When you’ve been in the dating world long enough, the hope is that you learn a few things on the path down that journey. Sometimes, it’s like child’s play the way you acquire knowledge. A couple of dates with the same type of man quickly alerts you to the fact that that slick charmer who is constantly checking out other women when he is with you is a player or that overly exuberant storyteller who is always talking about himself is only interested in himself.
Other times, the lessons you pick up are only digested the hard way, after a significant investment of time, energy and emotion—or some painful combination of the three. These are earned through tough means, often after you have gone through the five stages of grief – denial (Problem? what problem? or He’s not really breaking up with me. Everything was just fine yesterday!), anger (at your partner or whomever you blame for causing the relationship’s demise, then yourself for falling into the whole mess to begin with), bargaining (If he stops trying to bang every other woman he meets, sees a therapist for his severe mood swings, quits doing drugs/being abusive/compulsively lying, then we can try again OR if it really is over, at least we can still be friends), depression and then finally, acceptance.
After these kinds of experiences, you’re indubitably never the same. But along with that loss of innocence is also a loss of naïveté about the world and the nature of humankind that will serve you well into the future. Really.
Inevitably the biggest lessons you learn will be about yourself. About how much you can endure. About your own resilience and the power and strength that you will eventually find within you, no matter how long it takes, to pull yourself back up again. You’ll often also truly realize who really has your back, who will be there to catch you when you fall, be a shoulder to cry on, will dry your tears, kick your butt when you need to stop feeling sorry for yourself, and cheer you on when you triumph.
If you spend enough time with and attention on yourself and your own desires, wants and needs, you will hone that incredibly powerful tool of intuition, which is your best friend when you are dating. Intuition speaks to you if you but listen. If you do not smother it back down into your subconscious because it’s the last thing you want to hear since you’re thinking:
This guy is so perfect in almost every important way, except for that one little thing that, okay, isn’t really a little thing when I think about it, but he’s so wonderful in so many really big ways, and he gets me…is there any way I can overlook this?
Wait, what do you mean I have to go back into that cesspool of being single again? Again? I just really don’t want to—can’t—deal with that reality just quite yet.
Intuition is that voice inside you that says something just doesn’t feel right, even if things seem great on the surface. A few years, I was dating a seemingly great guy who showed up on our third date with a bouquet of flowers larger than my head. He cooked for me. He proudly introduced me to his friends, colleagues and boss. He was extremely eager to bring me along on family get-togethers quite early on as well. On top of that, he was an MD/PhD, regularly practiced yoga, owned a home, had a ton of fun, smart and interesting friends, and he was very clear about wanting to soon settle down. He talked about my numerous, ambitious dreams as if they were all completely doable, and he spoke about how he’d do everything in his power to support them. Sounds perfect, right?
Yet for some reason, I couldn’t ever get fully comfortable with him. In the six months of our relationship, I only slept over his house a handful of times. In the middle of the night, I’d always get this feeling like I really shouldn’t be there, and I’d apologetically tell him I’d have to leave. He tolerated this, the canceled out-of-state adventures with friends and family trips. He tolerated my distance as I noticed that his overly sarcastic manner with people rubbed me the wrong way, how his large house felt like a musty closet, how he himself felt aggressive and demanding in ways that eventually just made me want to run. I’d been literally praying for a man who was ready for full commitment, and here he was. Yet, something inside me told me that I couldn’t be truly happy with this man.
A couple of months after I finally broke things off with him for the last time, he immediately fell into a relationship with a PhD student. He took her to Jamaica the next month, the trip he was going to take me on. I laugh about it now because I realize how much he was a man with a mission—not unlike Mr. Etiquette—determined to find a wife. Now, he and the girl who came after me are engaged. I couldn’t be happier for them because everything I can tell about her says that she is completely, head-over-heels crazy in love with him.
Sometimes the red flags are more overt. Addictive personalities. Binge drinking and drug use into your late 30s. Totally serious proclamations that he could be a professor in porn. Nearing 40 and showing such a ridiculous fear of deeper commitment that you finally have to release this boy to the perennial bachelorhood he truly thrives in living.
Even in the face of mind-blowing sex and the deepest, most riveting conversations you’ve ever had with a human being in your life, sometimes you have to take heed of the lessons you’ve learned over the years. As incredible as this new person is in your life, you recognize the warning signs that predict danger, heartbreak or misery ahead. And sometimes you have to break free of that spell of temporary tantalizing loveliness, acknowledge the red flags and say goodbye.
If you’re lucky, reading the radar for red flags and danger signs can save you from heading down a hard road of heartbreak.