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By Sex therapist and relationship counselor
TODAY contributor
updated 9/18/2008 5:14:44 PM ET 2008-09-18T21:14:44

Single and spinning your wheels? Maybe it’s time to step off the treadmill and go on dating detox.

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I had just given a lecture at a singles workshop in New York City when a young woman approached me. She was attractive, thoughtful, articulate, and warm — the kind of woman you wouldn’t expect to have “major issues,” at least from external appearances.

“I need help,” she confessed after a few seconds of small talk. “I’m suffering from OCD.”

I stopped her to tell her that I probably couldn’t help her. As a sex therapist and not a psychiatrist, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) was not an area within my professional expertise.

“No, no. Not that OCD,” she interjected. “I mean that I suffer from obsessive-compulsive dating.”

I paused to let that sink in, then smiled and let her continue. Now she was speaking my language.

“I’m not in control of my dating life anymore,” she said. “I just keep dating and dating like some sort of Energizer Bunny and the dates are just running into one other. It’s all a big blur, and I feel like I can’t catch my breath. From the incessant checking of my e-mail to the dates themselves to feeling depressed and rejected if I don’t hear back from a guy I didn’t even like in the first place, I feel like I’m out of control. I lay awake all night feeling like I’ll always be alone, that I’ll never meet the right guy, that I’ll never go on another good date, and that I’ll never find ‘the one.’ I can’t seem to turn the thoughts off. And then it all starts all over again.”

Whenever I talk to single folks, more than anything else they talk about the stress of dating. From meeting up to hooking up to decoding the abysmal aftermath (Will he call me? Should I go out with her again?), the entire enterprise is riddled with anxiety, insecurity and uncertainty, and is generally more a source of stress than pleasure. If you’ve found yourself depressed from the ups and downs of dating, rest assured you are not alone. What you’re feeling is, in some ways, part of how our brains are wired.

Stress and anxiety trigger the production of dopamine and norepinephrine (the body’s natural amphetamines) while at the same time suppressing serotonin activity (the body’s natural mood stabilizer). In short, this neurotransmitter activity puts one on the emotional seesaw that so many daters experience. Dopamine activity is also extremely addictive, so if you’re riding the mating merry-go-round it’s all too easy get dependent on the rush of it all.

Writer Rachel Yoder wrote of her personal experience with this in a June 2006 New York Times “Modern Love” column: “I had ended a relationship and aware of my tendency to numb my heartache with a new heartthrob, I put myself on a no-dating plan ... but in a moment of weakness I completed and posted an online dating profile, and soon my inbox was filled with e-mail messages from men, each one a little hit for my addiction. But the high wasn’t as fulfilling as it used to be, or maybe I was just too aware of the potential consequences. So I deleted the profile and put my no-dating plan back on indefinitely.”

If you’re single and stressed out about it, maybe the best thing you can do is put yourself on a “dating detox.” Call it quits for a month. Stop dating and stop worrying about it. It may be just the ticket to help you get off the treadmill and achieve a sense of calm and centeredness to get back out there from a place of strength. Put the time you would put into dating into yourself: work, friends, new challenges and goals. We live in a culture of instant gratification and high-speed delights. We don’t like to wait, whether it’s for a cup of coffee or our one true soul mate. But a little patience is probably just what you need to step off the treadmill and catch your breath.

Ian Kerner is a sex therapist, relationship counselor and New York Times best-selling author of numerous books, including the recently published “Sex Detox: A Program to Detoxify and Rejuvenate Your Love Life.” He was born and raised in New York City, where he lives with his wife, two young sons and plump Jack Russell terrier.

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