Bad News: You Two Probably Shouldn’t Be Dating

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caution you're doing it wrong
Your relationship is probably doomed.

I’m sorry, but it’s true. I’m just playing the percentages.

Half of all marriages will fall apart. It’s a huge bummer but it’s been true for so long that unless a critical mass of people in the future take to heart some of the ideas here, there’s every reason to assume that will continue.

Additionally, what percentage of pre-marriage/unmarried relationships won’t work out? Maybe 80, or even 90 percent? Who knows? A damn lot.

So. Like I said: Your relationship is probably doomed.

Maybe I’m Not Doing It Wrong After All

Tiffany asked:

My question is less about the marriage part and more about the singlehood part. I epically failed at the dating game in my younger years long before epic fail was even a phrase. I am oh so much better at it now, NOT! I have no game or swagger, I’m just me. I’m just real but I guess being real is a complete turn off in this reality-tv, instant gratification society. So my question is, now what? Now what are we divorcee’s supposed to do? Online dating did not exist the last time I was single and neither did texting. We thought our cell phones were smart until Apple raised the IQ bar. Now, there seem to be dating rules that no one has shared with me and once I become privy to what they might be, they change. It seems the sea of fishes are now depleted of sea horses but teaming with sharks. If nice guys finish last, WHERE ARE THEY? In my experience, the divorced, single men in our age bracket are either reliving their 20 something frat boy days or trying to experience that lifestyle they never had. It’s exhaustingly frustrating! I feel as if the first line of the online dating profile I don’t have should read “Hi, I am a strong woman of character, value and self-respect. I’m sorry but I will not be selling my body or soul to the lowest bidder with cheesy lines, free cocktails, Netflix and a ‘chill’.”

I feel like when I go on a first date with someone (which has not happened in over a year because I gave up) I should introduce myself as, “Hi, I’m Tiffany. I’m a real person with thoughts, ideas and feelings not just a pin cushion. It’s nice to meet you.” The guy would turn around and run I’m sure lol. I also have two kids which translates to leprosy I’m finding out. Refer back to the previous statement of reliving one’s 20s and the idea of being a grown man that doesn’t shy away from responsibility is just gone. Maybe they are just too overwhelmed with their own responsibility to think about any more…..Maybe they just don’t know how to tread down this road just like me….Maybe I’m giving them too much benefit of the doubt…Maybe they’ve always been irresponsible and that’s why they’re divorced….Maybe I should stop driving myself crazy with all the maybe’s.
So please, if you have any thoughts as to why divorced men seem to only want friends with benefits or casual, please clue me in.
Also, the separate problem of divorced men who may be looking for something real, but not seeing me, only the fact that I have kids.

I used to think I was horrible at dating (post-divorce, specifically), and even felt a little bit ashamed of it. But that’s because I was comparing the QUANTITY of my dates to what I perceived to be others’ experiences, and now I’ve come to believe it’s actually the low-boundary, unfiltered attitude toward dating that is causing most of these problems in the first place.

I now think I was accidentally awesome, and believe today that I’m a competent dater in a very deliberate way.

There are two reasons people date:

1. Because they desire companionship and/or sex, casually or otherwise.

2. Because they’re looking for a suitable partner for a long-term relationship and/or marriage.

If casual relationships are the goal, then I think a relaxed attitude about dating is an appropriate disposition.

But if you’re genuinely looking for a compatible long-term partner with the intention of spending FOREVER with them, then I think getting hardcore with your intentions, your boundaries, and your stated expectations are CRITICALLY IMPORTANT to your success and emotional wellbeing.

An intentionally casual dater can date another intentionally casual dater, and have a positive experience.

An intentionally casual dater dating someone looking for love can lead to a lot of bad things happening if neither are honest with one another.

A person looking for love and long-term commitment can date someone else looking for love and long-term commitment, and it can go a million different ways. A lot of people believe if they end up married, that the meeting and dating exercise was a success. But that’s not true. It’s only a success if they actually make it to forever.

This is where most of us get it wrong.

Because I write here and some people pay attention, people in my personal life sometimes irrationally believe that makes me the go-to person for relationship questions. Ignoring how flawed that thinking is, I do my best to listen and provide the honest feedback they seek.

One of my friends liked a guy. He was the first guy she really liked in a long time. They met on an online dating site. They started seeing each other regularly. But to her displeasure, he was non-committal. He remained engaged in online-dating activities and was presumably seeing other people.

She wanted my advice. I didn’t think the solution was complicated.

“What should I do?” she asked.

“Only you can decide what you’re willing to tolerate,” I said. “The first thing I would do is decide exactly what you want and what your intentions are. Do you want him to be your committed boyfriend, or don’t you? Are you okay with him logging onto online dating sites and dating other people, or aren’t you? Once you know what you want, those are your boundaries. Then you clearly and honestly communicate those boundaries to him. Then—the hardest part—you ENFORCE those boundaries. You need to be willing to walk away if he doesn’t respect them,” I said.

“Isn’t it too soon for that?” she said. She didn’t want to seem “crazy” or “possessive,” she said.

She was afraid that being honest would cause him to reject her.

“I don’t want to seem insensitive about this, but if your relationship is going to fail, you WANT it to fail fast. Be honest about what you want. If he’s unwilling to give you what you want, or honor your feelings, or he runs away, isn’t that all you really need to know about him in terms of your long-term compatibility?” I said.

Maybe she thought really wanting him to be a certain kind of guy would magically transform him into that person. Like The Secret.

She never had the conversation with him. A couple weeks later, he cancelled plans with her for the third or fourth time, then she ended it, and they haven’t talked to one another since.

