It’s Valentine’s Day, you’re single, and you can’t bear to watch a parade of red roses pass you by for yet another year. Don’t worry—we’ve got a big box of Schadenfreude, gift-wrapped especially for you!
Here’s the dirty little secret this angst-filled holiday carries: Just because the woman next door has a boyfriend—and the requisite Valentine’s Day gift—doesn’t mean she has a happy and healthy relationship. Feeling better, yet?
Do you really want an oversize teddy bear and some bad chocolate from a guy you don’t even like that much?
Jennifer Gauvain, therapist, and Anne Milford, relationship researcher and survivor, have talked to hundreds of women who settled for unfulfilling relationships. In every case, both partners ultimately said “I do” to an equally unfulfilling marriage. Why do smart women let this happen?
Here are the top five reasons women date (and usually marry) the wrong guy:
1. Loneliness and insecurity.
“I was needy and lacked self-confidence, despite my professional success. I sought to fill that gap with a man.”
Latching on to a man for the sake of latching on will not make you feel better. It might work for awhile, but it won’t last. Want unconditional love? Get a dog or cat instead.
2. Belief that a relationship is a solution to their problems.
“I didn’t want to keep foundering in my life all by myself.”
Don’t look to a man—or a relationship—to solve your problems. Figure out what’s really bothering you—your job, unrealistic expectations of yourself and others, your harried 21st-century lifestyle—and tackle your issues by yourself.
3. External pressures (passing time, friends, family, etc.)
“All my friends were dating seriously. I think I subconsciously planned on getting serious with the next person that came along. It didn’t really matter who it was!”
No one’s opinion matters more than your own. Don’t let outside pressure or some arbitrary timetable dictate your life. It won’t end well.
4. Belief that he will fix her/she will fix him
“I convinced myself I could make any relationship work. I would be whoever I needed to be to make it work.”
It’s not your job to fix him or change him. And you shouldn’t change who you are in order to make any relationship work. If you need something fixed, hire a handyman. If you need to fix yourself, find a good therapist.
5. Ignoring red flags and gut feelings
“Honestly, I always had a gut feeling he wasn’t the right one, even from our first date, but I went with it because he really pursued me.”
Instincts are to relationships what Pepto-Bismol is to indigestion. Your gut feelings are your internal warning system. Ignore them at your own peril.
Any of this sound familiar? If you’re in a relationship, ask yourself which reason resonates with you... and why. If you’re single, promise you won’t let these reasons lead you astray.
As for Valentine’s Day—overrated. Do you really want an oversize teddy bear and some bad chocolate from a guy you don’t even like that much? Of course not! Instead, give yourself a gift and commit to honoring your gut feelings. That way, you’ll have the courage to wait for the right guy and the wisdom to recognize him when he shows up.
So what about the guys? All you single men, go ahead and give yourself a collective high-five. You’ve got nothing to worry about—this year. For those of you who are in a relationship—listen up:
Just like the ladies, it boils down to your gut feelings. If you’re dating someone, and something doesn’t feel quite right, pay attention. Men have intuition, too. If you’re dreading the thought of buying a Valentine’s gift for your honey, you need to figure out why. Ask yourself these two important questions:
1. Am I resentful because I feel as if I’m backed into a corner and forced to buy a gift on this contrived holiday?
If it’s all about feeling “forced,” skip the gift, and proceed directly to a favorite restaurant. Everyone enjoys a fabulous meal and she’ll appreciate the thought. (But don’t forget to show her you care the other 364 days of the year!)
If the first answer is no, try this:
2. Am I avoiding Valentine’s Day because deep down I really don’t think this relationship is right for me?
If yes, you’ve got a problem. We hate to advise anyone to end a relationship on Valentine’s Day… but end it you must. Similar to what we asked the ladies, do you really want to give a gift—and the attendant message it sends—to a woman you don’t really like? Of course not. So the best gift you can give to yourself—and your soon-to-be-ex-girlfriend—is the truth. Well, maybe you can wait until the 15th. And when you do break up, be nice about it! The Golden Rule works well here. Just remember that neither one of you is going to find the right partner if you are stuck in a relationship with the wrong one.
Milford and Gauvain are the authors of the forthcoming How Not to Marry the Wrong Guy: Is He the One or Should You Run? (Broadway/Random House, May 2010). Gauvain works as a marriage and family therapist with clients around the country and Milford writes and speaks extensively on the subject of dating and relationships. For more information visit their blog at coldfeetpress.com.