Years ago, I attended a local dating-related event where the audience was filled with single women and men. We talked about the usual dating topics: how to meet someone, what’s attractive, the challenges of dating online, etc. Some of the experts said some things I strongly disagreed with. However, the moderator made a quip that stuck with me:
“Guys Don’t Care about Your Career!”
I found it memorable for a few reasons. One, it’s an overgeneralization about men, and I’m not a fan of those. Not all men are the same! Two, it’s insulting to tell women their careers don’t matter. And three, and perhaps most perplexing, a part of me actually understood why he said that and what he was trying to convey. While many men do consider a woman’s career choice when evaluating her, let’s face it: it’s not as important to men as men’s careers are to women.
Fast forward a few years. A matchmaker I know — a woman — posted something interesting on Facebook. She stated that a potential male client told her he didn’t care one whit what his future female partner did for a living. This irritated my colleague. It made her feel like he’d just trivialized and insulted something that women work hard for and take very seriously.
Years ago I wrote a blog about badmouthing your crappy ex, and why it’s a bad idea. It’s a bad idea for a lot of reasons, most of which boil down to the fact that when you say crappy things about him or her, it makes YOU look bad, not them.
When you’re dating, your dates or potential dates don’t know you. They don’t know your character or backstory; they only have whatever data you offer them during that brief interaction. Calling your ex an asshole/jerk/bitch/idiot, no matter how true, raises a red flag that you haven’t come to terms with the past or, to put it bluntly, that you’re just not a very nice person. Not a big turn-on.
This article did generate some comments from a few unhappy readers. These people felt annoyed by the advice, seeing it as unrealistic, unfair, or judgmental. One or two others were like, hey, you chose to get with that person and that was your choice.
When it comes to a crappy ex or a painful relationship, we look for ways to come to terms with what happened. We want the pain to go away. We want the shitty feelings to disappear. Lousy exes and lousy relationships make us feel bad about ourselves, and no one wants to feel that.
When we feel bad about ourselves, when we feel pain, we often look for someone to blame. In many cases, people blame the ex. She did this, he did that, he was a narcissist, etc. This not only makes you look bad to those you’re trying to date now, it makes you look like a victim instead of someone who participated in that relationship. In other cases, we blame ourselves. I should’ve known better. The signs were there. I chose to be there and to tolerate that. This makes you feel more empowered because you’re putting the onus on yourself, but it’s also destructive in its own way.
Likewise, when people go through something difficult like a shit relationship, I see their friends pull out their own blame cards. They blame the ex: “It’s not your fault, your ex is a dick.” Or they blame you: “Hey, I told you she was crazy and you chose to be with her.”
The problem with this? Blame. Whether you blame the ex or you blame yourself, you’re still blaming. You’re still looking for some scapegoat for your pain, someone or something to pin it on. The problem with doing that is it doesn’t really help you feel better in the long term or move on, and the pain stays buried in you.
Blame throws away your power.
Relationships are learning experiences. Every single person you date, get involved with, or marry teaches you more about who you are and what you need. Every one. ESPECIALLY the shitty ones. Yeah, it’s kind of fucked up that we need to experience pain to learn, but sometimes that’s the way it is.
When you think about that lousy ex, instead of thinking about what they did and why they’re a jerk (or why you’re an idiot for getting with them), think about what they taught you. What did their lousy behavior teach you about yourself and your needs?
I recently posted on Facebook a description of the types of things a narcissist says to someone they “love.” A woman I know said that those words described her ex to a tee. When I expressed how glad I was that her current partner is such a gem (and he is), she said she would never have appreciated him if it weren’t for that narcissistic ex. That’s what I’m talking about.
A shitty ex teaches you what you DON’T want. They teach you boundaries. They show you what your true values are. They make your deepest needs clearer to you. Best of all, they becomes EXES, giving you space to find someone better. Someday, when you get past the anger, you will thank them for what they taught you.
I won’t lie: this isn’t an easy process. It doesn’t happen overnight. But it does happen. It WILL happen, if you step away from blame and focus on what you can learn, on how it will benefit YOU.
