It's not the dates themselves that are so hard....

I had a client awake in a panic this week. She couldn't shake the feeling that the guy she was seeing—the guy eeeeverything was going oh so well with—wasn't going to pan out. Or rather, he'd pan out like every past person. He'd ghost.

I really feel her. Dating and and beyond, it's a constant effort with anything in life, to not view our present through the lens of our past. To not take all the negative experiences of the past and somehow convince our brain this time will be different. If we aren't super, duper conscious and intentional, we'll view everything that comes into our lives, from how our barista takes our latté order to the emoji our love interest uses post first date, from what we've experienced before. And then we apply all sorts of meaning and significance to it.

This gets especially tricky in dating and relationships.

I often say to folks, it's not the dates themselves, but the in between, that is so maddening and miserable. It's the period where our mind goes bananas (hello middle of the night wake up) over what the other person is doing and how they feel about us and where is this thing going and OMG ARE THEY GOING TO GHOST ME?!? Walls goes up, fear sets in, and dating ends up feeling really, really shitty. It's this shitty in between, I find, that most often causes dating burnout.

But ok ok, enough bad news, what gives? If we can't control other's actions (yeah nope, sorry), how do we wrangle the mental madness? How do we not let our memories and past experiences make the current person we're seeing not such an anxiety-filled experience? 

Let's break down the mental madness a bit:

  • The reason why my client (and myself and everyone else) had that reaction was because she has, quite literally, been here before. She's dated someone, it's gone well, but then it hasn't panned out. Her head and heart freaked because they don't want to get hurt again.

  • Even though this time is different (meaning, we've hopped up her self worth, set healthy boundaries, put an end to ignoring her specific red flags with men and so forth), her body is still thinking "Yeah yeah whatever... we've BEEN here before. This feels risky."

On the one hand, it is emotionally risky. Dating, relationships, intimacy—it all is.  On the other hand though, we've shifted her approach, we've shifted how she lets men into her life, and we've worked hard to strengthen her personal foundation—the thing that keeps her grounded and detached (as much as humanly possible)—from other's actions.

But we've only been doing that for a few weeks. We're fighting years and years of an alternate form of thinking and a pile of painful memories.

The good news is (yes, there's good news!), 1) It is possible to reverse those patterns of thinking informed by memories, and 2) There are actual concrete steps we can take to do that:

  • First and foremost, acknowledging the pattern. Every time she has a pang or 3 am wakeup, reminding herself this reaction is fueled by her past, not the present moment or present guy.

  • By naming the pattern in that moment, she's able to lessen the intensity of the feeling. She can't totally abolish the fear, but she can lessen the discomfort and upset it causes. It's like lowering the volume on an emotion.

  • Finally, she can work to reverse those memories of the past, actually creating new neural pathways by practicing the new thoughts she wants to hold: This is someone I'm getting to know and that can be overwhelming. Instead of attaching meaning to their actions I'll use direction communication. While I like them, my entire well being and happiness isn't dependent on them. And if it feels like it is, I need to explore that.

I'll admit, those new thoughts can feel really (REALLY) hard to believe. The even better news is that you don't have to believe them just yet. Even though I've given you three steps, it's that first one, the acknowledgement, that's a really powerful place to start.

Start by simply getting curious. If something or someone triggers you in dating (or anywhere else in your life), ask yourself, what'sreallyfueling this? Is my emotion a reaction to something that has actually happened in the present moment or is it based on my past? Does it remind me of something in my past? Does it scare me because of something in my past? Am I elevating the intensity because of something in my past or independent of this present experience?

If the answer is yes, great!  Great, because you've just learned something about yourself and deepened your self awareness. And that, that isalwaysa win and over time will work to improve your dating life.

Clara Artschwager