Hey, you there recovering from divorce. Yeah, you -- the chumpy one. Sit your codependent butt down for a moment and listen to me -- know your worth.
Before you date again, before you draft your winsome match.com profile, before you even think about entangling yourself with another person -- know your worth.
You'll see these words about dating after a bad relationship, (or series of bad relationships): "fix your picker." You might skip over that, thinking, "This wasn't my fault. I didn't make them cheat. They weren't a bad person when I met them. This happened unfortunately. Better luck next time, right?" Wrong. I don't care how hoodwinked you were by sparkles -- how innocent, how happy your previous 20 years of wedded bliss were before they descended into a midlife crisis -- you must work on that picker. If for no other reason then after you've been through a divorce -- or really any horrible loss -- you're vulnerable. And bad people can sniff out vulnerability like sharks sniff out blood in the water.
Vulnerability, with a shot of temporary low self esteem and a side of hyper-responsibility (single parents, I'm talking to you), is an intoxicating combination that makes you catnip to disordered wing nuts.
Don't freak out, it's not inevitable that you'll end up with one. I'm not saying never trust again -- in fact, I hate that Oh woe! There are no good ones left! doomsday crap. I'm saying know your worth. Protect yourself, shore up those boundaries and know what you will and will not tolerate before you dip into the dating pool again.
Your picker is on you. When you know that you deserve good treatment, mutuality, respect and most of all peace in your relationships? You won't be so quick to succumb to the charms of a wing nut. Crazy people can only sustain normalcy for so long before the crazy starts to show. Do not spackle over their red flags because you're afraid to be alone. Because you've gotten invested for a few months and have high hopes. This is how I feel about hope -- bludgeon it with a fencepost -- operate with full lucidity.
How do you shore up your picker? Here are some tips:
Do NOT rescue anyone. Healthy people don't need rescuing. They pay their bills. They function like adults. They manage their crises. Sure, everyone has some bad luck sometimes. We can all use a helping hand on rare occasion. But how people meet the challenges in their life says a lot about them. Good people do not presume. If they lounge around on fainting sofas waiting to have their brow mopped while you bring them a hot toddy and your check book -- steer clear.
Do NOT settle for lopsided arrangements. You need a partner, a friend, not a project. Healthy relationships are based on reciprocity. Don't do for someone who wouldn't do for you. And don't presume reciprocity (oh, of course they would) -- watch what they do. Do they pick up the check? Do they hurry to do for you like you do for them? Do they get pleasure from giving to you? Or it is all about them?
I see a lot of guys fall for this. They want to be a caretaker, feel needed and powerful and are flattered by apparent "helplessness." Choose a competent person with a job and their own money, guys. Find an equal. Women fall for the caretaker role too -- they jump in as "mommy" and polish the jerk up, find them employment, manage their life. Don't do this. Healthy people aren't looking for parents and life coaches. That's not your job, okay? Your job is girlfriend/boyfriend. That's it.
Do NOT run yourself down. Oh, no one would want me because I'm a single parent/I have a special needs kid/I'm fat/I'm old... whatever. If you're a good person and you're responsible and loving? You're a stock that trades high. Never forget it. Bonus points if you have all your hair and teeth.
Beware of people who lead with self pity. Is it always someone else's fault? Do they see themselves as a poor sausage, and worse, do they want you to see yourself that way too? Do they flatter you by running other people down around you? Oh, your parents don't understand you. They suck. She's out to get you. He wants your job. Wing nuts isolate their victims. It's us against them. Only you understand me. Wing nuts idolize and devalue you. Why? Because it's always about them and they need an ally to help them get the things they want. The self pity is real. The pity for you was fake. You're just of use.
Beware the love bombers. If it seems too good to be true? It probably is. Take it slow. Crazy will reveal itself. Anyone who moves too fast or "loves" you before they have a good long time to get to know you? That's a red flag. Pay attention to how much they really know about you. Are they truly paying attention to your quirks and interests or are they feigning it with vague, over the top praise? Do you feel like your best self with them, like you do an old friend who loves you warts and all? Or do you feel like you're living a technicolor fantasy? Keep it real and don't be in a rush. Let enough time elapse to let their character show.
Last but not least -- do not be afraid to dump someone. If someone is pressuring you for a permanent commitment too soon (marriage, moving in with you), or on the other side, is vague and non-commital about exclusivity (after many months or years together) -- dump. Have deal breakers and abide by them. Don't be afraid to "next" someone, because I promise you there is always a next. There are many, many people out there. You can afford to be choosey. Don't panic if you meet a lot of sucky people, or decent not-quite-a-good-fit folks. You'll learn from them, and may just enjoy something light and casual. Not everyone is life partner material, (assuming you even want that).
Be careful out there. A good heart is a terrible thing to waste.
Follow Tracy Schorn on Twitter: www.twitter.com/chumplady