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Tired of first dates that don't result in relationships? Sick of chasing after guys who clearly aren't ready to commit? If you've made an all-out effort to find your match with little success, maybe it's time to rethink your approach toward searching for true love. Here you'll find five common mistakes women make in the dating game. If one or two sound familiar, don't beat yourself up. Just recognize that you deserve better and commit to making a change for good.
1. If you think love will never find you, it won't. I receive many posts on the Dating Doyenne board from women whose romantic disappointments have left them convinced there is something inherently unlovable about them. They say things like: "Who would want me anyway? I'm sure I'm going to wind up alone."
Obviously these women are as worthy of love as you and I. (Yes, we're worthy!) But they've come down with something so awful it can keep them solo for years to come: self-fulfilling prophecy, or SFP. SFP isn't contagious but it will make potential dates run the opposite way. It's an insidious disease. Physically, it leaves the sufferer untouched. But the more one walks around saying, "I will never find love," the higher the odds that expectation will come true. Contrarily, the sunnier one's thoughts—"I'm such a cool, happy person that I'm bound to find love"—the sunnier the forecast for her romantic future.
If you're among those throwing one too many pity parties for herself, get busy: Start a journal. Each day write down something lovable about yourself. It will get easier with time. You can even consider calling or emailing a few close friends or relatives, so they can share reasons they think a man would be lucky to have you. Level with them about why you're making this request, and they'll probably be happy to help. Whenever a negative thought threatens to invade your mind, replace it with a positive one.
2. Kick the bad-boy habit. News flash: Good guys have not gone the way of the 8-track. They exist in bulk. The trick is learning to both recognize and want a man of worth. "For years I was attracted to guys whose mission was to hurt me," says reformed bad-boy lover Adelle Harris, a 32-year-old Chicago Web designer. "It would be obvious from the get-go. They'd never call when they said they would, were constantly caught in stupid lies, said they loved me, then ran around with other women. One even tried to seduce my best friend." During these years, Adelle kept railing that her dates were the best of a bad lot: No man could be kind or faithful. Then she attended a cousin's wedding. "Naomi's bridegroom Rick was the sweetest man in the world. He obviously adored my cousin and lived to please her," says Adelle. "Seeing the sweet, loving light in his eyes, I vowed that one day I'd meet a man who would look at me like I was a treasure."
Adelle took a dating hiatus and did some much-needed thinking about the root of her obsession with bad boys. "My dad was a life-of-the-party type, but as a husband and father he was cold and uncaring," she admits. "He left for good when I was 10. After that, the few times I'd see him I'd practically do cartwheels to win his attention. When I was old enough to have a boyfriend, I began metaphorically dating my dad. Once I realized what I'd been doing, I started seeing the appeal of guys who weren't as flashy or unreliable, guys who were capable of caring."
Today Adelle is engaged—to a Rick type. "I can't believe I wasted all that time on men who treated me like dirt," she says. "But it was worth it, I guess because it eventually taught me to truly appreciate a good man."
3. Repeat after me: Love is not a synonym for leash. When Gina Thomas, a 29-year-old Manhattan magazine art director, got engaged, it seemed like a dream come true. In her fantasies she and her fiancé Bill would do everything together. Bill had a different definition. "Once we moved in together I assumed Bill would cut out the biweekly poker games with the guys and the occasional nights out after work," says Gina. "Our jobs left us little free time as it was. We shouldn't have wasted it on other people."
Wanting your partner to be with you 24/7 is not realistic or fair, yet like Gina many women feel abandoned or unloved if their other half has needs (say, for male camaraderie or occasional solitude) that can't be fulfilled by the relationship.
Gina's insecurity and neediness led her to make Bill feel like he was under house arrest. And no matter how plush the jail, eventually a prisoner wants to be set free. The two split.
The happiest couples allow each other breathing room to grow. The more dynamic their lives apart (in terms of jobs, hobbies, friends), the more they'll have to share with each other when they get together.
4. Don't commit emotional infidelity. It is vital that your partner be someone you treat with courtesy and kindness. If you tell all of your favorite jokes and "bad day" stories to a friend or male coworker, what will you have left when you get home to your honey? It may sound crazy, but there is a premium on a person's time and energy—there is only so much of it to go around—and if you spend yours with someone else, you're potentially hurting your relationship. Even worse is betraying your partner's confidences with a male friend or coworker. Just ask Dorinne Badenstadt, a 34-year-old chef from Santa Fe, New Mexico. "After six years of marriage my husband Ed and I started growing apart. Nothing drastic, but he was no longer the first person I'd tell when something good or bad happened," she says. "That honor belonged to my neighbor Don."
Dorinne never slept with Don, but she did begin sharing intimacies, such as the fact that her husband wore a toupee, a fact Don joked about at a neighborhood barbecue. Ed was shocked and felt betrayed at hearing his business discussed over hot dogs and beer. He accused his wife of disloyalty, precipitating the biggest fight the pair had ever had. The couple patched things up, but Dorinne was reminded the hard way that her marriage needed to be the number one relationship in her life.
5. You're wrong if you need to be right. When Anne Ryan, a 29-year-old from Chicago, met her boyfriend Sam, she was delighted that the two had so much in common. Both were lawyers and loved to tango, downhill ski and play chess. Both were also stubbornly prideful. "Sam was perfect except for one horrible flaw," says Anne. "He always needed to be right—whether it was about which restaurant served better burgers or which of us had apologized first after our last fight. What I didn't realize until it was too late was that I was just as bad. I couldn't admit that I'd forgotten to give him an important phone message or that his desire to move to L.A. was something I should seriously consider. I wanted to stay in Chicago and that was all that mattered. It was my way or the highway."
Sam eventually took the highway—heading due west. If you and/or your partner can never admit to being wrong, you'll win a few TKOs but you'll never win much satisfaction. Apologizing isn't a sign of weakness. Correction, Ali McGraw: Love does mean occasionally having to say you're sorry.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.