The entire scene felt insane to me. THIS is a major reason so many people end up divorced, I thought.

Why Does Dating Suck?

Because people don’t establish strong-enough boundaries for who they date.

Because people aren’t willing to be vulnerable and choose honesty when expressing who they really are on the inside, and what they really want.

And then sooner or later, it all crashes and burns because two people with different values and different expectations and different goals tried to force it using rainbow wishes and unicorn dreams, blaming culture, circumstances and everything but the person standing in the mirror for willingly participating in the madness.

Being a victim of con-artistry is the ONLY honest excuse for crushing heartache in the dating game.

Sure, rejection hurts, when one honest person doesn’t reciprocate the same emotional investment as another honest person. But, A. Don’t you WANT to be with someone who wants you back?, and B. How is that not an infinitely better result than investing years and/or marriage with someone who ultimately rejects you because you never really knew each other in the first place?

I can’t emphasize this belief enough: Every failure-to-launch relationship is a GREAT thing that eliminates wasted time, gives us critical life experience, and ultimately opens the door for people to find legitimately awesome and compatible romantic partners.

I know everyone’s in a big hurry all the time. But as mom always said: Life is what happens when we’re busy making other plans.

This is how dating goes when you’re from a small Midwestern town in the United States (maybe it’s a lot different in big cities and other cultures): You go to school in kindergarten, and for the next 13 years, you’re almost exclusively surrounded by “people like you,” which I’m loosely defining as single people with similar values, similar life experiences, similar educational opportunities, similar financial prospects, and similar long-term goals and expectations.

There’s no such thing as classmates or even two random students at the same school who don’t share several common interests and cultural similarities, relative to how varied our experiences and worldviews can be as single—divorced, widowed, or never-married—adults.

Unless you’re someone who moved around a lot during your school years (which must come with its own social-development issues and challenges), you’re typically 18 at the earliest before you meet a potential romantic interest with a radically divergent cultural background or value system.

I think exposure to other beliefs, cultures and customs is extremely important for people to figure out who we are. Diversity is critical for us to be able to ask the right questions during our formative and explorative years.

But I’m not sure I believe diversity to be particularly useful in marriage or committed long-term relationships (especially those involving children—more on that in a minute).

How Dating is Like Business

As an internet marketing professional, my job is, in a very generic sense, to generate as much web traffic as possible to pages containing products or services I hope to sell to as many visitors as possible.

Let’s pretend I own a company that sells exclusively men’s t-shirts which read: “Donald Trump Has Very Specific and Credible Plans for America, Excellent Hair, and Should Be President of the World.” And now my job is to sell as many of these stylish and in-demand shirts as possible.

quizzical baby
Let’s pretend I’m going to try to sell these shirts using targeted online advertising and email marketing (because I magically have access to everyone’s email address), and I have to decide how to wisely spend my email marketing and advertising budget.

And finally, let’s pretend I decide to target the following groups of people for my men’s Trump shirt sales initiative: Registered Democrats who voted for President Obama in the 2012 election, Women who live in Poland, and everyone on Hillary Clinton’s F.B.I.-seized private email server.

I probably wouldn’t have much luck selling Trump shirts to those groups.

There is something in business called a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL). A shirtless man carrying a 12-pack of Natural Light at a Trump rally might be an MQL for one of these Trump shirts. A Hispanic Los Angeles resident with a Bernie Sanders yard sign would not be.

I think many daters look for love and marriage using the I’m Trying to Sell Trump Shirts to Sanders Supporters strategy.

Online Dating Can Actually Help With This

Online dating sites allow you to establish parameters to weed out people with incompatible or unattractive traits. This is really helpful for women who receive more attention on dating sites than they can handle and for men with strong boundaries, selective tastes and specific preferences.

It’s probably bad for all of the low-boundary people who care more about feeling liked and accepted than they do about actually having healthy and successful relationships.

Maybe people are lonely and afraid they’ll be alone forever. I remember feeling that way.

Maybe people are worried about what friends and coworkers think. Maybe they want to “keep up” with their ex who has already moved on with someone new. Maybe people are trying to have sex more often than never. Maybe they’re trying to find a financial partner, or just someone to binge-watch Netflix with them.

I don’t know.

I just know that a frightening amount of people voluntarily enter relationships with people who don’t share their values, and subject themselves to all kinds of abuse or dysfunction afterward, and it often seems as if it’s because they’re more afraid of being alone than they are of being mistreated or suffering a horrible break-up.

Single Parents Must Use Stringent Filters to Find MQLs

I don’t think people are discriminating enough, and I think that’s why dating is so frustrating for people, and why so many relationships fail. I think vigilant discernment while dating is extremely critical for single or divorced parents, and any young people who intend to have children someday.

People who look different can have great relationships.

People with differing interests can have great relationships.

People with diverse life experiences can have great relationships.

People from different places can have great relationships.

People with varying personality types can have great relationships.

But, people with DIFFERENT VALUES? I have yet to see evidence that two people with conflicting core values can succeed, particularly when they share children, or are raising them together.

Dating often sucks because people aren’t honest with themselves, and then they make it worse by not being honest with those they date.

If you don’t know who you are and what your values are, YOU HAVE NO CHANCE.

If you haven’t identified your personal boundaries, or aren’t willing to vigilantly enforce them, you’re going to experience a heavy dose of frustration and heartache.

If you do it my way, you’re not going to go out on many dates, and you may often feel frustrated by what seems like a frightening lack of options. The temptation can be great to go out with people simply because you find them attractive and they’re interested.

But I implore people to be deliberate with their intentions, and be courageous enough to share their honest expectations, values and feelings with the people they’re getting to know.

