Can’t get a date? It’s not them, it’s you
Patti Novak, star of the A&E series “Confessions of a Matchmaker,” says that finding true love isn't about having the right shoes or a flat stomach — it's about being ready. In her new book, “Get Over Yourself,” she breaks down how to get yourself ready to date by first understanding and fixing your own problems. In this excerpt, she diagnoses some common dating problems and explains the underlying causes.
Self-Diagnosis: Identifying the true problem behind your behavior so you can stop it, fix it, and get over it
Chances are, if you’re having trouble dating, you — and you alone — have something to do with it. People often think the problem is external — “My dates have all been jerks” is a common reason I hear for why things never work out — but I can tell you from years of experience that while external factors play a part, most of the time, most people’s problems with dating and finding love are their own.
Like agreeing to date jerks!
If you can’t make it to a good matchmaker or a good life coach or a good therapist, anything that gets you to look at yourself and your behavior — and gets you in the habit of being more self-aware and self-reflective — can be tremendously helpful when embarking on the search for love. Which is why identifying yourself and the types of people you commonly date is so important.
There’s an appendix at the back of the book called “A Field Guide to Dating Types,” which you can refer to as you read on. Spend some time there to find out what type of dater you are and what type of dater has been your type.
Identifying your problem behaviors in dating — figuring out if it’s your tough-girl attitude that’s turning men off, or your controlling behavior that’s turning women off, to name only two annoying and problematic behaviors — is a very important step.
Dating trouble isn't the problem — it's a symptom of other problems.
This is crucial to understand: If you’re having trouble finding love, chances are dating is not your main problem. Chances are your trouble with dating is a symptom of other problems — larger, deeper emotional issues that are at the core of who you are.
Those larger and deeper emotional issues — your core — will be covered in depth in the next section of the book, but first you need to identify them. Taking a cold, hard look at yourself and developing a deeper understanding of who you are and why is one of the most important and fundamental parts of the process of finding love. Many of the people who come to me show up because they’ve spent much of their life avoiding themselves and not looking at what their own issues are and why they have them. They’ve spent years having trouble in relationships or not having any relationships because they’ve been too afraid to sit themselves down and try to get to the true cause of their dating difficulties.
Some problems are easier to solve than others. Some clients come to me with issues that are relatively easy to fix once those issues are identified.
Maybe it’s a question of low self-esteem for someone who has gained weight after a bad breakup or after a long period of being alone. Starting a fitness program or weight loss program might be just the spark they need to get them back on track and feeling better about themselves. Maybe it’s a question of making some adjustments in clothes and makeup to stop sending the wrong message. Choosing clothes that aren’t as provocative and revealing and toning down the mannequin-like makeup can help someone stop attracting the wrong kind of guy. I’m not saying don’t be sexy — I’m just saying less is more.
Some other issues — usually of trust or social awkwardness or deep emotional scarring — require more help than a matchmaker can give, which is why I’ll often suggest to someone whose problems are of a sensitive nature or seem very deep- seated that they seek professional counseling from a trained therapist who can help them on a level that I can’t.
But for most of the people I see and for most of you reading this book, a few basic, fundamental — and relatively easy to fix — problems are the most common causes of dating difficulties.
Problem behaviors in dating = self-protective behaviors
Once you’ve identified your problem behavior(s), you need to connect the dots to what’s behind them and to understand what emotional wounds or painful life experiences have caused you to develop these behaviors. Connecting those dots won’t solve your problems instantly. It might take awhile to change your behavior and make peace with some of your issues, but it’s still a crucial step in understanding that your behavior and emotional health are contributing factors in your relationship history.
Probably the biggest revelation to most of my clients is when, after our long first interview and after I’ve figured out what makes them tick and why, I explain to them that their problematic dating behaviors are self- protective: that is, they’ve developed ways to protect themselves from being vulnerable to anything from emotional injury to plain old disappointment. Once my clients understand that connection — that their appearance-related problems, for example, are related to the fact that they’re afraid of getting hurt again or that their overly promiscuous behavior is a way to avoid true and meaningful connection because they have trust issues — they begin to see much more clearly who they are and how they come across to other people. And it’s at this point that they begin to realize that the more they understand themselves — the more they know who they really are, instead of who they just think they are — the better chance they’ll have in their search for love.
