Because I write about dating and relationships, I’m always on the lookout for issues that affect both men and women. I occasionally find myself “accidentally” listening to others’ conversations as I’m standing in line or eating at a restaurant, and I’m always asking friends to share their own dating experiences to see if there is an issue there that others could benefit from hearing about. A colleague of mine recently talked to me about her younger sister, a woman in her late 20s, who always finds something wrong with everyone she dates. My friend said succinctly, “She will see the tiniest flaw or thing that annoys her, and she ends it immediately.”
This habit – finding something wrong with every available date – is actually one of the most widespread problems in dating. Thousands of men and women struggle with this, frustrating everyone around them – especially their dates (!), who wish they could break past this barrier and be good enough! What does it mean when a person always finds something wrong with all of their dates? Deep down, they are trying to avoid having a committed, long-term relationship. Naysayers may say, “But I do want a relationship! That’s why I keep dating! Why would I put myself through dating if I didn’t truly want a relationship?” Well, keep reading because this issue isn’t as simple as you may believe.
What’s really going on in the mind of someone who finds something wrong with every date?
The individual who finds fault with everyone or gets turned off by the silliest or most minor things is in a state a conflict. I will review an example, and I’ll call this person Josh. In essence, think of it as if there are two parts of Josh. One part of Josh wants some of the things that come with a relationship, including excitement, physical intimacy, and companionship. The other part of Josh, however, doesn’t want a relationship. For Josh, a part of him may not want a relationship because he is afraid that he will get bored; he is moody and he is afraid that he will get irritated after a while with the same person; he likes attention and “the hunt” and doesn’t want to give up the excitement of “getting” someone new; or he is insecure and afraid that a partner would end up feeling unhappy with him. The point, however, is to see that the behavior – finding fault with everyone and then pushing them away – shows which part of him is more significant: the part that doesn’t want a relationship.
Why can’t people who are afraid of having a relationship admit it?
Most people who are afraid of a relationship won’t admit it; they see that admission as a weakness. Instead of admitting, “A part of me wants a relationship, but a bigger part of me is afraid of it,” it is easier for that person to say that the problem lies with everyone else. So-and-so did this annoying thing or turned me off by doing [insert behavior].” When you find fault with everyone, you blame others and tell yourself that the problem lies with them even though the problem truly lies inside you.
Try this technique to find out whether the person really wants a committed relationship.
I use a technique when I assess suicidal clients that can be adapted for the purposes of dating. With suicidal clients who attempted suicide but survived, I ask them this: “What percentage of you was truly trying to die that day?” Without fail, men and women always give me a number, and it is almost never 100 percent. The point is that there is obviously a big part of that person that wanted to die, but there is often a smaller part where they weren’t quite sure or they still held some hope that things could change for the better. When I recently asked a teenager who had attempted suicide what percentage of hope she had that things could get better for her, she said “Five percent.” Take this technique and use it with yourself or anyone you’re dating.
Ask yourself, “What percentage of me really wants a committed, long-term relationship? What percentage of me is afraid to have a serious relationship?” If you are dating someone who seems wishy-washy or who sends you mixed messages, try saying this: “I know this sounds silly, but I have a theory that there is always a part of a person that wants a relationship and another part of that person that doesn’t want one. What percentage of you, do you think, wants a long-term relationship?” Your date may joke that you sound more like a detective than a dating partner, but laugh it off and wait to hear the answer. Asking questions clearly and directly is the best way to get the information you need and to reduce the anxiety everyone feels in the beginning stages of dating.
About the Author:
Dr. Seth is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, Psychology Today blogger, and TV guest expert. He practices in Los Angeles and treats a wide range of issues and disorders and specializes in relationships, parenting, and addiction. He has had extensive training in conducting couples therapy and is the author of Dr. Seth’s Love Prescription: Overcome Relationship Repetition Syndrome and Find the Love You Deserve