I once read a great quote but cannot seem to find it anywhere. It went something like this:
Success is rising above your many failures, rather than getting buried beneath them.
Failure is part of life. Shit exes are part of life. How can you rise above?
Years ago, when I was single, I decided to break out of my Introverted Bubble and do something outside my comfort zone: I went to an organized happy hour event filled with utter strangers, alone. While this was a professional happy hour for networking, it quickly became clear to me that it was really a way for singles to meet. Because that was more than I could handle, I decided to pretend I had a boyfriend, which allowed me to talk freely to anyone without the pressure of dating.
As such, I met a string of interesting men. Once they discovered I wrote dating and relationships books, knowing I wasn’t a dating prospect, they began sharing their dating frustrations with me. I recall one in particular, who asked me why women are so “self-entitled.” I asked for clarification, and he seemed to have a pattern of choosing women who demanded a lot from him in terms of what he provided financially, who seemed to feel that they deserved to be taken care of then and in the future.
Overall, venting can be a good thing or a bad thing. If done in an appropriate way and with the goal of solving a problem, venting can be the key to a better life.
So I’m working on another book. My first in years. I forgot how much fun it is to write non-fiction, and how much more naturally it comes to me than writing fiction, probably because I’ve been doing it much longer.
Anyway, the book will cover dating advice for introverts. I don’t think that topic is adequately covered in what’s already out there, and I have a lot more to add to the introvert conversation. In this book, I talk about what introversion is as well as other traits that are often seen among introverted folks. One of them is sensitivity.
The word “sensitivity” has many meanings. But for our purposes, we can think of sensitivity in terms of how much you’re affected by external stimulation. Some people like a lot of external stimulation — they like loud music, they’re risk-takers, they’re often very social, and lots of noise, odors, and activity doesn’t bother them. Others prefer less stimulation — they enjoy quiet, they’re not big risk-takers, and often times they can get overwhelmed by too much noise, by certain odors, or by too much going on in their environment. These latter folks are known as HSPs, or Highly Sensitive Persons.
The thinking mind behind the idea of the HSP is Elaine Aron and her well-known book, The Highly Sensitive Person. Here are signs that you may be an HSP, taken from Aron’s website:
- Are you easily overwhelmed by such things as bright lights, strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sirens nearby?
- Do you get rattled when you have a lot to do in a short amount of time?
- Do you make a point of avoiding violent movies and TV shows?
- Do you need to withdraw during busy days, into bed or a darkened room or some other place where you can have privacy and relief from the situation?
- Do you make it a high priority to arrange your life to avoid upsetting or overwhelming situations?
- Do you notice or enjoy delicate or fine scents, tastes, sounds, or works of art?
- Do you have a rich and complex inner life?
For a more comprehensive understanding of your sensitivity levels, take this quick quiz. If you score 14 or more, you’re probably an HSP to some degree. I just retook it and scored 17. I don’t mind violent movies or rough fabrics, but I hate noisy environments (especially when I’m home or working) and I cannot drink caffeine at all.
HSPs, in a nutshell, have sensitive nervous systems. They’re more easily impacted by stimulation than others. The reasons for this are complex and involve lots of scientific words, to be explored in future articles. For now, it’s important to understand that sensitivity isn’t something you have much control over, as Aron points out that it’s innate to us. We can, however, control our environments.
Here are a few facts about HSPs:
- HSPs comprise 15-20% of the population. So it’s not rare, but not “typical” either.
- The majority of introverts are also highly sensitive. If you’re introverted, chances are you’re at least someone sensitive. However, introversion and sensitivity are not the same thing; introversion is about being an internal person and sensitivity is about how you react to stimuli.
- Extroverts can be sensitive too. I’ve known many extroverted HSPs and they tend to need time alone to rebalance themselves. This makes them wonder if they’re introverted, when in reality they just need to recover from the stimulation of their lives.
- Sensitivity isn’t the same as shyness, although many shy people are probably HSPs.
- There are pros and cons to being an HSP. Cons include people (i.e. non-HSPs) calling you “too sensitive” and thinking you’re difficult or high maintenance. Pros include having a strong awareness of others and an ability to care for them. Many HSPs go into helping and healing professions, such as massage therapy or life coaching.