Divorce is A LOT scarier than a relative stranger deciding not to date us anymore.

It bears repeating: If we’re evaluating whether that person across from us is an appropriate choice for a long-term or lifetime commitment, should we REALLY be afraid of how they might react to something honest and true about us?

Can we achieve forever with someone who doesn’t want the real us?

It’s not fun or easy. It won’t always feel good. It’s the furthest thing from sexy.

But it’s the first real step on the path to reducing divorce.

Or, more appropriately, the first real step on the journey to Forever.

SIDE NOTE: I finally have a Facebook page for this blog. It would be awesome to connect with you there. I’ll understand if you don’t want to, because mehhhhhhh.

59 thoughts on “Bad News: You Two Probably Shouldn’t Be Dating”

  1. I think “we” (in that American demographic of not meeting diverse people until we’re 18) have also fallen into the belief that “we” can change people. And so, when it doesn’t work out – that people can’t be forced to change – and we divorce, we’re left reeling. When we attempt to get back out there, and meet the people Tiffany describes, we still try to use that old pattern of getting others to change, rather than discovering a new, healthier paradigm.

    And welcome to facebook! 🙂

    1. Right. This is clearly not something I recognized or understood about my life until recently.

      But I agree with you, exactly. We don’t know what we don’t know growing up. The consequences are miniscule as young, unmarried people so we never really learn. No one tells us anything that helps us learn it. So we all just try to force our relationships, because A. We’re physically attracted, B. We have a few things in common, and C. They’ll probably fit in with family and friends.

      We don’t have the right conversations ahead of time, and even if we did, we were afraid to talk about certain things.

      5-10 years later, it’s all ;nvouasdnjnklnscvkguxmjbgsvdfasbdglasufwb, and then we divorce and it’s terrible.

      Then, after we kind of get it together again, we try to date and it’s really hard and really frustrating because it’s so different than what we remember from our youth (and not having children).

      I don’t think it’s a numbers game. I don’t think it’s “date as many people as you can and see what works!!!”

      Compromise and flexibility are important in most areas of life. Certainly in relationships and marriage.

      I hope it’s clear that I’m not talking about what radio station to listen to, or what to have for dinner.

      I’m talking about the Who We Are stuff. The core values that define all we do.

      When those are out of whack with the core values of our romantic partner? Bad things ensue.

      1. Hey Matt,

        Could you explain a little more about what you mean by core values? Do you mean things that would be “deal breakers” like if someone only will date a person with the same religion or are you also thinking of more lifestyle things like if one person wants to live in a New York loft and the other person wants to live in the suburbs that make compromise difficult. Thanks for your interesting post.

        1. I started writing you back this morning, and then decided to just turn it into a post.

          Thank you for reading and asking the question, Lisa.

      2. Who really even knows those things about themselves? Especially after surviving the trauma of a crap marriage then divorce? The first time I was divorced I jumped right into relationship after relationship, dating was my hobby and I was a master at it. It was horrific. So much so that I wound up remarried to the guy I couldn’t get divorced from fast enough. And yep, look at me right back here again. But, people do change. Or rather we grow. We can learn from our mistakes as long as we are honest about making them to begin with.

        Before you can date anyone else you have to get to know and date yourself. You don’t know what you like or who you are or what you want after divorce. You can’t. You just severed your left leg – you have to learn to walk again before you can ask someone to take you out dancing. And then…you certainly can’t complain about their moves. I truly believe that when I take the time to get to know me, who I have become not who I think I remember being before marriage and divorce, only then will I be close to ready to get to know someone else. And then I can only hope they did their due diligence too.

        I’m with Matt. I totally should have done all that to begin with. Lesson learned.

        1. This really resonated with me:

          “I truly believe that when I take the time to get to know me, who I have become, not who I think I remember being before marriage and divorce, only then will I be close to ready to get to know someone else.”

          Totally nails it. Especially this whole “us” from yesteryear. A total figment of our imagination. We’re someone new now. And if we’re willing to work for it, and not get depressed by all the extra obstacles and inconveniences, the new us can be someone better.

  2. So please, if you have any thoughts as to why divorced men seem to only want friends with benefits or casual, please clue me in.
    Also, the separate problem of divorced men who may be looking for something real, but not seeing me, only the fact that I have kids.

    Tiffany asks why divorced men seem to only want casual dating or just sex, and why a woman with kids has difficulty getting dates.

    You make a lot of suggestions regarding dating, but I guess I missed your answers to her primary questions.

    1. I don’t think he missed it at all. I think he simply offered a more practical form of answer. The answer to “why” divorced men allegedly only want casual dating/sex, or “why” a divorced woman with kids has difficulty getting dates is immaterial. I may be able to acquire a very detailed and intricate understanding of why it takes the Earth 24 hours to rotate on its axis, but if I’m frustrated that a terrestrial day is 24 hours and not 14, or 34, my knowledge of “why” the Earth takes the amount of time it does to spin around once won’t change that a day is 24 hours and them’s the breaks. What Matt is pointing out is that one must present themselves as the truest version of themselves and to set clear expectations, intentions and boundaries up front. As such, yes, potentially dozens and dozens of douchebags who only want to bump uglies with the next female on the roster, or who have no interest in becoming a father alongside becoming a spouse, will fall to the wayside like so many Fall leaves. But then the ones who are aligned with your expectations, intentions and boundaries–the divorced fathers, the men who are unable to father their own children, then men who desire a lifelong partner, will stand out in sharp relief. It means you have to work through mountains of chaff to find precious little wheat, but the wheat is there. It means you have to be willing to put as much effort into procuring that lifelong partner as you will in retaining them.

