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Dating Advice # 177: Perilous Dating Pattern

May 9, 2009 | by Rosie Einhorn, L.C.S.W. and Sherry Zimmerman, J.D., M.Sc.

She does high-intensity dating for a few months, followed by a break-up. What's causing the problem?

Dear Rosie & Sherry,

Hi. I've recently ended a courtship with a man that I dated for six months. I feel very confused and hurt by it all. When I met him, he was very sincere and trustworthy. But then the pattern kicked in: At first a guy is crazy about me (and even drives me crazy because it's too much). But after about 3-4 months he suddenly loses interest and enthusiasm. What is wrong with me? Why does this happen?

In this most recent case, the man promised me things and didn't keep his word. But he has such a good heart. So I question my part in all this. What is it about me that brings out the worst in men?

I am very confused about the courtships I've had. It seems like a dream. One minute it's good and serious, the next it's wrong and gone.

What am I doing wrong?


Dear Melissa,

Even though we don't know the details of your break-up, your letter mentions a few items that are red flags for problematic relationships.

The first is a recurrent pattern. You go out with a man, he's head over heels about you, and after three months those feelings are gone. We suggest that you look back at each of these courtships and ask yourself the following:

1) "Was I also crazy about him?"

Infatuation, which is the head-over-heels feeling that kicks in very quickly after people meet each other, usually fizzles out after about three or four months. If you were both infatuated with each other, or even if he was infatuated with you, it is likely that you were on such an emotional high that you failed to develop a deep way of relating to each other that we call "emotional intimacy."

There are two reasons why this might have happened. One is that the two of you weren't really right for each other and therefore could simply not develop a deep connection. The other reason is that you didn't realize you needed to work on developing emotional intimacy or didn't know how to do it. Whatever the reason, when the "high" faded, the guy you were dating realized there was little else between you, and broke up.

2) "Did we see each other several times a week and spend hours and hours on the telephone?"

If so, then you overdid it. When a relationship is going well it is only natural for two people to want to spend lots of time together. Yet they don't realize that their emotional system is working on overdrive to process what is happening, and seeing each other too often can overload the system. They can also feel subtle pressure that the rest of their life is falling apart (bills not getting paid, laundry and schoolwork piling up, friendships being neglected, work suffering) because they have invested so much time and energy into the courtship.

We've had many women, and a number of men, tell us that the dating was going so well, but after a while they became ambivalent. Some women even describe themselves as being nauseous after a date, when two dates before they felt wonderful about him. So they conclude that there is something wrong with their date and are ready to break it off. We often trace the ambivalence to over-dating. That's why we advise people to slow down, see each other no more than twice a week, and limit the length of phone calls.

3) "Did I have any part to play in the break-up? Could it be that I did something to sabotage things?"

This question is important when you see a pattern in which several dating partners have broken up with you at approximately the same stage in each courtship. Sometimes, a person who is afraid of emotional intimacy, commitment, or abandonment unconsciously says or does things to drive a partner away.

In order to figure out if you may have created an "out" for your dating partner through your words or behavior, write down the history of each relationship, including the emotions and conflicts you experienced and your corresponding behavior during each stage of dating. Can you identify underlying fears or concerns that you may have acted upon by betraying your dating partner's trust, or scaring him off with inappropriate behavior?

4) "If he lied to me, didn't keep his word, and changed his mind about promises, why do I still think he was so wonderful?"

It seems to us that there were some clear problems in this court ship that recently ended. While nobody is perfect, and while the man you someday marry will have his fair share of flaws, you allude to problems that involve trust and honesty. In our experience, issues of trust and honesty can be serious enough to undermine the foundation of a relationship, and it could mean that you weren't really right for each other in the first place. It could be that you were so blinded by infatuation that you only saw these problems later, as your intense feelings began to cool down. Or, you could have been willing to overlook problems because you had such strong chemistry, and only saw them as the ardor began to fade.

Think back to the problems you cited in your letter: How did this man wrong you, lie to you, or renege on his promises? Was it really serious (if so, why do you say he is trustworthy?), or was it the result of a misunderstanding that wasn't cleared up? If these were serious issues, you should count yourself lucky for having seen them now. And if they weren't so serious, perhaps you need to work on the way you communicate and handle conflict (or the appearance of conflict).

Further, if you see that there were in fact some serious problems of trust and honesty, do you recognize similarities between this courtship and others? Have there been other times when you realized that the man you felt very good about turned out to have serious character flaws? You could be seeking out men who have a particular flaw, or who are emotionally unavailable. It's time to re-examine your approach to dating -- from what you are looking for in a future marriage partner, to the way you find men to date and move the courtship along.

So take some time to write down answers to all of these questions, and give them some serious thought. We're confident this will help you change the way you date, so that you soon meet with success.

Rosie & Sherry

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