Outward behaviors — aka ‘garage doors’— and what’s behind them
I call these problematic self- protective behaviors “garage doors” because they keep you inside yourself and away from what you really want to find: love. Garage door behaviors are what we hide behind when we’re not ready to get out there and date, and they’re what must be lifted and opened if you’re ever going to get over yourself and find love.
I’m going to help you diagnose yourself by showing you some of the most common dating problems and how these problems can affect your success in dating and ultimately in finding love. In each case, I’ll show you the outward behavior and then the underlying cause. As you read, think about what garage door behaviors you have and why, and what they’ve been protecting you from doing or feeling.
Case study 1
Outward behavior: Extreme pickiness
Underlying cause: Fear of being hurt — again
Dating is a process of selection, from scanning a room full of potentials in a crowded bar to deciding in the first few minutes of a first date whether the person sitting across from you is your type. Being selective in your choices is a necessary and healthy part of finding love. Being careful in your screening process can weed out certain types who might not be good for you, people who are dishonest or self-centered or who send up other red flags when you meet them and start to get to know them. Having a certain level of choosiness can protect you from getting involved in bad relationships. At the very least, having some set standards can help you narrow down your choices and increase your chances of succeeding at dating by understanding what traits — tangible and intangible — are important to you and which ones you’re willing to compromise on. But normal selectivity — or pickiness — isn’t what we’re talking about here. In the case of the Extremely Picky Dater, we’re talking about an almost pathological level of sensitivity: people who have a laundry list of requirements that someone has to have in order to be even considered as a potential date.
I’ve had clients who are kind of picky. They claim to prefer guys who are a certain height, or women who have a certain color eyes and like a certain kind of music or sport or cuisine. Within reason, these short lists of preferences help us narrow down our search for love and help us find a person who will be good company, someone we can go out and do things with, and who might become something more. And then I’ve had clients who are extremely picky. These clients walk in with a long list of requirements that go far beyond the normal and acceptable list of preferences we all have.
Most of the Extremely Picky Daters I’ve encountered are women, and they’re really something. They have long lists of required qualities, physical attributes, financial offerings, and sexual performance levels that they measure potential partners against.
Great legs, firm butt, and a full head of hair?
Check. Check. Check.
Willing to take Viagra?
Get over yourself!
Not only are these Extremely Picky Daters obnoxious, but they’re also annoying, since most of the time they’re looking for things they don’t offer themselves. Like a high-paying job or a great pension plan when they don’t even have a job. Or a hot bod when they could stand to lose a few.
Plenty of men are extremely picky, too — they want to meet twenty-year-old women when they’re pushing fifty, and they want those twenty-year-olds to have long blond hair when they themselves are bald.
These men clearly need to get over themselves, too.
Most of the time when I’ve dealt with clients like this, their lists haven’t helped them find love. In fact, their lists have usually hurt them.
Getting rid of the actual list is one thing, but getting rid of it in their head means figuring out why they’re so picky in the first place — why they’re ruling out almost every single person on the planet because these people don’t measure up and why they’re making it virtually impossible for themselves to find love.
Lots of picky daters have lots of issues. They’ve either been deeply disappointed in past relationships — getting involved with people who haven’t treated them special enough — or they’re still getting over the old wounds of a divorce or breakup. Both factors were the case with Cynthia, a client of mine in her late forties. Long divorced and having recently ended a two-year relationship with a guy because he “just wasn’t that into her,” Cynthia came to me with a four-page single-spaced typed list that she carried in her wallet like a form of identification — which it actually was, since anyone she tried to date ended up figuring out that she was the Picky One, with her Must be over 6′0″ but under 6′4″/Must love dogs and hate cats/Must eat only organic food demands. Cynthia was wary of getting involved again and had convinced herself that making a list of requirements for a future relationship would help her be more careful and make better choices when it came to dating.
