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By Sex therapist and relationship counselor
TODAY contributor
updated 1/2/2009 10:05:32 AM ET 2009-01-02T15:05:32

I hear it all the time: “I’m just dating him in the meantime.”

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It reminds me of something Pablo Picasso said to aspiring artists: “Never take a part-time job because it will become your full-time life.”

Dating “in the meantime” is based on the belief that time is infinite. But in reality, “in the meantime” is wasted time, which means missed opportunities. Sure, you may be living in the moment, but it’s a moment that has been dulled around the edges, stripped of importance and immediacy. When you’re living in meantime-mode, you’re constantly letting yourself off the hook and embracing a reactive approach to life rather than a proactive one.

“In the meantime” is the same as saying, “This is only for now. Someday things will be different.” It's like putting your life on deferral, indefinitely. Well, someday just arrived. Someday is right now; it’s realizing that you’ve possibly lowered your standards and settled into a pattern of diminished expectations.

Meantimers don’t live in the here and now, they live in the there and now. “In the meantime” is a defense. It’s a way of hedging your bets and avoiding the very risks that often lead to personal growth.

This is not to say you need only live in the moment. That's impossible, at least according to author Milan Kundera, who called this the “unbearable lightness of being.” We can’t live every moment like it’s our last, because doing so would make every moment too serious. So we do the opposite. We live lightly and frivolously, squandering our moments.

But if we’re not supposed to live in the moment, what should we do? The best course, while not easy, is to find a happy medium between the two — essentially living comfortably in the here and now while not forsaking the moment by treating it as the “meantime.” I call it the Bearable Lightness of Dating (BLD).

In my line of work, I meet plenty of couples, and you’d be amazed how many have found lasting love after getting out of an “in the meantime” relationship, often within months, even weeks, of being newly single. When I ask why they stayed with someone they knew was wrong for so long, many say they did it out of obligation, for friendship, or simply due to fear of being alone.

Are you afraid of you?Autophobia is an abnormal and persistent fear of being alone. Autophobics often worry about being ignored and unloved. These days, we’re probably all a little autophobic. How often do we define ourselves in terms of others? We're popular, we're respected, we're well-liked, we're leaders, we're team players. We become dependent on others for a definition of ourselves.

Many of us have never spent any significant period of time alone.  We go from our families to college to roommates and into relationships. We’ve become good at dealing with others, but often at the expense of learning how to deal with ourselves. And in today's interconnected, technology-driven landscape (e-mail, text messaging and cell phones), we can easily avoid the sort of internal dialogue and introspection that forces self-reflection and realization.

Like getting a pet, dating becomes another form of insulating ourselves from being alone. When we date in the meantime, it's often because we’re afraid of dealing with ourselves, we have lost the ability to judge ourselves without the intermediation of others' judgments of us.

So turn “the meantime” into “real-time:” Make it count, make it real. If you’re lowering your standards and wasting your time, you may be missing out on a real chance for love. Make now matter while making the meantime meaningful.

Ian Kerner is a sex therapist, relationship counselor and New York Times best-selling author of numerous books, including “She Comes First” and the soon-to-be-published “Love in the Time of Colic: The New Parents’ Guide to Getting It On Again.” He was born and raised in New York City, where he lives with his wife and two sons. He can be reached at www.IanKerner.com

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