Nick hadn’t called yet. It was the day we said we were going flamenco dancing, but we hadn’t set the exact details. The sun was setting. Maybe he’d call in 10 minutes. 20. 30. I sat by the phone and ignored all my friends who asked to go see “Catch Me If You Can” (ironic title considering my situation). By the time it was midnight, the date wasn’t happening and I wondered if I’d made up the interaction in my head. He didn’t call for days after that. I obsessed over him for months. I even offered to take a train ride to see him in Santa Barbara. He didn’t respond. I wanted the unavailable guy who would never want me, the man who played the disappearing game. This pattern repeated itself over and over again throughout college. I adored the charismatic, flirtatious guys who had that creative spark. We’d collaborate on a project, get giggly, and then I’d assume we were meant to be together. So I’d text. Way too often. I thought their responses back meant love. Wouldn’t you think so too if a guy had your favorite childhood game, Go Fish, shipped to your house on your birthday? Gestures like that confused me, because they were coupled with neglect. One day, they’d stop the responses and fall off the map altogether. Maybe I was too needy. Maybe these men were bad for me anyways. But ultimately, my man picker was off and I had no idea why.
The tricky part of an initial possible flirtation is understanding if the person you’re fawning over is actually a good person. People may be decent humans, but they might have too many psychological issues that they haven’t worked out yet, so they could be far from becoming good partners. I’m a magnet for the men who are still working their stuff out. The men who want to be coddled, loved, babied. The ones who maybe didn’t get what they needed from their parents, so they look for it in me. I’ll be honest, I do the same exact thing: I pine for the man who will disappear because that’s what my father did, and so, subconsciously, I look to fix that pattern. I want to heal my familial wounds through my relationships, which ultimately doesn’t happen, which then leads me to resenting the men I date for being what they can’t be. That’s what makes my picker totally off – not the men, but me. I’m like an oven that always seems to burn food even when set at the right temperature and right time.
So what do I do to make sure I don’t burn through my sanity? How do I reset my vibrations? I have to start with myself. I just completed 90 days without any contact with men. It’s been eye-opening seeing what it’s like to not ask for attention from men who are clearly bad for me. In that time, good, nice men wanted to ask me out. I still haven’t gone on dates with them, because I’m still figuring out what I want. But so far, my picker is looking a lot more open to seeing character over looks and kindness over sexual energy. It’s leading me to people who seem different from the men I picked before. But I’m also still working on resisting the men who are attracted to me and seem to exhibit those qualities I used to be drawn to. That resistance takes self-control and courage. It takes an ability to say no, and to stand by my decisions. So far, knowing what I used to be attracted to, and being able to be conscious of it enough to discourage it, is a huge sign of growth. Asking myself questions in those moments helps, like:
Why do I want the attention of that not-so-great person?
What feelings am I avoiding right now?
Why do I escape myself through other humans?
What am I not loving about myself right now that I seem to think I can find in someone else?
Why am I pushing away the attention of that nice person?
Why do I want so badly to fix the qualities of this person and my parents when it’s not in my control?
And this is not a survey I can get done in ten minutes. These are moments of pause and awareness throughout my day-to-day that I sometimes have to answer three times in a row in order to remind myself that I come first, before I open myself up to another relationship. This is not selfish— it’s self-preservation.
Your man picker may be off, but just as the brain is plastic, you can reset and rewire what’s broken. Think about the patterns you’ve seen in the characteristics of whom you’ve been attracted to. Observe how you played a part in the dysfunction of that relationship, and write down what qualities you’d like in a person now. Then, create a dating plan, outlining out not only your standards for a good partner, but also how you want your dates to progress over time. You may find that sticking by a plan and your own rules will allow you to pause, think about whom you’re attracting, and get on a better path towards healthier relationships. It has certainly helped me stop things before they got started, and I know it will eventually help me find a compatible partner. You too can observe what’s not working, then rewire it. You have the power to change your patterns, and it starts with changing the relationship you have with yourself.