Dating should be light and fun. It is an exercise in determining if you like someone well enough to get to know them better. I think of dating in stages – you have initial dating, the first three or four dates. This is when we put our best foot forward, this is when we are trying to impress someone new. If you see a red flag pop up in the first six dates – run screaming for the hills! This mole hill is a mountain and what you will discover underneath is a parade of unhealthy and un-boundaried behaviors.
Are you putting your best foot forward? Are you the sort of person you would want to attract in a mate? Are you able to cope with life on life’s terms and accept other people easily? Do you understand your own needs and have them well boundaried? Are you able to be kind and open or are you wearing masks and hiding behind denial, fear and self-made walls?
Think about who you want to attract into your life and why. Are you looking for a helper or an equal? Are you healthy enough to be dating? Have you resolved and grieved your past relationships or do you carry that unresolved emotional baggage into new acquaintances, trysts?
Dating is like an interview for a new friend. Of course you should not sit back and poke the bear asking questions that keep you on a differently plane from this new human you are attempting to get to know better. There should be a natural flow of a give and take of asking intriguing and interested questions of the other person without getting too deep in the first few dates.
I used to think it was great to be un-boundaried and expose all of the most horrid things about myself. I thought it meant I was being so honest and vulnerable. This is not good for initial dating because it is about being positive and presenting your most attractive qualities. If you expose all of the warts upfront, they think there is nothing but warts deeper. This is not about lying either, it is about self-respect and being true to yourself.
Dating ought to be a fun experience and you should both be feeling intrigued to know more about the other person. Look for universal qualities that we all find appealing, kindness and healthy coping abilities. I was looking out for controlling and simply put bad reactions – because those are huge red flags. Are they balanced and emotionally healthy? Are they kind to their families and to strangers, like the waiter in the restaurant. Do they stomp on other people or do they seem civilized, mature and balanced? This was how I was defining healthy, I wanted to see a man be accepting and kind to the world at large. Able to accept life as it comes and then let it go and not dwell on the past or others. I knew that resistance only created more pain and was sign of a controlling/addictive personality. I wanted no part in that.
I was also looking to see who was genuinely interested in me, in getting to know me. If they could not avoid their phone during dinner for example and keep a conversation, this is a red flag. In early dating, you should be attentive to the other person and give them enough basic dignity and respect to be engaged, interested and present.
Make sure before you begin dating that you can and do have your own focused attention and can sustain it. If you are on the first date and thinking about the next date or what your honeymoon will be like, I suggest you look at some love-addict issues and tendencies as you may very well be one. It is much easier to deal with your issues alone and not convolute them with a relationship or personality differences and nuances.
Make sure you have your deal breakers well defined and know what your limits are. If you do not define your limits before hand it is likely that you will ignore them when they are tripped. In the relationship you may think, I don’t know why I am doing this but I am because I love them so much! This is a serious red flag for you as you will end up compromising what is critical to you and your well-being. It is much easier to identify and walk away before you get invested and complicate matters with sexual activity and the hormones that follow.
One of the personal boundaries I set for my new life was, I would not kiss on the first date. If they can’t talk to me and show some restraint and patience, I was absolutely not interested. I wanted balance and health which I knew meant, gradual and slow. Yes it was boring at certain times, in those times I have to face what I am trying to control or what I am resisting. I wanted to get to know someone, not rush into anything anymore, not force or manufacture anything.
I did not have that many deal-breakers but they were present. I was not going to tolerate abuse in any form. Speaking dis-respectfully and verbal criticism fell into this category. I knew if they were “telling me how to be” this was a red flag. Any one red flag in the first few dates was a sign to kindly not see them again. I was not interested in anyone with a criminal record. I was not interested in someone that had kids because I felt like I wanted to be the star attraction in their life, not compete for love between a parent and a child.
If they didn’t like and love animals, this was a deal breaker. Infidelity is a deal breaker. Clearly define what yours are so when you are in the situation you will not compromise yourself and be taken advantage of.
