How I’ve ended up dating unavailable guys is a question I’ve been asking myself for almost as long as I’ve been dating. This is a question I have asked myself, my therapists, aaaaaaall of my friends, some of their friends...pretty much anyone who has crossed my path with a capable sense of hearing has been subjected to my wails and queries on this subject.
After a lot of years spent wondering, filling journals, and writing articles on the subject, I finally had to take some time away from dating, come up for air, and call bullshit on myself.
Looking back, I can very clearly see some patterns I often fell into. It’s still a practice, but both my love life and self-esteem have never been better. Here are three ways I'm working to improve.
I used to recognize red flags, only to ignore them.
For someone hell bent on protecting her own vulnerable heart, I sure can be forgiving when it comes to the men I’ve dated. My pattern usually looks a lot like this: meet guy ---> catch feelings ---> become willing to settle for less than what is truly important to me---> resent this person for the rest of my life.
Sure, this cycle of drama is highly entertaining to talk about with my friends over coffee, but crying in my room just fucking sucks.
Guys tell me they struggle with intimacy, yet I convince myself that my love can change them. I’ve heard men refer to ALL of their ex-girlfriends as “crazy,” only to try extra hard not to be upset when his flaky ass stands me up for the third time so as not to appear “crazy.” I notice the red flags a-flyin', I just tend to overlook them.
Now I... HEED RED FLAGS.
It’s a little tricky in the beginning, as getting to know someone new comes with its quirks, but if dude is straight up telling me he’s not looking to be exclusive, and I want to be, I SHOULD RUN.
At this point, he’s been honest and upfront, so it’s up to me to take this information and use it in a way that won’t end up hurting me eight weeks down the road.
I used to not be upfront.
I like playing the “cool girl.” The girl you can bullshit with and say anything to and just have fun with, which usually ends up looking like a lot of non- committal sex paired with just enough texting to make me feel as if my efforts are being recognized.
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard a guy say he wasn’t “really looking for anything serious right now,” only to find myself responding that I wasn’t either, even when I was. I would say almost anything to keep them from leaving, compromising my own worth and value just for a few more days or weeks of validation, time and attention.
As confusing as mixed signals could be, there came a point where I had to own up to the fact that I couldn’t keep getting mad at dudes that didn’t pursue a relationship with me after they told me they weren’t interested in pursuing a relationship with me. Sometimes signals weren’t mixed at all. Denial is a hell of a drug.
Now I say what I mean.
This is much easier said than done, but I promise you this: practice makes perfect. Maybe not exactly, but practice does make less scary, and somewhere along the way we learn what we do and don’t want from our partners. Not what they want, not 'who do I have to be for this guy to see how awesome I am?,' but figuring out OUR deal breakers. We learn our worth.
Self care is so often the first suggestion anyone makes; from your best friend to your Yogi tea bag, everyone is all about telling you what you need to do to feel good about yourself. Often times this advice comes in the form of long baths and yoga classes and chia seed smoothie bowls or
whatever the fuck the flavor of the moment fix-it may happen to be. In my experience, self-care begins with honesty - being honest with others, as well as myself.
In my most recent relationship, I found myself asking a LOT of questions along the way. When he said he wasn’t sure if he wanted a relationship, yet both of us mutually agreed that this was something possibly worth exploring, I would check in every month or so. How are you feeling about us? I’m starting to feel (insert feeling here), what do you think about that? Rather than wait, I took responsibility for myself.
I used to refuse to accept nice things.
What I think a lot of this comes down to is some deeply-rooted belief that I don’t deserve to be loved, or happy, or heard, or respected. When I can’t accept a nice gesture from my partner without feeling like I owe them something, it ends up feeling a lot like scorekeeping, which is Unhealthy Relationship Behaviors 101.
Now I accept nice things!
This is the kind of advice I absolutely hate to read or hear, but learning to accept nice things from people ends up paying off tenfold in the areas of my life where I struggle the most.
Be it accepting a gift, a job offer, or even a simple compliment, learning to receive is a constant practice, and one that dispels the lie that I am, for lack of a better phrase, a worthless piece of shit. Because that’s how I feel sometimes. And when I make another person, especially a romantic partner, entirely responsible for convincing me that I’m not, I set myself up for a lot of pain.
I am by no means a relationship expert. I am, for the first time in my life, at 34 years old, in a healthy relationship. And I’m still learning. I think the key to the “success” of this most recent experience has been taking care of myself throughout the process.
When I value myself, I just kind of end up developing a no tolerance policy towards unavailability and otherwise shitty behavior. I learn to stand up for myself, and not buckle under my own insecurities.
Try to be kind to yourself. It’s easier said than done, but the worth in doing so is immeasurable.