Other picky daters are like another client, Elyse, who was pushing fifty and had never been married. Elyse didn’t have an actual written list when she came to see me, but she was so dismissive of potentials as being deficient in almost every way that she hadn’t had a real date — much less a real relationship — in more than a decade. The more we talked, the more I realized that the root of her pickiness was a troubled relationship with her father, who had always been extremely critical of her looks and almost always forgot her birthday.
Elyse’s extreme level of pickiness had become a big thick garage door that served as a protective shield: Reject others before they can reject you. Who in their right mind would want to get involved with a woman who had such a long list of demands?
You may not have an actual list written out or typed and single-spaced, but if you’re an Extremely Picky Dater you probably have that list in your head — a long list of unrealistic and ridiculous and impossible expectations — a list that you’ve unconsciously made in order to protect yourself from getting involved in relationships. No one could ever measure up to all the requirements and no one would want to even if they could. And you’ve probably done that to protect yourself because you were hurt and don’t want to be hurt again.
Get over yourself solution: Lose the list, whether it’s on paper or in your head; deal with your issues; and get over yourself so that you can ﬁnally ﬁnd the love you want.
Case study 2
Outward behavior: Can’t flirt
Underlying cause: Insecurity and low self-esteem
Everybody knows a woman who can’t flirt. The one who’s either talking sports with the bartender or doing something annoying to the guy on the next bar stool, like picking a fight about politics or the latest reality show.
She’s the one who’s always a girl friend, never the girlfriend.
I haven’t just known this type. I was this type — the perpetual buddy — and that’s how I became a matchmaker: by fixing up my friends and giving them advice because I myself wasn’t dating. Which is why I have real empathy for my clients, especially for this particular type of dater.
Women who can’t flirt have a few behaviors in common: they usually have a defensive attitude, an aggressive and sometimes even openly hostile manner, and a lack of softness. Just like Stephanie, a cute but too-tough twentysomething who was like a pit bull in pumps: ripping into any guy who made the mistake of trying to engage her in conversation when she was sitting at a bar with a sarcastically nasty comment, even though that’s why she was there — to meet and talk to guys!
Or like Beth, an attractive brunette with a great smile who just would not shut up about all the things she didn’t like about herself.
These flirtationally challenged women are like girls in elementary school who pull boys’ hair to get attention — just as annoying and just as immature.
Despite the fact that most of the time these women are cute and smart, they’re usually instant turnoffs to guys because none of their good qualities come out when they go out. There’s no eye contact, no hair-flipping, no occasional and gentle physical contact — none of the subtle things women do to be engaging or attractive to men with the purpose of drawing them into a conversation and possibly something more.
Women who can’t flirt display none of the charm or sweetness — or sexiness — of a woman trying to connect with a man. Just a lot of sarcasm and hard edges.
Sometimes the roots for this inability to flirt go deep. I’ve learned that some women are this way because they were never popular with boys unless they wanted to watch sports together or talk about the boys’ girlfriend problems. Being the kind of girl guys instantly see as “just a friend” instead of a possible romantic girlfriend does a number on a woman’s self-confidence, so it’s no wonder that women like this — perpetual buddies — often feel scarred. They’re so used to feeling unattractive and unfeminine and essentially invisible to the men they meet that they don’t have any dating skills.
Women who can’t flirt become so convinced over time that the men they meet are only interested in friendship that they don’t know how to act when they approach men — or how to react when men approach them.
Often women who can’t flirt need a little coaching — flirting lessons, if you will — to get them going and give them some of the fundamental dating skills they lack. Like being nice.
But just as important as mastering basic dating skills (or at least practicing them a few times) is getting this type of woman to face her lifelong insecurity and cripplingly low self-esteem — issues that have plagued her most of her life and have affected her ability to date. Because lots of times, when a woman isn’t nice to the men she’s trying to attract, she often isn’t nice to herself, which means that one of the least attractive aspects of this type of dater is that they engage in a lot of self-deprecating humor. It’s one thing to have a sense of humor about yourself, but when the butt of your jokes is always you and you constantly talk about yourself in the least flattering terms, men aren’t going to find you very appealing or attractive.
