It’s Spring! And many of my dear friends on the LAA boards have started to date again (or want to date), after a long winter of introspection and recovery work. But are they ready? Are you ready? If this wasn’t a love addiction blog I would definitely say, Carpe Diem! Seize the day! Go for it! But a recovering love addict is a totally different, unique individual who has to approach dating with far more precaution than the average guy or girl. Just as a recovering alcoholic has to reconfigure the people, places and things in his sober life, so too does a recovering love addict. And when you know this, the safer and more successful you will be. So, without further ado…
1. Know when you are (really!) ready to date. You may think you’re ready. You may even fantasize about the hot guy or girl at the office who gave you a “look.” But when it really comes down to it, and the question gets popped (How about Saturday night?), some of us are simply not ready, emotionally, mentally or physcially. How do you know? You know when the idea of dating doesn’t scare the hell out of you to the point where you simply cannot make the date, when it sounds “scary” but exciting too, when you don’t curl up into a ball and start crying hysterically after a first date because all you can think about is your ex, when you start to feel comfortable around strangers (not 100% but enough to have the courage to do so), and when being alone is not a bad thing, but you’re ready for something new…
Many love addicts who still have a person of addiction (PoA) on their brain long after the relationship has ended (this is a torchbearer, by the way) do so not because they still love them or think they will get back together, but as a form of protection. If you are still emotionally attached to a person, it keeps you safe from having to date someone new, and thus, experience the possibility of new pain and rejection. Some love addicts become emotionally or sexually “anorexic,” which is a form of sex and/or love addiction also. Lastly, there is the issue of replacing one PoA with another, diving from one relationship into another, thus being “ready” for the wrong reasons. In this latter case, the person is not ready to date. He or she is simply looking for their next “fix.” How do you know the difference between being ready and looking for your next fix? See Tip #4. Otherwise, these areas of emotional and behavioral unrest need to be resolved first, before you’re ready.
2. A date is JUST a date. Learn to put dates into perspective. A date is not romantic, it is not your future, it is not love, it is not a dreamy Hollywood story of passion and ardor. And while a date may have elements of all those things IF there’s chemistry and attraction, don’t get too hung up on the chemistry and attraction. A date is a meeting. Someone finds you physically attractive (or you find them physically attractive, or both), and they want to get to know you a bit more. They want to talk to you, maybe they even want to kiss you at the end of the night. Who knows! Whatever the case, treat it like a meeting. It might be fun but it might be awkward; it might make you happy, but it might make him never want to call back. Who knows! Your first date will most likely not look like the fantasy you’ve created in your head. WHen you meet up with someone for the purpose of getting to know you, and vice versus, you have to try and remove the romantic element, otherwise, you leave yourself open to fantasy and high expectations, which brings me to tip #3…
3. Lose the expectations. If you go into a date looking for your soulmate, you will probably be sorely disappointed. Why is that? Because you’re expectations are far too high for an unsuspecting stranger who doesn’t know what you want or need and basically owes you nothing but a little common courtesy–that’s about as much as can be expected on a first date. Any more than that and you’re barking up the wrong tree. You see, understanding the concept of expectations is probably a love addict’s biggest hurdle. We have high expecations too soon, or of the wrong people, and then, once we see that our expectations are not getting met, we whine about it, but settle anyway. But there’s a simple formula for expectations: we can only have high expectations of people who are healthy enough, interested enough and capable of meeting our expectations. And we also have to be willing to expect the same from ourselves. You can’t go on a first date and expect to be treated with basic human kindness and respect from someone who is not a kind and respectful person. You can’t go on a first date and expect that a person will call you back for a second date, if that person is not interested. And you can’t go on a first date (or a second or third) and start expecting that the two of you are automatically a couple. These are all unrealistic expectations and you are setting yourself up for a huge let down. Expect NOTHING. And be happy. Don’t expect a call back! Don’t expect a text! Don’t expect a second date! You are owed nothing. You didn’t go on this date “expecting” for a second or third date. You went on this date to simply ENJOY this person now. That’s all you get. (P.S. Having high expectations like, “I will be respected,” comes under “Values” in #10)