I’ll talk more about HSPs, and how sensitivity can impact a relationship, in future articles. For now, tell me: can you relate to the idea of an HSP? What did you score on the quiz? What are you sensitive to?
Today, we’ll continue our discussion of attachment style and its huge importance in dating in the third in a series on this topic. Part 1 talked about the origins of attachment and the studies that helped define the different attachment styles. Part 2 explained the three basic attachment styles and what they look like. Today, we’ll talk about how these attachment styles influence dating and how to use your knowledge of attachment to find dating success.
Now you know about the three attachment styles: the secure types who don’t struggle much with forming bonds with partners, avoidant types who fear getting too close to others and keep their partners at arm’s length, and anxious types who fear abandonment and seek a lot of reassurance in a relationship.
Once you know about the basic attachment styles, you can see where they influence dating and relationships. A person with an avoidant style needs a lot of space, an anxious type needs a lot of attention and affirmation, and a secure needs something in the middle. There’s nothing “wrong” with any particular style; the trick is to know your style and needs and to choose partners accordingly.
The problem is, most people aren’t aware of their attachment style, or they are but have been punished for it by poorly chosen partners in the past, so they’ve never fully accepted who they are. When that happens, you keep repeating the same mistakes. Here are some facts that can help you find a partner who’s compatible with your needs.
Know Your Type and Accept It. Whatever your type is, that’s you. It’s part of who you are. Being a secure type does make life easier, but there’s nothing aberrant or “wrong” about being avoidant or anxious. Everyone has challenges they must face in life, including challenges in dating. The trick is to know those challenges, accept them, and move forward.
If you’re avoidant or anxious, chances are you’ve been punished for that in past relationships. If avoidant, you’ve probably been accused of being distant, uncaring, or incapable of intimacy. If anxious, you’ve probably been called needy, clingy, or insecure. None of us is perfect; if you’ve been accused of these things, work on them, but also accept them about yourself and know that there is someone out there who will accept those sides of you and even nurture them.
Remember that attachment style can change. According to the authors of Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How it Can Help You Find–and Keep–Love, people can shift attachment styles over time. You probably won’t completely flip-flop to an opposite type, but you can shift into a more secure style when you have a connection with the right partner.
Choose well. Not surprisingly, secure types do well with other secure types. Also, avoidant or anxious types can do well with a secure person and vice versa. According to this article, a relationship should have at least one secure person in it, as a secure’s lack of anxiety around getting close to a partner offers a good balance to the deep-seated worries and concerns of the other two types. However, another science-based article states that secure-anxious and secure-avoidant relationships are more prone to breakups than anxious-anxious or avoidant-avoidant pairings. The latter have more drama and difficulty in them, but because the two people are similar in style the drama seems normal to them and they stick it out anyway. Overall, it’s a good idea to find a partner who has at least a somewhat similar attachment style.
Of course, many don’t. In fact, avoidants often wind up with anxious types, which is the worst sort of pairing because they have opposing needs that will only reinforce the other’s tendencies. In other words, the neediness of the anxious type will only push the avoidant farther away, and the avoidant’s distance will only make the anxious type more anxious.
There are a couple reasons why these ill-matched folks wind up together. One is societal stereotype: men are conditioned to be more distant, and women more needy in relationships. So when an avoidant guy and an anxious woman pair up as they often do, these societal stereotypes are reinforced and both assume that that’s “just how men are” or “just how women are,” when in reality that isn’t the case.
The other reason these two types wind up together and torturing one another? They’re unaware of their attachment style and their issues. And when you aren’t aware of your deeper-seated issues, guess what? You’ll unconsciously feel attracted to and choose people who force you to face and deal with those issues. An avoidant man who’s unaware of or unable to deal with his relationship needs will continue attracting anxious partners, forcing him to face who he is again and again. Only when he becomes aware and accepts who he is will he make better choices.
This is true even beyond attachment style: when we attract partners who are bad for us, it’s our mind’s way of forcing us to face the truth about who we are and what we need.
Whatever your style or needs, there is a partner for you. Know yourself first.
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