Which shouldn’t be that surprising. How can you expect someone to like you when you don’t like yourself?
Women who can’t flirt often have to be scared straight: they have to understand that if they don’t learn how to communicate properly with the opposite sex and how to stop picking on themselves, it’s going to take them a long, long time to find love.
Get Over Yourself Solution: If you’re one of those women who can’t ﬂirt and is turning off the men you’re supposed to be turning on, stop criticizing and insulting yourself, and start being nice — to you and to the men you’re out with. This means working on your self-esteem so that the men you meet can see that you’re adorable and smart and a real catch.
Case study 3
Outward behavior: Too busy to date
Underlying causes: Procrastination and avoidance
I’ve had lots of clients I’ve called Mr. Busy. Mr. Busy types remind me of my brother, who we used to call Five-Job Jimmy because, well, he had a lot of jobs. These are usually great guys — warm, honest, and fun to be around.
That is, if you can find them.
Like my brother, Jimmy, did when we were growing up, Mr. Busy types either have one really demanding job, or two or three jobs they juggle. They’re overextended in every possible way — coaching their kid’s soccer and baseball teams, volunteering at the local soup kitchen or fund- raising for their favorite charity, very involved with a hobby that takes up enough time to be another full- time job. On the rare occasions that Mr. Busy is home, he’s swamped with home improvement projects that he insists are going to help him attract and keep the woman of his dreams.
You know, the woman he hasn’t met yet because he hasn’t had time to go on any dates.
Mr. Busy types think that finding love is the next piece in their life puzzle.
To me, it’s the only piece of their puzzle.
But if they want love, they’re first going to have to devote some time to finding it.
Finding love isn’t what you do in your spare time: it’s what you commit yourself to doing all the time. If you’re here reading this book, chances are you finally see that you have to get over yourself and some of your issues in order to find love, and making time to go on dates and meet people is the first, most basic part of the process.
Simple as it sounds, making time to find love requires that you make your search a priority, and making it a priority means you’re ready, willing, and able to connect with people. And just as with other types of daters, Mr. Busy types often aren’t quite there yet.
Being too busy to date is another garage door behavior because packing your schedule with too many activities and obligations and plans prevents you from having a relationship. A man who doesn’t have time to date is almost always a man who is afraid to date — afraid to risk getting close to someone, afraid to risk making himself vulnerable.
If we keep connecting the dots we’ll soon find that behind that busy schedule is a guy who was hurt in some way, either in a past relationship or by a traumatic loss that has made him afraid of losing someone or something he doesn’t even have. The reason he’s putting love last isn’t because he’s a jerk, but it’s probably why he’s had trouble with dating and relationships in the past: nothing makes a woman feel less important than a guy who makes her his last priority.
Get Over Yourself Solution: Whether you’re a workaholic or an overextended volunteer, examine the reasons why you’re avoiding yourself and spending so much time on everything but your search for love. Then, re-prioritize your schedule so that you’ll have time to get over yourself and get back in the dating game.
Case study 4
Outward behavior: Too chunky/dumpy/frumpy/lumpy
Underlying causes: Insecurity, low self-esteem and confidence, fear of rejection
I’ve had plenty of clients who were a hundred pounds overweight, but I’ve had many, many more who were only twenty or thirty or fifty pounds overweight or who haven’t changed their hairstyle since the eighties or updated their wardrobe since the nineties. These Chunky/Dumpy/Frumpy/Lumpy types are having trouble with their appearance, and it’s causing them to have trouble with dating.
Most of the time, these problems are easy to fix. New clothes, a trip to the salon, joining a gym and committing to a healthier lifestyle are sometimes all it takes to get someone off the couch and into the dating world.
And almost always problems with appearance have a lot, if not everything, to do with self-esteem — a significant breakup or rejection or some other kind of major incident that has shaken their self-confidence enough to make them want to hide.
