Do any of the following statements ring true for you?
“All the good ones are taken.”
“If it’s meant to be, it’ll happen, right? I should stop looking.”
“Sure, I’d accept the right partner if they came along. But they have to find me. I’m done making an effort.”
“I’m afraid love won’t happen for me no matter what I do.”
As a relationship advice writer, I receive many letters with unfounded hopelessness at their core. And as a human being who sought love for years, I personally grappled with these feelings; it’s only natural, following disappointments and pain, to rationalize ways of avoiding more of the same.
But as a relationship scientist, I can tell you that, tempting as these ideas sound, they’re wrong. Worse, they’re a sign of burnout, an impending giving-up that can turn into decades of feeding the cats in your bathrobe, playing video games in your underwear, or both.
Use Mental Floss
Watch what you think; it directs your actions.
Are all the good ones taken? Science shows that the people who are back on the mating market over and over, across decades, are more likely to have an avoidant way of relating—one that makes it unlikely they’ll be fully there for you. Avoidant folks tend to hold their lovers at arm’s-length; being with them feels like being out in the emotional cold, looking in towards a beautiful fireside you can’t quite reach.
But goodness, and good potential partners, abound. Many open-hearted, relationship-ready men and women find themselves on the mating market for a variety of reasons having nothing to do with their merit as mates.
Similarly, it’s unicorn-worthy to keep thinking that love will find you without effort, or that there’s no type of effort that will move you towards finding the right partner. Science is about odds, not certainties, and once you’re out of school or some other environment rife with young single hotties, odds are great that you’re going to have to put in some planned effort, or else go ahead and adopt that cartload of kittens.
Notice And Redirect
This article began with four popular mating myths, and there are many more that science has shattered: “Love isn’t worth it.” “Marriage makes people unhappy; it’s safer to stay single or just live together.” “Relationships are all about luck and there’s not much you can do to help them succeed.” “Marriage will kill your sex life.” “I have to be happy alone before I can be happy with someone else.” “I’ll make more progress in my career if I stay single.” “Depending on someone else is a sign of weakness and will hurt you in the end.” I could go on and on.
Most of current cultural lore about relationships is swallowed whole, and very little of it is true. But when we act like it is, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy by making us unlikely to invest in finding love to begin with.
Psychologists have amassed decades of data proving that what you do in your mate search has a direct bearing on both finding and keeping the right partner. An early and ongoing part of your plan needs to take the form of challenging your own thoughts. A research-proven way of changing your thinking is to a) notice when you’re having a thought about relationships, and b) to redirect it to align with reality.
For instance, if you catch yourself thinking, “Looking for love is only for the desperate; I shouldn’t need anyone,” notice that that’s what’s in your head. Don’t give the thought power by letting it pass by unchallenged. Then, redirect it to align with reality: “Is that true? Is everyone I know who has love, or who admits needing their partner, desperate? Is there any fact behind this at all?”
Getting factual, science-based information about relationships will help you with this.
Just Do It
Watch how you act; it directs what you think.
This sounds like the opposite of what I said earlier. But just as science demonstrates that what we think changes what we do, it also proves the reverse: we can act ourselves into a new way of thinking, just as we can think ourselves into new ways of behaving.
Which is great news. It means that even if you can’t catch most negative, unrealistic, untrue thoughts about dating, and challenge them—you can still change for the better, and move towards a great love life. You don’t have to beat burnt-out thoughts to make progress in dating.
You can simply move forward—no matter what your current thinking—and your thinking will eventually catch up.
So just do it. Don’t take your friends’ advice to “take a break.” That’s about as helpful as taking a break from job-searching~it gets you no closer to work, nor to love.
Instead, commit to persistence. Commit to making a plan, and working that plan. Commit to dating and to all the actions that lead you there, no matter what—no matter whether you feel like dating, no matter whether you fear love can’t work for you, no matter whether you would in fact rather play X-Box in your boxers while petting kittens right now.
Get up off the couch. Move forward into life. Step out into love, one small brave action, one challenged thought at a time.
Duana C. Welch, Ph.D., is the author of the first book that uses science instead of opinion to guide men and women through all phases of dating–Love Factually: 10 Proven Steps from I Wish to I Do. You can read more and get a free sample here.