When you’re dating someone and start noticing things going wrong, how do you know whether it’s time to break up with him? I see so many potential relationships go bad for so many trivial reasons. Read on to get some guidance that will help you avoid dumping a really good guy.
John Gray, author of the Mars vs. Venus books, characterizes the second stage of dating this way:
“The second stage of dating is when we experience doubts about the person we see as a potential partner. When our fears of rejection begin to surface, they often manifest themselves in a tendency to focus on the inadequacies of a potential partner, and we then lose our sense of attraction.”
I tend to speak in simpler terms. Here’s my translation:
When you start realizing that the person you’re dating could be someone you can have deep feelings for, your fear of being hurt can make you start looking for what’s wrong with him. Since no one is perfect and you can always find something wrong, eventually you’ll find an excuse to end it.”
Regardless of how you say it, the key point is that our fears make us do things that are completely contrary to achieving our dreams. And when it comes to love, it’s not just women who do this; men do it too.
When you start realizing that the person you’re dating could be someone you can have deep feelings for, your fear of being hurt can make you start looking for what’s wrong with him.
I’m talking about this today because my friend Pamela is going through this with her beau. They’ve been very happily dating for a couple months: spending full weekends together, going on short trips, and planning future travels. They’ve had talks that lasted hours, found many important and unique areas of compatibility, and have developed a lovely intimacy. She thought she was falling in love with him.
But this weekend the Pamela and Ricardo story seemed to go a bit awry. The way she tells it, Ricardo seemed bugged by just about everything she did; and she was none too happy with his pettiness and pigheadedness.
He started picking on insignificant things, like how the newspaper was stacked and who had ownership of the remote control. His picking on these things made her start wondering if maybe he wasn’t the one for her after all. Pamela started to notice a lot about him that bugged her. She then followed his lead and made mention of those things she’d hadn’t been paying much attention to in the past: the disgusting moldy cheese in his refrigerator and his propensity to tell his stories with too much detail.
The weekend ended with him saying, “Well, I guess I’ll call you during the week…that is, if you want me to,” and her leaving without responding. Yikes. Their weekends usually end with a nice kiss and detailed plans for the following weekend. Ouch! Pamela was ready to call the whole thing off.
Here’s my take (and I think Mr. Gray would agree): Ricardo was realizing that they were building what may be a meaningful and committed relationship, which made him feel certain uncomfortable feelings: uncertainty, confusion and maybe fear.
Pamela, going into the weekend feeling like he could be The One, felt hurt and scared when he lashed out and, feeling incredibly vulnerable to rejection, started looking for his flaws. Of course she found some, and used them to strike back to protect herself. She started doubting their potential future, and wondering if it was best to break up with him right then.
Each felt all kinds of icky-ness at the chance of letting someone into their heart, or of possibly making a wrong decision. Add to that, these two highly educated, highly competent, independent 60-ish year olds have some major fear of letting someone into their physical space. Each had successfully lived alone for many years.
Put that all together and you get two people scared of being rejected, who are now in the phase of focusing on the inadequacies of their potential partner. Their feelings are confusing. They want to love and partnership, but also want to be right, to maintain their autonomy and to have some control. (I find that these feelings are especially true when you’re in this stage of mature dating.)
There are a lot of unknowns and this ‘living the gray’ part of a relationship can be scary. For Patricia and Ricardo there is a real possibility that one or both of them were (perhaps unconsciously) trying to sabotage the relationship. Because hey…if they find these flaws and use them as a way to end the relationship, then they don’t have to deal with all that scary stuff that comes with opening your heart and allowing yourself to fall in love, right?
A lot of difficult feelings can come up as a relationship develops. The difficulties and the discomfort of those feelings can lead us to look for a way out. Finding someone’s flaws is pretty easy…especially when you’re looking for them; consciously or not.
What to Do When You Start Seeing that Flawed Man
Here is how I counseled Pamela, and how you might proceed in this situation. You have two options:
1. Be aware of this potential landmine as you get to know your man. If you find yourself noticing that he leaves the water on too long, slurps his coffee too loud or does a myriad of other things that bother you… stop and carefully explore your feelings.
2. Decide whether any of these (perceived) flaws are actual deal breakers. Does his moldy cheese in the fridge really affect the potential quality of your relationship? If not, assign it the appropriate (low) priority and move forward with empathy and kindness — both to yourself and your partner. And, if it is something you feel can be changed with some grownup communication, get to doing that ASAP.
3. Ask yourself if you have been actively looking for and focusing on things that are wrong. If so, what part might fear be playing? Acknowledge that you are at that stage of the relationship and begin to consciously refocus on what is right about him and the value of your budding relationship.
(Obviously, if you find a deal-breaker and good communication doesn’t resolve it, then get to ending the relationship in a kind and honest way.)
You can follow the three steps above OR you can recognize his flaws and skip the step of conscious, adult review. Then you can use this as justification for why you’re not right for each other. Relationship over. Break up with him. (Maybe slowly and painfully, but it will be over.)
Obviously, my advice is to give the situation thoughtful review. And in this consciousness, not only will it help you make good decisions for yourself, it will help you recognize when your partner is in this place. Then you will be able to lovingly and gently help him through his review.
Think about it: knowing how hard you have to work to find your special man or even an enjoyable relationship with some meaning, are you willing to walk away because you might have to listen an extra several minutes as he tells a story or throw out his cheese yourself? And are you walking away without giving him the chance to change what he’s doing to bug you? Don’t give in to that. This is your fear, plain and simple. Fight it! Love is just around the corner if you just let it in.