More often than not it’s that impulse to hide that is at the root of weight and appearance issues. Crazy hair, sloppy or eccentric or outdated clothes, and too much weight are the perfect covers under which to hide. It’s the perfect protection from having to get back out there and risk more rejection and pain. It’s also the perfect way to keep you isolated, keep your wounds from healing, and keep you from finding love again.
Get Over Yourself Solution: Deal with your wounds — rejection or anger or sadness or loneliness. Make a few long- overdue improvements to your appearance and commit to changing some of your unhealthy health habits so that you can feel better about yourself and stop hiding from the love you deserve.
Case study 5
Outward behavior: Too old to be acting that young
Underlying causes: Low self-esteem, issues with aging, post-divorce adjustment
Whether it’s the divorced mom with kids who won’t leave the bar before closing time or the soon-to-be-middle-aged Party Boy who behaves like an obnoxious frat boy, older singles who can’t, don’t, or won’t act their age have problems.
Most of the people who fall into this category are second-time arounders — women and men who are divorced and reentering the dating world after long marriages. Often they’re unsure how to behave now that they’re single again — either they’re enjoying their freedom a little too much by overindulging in the dating scene, or their newly gained independence is making them anxious because they’re used to being coupled and scared that they’re never going to meet anyone again. Whether it’s excitement that’s motivating them or a fear of loneliness, this type of dater is out partying too much and probably having way too many booty calls for their own good, let alone to be a successful dater.
Other people who fall into this category are more commitment-phobic and narcissistic than sad and lonely because of a change in relationship status. The Party Boy or Player is usually motivated by not wanting to grow up and because of that he wants to keep dating younger and younger girls to feel young and free for as long as possible. But dating twenty-year-olds when you’re pushing forty isn’t attractive — in fact, it’s a red flag for smart, interesting women who are looking for a real connection, not just a night doing shots.
Get Over Yourself Solution: Cut back on the drinking and partying, stop the booty calls, get an age-appropriate attitude, and start acting like who you are instead of who you were twenty years ago so that you can ﬁnd love.
Case study 6
Outward behavior: Too promiscuous
Underlying causes: Low self-esteem, still getting over an ex, anger issues
Similar to the Age Inappropriate Dater, the dater who is too easy and overly promiscuous is having trouble in the booty-call department. The person having too much casual sex and behaving in ways that are unsafe physically and emotionally is in just as much trouble as the person who can’t get any dates — if not more. Singles who date too much and sleep around too much are problematic: Their lack of selectivity and their need for constant attention is an obvious sign that something isn’t right.
Men have been having casual one-night-stand sex for as long as humans have been walking the earth, but most women haven’t. Casual sex and one night stands are relatively new for women, by-products of the sexual revolution and one of the things the modern woman has become all too familiar with. Lots of women think of booty calls as a sign of the success of feminism. It’s the idea that women, like men, now have the sexual freedom to go out there and hook up with someone they just met and barely know — but I couldn’t disagree more. Promiscuity — whether in the form of club- and bar-hopping one night stands or texting old flames for a late-night house call — is a sign of an unhealthy ego or unresolved emotional issues in both men and women.
Promiscuous behavior is also a garage door behavior, though it’s a less obvious one. Many of my clients who sleep around too much say they do it because they’re alone and lonely.
I tell them they have it backwards.
I tell them they’re alone and lonely because they do it.
Hooking up indiscriminately and way too often is what people who are afraid of intimacy do: they guarantee their own failure at dating by sleeping with anyone they can get their hands on.
Sometimes promiscuous behavior is fueled by alcohol. Almost always it’s caused by low self- esteem. Whatever’s at the root of that dangerously low self-esteem — sadness over the end of a relationship or anger at someone who dumped and rejected you, which is now anger turned inward because instead of respecting yourself you’re disrespecting yourself — has to be addressed before you can move on and find real love.
Get Over Yourself Solution: Watch the alcohol, stop the booty calls, and ﬁgure out what’s making you treat yourself with so much disregard and disrespect so that you can be ready for true love when it comes back around.
Excerpted from “Get Over Yourself” by Patti Novak. Copyright (c) 2008. Reprinted with permission from Random House.