Men That Work: How to Date Smarter

MenThatWork2When you’ve been married and divorced twice dating is a whole other world than it ever was before. Much of the magic and fun is strained and fear quickly becomes an underlying factor. I know for me, as I was first emerging from the ashes of my second marriage my trust in myself to pick and date good men was totally shattered. I had zero confidence that I wouldn’t make the same mistake again… or worse.

At the end of my first marriage I got a tremendous amount of EMDR which is a really great therapy for the PTSD that I incurred in those handful of years and was feeling pretty confident about dating. I loved myself, knew better who I was than ever before and didn’t feel like I NEEDED a relationship. They say to “become a whole person” before you get married so you’re not just a half a person looking for another half of a person. I felt like I was that and still believe this is sage advice. One of my favorite books at that time that I read to my son was The Missing Piece Meets the Big O by Shel Silverstein. Here’s a YouTube rendition of the book if you want to take a moment and read through it:

I would read it to my then 3 year old and just cry at those certain parts of sweet truth. I knew that’s the journey that I went through and I felt it on every level. I dated quite a lot after my first marriage and even had a lot of fun. Met some amazing men and overall had really excellent experiences where I felt and was honored and respected. I was able to set boundaries and have them kept. Of course I still had insecurities but I didn’t feel that they were big enough to be a problem.

Then I met husband #2. He was everything I was looking for, or at least that was the package that I was sold. And I bought it. But it came at a high price and just after our 5th wedding anniversary I found myself finally acknowledging that I needed to seek a divorce. He had lost the privilege of being my husband.

As I found myself in therapy after the separation, I had no idea how I got myself into such a terrible situation. The first marriage, I could see it pretty clearly. I was immature, and codependent and we did that whole codependency dance beautifully, in a tragic sort of way. But this second one really left me at a loss. I couldn’t discern where I should have made different choices in the beginning of our relationship. CLEARLY there were issues, but when I would go back through the timeline and how things unfolded I couldn’t clearly discern with the skills that I had at the time how I could have known, how I could have seen through the prescription of rose-colored glasses he handed me almost right away. HOW was I going to avoid the same mistake again? As I asked these questions, tormented by them really, there was only silence rather than confident wisdom echoing back at me.

When we dated, it took a good four weeks of pretty intensive dating for the first red flag to show up, and it seemed fairly minor, and then a couple more weeks for the next one, and then they started coming more frequently. But there was always an explanation, a reason and a rationalization that I would accept. Of course, I can only see this so clearly looking back. And at the time there were all of those wonderful things to fill the space in between. And as a narcissist does, they study you to know just what to “love bomb” you with to build your perfect and ideal life with them, and only them. And the life he painted out for us was truly a dream life.

So there I sat, totally broken (at least in feeling) on my therapist’s couch wondering how on Earth I was ever going to manage to be around men ever again. If I loved myself, and I was a smart person that had some clue about boundaries and healthy relationships, and still managed to marry a narcissist, what was to keep that from happening again?? There was panic and fear and terror all rolled into one big, overwhelming emotion that weighed on me.

htafilwajMy therapist repeatedly and gently suggested I read the book How to Avoid Falling in Love with a Jerk. It took me a few months to get to it, and I can truly say this book has literally changed my life. As I read it, I will tell you that the first couple of chapters triggered me. I was still very fresh and raw about everything but pushed through anyway. The more I read, and also in tandem with my therapist going over it in conversation that applied to me, where he had literally taught the class based on this book 40+ times, was the first glimmer of true hope that I felt in being able to date again. And from there it grew slowly.

You see, the basic premise of the book is the RAM or Relationship Attachment Model. This genius and fairly simple concept, if followed, really does weed out those that are going to harm you. I have absolute confidence that if I had been exposed to this information before either of my marriages I would not have dated, and subsequently married either of those men. (This is a good post to share with anyone who may be dating now, or will be in the future, by the way.) While I don’t believe in regrets, I am all for shouting out a bit of warning and perhaps someone can learn these basic lessons without all the pain because of something I shared.

RAMSo the idea of the RAM is that you want to be sure you’re keeping things in check. The five areas focused on are:

  1. Know
  2. Trust
  3. Rely
  4. Commit
  5. Touch

And here is the application: In dating, you don’t want any column to the right to be higher than the one on the left.

For example, you don’t want to TRUST someone, more than you actually KNOW them. This is where you can easily run into trouble and find that you have been swindled, taken advantage of or worse. Then as you keep going down the line you don’t want to RELY on someone more than you can TRUST them OR more than you actually KNOW them. Same with offering a level of COMMITMENT that is higher than how much you know you can RELY, TRUST or KNOW them. And finally you don’t want to TOUCH someone, referring to not just sex but also kissing, and other physical activities, more than you are COMMITTED to them, can RELY on them, TRUST them and finally KNOW them.