      1. The article is reasonably practical. I still think the answers to her questions do matter, especially when it comes to the practicalities of determining what you want, and how you are going to work toward reaching that goal. Strictly speaking, they’re not necessary, but knowledge of the motives and strategies of the “enemies” who might keep you from your goal could keep you from being waylaid by your own emotions or hormonal urges.

      2. I consider Matt an extremely intelligent, talented and insightful man, but what would make you or Tiffany believe he (as both a father and as someone who has never expressed either previous or current interest in physical-only, no-strings-attached relationships) is qualified beyond anyone else’s best-guess conjecture to explain the motivations of men who resemble him in no way whatsoever?

    2. You didn’t miss them! I didn’t specifically address them. When you’re honest about your intentions and enforce your boundaries, these are not things that affect you.

      RE: Why do divorced men seem to only want friends with benefits or casual?

      I can only speculate. They used to be married and have sex all the time, and now they’re divorced and DON’T have sex all the time. So they want to solve the sex-deficiency problem, but NOT by getting involved in a serious relationship or marriage again, since doing that turned out to be one of the worst things that ever happened to him.

      Even the most morally conservative people I know viewed sex through a radically different prism on the other side of divorce than they did prior to marriage.

      RE: What about divorced men looking for something real, but not seeing me, only the fact that I have kids?

      I can’t speak for all men. Children are a HUGE deal. And I can speak from experience that they make post-divorce dating really complicated (if your goal is to protect them).

      I think single parents need to simply deal with the truth: Some people will NEVER date you or commit to you long-term, because they don’t want to parent, or finance, or deal with Other Parent drama, or anything else related to children they didn’t procreate. I’m sorry, but I feel like that’s a really reasonable thing for someone (who is usually childless) to feel.

      That’s a boundary that makes sense to me. I’ve found I generally prefer dating mothers to women without children. My son is at the very center of my life, and anyone who finds that inconvenient or a turnoff is someone I may like, but naturally don’t want to hitch my wagon to anyway. It would be bad for all of us.

      I would strongly encourage single moms (who are looking for life partners) to enjoy their dates with men who are philosophically open to stepchildren, rather than burying their heads in the sand, and hoping some random guy who clearly doesn’t want kids will magically change his mind and want to be a stepfather of three because he loves their mom so much.

      Maybe that happens sometimes!

      But, again. It would seem wise to play the percentages. #doomed

      If people are willing to state simply and truthfully what they want and who they are looking for, and ONLY date people who meet that criteria, and then only pursue relationships with people who honor and respect their boundaries over the course of the courtship period, I think we’ll find a whole bunch of functional relationships with happy people who complement one another.

      You know. Instead of whatever we typically see now.

      1. From what I’ve heard, a woman having kids is a huge red flag for most men, because they soon find that they will never be able to have any say in the kids’ lives and behavior, because “they’re not your kids”. A woman will almost always favor the kids over the boyfriend/stepfather in the discipline arena, and usually also in the time and attention arena. In that discipline arena, I equate this to the parents who will insist to the schoolteacher, etc. that their “little darling” would never behave badly. The man may be willing to parent, but inability to discipline because of “momma bear” will remove that desire quickly. And, in that case, no rational man would want to “finance” those children, either.

        1. My only response to this is that I can’t imagine any scenario in which a man would be totally shocked and blown away by a woman’s behavior toward him or her children in a parenting scenario, in which he was sober even a small percentage of the time.

          More specifically to me, it’s not even remotely possible that I could find myself in a romantic relationship with someone who would make me feel shitty after behaving in a child guardian capacity, or whose parenting practices or how much/little attention I should expect would be some kind of surprise.

          When you do things the right way, and share yourself openly and honestly with one another, and don’t tolerate bullshit from someone you’re still getting to know?

          The scenarios you’re describing can’t really happen when you do things the right way.

    3. I might be able to shed some light on the original question of why it seem like all the divorced guys out there in the dating world just want casual relationships or seem to be just looking for unattached sex. While I am not a man, I kind of understand where they might be coming from. I’m divorced and I tend to approach dating with more of a casual bend. I’ll do my best to explain my perspective on dating after divorce because, who knows, maybe I’m the female version of what you’ve encountered.