After the first 4 or 6 dates you move slowly into the mid range of dating. This can be considered the first year of dating, possibly even two depending on how old you are and what your current goals are. This is the time to discuss deeper issues and what is important to you both. What are your life-long goals? What are your short terms goals, the next five years and ten years? Are you willing to make time for this other person in your life now? What is holding you back or what are you afraid of? What are your passions and interests, do you have any commonalities? Do you share beliefs or values? How important are these to you? Does your mate have to have the same religion or diet as you, for example? What hobbies do you have in common?
How do you feel about yourself after you leave this person’s presence? Do you feel generally good about yourself or do you feel worse? Why?
I found it was very important not to make judgments or try to force our lives together. It is important to listen to what they are telling you about themselves, accept it at face value. Are you intrigued by these differences or do you want your partner to reflect you in certain ways or every way? How important are these issues to you?
I read a lot about healthy dating and what men wanted in a mate. I discovered men want to feel good and accepted, they go back for what allows them to feel good, safe. I made sure I was positive when I was with the men I was choosing to date. I had a bad nasty old habit of asking them a million questions about what they were doing in the near future – this was something I let go of completely. I found that asking adults questions was a way in which I attempted to control them. I allowed the men I dated to share with me what they wanted to. I was interested in their lives but did not reach into the future to try to get a lock on them. It backfires and sets up a manipulative dynamic. Adults resent being controlled, micro-managed and monitored.
If you get the impression or fear that you cannot trust someone, then follow your instincts. If my intuition ever told me I could not trust them, I would not be able to and would quickly move on. I did get a lot of “junk males” the men god sent into my life to test me to see if I meant what I was saying. Would I filter out the ones that I saw red flags in – regardless of my attraction to them. I kept standing up for myself and eventually I began to attract healthier people to me, they are out there! They are out there using their boundaries and weeding out the unstable and un-healthy.
I was also told that if I felt immediate “fireworks” that it was a red flag. Relationships are a gradual revealing process in which you evolve slowly into becoming friends. Relationships cannot be rushed, this is forced intimacy and it indicates a lack of boundaries and a healthy amount of emotional availability. You cannot have real intimacy with another person until you are intimately aware and understanding of your emotional body first. Get to know and accept you first, then think about sharing your life with others.
I had to change from being so available to men and have my own life and interests. I looked at men as something to conquer and use. I was desperate to be loved and share that but as long as I was not taking my own self respect first, it would never happen. I had to stop planning the dates and calling men, too. I let them call me, I got off the phone in a timely manner and I quit saying, “I mis you” because I would use that line as a hook to make them think about me or even feel guilty. I took guilt and manipulation out of my equation. Men want to be in control, they are the hunters. They do the picking so I was going to be more careful about who I let into my space. I wanted them to feel as manly as possible, so I let them do the planning of the dates. I also did not respond right away to any suggestion, I gave myself time (even if it was merely five minutes) to get off of the phone and decide what I wanted to do.
No matter what they asked me, I said “I will think about that and get back to you in __ minutes” and if I told them ten minutes, I would not all back in five. I would do exactly what I said, so that my actions reflected my words. Then I would think, do I want to go here and do this thing they propose? What were my original plans for this time specified? Can I, do I want to, will I have fun or is this going to affect another plan or goal? I knew it was important that I not be willing to change my plans at the drop of a hat, that this was indeed a red flag. Keep your original plans, follow through on what you say to maintain your own integrity. When you have respect within you, first ~ you already have it. You can choose to find others who also have this self-accountability and self-respect or not.
People will not trust you if your inner energy does not match the outer energy you give off. People can feel these are out of sync if you are not being honest, they may not now why but they will feel it.
