If you’re single, it may look like many couples have it all while you’re still trying to figure out how on earth dating is supposed to work. However, while research shows that people in relationships are generally happier, studies also show that you should be single than to be in a bad relationship. Although there’s no way to know for sure that someone will be useful for you in the long-term, you can at least work to avoid some of the most common mistakes that people make at the stage of choosing a partner.
Keep the following seven common missteps in mind. Even if you’re currently in a relationship, considering some of them may help you course-correct and make some practical changes to your dynamic.
1. I did not know what you want.
Psychologists have discovered a fascinating contrast between what single people predict they want from a relationship and what later turns out to capture their interest. This was particularly apparent in a speed dating study—for example, a woman who stated a preference for the “tall, dark and handsome” type might then find herself favouring a short, blonde person moments later! Meanwhile, a participant who said that ambition was most important to him might ultimately go for the potential date, which made him laugh the most (despite their not having a full-time job). The lesson here is to be open-minded when considering who to date and engage in some painful self-reflection about the preferences you take for granted.
2. Settling too soon
There’s a lot of pressure to find a life partner before you reach a certain age. In different societies, that number might be as high as 35 or as low as 25, but the general thought is that you need to hurry up and find someone to settle down. Instead of worrying about being 50 and unmarried, worry about being 50 and unhappily married! Take your time and find someone who clicks with you. While this may be trickier if you’re a woman looking to have children, don’t forget that an adoption is an option too (and you don’t always need a partner to raise a child effectively).
3. Believing that love is enough
While love is lovely and is a necessary component of most happy unions, you might end up in trouble if you think that this component is sufficient for happiness. If you’re always arguing, feeling terrible about yourself, and losing interest in all your previously enjoyed hobbies, don’t let the “love is all that matters” mindset trap you in an unhealthy situation. Seek help from a therapist who can help you improve your relationship, or consider merely facing the fact that love alone isn’t enough to sustain a long-term partnership.
4. Overemphasizing fate
Research on what determines dating choice has concluded that current opportunities are weightier than personal preferences. In other words, we’re likely to make a selection from readily available partners, whether they’re a good match or not. Since there’s a popular rumour that you should go with “fate” instead of letting careful planning and analysis guide your romantic choices, people often shy away from dating sites or other more organized ways to meet potential partners. The stigma of online dating decreases, but some people still limit their options by refusing to engage with it.
5. Dispassionately ticking boxes
However, people at the other end of the spectrum don’t listen to their gut feelings or intuition at all. As such, it’s a common mistake to choose a partner based on what they can offer in a practical sense—say, a talent for cooking, a wallet-busting with cash, skills that suit parenthood, extraordinary sexual prowess or a way of efficiently organizing the household. While most people would appreciate these capacities, they should be seen as perks rather than critical ingredients of your desired romantic relationship. Otherwise, once you get used to having someone around to offer all these things, you’re likely to feel quite bored and uninspired.
6. Letting others make your choice
Family opinions and social messages can be compelling, so it’s no wonder that many individuals end up putting other people’s views above their own when it comes to major life choices. That being said, finding a partner is so personal and complicated that you should fight tooth and nail to keep these external influences at bay. Whether your parents are pressuring you to break up with someone who doesn’t fit their plan for you or your community is telling you to have babies with your high school sweetheart because “that’s just what people do”, make sure you stand your ground.
7. Being flattered into a caretaker role
Finally, if you’re with someone who is self-involved but yet highly dependent on you, you may be pulled into thinking you’re making a long-term commitment to each other when you’re just committing to the mammoth task of meeting their needs for the rest of your life! This is not a true partnership, but it can initially be attractive because it makes you feel important and valuable. Fast forward ten years down the line, and you may have abandoned your identity and lost sight of your own needs.