A guest post by Brenda Adair
When I was in my early twenties, I was dating a man who I thought I really liked—in fact, after only a couple of weeks, I was convinced that I was falling in love with him. When he suggested moving in together after a month of dating, I jumped at the chance. He was kind, smart, funny, and everything that I thought I wanted and needed in a partner.
However, as we discussed the practical considerations of moving in together, the façade began to slip. He was (and still is—we remain friends to this day) a good man, and he did nothing to mislead me in any way.
The façade that I am referring to is the false reality that I had unwittingly built up in my own head—the lie that I was really in love with this person.
I began to come to an uncomfortable realization. This relationship was merely an attempt to fill the void in my life, to distract from the fact that I was deeply, deeply unhappy and uncomfortable with who I was. This was something that I was genuinely unaware of when I started dating him, and I wish that I had known at the time.
This situation is, unfortunately, incredibly common.
If I could speak to twenty-two year old me now, I would tell her to abandon dating and avoid leading this man on. I can’t turn back time, but I can offer some advice to others so that they do not make the same mistake that I did!
If you have recently started dating someone, I would recommend considering the following questions to work out if you really like him as a person, or are subconsciously using the relationship as an emotional Band-Aid to avoid confronting other issues.
1. Have you recently ended another relationship or experienced a loss?
When I started dating this man, I had graduated from college six months previously and moved back to my hometown. Three months after graduating (and three months before matching with my new partner on a dating site), I had gone through a breakup. I had met my ex-boyfriend near the start of my second year at college, and we had been a couple since shortly after.
We were in the process of looking at houses to move into together when things had started to unravel.
I thought that I was over him after a month or so of mourning the end of the relationship, so I joined dating sites to meet new people. In hindsight, although I was unaware at the time, I was certainly not emotionally ready to start dating again, let alone to be in a serious relationship. I had not fully processed the loss of the relationship.
Therefore my new relationship was a subconscious attempt to replace what I had lost as quickly as possible. I had my boyfriend back and we were moving in together as planned—the fact that it was a different boyfriend and a different house seemed beside the point.
People who have recently experienced breakups, other forms of loss such as bereavement, or life changes such as moving to a new city, are often prone to seek relationships to fill the void left behind by what they have lost. Think to yourself—would I be dating this person if I had met them at a more stable and happy time of my life?
2. Are you scared of being alone?
Many people—even if they are unaware of it—seek out relationships mostly to avoid being on their own, rather than because they specifically enjoy dating. This is particularly common among people who haven’t spent much time being single during adulthood.
If you are somebody who has either been in a relationship for years until recently or has moved from relationship to relationship with little time in between since your teens, you may be susceptible to this.
Taking time to spend on your own can be a great way to work out if this is something that you’re comfortable with and not scared of. If you can’t stand your own company, this is likely indicative of deeper issues that you may need to work through with a therapist.
If you’ve already started dating someone, you can still find time to spend alone. Even if it’s just for a few hours each week, switch your phone off and try engaging in hobbies with nobody else for company. Becoming comfortable with loneliness allows you to make healthier relationship choices rather than using relationships to fill a void.
3. Are you interested more in the benefits of a relationship than the man himself?
If you’re dating someone, think about what it is you like about dating him. For example, if your favorite thing is having someone to go out for meals and nights out with, having somewhere nice to live, or having an active sex life again, consider how you would feel about him if things were different. If the two of you couldn’t afford many fun activities, couldn’t find a place to live, and struggled to find time or energy for physical intimacy, would you still feel the same way about him as a person?
If the answer to these questions is “yes”, then it’s likely that you really do like him!
If considering any of these points has made you question your relationship, it is worth taking time to work out what it is you really want. This does not necessarily mean breaking up—if you do like him but fear you may be rushing things or using the relationship as a distraction from personal issues, you may be able to slow the pace of your relationship or spend some time apart to work out what’s best for you. Time taken to do nothing apart from just think is extremely important when your life is busy and chaotic.
You may discover that you don’t like him as much as you thought you did and consider ending things, or you may realize that you really do like him, and your relationship will be stronger going forward. Either way, self-reflection is almost always a good idea.