4. Know the difference between dating and desperation. Are you ok with just you? Or are you looking for someone to save you? Can you handle being alone? Or do you hate your life because it’s missing a soulmate? Is it a combination of both of these things? Knowing what is driving your desire to date can have a huge impact on WHO YOU CHOOSE to date. If you are OK within yourself then you can be far more discerning with whom you choose to date. Why? Because you have nothing to lose. You’re not dating out of need or desperation to fill a void. You are simply dating because you would like to meet someone that you can enjoy. Period. A love addict has to be on constant alert of his or her personal motives. If you feel a void within you, you may pick and choose prospective dates for the wrong reasons. You may be willing to overlook red flags, put up with abuse or neglect, or date “down,” all for the purpose of stuffing that void within you. Remember, when we date, we are not looking for our second half. We are not looking to be “completed.” We must begin to understand that we are complete, as is. And if we don’t feel complete on our own, we need to bring ourselves there first. Healthy dating is about meeting other people who are also complete.
5. Let things happen organically. Letting things happen organically means removing the fantasy…100%. That means that when the date is over, it’s over. You can think about the wonderful feeling of his touch, but do not try on his name and imagine the two of you on an Alaskan Cruise as Honeymooners. You can certain enjoy the thoughts of her that pop into your head the next day, but don’t imagine what your children will look like. Letting things happen organically means living in the now. If he hasn’t called, he hasn’t called. Gently push those wanting, needing and fantasy thoughts from your head and replace them with thoughts on your work, or what you are presently doing. Remove the ruminating! If he doesn’t call in two weeks, let it go. The more you fantasize, or obsess the more you remove the organic nature of what is meant to happen versus what is not meant to happen. This is hard work, but in the end, it’s EASIER this way!!!! Trust me.
6. Step away from the computer. One of the most important steps a recovering love addict can take is to abandon any idea of online dating. DOn’t do it. Say goodbye to it. Online dating sites are a petrie dish of toxicity for the love addict. Why is that? Because they are filled with three things: the hope of instant gratification (finding someone with one click), the promotion of fantasy-based exchanges (when you don’t have a clear picture of someone you are free to “fill in the blanks” and create what you want that person to be), and the almost complete removal of the crucial human necessity to judge someone realistically, in person, FIRST, before getting emotionally attached to them. Because love addicts need to learn to defer gratification, control their susceptibility to fantasy, and be able to judge people realistically, online dating is a bad idea. It’s like an alcoholic hanging out in a bar after he has given up drinking. It’s only a matter of time before he will slip. Online dating may be great for healthy people, but not for love addicts.
7. Don’t have sex on the first date. Cosmopolitan magazine recently wrote that not having sex on the first date is “outdated.” In other words, go ahead, girls, that rule is “antiquated and harmful” and produces “unnecessary anxiety and shame about something normal and natural: dating and sex.” Unfortunately, they were NOT talking to a love addict. Like it or not, you need to play by the antiquated, SAFE rules from days of yore. I say this not just to the women, but the men as well. Sex to a love addict is never taken lightly. It means something. It usually means a full blown commitment and an excuse to obsess over someone. That’s why it needs to be put on the back burner for a significant amount of time (3 months? 6 months?). A love addict’s job is to learn to defer gratification. To sniff out a person for red flags FIRST, before making any heavy duty commitments, physical or otherwise. And here’s something Cosmo won’t tell you, what’s the hurry? If you’re into someone, and they’re into you, and you plan to spend your lives together, why not wait? You’ve got all the time in the world. Why not make it about other stuff first? Sex on the first, second, third, etc. date is Russian Roulette to a love addict. Put it off. It can wait. He/she’s not going anywhere. And if he/she does leave, they weren’t worth it anyway and you were able to hold on to your dignity. More than that, it might save you from obsessing more than you would if you did have sex.
