Yes, it happened to me. I started dating a guy who seemed pretty legit. He had a job, went to my church, was involved in the community, and could put two sentences together. Plus, as far as I knew, he didn’t have a criminal record. Score!
Things started off pretty smoothly with dinner dates, mini golf, and long conversations about shared hopes and dreams. But eventually the cracks started to show. In time, he pointed out “problems” with my personality. My sense of humor left something to be desired. Soon, almost anything I said either offended him or bored him. After a few months, it seemed I couldn’t do anything right.
I figured we just had a communication problem. After all, if he really knew me, he’d realize how amazing I was, right? I tried to prove myself; I tried to change. I made excuses for him, the relationship, and both of our behavior.
Not surprisingly, our relationship crashed and burned. He dumped me and walked away whistling, leaving me reeling and wondering what I had done wrong. It took me several months and some counseling to realize the only thing I’d done wrong was give my heart to a guy who had no intention of protecting it or cherishing it. Lesson learned.
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It seems that as women, one of our chief missteps in dating is losing sight of ourselves. We become “that girl”—the one we said we’d never become. The one who compromises, caves and clings to something long dead. What’s the antidote? Perhaps surprisingly, it’s not a contrived and abrasive “girl power” that selfishly uses or belittles men, deeming them worthless or unnecessary. Instead, I’d suggest it’s cultivating a basic self-respect and understanding of our value as both women and as relational beings.
What does taking charge of our relationship health look like? Can we date in a way that respects both ourselves and the guy we’re dating? Yes, by keeping a few principles in mind:
Date with a purpose.
I would like to get married someday. (By the way, statistics indicate that 90 percent of you would, too.) This informs the way I date. How? It keeps me from wasting time with guys who don’t share my goal of marriage. Does it mean I start picking out china
patterns after the first date? No. Does it mean I steer clear of guys who just want to hang out or hook up? Yes. Keeping your end goal in mind helps you avoid years of directionless pizza dates and pseudo-relationships. It helps you cut the clutter and keep critical qualities like integrity, loyalty and kindness at the top of your must-have list. So while you don’t need to interrogate your date immediately about his marriage potential, it would do you well to ask good questions and focus on him as a person, not as a make-out partner.
Get a team around you.
If you’re like me, you can easily lose all sense of objectivity when you’re into a guy. All of a sudden, he can do no wrong. He’s faultless—or at the very least, his faults are negotiable. Under your influence, he’ll change. Um, no. You need a reality check. To this point, you need a team around you: friends, family, and mentors who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth and get up in your business. Let them evaluate your potential dates. Let them speak into your relationship. If you’re really bold, give them collective power to veto it if they see things you are unwilling or unable to see. Taking wise advice and applying it is a sign of great maturity. Know your weaknesses and patterns, and get help to overcome them. You’ll be glad you did.
Don’t give it all away.
Some women want to feel wanted, needed, and connected. This is a good thing. The problem comes when we’re willing to give up too much for little in return. We get into relationships that have tons of connection with no corresponding commitment. We offer our time, energy, companionship, hearts, and bodies to get or keep a guy who has no business having us. We think that the more we give, the more he’ll love and respect us and the more attached he will become. Ladies, we’ve been sold a lie. The milk/cow concept still applies. If you want a guy to win your heart, show him it’s worth fighting for. Show him it’s worth committing to. I see many women living with their boyfriends assuming that it’s the next step toward marriage. It’s not necessarily. Sociological studies prove that living together before marriage actually stalls out the path to marriage, predicts higher rates of divorce once married, and keeps people in bad relationships longer than they should be (“It’s just too hard to break up; we share rent, utilities, and a dog.”) You have the power to make good choices. Don’t simply “follow your heart.” Your heart can seriously mess you up. Instead, use a compass—whether it’s your faith, family or a hard-core pledge—to help you set standards before you get too involved.
I was willing to hang onto an unhealthy (OK, let’s call it what it was—emotionally abusive) relationship because I thought that leaving a relationship equaled failure. And I didn’t want to fail. But by taking a step back and reassessing my goals, attitudes, and worth as a woman, I’ve charted a new course for my future relationships. And it’s a trail that has a lot fewer tears.