The Relationship Lies That Keep You Stuck

Recently, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the term “emotional availability.” In the self-help world, it’s a term that gets thrown around quite a bit. In the brunch with girlfriends world, it’s a blanket statement used to rationalize not working on yourself. Let me explain-

The Problem:

“Tina” is a bright, attractive, caring woman in her mid 30s who can’t help but self-sabotage her romantic relationships. I feel for her. In the past, I was guilty of many of the same mistakes:

  • Calling/texting a guy, expecting him to take care of my every need (ranging from boredom to loneliness to hunger).
  • Questioning EVERYTHING in a rapid fire of escalating thoughts (from what I said, to his motivations, to my desire to be in a relationship at all).
  • Impulsively behaving or saying things out of my insecurities rather than reality.
  • Or, my personal favorite, accepting partners and sticking around, conveniently ignoring the jumbotron-like signs in favor of who I hope my partner will one day become.

Listening to Tina’s story, I wanted to be a supportive friend. That’s where the trouble set in. I could a) listen, validate, and agree with how Mark was indeed emotionally unavailable since he couldn’t meet her incessant needs; or b) tell her the truth: no partner can be her everything. She needed to own her side of the street.

FYI: Being friends with a coach/soon-to-be therapist often means hearing things you don’t like because 1) we don't have the patience or desire to play therapist for our friends 2) we genuinely want you to get the support you deserve.

Choosing option "B," went something like this:

Amita: Tina, ever notice how you describe every guy you date as ‘emotionally unavailable?’ what’s that about?

Tina: Dating in NYC sucks. The good guys are all taken. And the ones that are left aren't emotionally ready to be with me.

Amita: So, you’re telling me that every single guy in NYC is emotionally unavailable or undateable? If that's true, then shoot me now.

Tina: No, just the ones I meet...(insert montage of her recent dates and relationships.)

Amita: Those do seem pretty similar. So what’s the common denominator?...(praying she can take a hint so I don't have to say it)... Maybe YOU'RE not as emotionally available as you think.

Tina: (grumbling…cursing at me under her breath…some random comment about how the ratio of single women to men is better in San Francisco…)

Arguably, I could have been more tactful. But support comes in many forms. And if there’s one lesson I wish I'd learned earlier in life, it’s this:

Blaming others, blaming situations, blaming the female: male ratio only provides temporary relief. 

It's a lot like hitting your head against a wall and then blaming the wall for your massive egg-shaped bruise. 

Taking others' inventory without examining how you attract or allow it only works until it doesn't work. In the long run, it simply keeps you stuck.

The Solution:

I don’t deny that Tina meets jerks, I certainly wouldn’t date any of them. So after a large gulp of coffee (me) and a swig of a mimosa (her), we jumped in on the fix:

  1. She’d start seeing a therapist again.
  2. She’d identify her must haves, won’t haves, and would like to haves in a relationship.
  3. She’d assess for red flags by date 2 by asking things like “How long was your last relationship and when did it end?” and “What did you learn from that experience?”
  4. She’d act on the data gathered BEFORE she developed strong feelings since our non-negotiables for a partner go right out the window as soon as our hormones kick in.
  5. She’d try new ways of meeting guys (trading swiping on apps for new hobbies and meetups.)
  6. When she wasn’t matching a guy’s energy and/or rate of communication, she'd assess what need she’s trying to meet and a) find a suitable alternative b) go back to steps 2-5.

The Takeaway:

None of us were born with relationship skills. And if our strategy is to “figure it out as we go,” repeat, or avoid our parents’ mistakes… we’re screwed. That’s why the key to happiness in relationships lies in our ability to identify our role in current and past situations, reflect on these patterns, and recognize that our ability to change our trajectory is only as strong as our commitment to growth.

Or you can keep banging your head on a wall. The choice is yours. 

11 Ways To Tell If You’re Ready To Date

A client recently asked me about my love life. “How do you decide when you’re ready to start dating after a breakup?”

Instead of acting like a coach, I decided to lay out the action plan I use. Self-disclosure, when done correctly, can be a powerful and healing tool with clients. And since my last relationship ended a few months ago, I figured the Universe needed me to hear what I was about to tell her.

First, let’s address the question I'm always asked (and ask myself) after a breakup:

How long should I wait before I can date again?

People ask me this for a few reasons:

  1. They have an underlying belief in scarcity. They don’t want to “waste time” because they feel their chances of meeting the right person decrease with age.
  2. They think a rebound will help them move forward. (I blame snarky, well-intentioned friends for gems like "The best way to get over someone is by getting under someone else." WRONG.)
  3. They don’t feel ready and instead feel scared or overwhelmed. They wonder if/when they’ll be able to fully open themselves up to love or even be interested in pursuing a partner.
  4. They want to play it safe by avoiding the potential to be hurt again.
  5. They don’t want to make the same mistakes again.

