June 18, 2021

The Toxic Dating Advice that’s Keeping us from Healthy, Grown-Up Love.


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I remember thinking, “He has no idea who I actually am.” 

He had fallen in love with a mirage: me. 

For the first half-year of our relationship, I had “let him lead.” He paid, made all the plans, and initiated communication. I thought I was being “properly” courted. In return, all I had to do was hide my relational anxiety, tuck away my needs, and subjugate myself to his leadership. 

Because that’s what I was taught would lead to my success.

Instead, it led to me dumping (yet another) man.

Women in our culture have been trained to step backward and down when dating. We are often eager to follow this advice because we have been conditioned to believe that we are asking for “too much” and have childhood trauma that makes us fearful of being “needy” or “clingy.”

When we don’t trust ourselves, we tend to hear outside sources more clearly than our own desires and instincts. 

When I first started dating, the most common books and advice of the day repeated the same themes: 

>> Maintain a busy schedule and never accept a weekend date past mid-week.

>> Never call a man; he needs to call.

>> Don’t meet him halfway or pay half.

I followed this advice without notable benefit. But I did it anyway.

Deep down, I believed what I was taught as a child: I should be different if I wanted love. 

I grew up in a home with low emotional support. I knew my parents loved me, so I deduced that I must be “too much,” or “too needy,” or “too demanding.” In childhood, I learned to override my instincts to ask for what I needed, internalizing that the problem was: me.

When our emotional needs are not met, our needs are not the root cause of the problem. The capacities and skills of our caregivers may not be adequate to meet them, but it’s rarely (if ever) a case of being “too much.”

From childhood onward, instead of looking inward, I looked outward, the patriarchy reinforcing what my parents had modelled. 

In my adulthood, I remained single. As the years passed, I invested in improving my self-awareness, communication skills, and confidence. So it did not escape my attention that I was anxious when I was invested in a relationship. 

I kept at it until I dated a man where I perfected the strategy. I followed the advice, and…it worked. 

Until the day came when I dared assert myself, opening a door into who I really was. An emotionally heightened conversation ensued on the way to a family wedding.  

I sought more advice. The cultural dating guidance for females had, by now, morphed into memes and Facebook advice.

This time, different words that meant the same thing: 

>> Lean back.

>> Let him lead.

>> Stay in your feminine.

We are told “love is different than friendship” and that it needs special dynamics—now referred to as “polarity”—so we are tempted to tone ourselves down to earn love and maintain it.  

I was constantly on edge, even though I had no anxiety anywhere else in my life. I had to ask friends what to do, how to be, or what to say in my interactions with him. 

And I did things that were different from my normal behavior: I otherwise readily made decisions in my life, led plans with friends, and easily accommodated the natural flows between masculine and feminine energy. 

I was confused, triggered, and out of alignment. Yet, I still believed that I must be different if I wanted to be loved.

We stayed together for another year and a half, with major ups and downs.  

The ups? When I was deferring to his opinions and needs. When I let him lead, let him plan, and let him be in charge—just as I had been told to do. 

The downs? When I asserted my desires, expressed my needs—was myself. 

By the time I left him, I had vowed to find a new path, which meant stepping past the standard dating cannon and looking deeper. 

Women still give this advice to other women. We might notice how much support we need from friends or therapists to enforce these narratives and find ourselves constantly asking for more advice. 

Underneath, we are afraid of being seen as “needy” or “pushy” or “too much.” 

At the core, we believe that our childhood narratives were right.

We can shed the skin we were given as children—that we are “too much” or “too needy.” We can stop repressing ourselves and following external advice and instead turn our attention inward, reconnecting to our gut feelings and learning the communication and emotional skills we were not taught as children. 

It is our responsibility to heal our childhood wounds. 

We can learn to see that potential partners who are attracted to “busyness” are reinforcing our childhood wounds and traumas. We can see that using “busyness” as a tool to make ourselves more appealing is doing the same.

If someone finds our busy schedule appealing, it is not an affirmation of interest. We can recognize that a partner who is only attracted to us when we are absent, mysterious, or unavailable is not a partner we want to be with.   

If we need to falsify our schedule to appear less “needy,” we are not being honest with the expression of our needs. 

We can express ourselves in the same ways that we would with friends: texting, calling, paying, or exerting ourselves as we typically would with others.  

We want to be with partners who like us as we typically are, rather than who we are when relying on advice or enacting strategies.  

We already have others in our lives who are willing and able to meet our needs and vice versa. 

We can see ourselves as grown-ups. If we are adult enough to have agency over choosing our own career, home decor, and insurance plans, we are adult enough to do the same with partners.  

We do not need others to relentlessly demonstrate their interest, rescue us, or solve our problems. We can see ourselves both capable and competent, rather than reliant on providers or protectors. 

We can seek partners who enjoy who we are. 

I am a 40-plus woman with a career, an informed and intelligent opinion, and adult emotional needs. I have a solid sense of self and am a good, steady, confident decision-maker who trusts myself. 

We can look inside ourselves and ditch the outside advice.

The next time we aren’t sure what to do and are tempted to ask for advice, we can ask ourselves:

>> What would we do or say to a friend in the same scenario? 

>> How would we respond or interact if this person wasn’t a love interest?

>> Are we being ourselves, or are we being the conditioning we were taught? 

We can trust that we are not “needy.” We can identify triggers and wounds and focus on doing the emotional work to be authentic in who we are.

Our needs are human. 

Pretending does not serve us and will never provide the relationship we deserve or desire.

We can be an oasis instead of a mirage.


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