So the first big one is KNOWING a person. Dr. John Van Epp says that it takes 3 T’s to actually get to know someone:

  1. Time
  2. Togetherness
  3. Talking

For time, it takes at least 90 days to really get to know someone, see their “cycle” (we all have one, some are just more pronounced and dramatic than others) and verify that they are who they say they are, as well as that they are who we think that they are. This was something I personally have always struggled with as I naturally and perhaps naively see the better side of others. But the thing is, people tell us who they are all the time, we just need to actually listen. So I’ve gotten more comfortable with the idea of seeing people accurately, rather than reverting to that default of putting the object of my affection on a pedestal.

Togetherness means you need to actually be in the same vicinity and having experiences together. Online dating will really trip you up here since you can get to know someone pretty well by spending a great deal of time talking on the phone, but you’re missing that crucial piece of actually being together to be able to confidently verify that they really are who you think that they are. Not saying online or distance dating doesn’t work, but it’s certainly something to be aware of.

youngcoupleAnd you need to actually talk. A lot. Talk about your lives. Talk about your families. Ask insightful questions. Not so much like an interview, but really get to know the person and be curious. Always ask questions in return. If they say “how did you celebrate birthdays growing up?” answer the question and be sure to ask them back. You’ll give them the ability to know you if you both set up the premise of exchanging questions this way.

So when I found out that it takes at least 90 days to really start to get to know someone I looked at my therapist and asked him with a great deal of dismay, “Are you saying I can’t KISS someone for 90 whole days of dating them??” to which his answer was thankfully “no” but more that it needs to stay in proportion to the other four dials. And it turns out that this actually wasn’t such a draw back after all. Plus, I’m a really physical and affectionate creature and so in many ways, since I know this about myself, this is even more important for someone like me. Getting together and spending all your time making out after the third or fourth date (or the first) is really not going to help you get to know them, and will play with your emotions.

This was kind of a revelation for me. I fully admit that I was the girl that kissed a LOT last time I was single. It was super fun and, well, my first husband was my first kiss on my 20th birthday so I kinda had a lot of making up to do, right? Well, sure but it’s not going to get me to where I wanted to be. I’m not a big fan of guilt but rather consequences. I don’t feel guilty about dating that way, but the consequence was that I didn’t really get to KNOW very many of the men I was dating, and certainly not with a clear head.

So how has this actually played out for me this time?

Beautifully. I’ve had such incredible experiences with dating men this time around. I’ve declined dates to men that I felt like something was off and honored and listened to my intuition without needing proof. I waited much longer this time to even go out on a first date than I did last time and have focused much more on actually getting to know the person rather than be hyper-focused on the physical stuff, which, let’s face it the physical stuff early on is really just a fantastic pain killer and I go into more detail about that here in this post.

redflagsWhat I keep finding over and over again are that I am surrounded by MEN THAT WORK. They are good and kind and worthy of my attention and time, and it goes both ways. They inspire me to be my best self, but I still get to be my authentic self. I also fortify this with reiterating the belief that I attract the most amazing people into my life. The more I believe this, say it to myself and out loud the more it keeps showing up as true. And specifically with men, they are the kind that are in line with my faith, my high standards, they have jobs, drivers licenses, no arrest records, have never hit a woman, (or anyone for that matter) and are successful in their relationships with other people. They have long-term friendships that are good and healthy. I see and honor the red flags that I see for what they are rather than thinking the name of the game was “Capture the Flag” and seeing how many I could collect! I am enjoying much more going for quality rather than the quantity.

hotterthanabadboy2And you can, too! Truly! If you’re having crummy experiences with dating, and this goes for both men and women, ponder on the Relationship Attachment Model and consider getting your hands on the book. And also take some time to really ponder if you’re ready to be dating, to what level you are ready to offer commitment and if you’re consistently attracting a “jerk” or “jerkette” there’s probably some strongly held beliefs deep down that you don’t deserve much more. Which, of course is a lie, because we know that we are meant for joy, but those lies that are beliefs are powerful suckers. And the first step is to identify them, and call them the untruths that they are.

How has dating been for you? Have you changed your experiences and modified old habits and seen new results? I’d love to hear about it!

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2 Responses to “Men That Work: How to Date Smarter

  • Thanks for the great post. I have read the same books and love them! I’ve also been to the “How To Avoid Falling For a Jerk or Jerkette” workshops. They were great and I loved the RAM chart they gave us. Now it’s just applying everything I’ve learned. 🙂

    • Agreed!! It’s been interesting to slowly apply everything and gain more trust in myself as I move forward. I find as I integrate these principles little by little they become part of me.

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