This is a good time period in which you discuss sexual histories and the past. Do you both want to go get tested at planned parenthood for diseases first? Do you always use a condom during sexual intercourse? Sexual boundaries should be clearly discussed before you engage in sexual activity. Matchmakers say, get a commitment of monogamy before you enter into a sexual relationship. Today these are life and death considerations and if your partner is unwilling to discuss these matters openly in a mature way, this is a huge red flag and you should run screaming! If you cannot openly discuss it, you should not be doing it.
Long Term Dating, Living Together
Do you want a long term relationship? Do you want to be married? Do you want a family? I think these are reasonable questions to ask during the first year of dating a person. How long is a reasonable time to wait during dating to be asked to live together or get married? I think two year is a good time to wait. The first year you are still discovering new things about the other person. If I was asked to move in together or to get married in the first year, I would consider that a huge red flag.
I promised myself I would not ask a man to move in with me (ever again) and I did indeed break that rule at the fourth month of dating my current long term boyfriend. I think I would have apologized for asking his this question the next day. I felt so comfortable with him, I asked him because I felt I would be okay if we were together, because he accepted me as I was, it gave me a lot of security. Fortunately for me, he was healthy enough not to fall for this invitation. When we did move in together it was after two years of dating and we moved into a neutral zone (new) place so it wasn’t one of us being hindered upon, creating space in a place either of us already lived. He found a place for us both to move into together and it had enough space for us both.
A year later, we found a house that we wanted to purchase to live in together and create a home that was uniquely ours. Living together, especially the first two or so years, was about learning to adjust to each other, learning how to relate to each other and cope with each other’s personality nuances. Little things you may not realize about each other, like one of you wants quiet time until you wake up or eat breakfast. I found I am very talkative in the mornings and like to goof around a little bit while relating and waking up. These antics are not always appreciated. I learned how to tone it down slightly while still being myself and allowing him the space he needs to get to where he wants to fully engage.
Living together presents many opportunities for you to see how the other person is, get to know their idiosyncrasies and personality traits. It is very much about learning to compromise daily and to be willing to work together for the same end. “Both people must be compromising daily to be in a healthy relationship,” thank you Dr Phil. This is a very good sign.
If you lived alone like I had for six years, sleeping in the middle of my king sized bed, leaving my dishes and books on the floor – these are some of the things I had to adapt to live with my boyfriend, obviously I have to think of him too. Relationships are about the other person and it takes a lot of work. When I got married and my mom said, “don’t lose yourself” I had no idea what she was talking about because I was already lost. I am grateful I took the time out to heal from my marriage and past life pains before attempting to meet the mate I have now. The work is worth it. Being in an honest relationship, one in which I am known for the real me (and not who I was pretending to be) is the most rewarding relationship of my life. It is the first healthy relationship I have ever had and it continues to get more healthy with every passing season because we are willing to take responsibility and be the people we really are. No games, no lies, honest and real intimacy as we were friends first and always put our friendship first.
When we had a conflict in the first 2 years of us dating, we developed a way to talk about emotional things without getting all upset and stuck in an ego conflict. We created a code word that we both agreed to recognize – I would say, “I have something heavy I want to discuss.” Heavy was the code word for emotional depth or vulnerability. We would ask the other, is this a good time to discuss something personal, emotionally laden, heavy? If not know, when? Is it a good time in an hour or two? Is it a good time tonight or is tomorrow better for you? This gave us the opportunity to set a time that we would discuss it in person. I hit talking about critical matters over the phone, in emails or instant messages. We often would have misunderstandings in writing, as it is impersonal and we would misinterpret each other. Important conversations were done face to face, without exception.
We made the habit of sitting on the love seat, so that we were sitting together and not across from each other. Looking back, this worked so well for us because it is very confrontational to sit face to face. We sat next to each other and would say, this is heavy and it is hard to say. We always agreed to put our friendship first, no matter what was said. This way we had the common goal of remaining friends and doing what was healthiest for the other person, even if it meant we would break up our love affair at any time. The goal was to always remain friends and we used this exercise as a way to be objective, thus non-reactive in the moment.