8. Do keep a journal. The perspective and instincts we have before we get to know someone intimately are amazingly sharp. I am convinced that every red flag a person might have pops up on the first or second date, if we really pay attention. Trouble is, when we want something bad enough, we are willing to ignore the red flags, and ignore our gut instincts. Keeping a journal helps us to stay on track and remember how we felt and what we sensed in those first hours. Be sure to write down your first impression, how you felt, if you noticed or felt anything funny, if something didn’t add up. What was your logical brain picking up on, versus your heart (emotions)? While this may seem like overkill, it will help you in your process and your ability to “learn” to date healthily. Looking back we always see with perfect vision.
9. Don’t trust your emotions. I know. It sounds counterintuitive when talking about dating. But it’s not. A love addict can’t trust his or her emotions. Not yet, anyway. Why? Because we tend to be ruled by our emotions and our logic goes right out the window. We are imbalanced in this way. Our logical brain will pick up on abuse, red flags, neglect, shame and general danger. Our logical brains are screaming at us to leave a bad relationship. But our emotions are screaming back, “Never! I love him!!!!” This is an extremely unhealthy way to make life decisions. You cannot be ruled by emotions only. You need a balance of both your head and your heart. Trouble is, because we have been off balance for so many years, we need the pendulum to swing in the opposite direction. We need to depend more on our logical brain so that we begin to trust it again. Only then are we able to allow our emotions to “speak up,” once our logical brain has first determined that we are safe and secure. So, all those emotions howling at you, telling you that they are convinced 100% that it’s love, after the first or second date? IGNORE THEM. Focus on the brain. On the logic. Turn back to your journal. Check for red flags. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, to seek out the possibility of red flags. Be suspicious (without acting overly suspicious). And don’t be afraid to walk away if you unearth something that you know in your head and your heart you probably cannot or should not live with if it doesn’t agree with your set of values.
10. Know Your Values. Ah! Values. Attraction, chemistry, passion, flirtiness–those things are fine and good and all. But they can’t shake a stick at something called values. Knowing your values is critical to dating. If you don’t know your values, how can you know if someone else’s values are right for you? How can you tell if someone has the same belief in loyalty, respect or kindness as you do? Does he or she share the same work ethic, family values, or relgious beliefs? Where does he or she stand on marriage, affairs, children, parenting, age, eating, working out, drugs, sex, intimacy and so on. Most of these things seem world’s away from a first-time meeting. And I do not suggest you try to find out what your date thinks about child rearing on date #1. But I do suggest that you know what YOUR values are on all these things so that you know what to look out for and how to assess the other person within time. Case in point, I went on a date many years ago with a good looking guy who, on our very first date, asked if I wanted to get high. I said, no thanks, and despite it bothering me enormously (because it’s something I can’t handle) I kept dating him. I kept dating him because I didn’t know my values. I knew I didn’t like drugs and I knew I didn’t like being around people who did drugs. But I didn’t know it was SO IMPORTANT to me that the relationship would not work if drugs were involved. And it didn’t. I eventually couldn’t take his smoking. Had I known my values, I would have saved myself a lot of time and emotional angst.
You need to hold people up to the light and really look at them and not be afraid of what you might see. Your happiness, security and peace of mind depend upon you being honest with yourself. And while I do not suggest scrutinizing people too early on in the dating process, I do suggest being open to communicating, and being patient in cultivating a relationship. You will not get to know someone over night. It takes months, years. You cannot rush things. People who fall in love fast are red flags. That goes for you, and for your date. It is a sign of instability. Healthy people are cautious, curious, protective with their emotions. They don’t call every two seconds, they don’t profess love right away. They don’t drink like a fish or do drugs or try to sweet talk you into bed after a 2.5 hour date. Know the signs of healthy partner, and be one too.