How do I avoid relationship patterns that sink my self esteem?

Dear Lisa,

I have been single for a little while now (about 6 months) and I am thinking about getting back into dating. One thing that is holding me back is a pattern that I am afraid of repeating. To me the cycle looks like this: I am single and start feeling good about myself, I start dating a few men and end up “committing” to one of them fairly quickly. (This would be okay if I was really into that person, but often I’m not. Or not as much as I’d like to be.) Once I start seeing that new person fairly often, I find that I start to feel less good about myself, and I scare myself with talk of how this is as good as it gets and how I won’t find anyone better. Eventually the relationship will end and I will feel exhausted and it will take me quite a while to feel “up” to dating again.

Do you have any suggestions of how I can derail this cycle?

–Fed-up Francis ( ♀ Victoria)


Dear Fed-up Francis,

Nice work recognizing such a sneaky pattern! It sounds like the crux of the issue is that you feel badly about yourself when you let yourself down. A few things come to mind that might help you put some distance between you and another repeat, and support you to keep yourself ‘up’.

First, you’ve got to really love your life. YOUR life. Which means that you are busy doing things that YOU enjoy doing without him for most of the time. I invite you to get as authentic and honest as possible with this process. Literally fill your life with the things you LOVE to do, which might mean spending some of your energy (initially) finding ways to eliminate any activities and obligations that don’t fit with YOUR life. (I recommend checking out this PDF on Radical Selfishness by Diana Chapman to help get you started). What I’m talking about here is something I’ve been thinking about a lot – how dating is actually all about marketing. It sounds strange, but you will have the most success finding a mate you adore by identifying your niche! You do this by working to appreciate and leverage every aspect of yourself (even those you previously hid away) as the unique qualities that make you an amazing woman, and eliminating anything that’s not you. When you really get raw and loving with your genuine self, you won’t stand for anyone who doesn’t love you as much as you do.

Next, I recommend creating some rules for yourself to support your relationship goals. As you’re probably aware, I’m a proponent of The Rules by Ellen Fein & Sherrie Schneider (I have an ongoing series called The Rules Deconstructed). But more than just a generic set of rules, I’m talking about creating your own way of being accountable to yourself to keep you and your heart safe. This might include a maximum amount of time you allow yourself to spend with any given man in one week, or a ratio of mandatory friend time to man time. You might make up rules about intimacy – here is a great article from The Art of Manliness Blog about how delaying intimacy can benefit your relationship (From personal experience I can tell you that this is a big one – sex complicates potential long term relationships, especially before true feelings are decided.) The rules will not only reassure yourself that you care, but they will serve as immediate red flags for the quality of the dude if he doesn’t respect them too.

The final thought that comes to mind is that you don’t have to do this alone. Once you’ve figured out the rules that you want to be accountable to, find friends or other people to help you stay accountable! Now is the time to take a look at your friends – are they interested in supporting you to do what serves you, rather than what you want in the moment? If not, it’s time to reach out further. I invite you to become a Rules Girl on the blog I facilitate. Also, check out conscious women’s circles in your area – it’s amazing what a little bit of outside support can do (I know I’ve given you a lot of links, but here is a fantastic TED talk on stress and how reaching out can change it from a detrimental to a positive force in your life).

Phew. That was a lot. The bottom line here that you are only going to put yourself in situations that you feel you deserve. So, the more you love yourself and your life, the more decisive you will be about who you choose to share you/it with. Reassure yourself you care by living the life that feels meaningful to you, by creating ways to keep yourself and your heart safe while you’re dating, and by getting the support you need to make the changes you desire. You are worth it, and others will agree!

Let me know if you need any clarification in the comments. I’d love to hear how things go!

– Lisa



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