You have to give the other person time to process what you are saying and let them contemplate if they can accept it or not. Do not demand an answer right away, allow the other person this time and space to consider what it is that you have said. A good friend wants the best for you, even if it means it is better if you break up. I told him from the beginning that I would never hold him back and if he ever wanted to move on, he should because I would. Be honest.
Living Together Boundaries
When we first moved in together, right away I had asked my boyfriend for something I felt like I needed. I am not exactly sure if I would call this a boundary but it was about something I felt I needed for the relationship. In the mornings, he would get up and go off to work allowing me to sleep in. I would wake up feeling very disconnected from him. I asked him to come and hug and kiss me goodbye for the day, so we could connect physically. I think he thought it was a little weird (I guess if the roles were switched, he would ask to be left alone) and was willing to do whatever I needed to feel more connected to him.
Years later in our home we got a new gaming system and now there are three. Mt boyfriend can act fairly OCD/compulsive about gaming and had revealed to me it was the source of conflict in his past relationship. I don’t have a problem with compulsive behavior in general, it is what I do. I understand it. I did however realize that I had a limit to how much non-engagement I can take. It would come up on Sundays during football games too. I realized that I needed him to check in with me and engage with me, out of basic consideration for being human — every four hours. I sort of had blown my lid a few times after four hours or so because I was being neglected and I did not like it and I took it very personally.
Again, I was asking him to do something for me because otherwise I was going to react very badly to being ignored for too many hours in a row. I explained to him that it is not unreasonable to ask for some interaction and engagement on a human level albeit briefly. “Give me five minutes” in between bathroom visits at least every four hours. He agreed with this.
I asked him to come to me, because if I go chase him down in the house where he is off doing his “things” I would feel like I was checking up on him. He has to want to engage with me. It got much easier after taking the Live Happy app personality test because I could see he was independent not social (like me) and he doesn’t think anything of being alone for hours on end. Me being more social, it felt offensive and like I was being ignored. Simply talking to me for a few minutes in between an all day football viewing event (2 games 8 hours, 3 games 12 hours) or to spend a few minutes with me to talk after long hours of shoot ‘em up war games was all I needed to not feel neglected by my partner.
You cannot be afraid to state what it is that you need. No one is a mind reader and it is not their job to identify your needs. You need to remember to set boundaries around those needs and make sure that you are getting your needs met (through negotiation and consequences of actions) and not relying on others to meet them for you. My boyfriend I think understands that is is as important for him to come to me, as it is for him to make the effort to engage in our relationship. I cannot force him to engage, nor do I want to. If he wasn’t going to make that effort, I would have modified my own behavior following through on a consequence. Any time my boundary is tripped, I can follow through on my consequence, whatever that may be.
This does go both ways, if he needed me to do something that I was ignoring or neglecting, I would think he would communicate that as I cannot define his needs for him. Then it would be up to me to either accept it or not, I can have respect for what he is telling me and follow through or not. I always have a choice. He can change altering his behavior and he can create a consequence around what is not supporting him.
For my co-dependency issues I cannot chase him down nor do I want to because I had no self-respect that way. I know I cannot make a relationship work on my own, that my partner has to participate and want to engage in quality and intimate emotional time. Since we have sorted some of these things out in the last few years, it does seem to be getting easier to live together and not be at odds with each other.
Watch your resentments because they will tell you when you are not acknowledging something within you or when you are trying to control things that you have no control over. Do you want to lose your peace of mind over something as trivial as a pile of clothes on the floor? Why are you obsessing about that? Where did it initiate? Did your mom tell you, you were no damned good if you left clothes on the floor? Or to get over something because it was causing you emotional distress? It may seem weird to give so much attention and integrity to every little thing, every emotion, every issue or circumstance but these small insignificant things can be the tipping point in one’s relationship. If you do not express what you need, no one else can know what is going on. Having a static sea of resentments is a terrible way to live, I won’t go back ~ not for a billion dollars or all the tea in China. Living with resentment is hell and that suffering is un-necessary.