, however, the same as saying, “You’re perfect. I love you. If you ever leave me I will die.” Similarly, it’s OK to call or send a few texts here and there. But don’t overdo it. And don’t expect the other person to always be immediately available. In other words, calling and leaving a message, and then texting every five minutes because you’ve not heard back yet says, “I’m incredibly insecure and needy,” which is not a turn on.
Going Public (via Social Media): Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like are great ways to keep in touch with grandma, people you used to work with, and friends from school that now live in another city. And sure, you probably want some of them to know you’re dating someone new that you really like. But changing your status from “single” to “in a relationship” after a mere two or three dates might land you back at single pretty quickly, because you jumped the gun and made the other person nervous. Plus, “going public” gives everyone who knows you or follows you an opportunity to chime in with an opinion on your new relationship or, worse, a “funny story” about your last relationship (that the person you’re currently dating will assuredly read). So suddenly all sorts of third parties are involved in your new and still developing relationship. What a nightmare!
Judging: Being judgmental is unattractive. Sure, we all do it a little bit. We can’t help ourselves. And sometimes we can do it in a way that’s humorous. But if/when we do it too much, we come off looking negative, boorish and unlikeable. If you hear yourself telling your date, “You should probably…” or, “Why don’t you think about…,” you’re in trouble. Even if you are doing your best to be helpful, all that your date will hear is, “I think you’re a total mess, incapable of making decisions on your own, and the only way I’m going to stay with you is if you let me micromanage your life.” Similarly, do not start talking about what your friend, your mom, your ex, and your date’s black sheep sibling should being doing with their lives.
Expecting Too Much: Diamonds are forever; the neurochemical rush of early romance is not. Nevertheless, people often want that early stage of dating, when everything that the other person says or does seems cute and funny and interesting and wonderful, to last forever. But it doesn’t. Nobody can live up to this idealized perfection. Eventually, you’re going to be annoyed when he or she slurps soup, or leaves dirty dishes in the sink, or table-feeds your otherwise well-trained poodle, or whatever. And this is not a bad thing! When you move into this “next stage” of a relationship, you simply have to weigh the positives against the negatives so you can make an informed decision about whether you want to stay together.
Fearing Conflict and/or Compromise: Once again, the idealized perfection of early romance does not last, no matter how much you’d like it to. Eventually, you realize that you are not in total agreement on every little thing, and you’re going to have to argue and compromise. Unfortunately, some of us are afraid that if we disagree, we’ll scare the other person away. Or we think that we need to win every argument, no matter the cost. Neither stance bodes well for long-term relationship health. If you want to “make it” with a particular relationship, you and your partner will need to look at disagreements as learning and growth opportunities – a chance to get to know one another better. If the two of you can find a middle ground, or at least find ways to agreeably disagree, your relationship is on good footing.
Enmeshment: Sometimes we get so wrapped up in another person and our relationship with that person that we lose track of ourselves. Essentially, we put his or her needs ahead of our own. We forget about our own goals, interests, opinions, friends, etc., sacrificing what used to be important for the sake of the relationship. Sure, a little bit of sacrifice is fine, but too much can feel smothering (to both partners). Generally speaking, the happiest long-term relationships involve two separate people who choose to come together and share significant portions of their lives without walking away from their individual wants, needs, opinions, interests, etc.
Avoiding these nine relationship blunders does not guarantee success on the dating front. No matter what, you’re likely to meet and kiss a few frogs, and to make all sorts of other mistakes when you do find the right person. That said, if you can avoid these common bugaboos, you’re likely to have much more fun and much less angst while looking for your special someone. More importantly, you’re a lot less likely to ruin a perfectly good relationship that you’d really like to keep.
Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of National Clinical Development for Elements Behavioral Health, creating and overseeing addiction and mental health treatment programs for more than a dozen high-end treatment facilities, including Promises Treatment Centers in Malibu, The Ranch in rural Tennessee, and The Right Step in Texas. He is the author of several highly regarded books, including Sex Addiction 101: A Basic Guide to Healing from Sex, Love, and Porn Addiction. For more information please visit his website, robertweissmsw.com, or follow him on Twitter, @RobWeissMSW.