Catch 'Em and Keep 'Em

by Nancy Travers,LCSW

The most common issues I hear clients and friends discuss are relationships, dating and sex. In today’s society we are instantly connected by computer, faxes, and cell phones. We expect immediate gratification. We are not taught to be patient and are not use to waiting. This has affected our expectations of dating, sex and relationships. We want that same instant gratification and when we don’t get it we can feel even lonelier.

Great expectations and shifts in society’s roles tell both genders to pursue your inalienable right to happiness, hot sex, true love and that soul mate who is out there. The soul mate concept, however, has produced more unhappiness and confusion than happiness. Since most of us don’t want to be alone we sometimes settle for Mr. Right Now.

In the generations before us, women were looking for a man who was a good provider, would make a good father or would provide the excuse for her to leave her parent’s house. Fast forward to today.

As women today, we do not need a man for any of those reasons. We want a man who reflects our status, who sees us for who we really are, who loves us for all the “right” reasons, and who helps us become the person we want to be. We also want him to be sensitive, and to share his feelings and goals with us. When we don’t find this man we start to question ourselves. Is this it? Am I as happy as I should be? The answer to these questions usually leads to disappointment and falling short of our great expectations of the soul mate.

After plenty of research on men and dating, trying all the different strategies, reading the books and some good therapy to boot here is what I found. Dating is a process with do’s and don’ts that I have gathered in my research, tested and proven to work.

So where are all the available good men, the ones who aren’t gay, married, felons or commitment phobic? They are out there, ladies, but first let’s step back and look at what you want, need and believe. What do you tell yourself (tapes in your head) about yourself, dating, sex, and relationships? Are the messages positive or negative? How do these messages affect how you live your life with work, friends, hobbies and social groups? How are you living your life? Are you active or do you isolate yourself? How do these messages and feelings contribute to your feelings of loneliness?

I have found that everyone tends to hold core beliefs about relationships and themselves whether we are conscious of them or not. Usually these core beliefs are negative; “Nobody wants me”, “I am not lovable” or “I would have to give up total independence in a relationship”. It is important to look at your own beliefs about yourself. From those beliefs there is a pattern to the type of men we pick to have relationships with and they usually reinforce our core beliefs about ourselves. A good exercise to try is to ask yourself, “What would I have to give up to be in a long term relationship?”

The answer to this question is usually why we do not have a relationship or are settling for Mr. Right Now. The answer to this question also might reveal things about your beliefs, yourself, and your relationships with men. This is tough work, ladies, but it is key and crucial to moving forward and finding the successful relationship that you deserve.

The next issue for most women is that we are not clear about what we want. Often people spend more time interviewing for a job or a place to live than they do looking for a long-term partner. We need to look at the type of character traits you like and want in a man. Looking at character traits can tell you a lot about a man if you are paying attention, meaning take off those rose colored glasses. We often tell people who we are through our character traits. When men tell you who they are listen to what they are saying.

A good exercise is to describe and evaluate your ideal man with paper and pen. What does he look like? What kind of job does he have? How much money does he make? Is he true to his word? Does he have integrity? How does he treat his family, friends? What are his values? What is his religious background? What are his strengths and weaknesses? What are his hobbies, likes and dislikes? Remember, ladies. We all have flaws. Some flaws you can live with and some you absolutely cannot.

Ok, so now that you have done the work, let’s look at the dating process and the common mistakes made when dating.

I view dating as an interview process. It is good to “interview” many men for the position. I recommend when you meet a man there should be 3-5 dates (interviews) before making a decision whether to proceed with more dates. In these first 3-5 dates you are looking and listening to this man to see if he possess the qualities and character traits you want. How do you feel about yourself when you are with this person? Do you feel good about yourself or not? If not, move on. Do you like yourself when you are with this man? Are you acting true to your values and beliefs?

The exception to the 3 – 5 date rule is when yellow and red flags appear. Three yellow flags equal a red flag. If you identify three red flags, kick him to the curb. Examples of red flags are he gets drunks, does drugs or drools at the table. In these cases run quickly. Another example of a red flag, endured by many, is men who bring their suitcase and insist on bringing out their laundry piece by piece. In this case I also support throwing them back into the ocean.

Ladies, you also need to look at your own behavior on a date. Are you committing red flags?

Which brings me to my next two messages. First, having sex is not part of the interview process. Sex is not an indicator of a man’s willingness to enter into a long -term relationship. One of the many issues for women who have sex with men too quickly is that our hearts and bodies get connected and we feel bonded to that person. Which leads to what I call serial monogamy.

This is where we rush into a relationship and stick with it, instead of continuing on the interviewing path and getting to know many other candidates. This can be the single biggest cause of settling for Mr. Right Now instead of Mr. Right. Dates should be set up to get to know one another. Dates are for going to the movies, not for going back to his or your place.

This does not mean, however, talking about marriage and babies on your first 3 interviews. Most women tend to make one of two mistakes by the end of the first date. You are either picking out china patterns by dessert or you’ve decided to toss that fish back into the ocean without getting to know him better.

One of the most common complaints I hear from men about dating is how women talk about their ex’s (husbands or boyfriends) and how they were hurt by them. Women analyze what went wrong, and sometimes grill their date to see if he will behave the same way. There is a time and place to talk about ex’s, but that is usually after 7-9 interviews (dates).

Which brings us, ladies, to the next message; you need to “Set the standard for how you want to be treated” because nobody else will. This means knowing what you want and being able to communicate your needs and wants. We can take a lesson from the men on this one; men usually say what they want at that moment.

After you have had those 3-5 interviews it is time to review and reflect if this man warrants another 3-5 interviews. Does he posses many of the character traits you want? How does he treat you? How do you feel about yourself when you are with this man?

Dating and relationships are not easy. Finding the right person to have a long -term relationship with is a process that does not happen overnight. Dating is difficult and challenging for both genders. It is filled with mixed messages, mixed ideas of gender roles and the pressure for fabulous sex.

The keys are to know what you believe, know what you want, be able to communicate your wants, develop good dating habits and get out there!

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