      I (try to) date for fun. Not just for sex but for companionship, someone to run around and have some good times with, to share inside jokes with and to make me laugh when my day seriously sucked (and of course to be able to so that for that other person too), and all that other bullshit. Like I told my sister once, I want a friend with benefits but one who actually wants to be my friend! She replied “Isn’t that basically a relationship?” No, it’s not! A relationship is like that but with a destination, a goal. And all the work, stress, and pressure that goes with that goal. I don’t want to go around sleeping with multiple people at once…er, during the same time period. Meaningless sex is definitely not what I’m after. But my life is pretty demanding and emotionally draining right now. I don’t want to add more to that in the form of a relationship, I want a break from the every day stress of my life when I date. I want it to be light and fun. I don’t have the space in my life to be obliged to think of another person and to incorporate their needs and wants and stuff into my life.
      Sure I want to find a person to pair up with long term, possibly “forever”, I do…just not right now.
      And maybe not for a long time. I was actively married for eleven years, in the various stages of separation and divorce for another two and a half; it sucked! Not all of it but the vast majority of the end years did. Now when I think about marriage in a personal context it evokes a weird mix of fondness and revulsion. I know it can be good but I also know it can be oh-so bad. Knowing how bad marriage can be makes me want to get it right should there ever be a next time. Knowing what we did wrong that first go-round makes it even worse. I know what Not to do in theory but who the hell knows what that looks like in practice. (I think another commentor touched on that). We only learn by actually making the mistakes.
      According to Matt, many men didn’t really see their divorce coming until it smacked them in the face. While their wives had already emotionally processed the death of the marriage early on in the separation, they’re still reeling for a while after the ink on the divorce papers has dried whether they acknowledge that or not. Maybe they wanted to stay married, maybe they didn’t, but they know that they do not want another version the cesspool that their marriage probably became. Coming at dating with the idea of marriage is just too much for some people right off the bat. Right now they just want a little fun and maybe some sex. Because, like Matt said on his comment response, once you’ve been married you view sex differently. And being divorced and a single parent is lonely work. Sometimes you want the pleasure of connecting with another person without all the pressure and demands of a relationship.
      For me, approaching dating with an eye towards marriage makes it too serious too fast. My life is full of Serious Stuff. I want to spend time with a person and see if we have fun together and share interests and values before I even start thinking about where that dating train is going. Maybe that divorced guy who doesn’t want to be serious about dating feels the same way. Maybe he wants to make sure you’re not just another version of his ex-wife before even thinking about where your potential relationship is headed. Maybe he’s overwhelmed with his own life right now and feels like he’s just barely managing it all making him hesitant to take on what he perceives to be the responsibility of a relationship with you and your kids…
      or maybe he really is just a selfish asshole. The world is full of those!

      Sorry this got so long. I could go on for a while on this topic. 🙂

      1. I just love reading everyone’s thoughts and perspectives on things! Well said. My thoughts exactly. Thank you for sharing nights7.

      2. I will say (and in this respect, I am probably dissimilar from the majority of men), I have never, ever understood the concept of dating for anything other than establishing a long-term relationship, not when I was sixteen, not now. The term “casual dating” has been a non sequitur for me throughout my life. But I will say what you’ve written here at least helps me better comprehend the mindset of those who do traffic in a more nonchalant form of dating.

        1. Well, Travis B, I am probably dissimilar from the majority of women on this. I’m not sure if that makes you and I alike or different but I’m glad you garnered something from my input here.

      3. I love your reply Nights7, because I’m in a very similar situation, but could not have put it anywhere near as eloquently as you did. I was with the same guy for thirteen years since I was 17 and would have been with him forever had he not cheated on me….repeatedly. Now I’m unwillingly single and would love for nothing more than to meet someone who wants to share their life with me. But I still have so many issues from my previous relationship that I need to work on before I’m in the right headspace to contemplate another long term relationship. I want to get to thoroughly know myself (my values and boundaries, thanks Matt!) before I meet the person I want to spend the next 50-ish years with 🙂 Also, I will be travelling round India and South America for 6 months at the end of the year and it would be a BIG ask to expect someone to wait for me for that amount of time. But I get lonely, I want to share the good times with someone, so I’ve been casually dating for the last few months. I have learned so much more about myself than I would ever have expected: what I will and won’t accept from people, what my needs are and where I am too needy, what I have to offer and what I want out of a relationship and life in general. It has been uncomfortable and sometimes a little degrading, but for me a necessary step to getting to where I want to be. Thank you for explaining it in such a way that I no longer have the feeling somewhere inside that I’m doing something “wrong” . I had a very strict upbringing and my parents are still (unhappily) married, so it’s been a hard situation to come to terms with. I love reading everyone’s perspectives and experiences, I learn something new every time I come on this blog and the sense of community is truly heartwarming.

        1. I really think if more people were honest with themselves about where they are and what they actually want to get out of dating our “casual” approach would be more common. Not that I think it’s necessarily the right way because there is no right way, but when it comes to dating lots of people do and say what they think they should instead of what they truly want to be doing or what would work for them. I’m glad I could help you feel better about where you are on the dating spectrum. That kind of made my day. 🙂

  3. I’ve been following your blog for a while, Matt. You give such sage advice. Following your suggestions here seem reasonable to me. Of course, love isn’t always reasonable! But how much better to be the ‘real me’ and see how he reacts – and if he reacts poorly now THANK GOODNESS. I don’t want to be stuck with someone who doesn’t like me or my values. Your column is helping me a lot and I am older, divorced once and widowed once. Trying again for a long-term love. You are terrific!

    1. This note made my day. Thank you very much. I find it incredibly inspiring that you’re still choosing hope after two devastating life events like that.

      That’s what courage looks like.

      Thank you so much for reading and taking time to say hi.

  4. Another blog post that is so simple and fundamentally true, it’s profound. You always do that Matt! It’s a gift. I personally haven’t been out on very many dates at all in my 3-years of singleness and I’d like to say it’s because I have have been vigilantly protecting my values and to a certain degree that is true but I also think it’s mixed with a certain level of “divine protection.” I’ll take it. But this sweet gal, who made the comment, really hit the nail on the head. I always chalked it up to…”any guy worth marrying is already married and convicted on his own to protect his marriage/family….good for that wife.”

    a FACEBOOK PAGE! wow! *like*

      1. On this note I’d like to recommend the book I read that led me to remarry my husband. Unless you’ve already read it; either way I’d love your perspective on it. It’s called Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough by Lori Gotlieb. I’m tempted to re-read it now as I think I’d have a much different opinion upon completion that before.

  5. “Dating often sucks because people aren’t honest with themselves, and then they make it worse by not being honest with those they date.”

    If you don’t want to be with a person who smokes, has kids or shares similar values etc., be honest and say so. People should never change to win someone’s heart. You’ve hit the nail right on the head again Matt. Great blog!