While many of these reasons may feel true, feelings aren’t facts.

Reasons #1-5 are routed in fear.  Fear forces us to focus on what we don’t want, and because of it, we wind up attracting the exact thing we’re trying to avoid.

For example, if you were codependent in your last relationship and your partner was controlling or narcissistic, you may be telling yourself “I don’t want my next partner to be like that!” You’d think this protective measure keeps you safe, but all it does is reaffirm your beliefs about yourself. It also means that you're less likely to notice the good people you do meet.

So how long should you wait? It’s different for everyone. I’ve heard generalizations about half the length of your relationship. Or add on a year if there was infidelity or subtract a year if it was mutual. But equations aside, it comes down to you, your journey, and your beliefs.

I had a client recently ask me, it’s been 3 months, am I ready to date? My response, “Let’s pretend you met a man who, like you, had been married for 5 years. On a first date he revealed he was divorced 3 months ago. How would you feel? Would you be comfortable with that?” If you are, great! If not, wait.

So rather than focus on time, I like to focus on the benchmarks of emotional availability. And that brings us to the system I use to figure out if I’m ready to date.

How I Tell If I'm Ready To Date:

1. I’m out of the headspace of blame.

I may not be over the loss of the person, but I’m not ordering a Voodoo doll on Amazon Prime (cause anger requires 2 day shipping.) In other words, it’s fine to still mourn the relationship itself, but if you’re still harboring resentments, you won’t be emotionally available for someone new.

2. I know what I want in a partner.

It sounds obvious, but people who have a fuzzy sense of what they want only get a fuzzy version of that they want in return. I'm ready to move on if I’ve revised my list of must haves, would like to haves, and won’t haves to include specifics. For example, instead of saying “I want someone who’s intelligent” I clarify what I want that intelligence to look like. Trust that when you define what it is that you want, you'll find it.

3. I’m the right kind of selfish.

My self care is a non-negotiable. It’s the Foundation for everything I do. If my self-care is not where I’d like it to be, I make sure to spend some extra time on it. Because when I’m not feeling like my best self, I don’t act like my best self.

4. I know myself.

Sometimes after a relationship, we wake up wondering “who the F$#! did I turn into?!" If that happened, I get back to the hobbies and activities that connect me to myself. I remind myself of the things that light me up and the things that piss me off. Why? Because people with self-awareness are more likely to identify a partner who's right for them, get their needs met, and find happiness in a relationship, while still maintaining independence and personal growth. And isn’t that what we all want and deserve?!

5. I’m not looking for anyone to fix me.

I’m not broken, no one is. Sure, maybe there are things I’d like to change in my life, but that’s my job. It’s not for my partner to do. Whatever you’ve got going on, ask yourself whether you are ready and willing to address it head on. Stop waiting around to be "saved" and start saving yourself.

6. I’m not trying to fix anyone.

I’ve got baggage and so will my partner. It's inevitable. And while it would be great to change people's annoying habits, I know how to accept people for who they are rather than who I want them to be. Your ability to compromise or cut ties will not only bring the right person in, it'll help you to weed out the wrong ones. Remember, you want a partner, not a fixer-upper.

7. I am emotionally and physically available.

I ask myself whether I’ve created space for a partner. No, that doesn't mean a drawer in your dresser (NYC real estate is insane!) It means I’m willing and able to give and receive love. That also means I'm not killing time with "Mr. Right Now" as I wait to find a great partner.

8. I’m okay with being flawed (even if I don't like it).

I get that as much as I may try, I can't always be perfect. This annoys me. But I am willing to open myself up, be vulnerable, and occasionally risk looking like an idiot. I accept that being myself and receiving love yields a better outcome than being someone else and walking on eggshells.

9. I’ve learned from the past.

Until I’ve taken the time to look at my role in my last relationship and address historical patterns, I’m not ready to move on. Without doing that, I’ll most likely repeat the same mistakes with a different cast of characters. Instead of only focusing on assessing your ex’s shortcoming, take a look at how you could have acted differently. In other words, own your shit.

10. I know my triggers and patterns.

While we all have blindspots, I’ve carefully considered my triggers. These are the topics that make me go 0-60 in 6 seconds flat. The things that elicit a similar reaction to when my parents ask “Are you ever planning on getting married?!” Until you know your trigger points, dating will feel like a game of Minesweeper.

11. I don’t feel like I NEED To.

Ahhh, the irony of this one. I know I’m ready to date when I’m not doing because I “should.”  I’m not doing it to fill a literal or figurative hole in my life. When I feel like I can be single & happy, I know I’m ready to date.