Dear Sara: I recently met a guy on a dating app, and we had an online thing going on for about two months. Despite our distance [we live on different continents], we talked every single day, almost non-stop through text, phone calls, and Skype. I tried (not very hard though, I must admit) to slow things down but was won over by his open-heartedness and sweet words.
We recently had a sort of fight and he seems to have disappeared on me. I’m devastated, because this is not the first time a guy has disappeared on me just as things seemed to be taking off. My question is: how do I trust my feelings and intuition when this keeps happening to me? Whether I am reckless or cautious with my feelings, it seems like I still end up getting really hurt. Will I ever become a “smarter” dater? Is there ever a “correct” way to love somebody? — L
Dear L: I’m so sorry to hear you had such a heartbreaking experience, but I don’t think it means you’re not smart at dating–or at least that you’re any less smart than anyone else.
Honestly, I doubt than anyone can be very intelligent about a relationship that is conducted entirely online. There are too many subtle cues that you miss—those little flinches, eye rolls, and tightened jaws that tell you (even if you aren’t consciously aware of it) that this person isn’t being completely honest. At the same time, other people can make you feel relaxed, even if you can’t articulate why. I’ve always struggled with insomnia, but after I started seeing my husband I noticed that I slept like the dead at his place. My body knew I could trust him.
We have so many technical innovations that can beam us to people on the other side of the world, and it’s easy to forget that we are still biological creatures. We are mammals who have instincts that enable us to sense danger or deceit. Those instincts are severely limited if we’re not in the same room.
You said this is a pattern, so maybe this problem has arisen in face-to-face relationships too. Even though we have natural instincts, most humans still get love wrong sometimes (and some of us get love wrong many times). Instincts can be clouded by emotions like fear, hope, desire, and insecurity—making everything feel like a muddle.
So even though our instincts can be useful guides, it’s also important to not take our feelings too seriously. As we all know, feeling giddy and happy doesn’t mean that things will work out; just as being afraid doesn’t mean you’re doomed. Most of us feel all of this stuff in a budding relationship.
This is why I like meditation—it’s a way to train yourself to experience a feeling without making a big deal about it. The more you just sit with whatever is coming up—panic, lust, fear, elation—the more you become aware that these are simply neural sensations in your body. They don’t necessarily mean anything, and they definitely aren’t anything to be ashamed of.
You’ve experienced a lot of heartbreak and now you’re judging yourself for it. Why am I always wrong? Why does this keep happening to me? But I don’t think that’s a useful way to approach the situation. It’s fine to look back at red flags. For example, I once dated a guy who was cold to me when we were around his friends—there’s a clue! After it ended, I felt stupid for falling for such unkind man, and made a decision to never let anyone treat me that way again. Beating myself up for liking the guy was pointless, but setting a standard for how I’d be treated in the future was very valuable.
And once you take the judgment out, it becomes easier to access your own wisdom. You gradually start to separate knee-jerk reactions, like feeling anxious when he doesn’t reply to your text immediately, from a deeper-level intuition, like a nagging feeling that someone isn’t being honest with you.
Love makes idiots out of all of us. And unfortunately part of the risk (and the thrill) of love is that you never really know the future—even when you’re married. So rather than trying to be smarter at love, I suggest you learn to relax into its uncertainty. Instead of trying to get into someone else’s head, just set some standards for how future boyfriends should treat you. If they manage to hoodwink you anyway, forgive yourself immediately. Heartbreak is hard enough; don’t compound the hurt with self-flagellation.
Instead, just relax. Have a good cry. Get an ice cream cone. And remember that you are becoming wiser, even if you can’t see it yet.
Sara Eckel is the author of It’s Not You: 27 (Wrong) Reasons You’re Single. You can get a free bonus chapter of her book at saraeckel.com. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. Ask her any questions here.