    1. I think it’s as simple as people not wanting to be alone. And I really do get it.

      But if the goal is forever, the only responsible choice is honesty.

      I appreciate you reading and commenting.

  6. AHHHHH!!! YOU HAVE A FACEBOOK PAGE!!! she screamed like a fan-girl.

    I am SO there 😀


    Yeah I gotta admit that I may have married my husband for a lot of wrong reasons, but the one thing that I did right was insist that whoever I married had to be Christian. Because, shared values, right?

    Whether it’s because we are both Christian or not, we have remarkably similar values. And yeah, we’ve been through a rough patch – still working through it actually – but I can’t tell you the number of times that, during a moment of crisis, I’ve thought to myself, *Thank God he’s here* because he GETS IT. He knows my backstory and I don’t have to explain why I feel so strongly about *whatever*, he understands. He gets me in a way that nobody else does because we share a similar worldview and similar values.

    I don’t think it’s impossible for two people with different values to have a successful marriage, but I’m pretty sure it makes it a lot damn harder.

  7. Great advice! Everything you said is true for dating and just true to be a happy authentic person. It takes so much energy to try and be something I’m not. The funniest and saddest thing was that I was trying to convince myself I was really different than how I really am. Wouldn’t it be nice if I was smarter, funnier, more forgiving, more loving, etc etc. I tried to convict others and myself I was that fun house distorted version of myself. It’s exhausting! I’ve recently given it up though and am Netflix and chilling with the version of me I’ve got right now. Because at least that version is authentic and people like authentic. It smells like chocolate chip cookies not a fake scratch n sniff version.

    Part of the tiny tiny silver lining of a bad relationship is that it shocks you into

    1. Comment got cut off.

      Part of the tiny, tiny silver lining of going through a divorce or close to it is it’s such a SHOCK it gives you a chance to reevaluate everything. Who you are, what you want and need and who you want to choose for your friends and family.

    2. Ha! ha! “It smells like chocolate chip cookies”- I love that!
      I’m kind of in that same place- most days. Of course it depends on “interference”- being attracted to someone and running for the old “I have to be X,Y and Z” games. ..It’s soo much better to relax and enjoy yourself, as yourself. Really, I think the issue of trying to be something we aren’t runs through so many parts of our lives, and is fueled A LOT by the always bigger, better, faster mentality of our culture. But, that never really is very fulfilling. So yeah, being yourself, sticking to boundaries (Can I add really enjoying the life you do have) is probably a great recipe. Even if Mr. Wonderful doesn’t show, you still have chocolate chip cookies 🙂

  8. Fromscratchmom

    It’s so true. We really shouldn’t want to date anyone who we have no hope of achieving a satisfying, loving lifetime commitment with. Well, at least I shouldn’t…and I don’t! I’d likely fall for the guy eventually (or be perpetually unhappy if I didn’t fall for him but kept trying to date him) and then that’s exactly what I’d want whether he wanted it not and whether he’d be good to me in it or not.

    And I totally agree that we have to know ourselves first. I’m not the same person I was when I was young. Life experiences and choices do actually change people. In some ways I’m the same but in some ways I’m very different.

    I actually have quite a list of ideas already going in my head to mull over so that I can decide what my boundaries should be. I thought I knew good boundaries after my first marriage but I didn’t. All I really needed to learn from that one was how to recognize a serial cheater. But now I’ve had twenty years dating and married to a guy who I thought was one of the best men on the planet, one I did not correctly understand/predict as to whether or not he was a good guy, a nice guy, trustworthy in ways that I just had no idea about in comparison to not wanting a serial cheater and a total bum. Now I know that I have to be a whole lot pickier and smarter even than I thought I was being that time IF there’s any chance at all for a future love that’s not really a mistake in disguise. And maybe there’s not. It’s too early to make a real and confident decision about that.

    I also think it matters that people take time to heal after a breakup. It’s incredibly rare for someone to get into a rebound relationship and not eventually discover that it was a mistake. But that’s OK; that works perfectly with taking the time to really know yourself! By the time I’m reasonably healed I’ll be ready with my intelligently chosen boundaries too.

    1. FSM, your comment brought up a question for me. If the premise is “don’t date someone unless you know there is a great potential for them to be the one”, aren’t we kind of saying- “don’t date”… I mean, isn’t that what the dating process is for? To get to know the person? I get that there is the potential for dating (the wrong) people out of need/desire to be dating, or trying to make it work- settling, ect. But, really there is no way you can know who someone is by a cursory check list.
      That doesn’t mean I’m for a lot of really bad dates, either- I guess what I’m thinking is “dating” should be off the table until you know the person. (Maybe that is the norm for most people, but it has not been for me).
      I think this goes back to the idea of being agenda free. Just being yourself- and enjoying the person for who they are, etc. When two people are “dating” a lot of times they are out to get thier needs met- whether that’s sexual,emotional or even financial. When 2 people find “mutual accommodation of self need” they think- “WIN!” But that’s really a pretty base view of ourselves and humanity. That’s not love- that’s a business transaction. I’ll give if you give, and won’t if you won’t. …
      I don’t know if anything greater than that can really exist in man/women relationships. It certainly takes a lot of intentionality and effort.
      But my point was- I don’t know if you can judge someone’s compatibilty unless you know them on some interpersonal level & maybe that level isn’t/shouldn’t be achieved via the typical dating schematic.

