Dear Dr. Chani,
I could really use your advice. I have been dating for three years and do not seem any closer to getting married. Although I try to give each person a chance, and I take each relationship seriously, something always seems to go wrong. I have probably dated at least 50 girls at this point, and I am only 24 years old. Right now, I am dating a girl that I like and I really would like things to go smoothly. Yet, I am panicking because some familiar issues are coming up for me and I do not know what to do.
Each time that I date a girl who I like I get really nervous that she will not like me too. Deep down I know that I have insecurities, but on the surface I am a really great guy. I am nice, smart, and fun to be with. I get along well with everyone, I am going for a career that pays well, and I am a serious ben Torah. What’s not to like? Yet, I have had a few girls who I liked turn me down already, and I dread it happening again this time around.
Recently, I found myself on a date wanting to end it. We had already spent three hours together so it was not early to end the date, but our previous four dates had lasted around six hours so I felt uncomfortable suggesting that we head home. I wondered why I wanted to leave early and it made me concerned. I decided to ask her if she wanted to go home, and she seemed fine with it.
But later, I spoke to my parents about it and they told me that I should have found a way to liven the date up a bit. They said I should have been more prepared for the date with topics to talk about. I also spoke with the shadchan about my worries and she said I should not have ended the date so abruptly. I usually get a lot of criticism from people I speak to after my dates so I was not surprised. Yet, when the shadchan asked the girl about how she felt, it turned out that she was not bothered by what I did at all. She thought it was normal to be tired after dating for a few hours.
I am so nervous about what this all means. What can I do to make sure my dates go more smoothly? How do I get this girl to like me? I had a good feeling about this after the first few dates before all this happened.
You are investing a lot of effort into each dating experience and trying to appreciate each girl you go out with. This is a great way to achieve your goal of finding a girl who you will appreciate and who will appreciate you. It sounds like you are facing a few challenges that are holding you back.
Firstly, you seem to have a tendency toward dating anxiety. Dating anxiety can be manifested in many ways. One of the key aspects is doubting yourself and questioning if what you are saying or doing is wrong. Each time you go out there are many moments in time and hundreds of interactions with the person you are dating that you can evaluate. If you focus too much on judging yourself (or the person you are dating) from moment to moment—you end up not being yourself on a date. This might explain why even though you sound like a great guy you have had a few experiences of girls declining to go out with you further. The girls you are dating are undoubtedly not getting to know the real you!
It only adds fuel to the fire of doubt inside you when you speak to the people whom you turn to for dating mentoring. When you doubt yourself, they are happy to help you along. Your parents, who probably mean well, foster your sense of self-doubt by responding to it with criticism. They try to offer you useful tips and suggestions to date better, but the underlying message you are getting is that you messed up. You should have done something better. Yet, who says that what you did was bad? Maybe it made sense at the time. Maybe it was okay, just different.
The good news here is that the girl you are dating seems to appreciate you. She did not judge you unfavorably when you ended the date. She went with the flow and gave you the benefit of the doubt. She normalized your actions even though you did something differently than she might have expected. It sounds like she has the potential to appreciate your positive aspects and can take your differences—or even your shortcomings—in stride.
Changing your mindset is the single most important step you can take right now. At this point, you are anxious and self-critical. You worry that you will mess up this relationship and this girl will be added to your list of girls who have broken up with you in the past. You are struggling to pull yourself together and win her over. Yet, with this mindset, any tips or advice will not be enough for you to relax and be your best self on your dates.
Rather than focusing on being chosen, turn your attention to choosing a girl who appreciates you as you are. Think about what you want her to know about you and share different aspects of your personality and your life experiences with her. Allow her to get to know you so that you will see if you want to choose her. If she is the right one for you, the more she gets to know you the more she will appreciate you. And if she does not, then it is her loss and she is not the right one for you.
On a side note, it is generally important to be receptive to people’s constructive criticism and helpful feedback—in this case—from your mentors or from the person you are dating. Yet, sometimes the feedback you receive is detrimental to you. One way to figure out if the feedback you are receiving is helpful is through the way it affects you over time. If you notice that you are not gaining and growing from the feedback, but rather it is emotionally setting you back and making you feel worse, there is something about the feedback that is not right for you.
This realization can be a wake-up call that signals it is time for you to give a little feedback of your own. If you think your parents or the shadchan would be receptive to your feedback, let them know how you feel about the approach they have been taking with you. You might start by thanking them for caring about you and guiding you through the dating process. Then, explain to them that, at the same time, you notice that when you doubt yourself, they give you reasons why you should have doubted yourself and what you could have done better. Let them know that you have noticed over time that this makes you feel more anxious and results in you not being relaxed enough to be yourself on dates. Ask them if, in the future, when you share your self-doubt with them about your behavior on a date, unless they feel strongly that your behavior was incorrect, they can take the opposite of their previous approach and reassure you that what you did was within the realm of normal and that you should not worry about it.
Your decision to end your previous date early was a blessing in disguise. Although you feared that your date would judge you negatively for it, she actually took it in stride and empathized with you by saying that she could understand that you might have been tired. Because of this experience, you have the opportunity to see that she can let little things go.
Now it’s your turn. Allow yourself to be human. Try not to judge yourself negatively. Even if you could be the perfect image of who you think the girl you are dating wants you to be on each and every date, there is no way that you could sustain this way of being throughout your life together. The more that you try to project a perfect image and the girl likes you, the higher the stakes will become, and your fear of disappointing her will rise and intensify. At some point, you will falter, crash and burn. You need to know that the girl you are dating appreciates the real you.
This will significantly reduce your anxiety. Be yourself and see if the girl you are dating enjoys being with you as you are. This is, after all, the only way that you will ultimately create a happy and healthy relationship.
Wishing you a sweet New Year and a ketiva v’chatima tova!
Dr. Chani Maybruch is a social psychologist and relationship coach, specializing in teaching emotional connection and communication skills for over two decades. She coaches individuals and couples, and teaches online courses to help you create your ideal relationship. Get free relationship resources and contact her at www.chanimaybruch.com.