If you keep dating guys with the same dirtbag habits over and over again, and those relationships never end well, it might be time to take a closer look at the toxic trends in your dating life, says Matt Lundquist, L.C.S.W., an individual and couples therapist in New York.
We asked the experts for the toxic dating habits they see most often and how to ditch them.
GIVING TO MUCH POWER TO YOUR “PERFECT ON PAPER” LIST
Okay, we’ve all got a metaphorical check-list of things we want in a perfect partner. (Ryan Reynolds' sense of humor, Channing Tatum's dance moves, Ryan Gosling's torso—hey, it could happen!) The reality is, “no one human can be your lover, best friend, career coach, and life-management partner,” says Rebecca Hendrix, L.M.F.T., an integrative holistic psychotherapist. Looking for someone to check every little box is a bad habit to get into.
How to ditch it: “Leave your list at home and be curious about your date as another human being,” says Hendrix. “Go into your date knowing there is something you can learn from every person on the planet, and see what you can learn about this person.” While dating, pay attention to how you feel with him or her, she adds. Are they interested in your life? Do they remember your roommate’s name? Are they really present or always checking their phone? Ultimately, you’re looking for someone who likes being around you as much as you like being around them. “You might miss him if you are only looking for a 6’3’’, blond-haired, executive vice president, marathon runner,” Hendrix says.
DATING MR. UNAVAILABLE
People can be unavailable in obvious ways (they’re married or aren’t into the whole “commitment thing”) and not-so obvious ways (they’ve never had a serious relationship before, or they travel all the time for work)—both are equally toxic when you make a habit out of dating people in these situations over and over again, says Lundquist.
How to ditch it: If every guy you see is unavailable for one reason or another, honestly it might be helpful to see a therapist, says Lundquist. “There's magical thinking at work here: ‘I'll be so wonderful that he'll change and then everything will work out great.’ People who are unavailable very rarely, if ever, become available,” he says. If you’re constantly holding out hope or waiting for a rom com-worthy grand gesture, “these are issues that no relationship can solve,” says Lundquist. “These issues need to be solved in therapy, period.”
GETTING TOO SERIOUS TOO SOON
There’s nothing wrong with having a lot of relationships, but if you regularly go from seeing each other once a week to practically living together, or you're bringing home a different guy for every family holiday, that’s an issue, says Lundquist.
How to ditch it: Slow. It. Down. When you don’t really know someone that well, moving too fast is a recipe for trouble, explains Lundquist. “Less obviously, when things get serious, we tend to start doing less of getting to know one another. We start to act like we've known one another much longer than we really do,” he says. “You need to have a few fights, a few disrupted travel experiences, have met a few annoying friends. In other words, you need to go through some stuff before you can know whether the relationship has legs.”
DAY DREAMING ABOUT THE FUTURE
If you have this perfect picture of the relationship in your mind, you might be missing out on the reality of it, says Hendrix. “Leave your ideal vision for your future relationship at home on your vision board where it belongs."
How to ditch it: Stay present. “The first few dates are about getting to know the person, to see if you have enough compatibility and chemistry to want to spend more time together,” explains Hendrix. “If you are day dreaming about the two of you biking Vermont together just because they said they like to cycle, you aren’t in the present moment.” Then you might miss the part where your date says he or she only likes beat-bumping spin classes, and hates nature.
IGNORING THAT BIG RED FLAG
That said, you need to be at least a little future-oriented if you're interested in a long-term relationship. If you find yourself constantly saying, “He’s perfect…except for this one little thing,” make sure that little thing isn’t actually a deal breaker, like you want kids and he doesn’t, or he can’t marry outside of his religion. What might not seem like it matters when you first start dating (like kids and marriage) could land you heartbroken time after time if you keep hoping those differences will magically disappear.
How to ditch it: Problems tend not to vanish, says Lundquist. “You have to move towards the problem—name it, express concern about it, insist that it be dealt with sooner rather than later.”
BEING TOO GUARDED
“People can be jerks in the realm of dating,” says Lundquist. In ghosting’s golden age, there are lots of ways you can get burned—falling into the ice-queen role isn’t uncommon. If you date a lot but never really give anyone a chance, it’s time for a new approach.
How to ditch it: “Thinking you can head out into the world of dating and avoid ever getting hurt is a myth,” Lundquist says. That said, there are healthy ways of managing that risk without leaving you totally closed off. “Work on understanding your blind spots, be prepared to walk away early on if someone is gross, and have a plan to wash the bad taste out of your mouth,” he says. “If you're confident that you won't let the bad stuff happen, you're better able to relax and have fun."
NOT HAVING YOUR GUARD UP ENOUGH
On the flipside, dating with too much of an “F-it-let's-just-have-fun” attitude, can be an equally toxic dating habit. For example, you wouldn't loan your apartment to someone you just met, and it doesn't hurt to think twice before letting essentially a stranger into your home. It's important to be smart about the situation.
How to ditch it: “Date safe—not just in terms of physical safety, but also emotionally,” says Lundquist. When you’re first getting to know someone, he advises planning an "out" for your first few dates just in case he turns out to be an asshole. “Don't date privately,” he adds. “Relationships that aren't shared with friends are more likely to be unsafe.”
BEING TOO CRITICAL
“Many of us go into the dating arena very cautiously—with good reason. There are a lot of bad men out there,” says Hendrix. But being too cautious or critical can be toxic too. “Just because he sends a gif in a text doesn’t mean he’s not the guy. Just because he wants to split the bill doesn’t mean he’s not the guy, either—maybe his last date was offended he offered to pay.”
How to ditch it: “Stop trying to find reasons why your date is not your soul mate,” says Hendrix. Are his dad jokes really a dealbreaker? Probably not. Instead of listing the things you don’t like about the guy you just met on Bumble, “try to focus on what he is doing right,” says Hendrix.
You know what they say about people who make assumptions…“It’s a risky game to assume rather than be curious and clarify,” says Hendrix. Just because your new guy also loves volunteering and trying new adventure sports, doesn’t mean he wouldn’t do something you’d never do—like rack up a ton of credit card debt, she explains.
How to ditch it: Ultimately, breaking this habit is about simply being curious about the person you’re dating, says Hendrix. “Assume nothing, ask everything.”
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US