      1. Fromscratchmom

        I wouldn’t say I would rule people out prematurely and never date, just that some people are pretty easy to rule out for perfectly valid reasons and there’s no reason to date them beyond finding there is a significant barrier. If I’m a Christian and he’s an atheist we probably have no chance of really being happy with each other. If I enjoy gardening and target practice and who knows what else for a time or on a whim just for a day but he prefers to spend all his time outside of work vegging in front of a screen we’d probably be unhappy together. Some people might be able to make that difference work but quality time together, shared activities, the ability to work and play cooperatively are all significant to my love languages and I already know what it’s like to be with someone who thinks the only time I need should be tv shows on the couch every now and then. No thank-you. I’ll wait for someone who can veg with me but also actually moves occasionally even if not forced to by his employer…and actually works well with me and plays well with me without having to feel forced.

        I’m not sure but I think the older we all get the more there are things that might not have mattered when we were younger but we’d prefer not to have to budge on now. Maybe that’s just me. Maybe it’s only because I gave on so many things for so many years and in return got accused of never giving AND of failing at life. But now I can think of a good many of the little details of life that I really hope to just have an easy time getting to arrange them the way I want them. If I want to paint the walls red and then paint little gold ginkgo leaves in some places or drive a car that I actually kind of like at least in some small way or use a sponge at my kitchen sink or keep the laundry in a hamper instead of in piles all over the bedroom I really hope wanting all those millions of details of life to be comfortable for me becomes relatively easy in future without that being a barrier to all relationship possibilities.

        I am with you if you want something better than the typical dating schematic! Luckily I already tend to associate with a fair number of people who would probably agree with that idea. And my friends are all over the country and in other countries. Maybe friends will introduce me to someone someday. I’m guessing that if I ever do pursue a relationship in future it will involve time spent in group social situations or time in shared activities first before it ever becomes something else. By shared activities here I mean being together for a different reason than being on a date, such as if we’re both in the same dog training group or are members at the same church or we shoot at the same gun range. Maybe friends will introduce us and give us lots of opportunities to be in social settings in groups playing pictionary or dominoes or going out on a hike or whatever. Haha…if it’s at one of our big camp-outs then it’s all social all week and we could be in contact online after that week to keep it casual but get the talking going. I’d need to develop a rapport and have that naturally lead into being able to talk about anything and everything….including all the stuff most people don’t talk about no matter how much rapport they think they have. If I think porn is destructive and I know I need to stay away from it in future and he thinks it’s perfectly safe and fun and that all the haters need to lighten up and explore some group sex or some exhibitionism, what are the odds we’d be happy together in the long run? More likely we’d be destroying each other.

        Another interesting idea for getting away from or changing our dating paradigms that might work for some people is something I saw in a TEDtalk where a woman spoke on “I hacked online dating” or something to that effect. Her name was Amy Webb. Her talk is available on YouTube.

      2. “I’ll wait for someone who can veg with me but also actually moves occasionally even if not forced to by his employer…” Ha! Yeah!
        “But now I can think of a good many of the little details of life that I really hope to just have an easy time getting to arrange them the way I want them. If I want to paint the walls red and then paint little gold ginkgo leaves in some places or drive a car that I actually kind of like at least in some small way or use a sponge at my kitchen sink or keep the laundry in a hamper instead of in piles all over the bedroom I really hope wanting all those millions of details of life to be comfortable for me becomes relatively easy in future without that being a barrier to all relationship possibilities.”
        Truth- this is one of my deepest fears. That the “elusive he” will be critical, -my way wont be good enough and I’ll forever have to be on guard to not be seen as stupid. You totally earned little gold ginko leaves, Lady!! And there aint no way that is failing at life. You did give,and in the giving- in living it out as best as you knew how with the whole-est and full-est of heart- you lived and you lived fully. The “failing” did not come from you. You win because you lived so fully into your moments. And there are more to come :). My hope and prayer for you is that you are surrounded by people who will not only respect your golden ginko leaves, but will think they and you are precious. I hope you do find an individual who is willing and able to love you for who you are. We are all worth that. …
        Not to ruin the moment (That I was having while writing that..:)
        But just to comment on two of the other things…
        Yes, the group dynamic thing is a good way to start to get to know someone. It reminds me of school days, of just hanging out. It was more innocent then because we werent trying to get our needs met from each other.
        And online dating…: P. I dont know, to me that seems like the ideal place to edit and NOT be who you really are.
        Even the ones with personality tests, ect- I think people go in with the dating mindset- ie they portray themselves as the person they would like to be, not necessarily who they really are.

        For me, for the moment- I am not going to invest alot of time or energy into it.
        I really want to try and focus on other stuff (the good stuff in life) and hope that, yeah- maybe someone will introduce me to someone, or I’ll have opportunities to build relationships with men that arent focused on dating.

        I enjoy the conversations here. They make me think. 🙂
        Have a good evening!

  9. I also lived in a small Midwestern town in my teens. Many of my classmates there married schoolmates, some even while still in high school. I am amazed at the high percentage of these marriages that are still intact. It’s anecdotal but I think it strongly suggests that having similar values, experiences, and expectations improves the odds of marriage lasting.

    Similarly, I think there are reasons that arranged marriages have worked very well for thousands of years in multiple cultures. One is that the perceived requirement of romantic love is completely removed. The marriage works because they commit to it, and they learn to love each other in the marriage. Another reason is that the matchmaking is done from a practical basis, not emotional. They recognize that common cultural and religious beliefs provide a good foundation for a marriage.

  10. Hi Matt,
    I’ve been reading your stuff for some time, (I’m Lisa from NZ), and found this a very interesting read. I am currently trying to get back in the dating game after recently realising I’m never going to have the same values as the man who married and then divorced me. We have spent the last 10+ years doing something, I’ve no idea what, and he’s now in another country and he’s decided he’s polyamourous. I still love him but am tired of feeling lonely and taken for granted, (I really need to stop saying yes to him I guess) so your post really spoke to me. I hate internet dating but as you say is a good place to lay your boundaries and say what you actually want and are looking for. It is scary though, very scary.


  11. This is really good, Matt. And helpful.

    I am finally happily married, after a 5 year failed marriage and a 20+ year failed marriage. Those marriages were never happy, always bad, and I stayed in them for a long time anyway. Ug.

    This time I married my best friend of 5 years. I met him online, as a friend. I was looking for a friend before moving to a new area. He is helping me raise my 2 teens and 3 grandchildren. It’s a tough life and no one’s fantasy, but we are so happy every day just to be hanging out together! We share a common faith and a passion to do good in the world. He runs an autism nonprofit on a volunteer basis. I do “kid stuff.” We almost never go out. But we find fun in everyday moments.

    Thanks for the blogs you write. There’s nothing else like them out there.

  12. “Once you know what you want, those are your boundaries. Then you clearly and honestly communicate those boundaries to him. Then – the hardest part – you enforce those boundaries. You need to be willing to walk away if he doesn’t respect them.”

    I’ve been telling my friends this exact thing for YEARS. But they never listen and I think you’re right. They’re more afraid of being alone now than they are of suffering consequences later.

    Thank you for this.

    1. That’s a dangerous place to be. Sacrificing our future health and wellbeing for short-term “comfort” that’s essentially a figment of our imaginations.

      People can’t be told what to do. They have to learn it. But sometimes we can retroactively drive the point home by saying things that make sense based on past experiences, and then they grow a little.

      At least, that’s how it works for me. I love when I read or hear something and then have the “Ah-ha” moment when I realize I’ve just found the reason for why something unpleasant happened.

      I always feel confident I can avoid it in the future. And that’s an awesome thing.

  13. Pingback: Know What You Want? Enforce Your Boundaries. – Sublunar Reflections

  14. I’ll add a couple of thoughts….

    Most relationships don’t work. Really, only one relationship ever “works out” in your life; maybe two if you’re widowed and remarry. So don’t worry so much about whether it’ll work out or not – the odds are that it won’t – so no pressure! Use each relationship on the way as a sharpening stone to hone your knowledge of what works – and will NOT work – for YOU. And have fun with it; don’t take it too seriously. I met a ton of really neat people when I was dating (and yeah, a lot of folks who really would’ve made GREAT boat anchors…but they were great for entertainment value for my friends!)

    My 1st marriage ended because I spent over 10 years playing the “let’s pretend I’m really someone else” game. Guess what? I got tired. Exhausted. Migraines. I did a great job but couldn’t do it forever.

    I heard this said once: Dating is about CONCEALING; Relationships are about REVEALING. Simple phrase, but helps you really clarify a lot about the folks you date!

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  18. This was something I so needed to read at this point. I was honest. I was upfront about my expectations, I had numerous conversations of what I wanted. I knew who he was and I didn’t try to change him. So when he said he was on board with me, I believed him. It didn’t occur to me that he wasn’t being fully honest about expectations. So when he began ignoring, disrespecting, and crossing boundaries I would forgive him because he had “this” problem or “that” problem at work or with his family. I kept cutting him some slack until it became too much and then I’d have a serious conversation to try to get things back on track. Things would be all right for a few weeks and then he’d be back at it again, and again and again. And again I kept cutting him slack.

    After reading this I finally realized that I cut him too much slack and didn’t “vigilantly enforce boundaries” because I didn’t want to seem like I was nagging or too inflexible. I read stuff constantly saying look at what you did in the marriage and I often got REALLY upset at that saying I did everything I could! I didn’t do anything to contribute to the sad downfall. I did everything to protect it.

    And then I saw this article and I was like duuuuuuuuuuuuude. That was me…I didn’t enforce boundaries every single time. I did a lot of the time but I got so tired of constantly saying something that he eventually got his way and I got taken for granted. Then … finally I got tired of being taken for granted and when I spoke up he acted like I was asking for too much in the relationship. He’d broken all the boundaries and was not having it when I asked to put them back up. I don’t get get … I didn’t get it. He didn’t have a problem with them or me before we got married and then he just did because he kept breaking them down.

    I had no idea that this was what people meant by boundaries and keeping them. Thanks so much for articulating it so well so that I could understand and have an A-HA moment. Thanks for helping me out and helping reassure me that I wasn’t being unreasonable or crazy for asking for the basics in this relationship and for wanting boundaries to be respected in my marriage. THANKS this has helped me so much during such a tough time.

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  20. I liked this post. My issue was my ex lied about his core values and pretended we had the same values (which I have since figured out) in order to date me. For years we seemed to be on the same page until we got serious. Then his true values started to show and it didn’t end well. He was such a good pretender, but I clearly missed red flags along the line. You should include a section or post about people out there like that. There are people out there who either don’t know or aren’t honest about their intentions. Tips on how to watch out for that would be great.

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  22. I liked this post – it is sooooo much harder now – easy to find someone, hard to keep them with so many choices. Done with this one, on to the next. People need to be honest about their intentions and what they want but they also need to keep an open mind and not realize every date is a romance novel either. Onward and upward!

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  27. Would love to follow you on Facebook but had to shut down my account due to insane philandering husband’s EX fun coworker made life unbearable.

    My husband of over 40 years STILL REFUSES TO READ WHAT I SEND TO HIM. After drunk dialing me over a year ago after midnight while out of town…. I was damaged beyond repair.
    Adter realizing NO ONE CARED, I severed relationships.


    All deleted now. So…..

    What do you do with a compulsive LIAR IN DENIAL?

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