This is the second in a 3-part series from author Ginger Emas about The Men We Date, and how to open up to new possibilities.
In Part 1 of this trilogy, I exposed my own personal truth: that for most of my life, I kept choosing the same type of man, expecting different results. As Dr. Phil would say, "How's that working for you?" I can tell you, not so great. Unfortunately, I'm not alone; I've interviewed hundreds of women and most of us have a type and we're sticking to it -- whether it's good for us or not.
After my divorce, I promised myself that I would not date anyone who possessed the same qualities I have always been fatally attracted to: "troubled," "self-destructive," "full of potential but lacking self-confidence." In other words, I would only date people who were completely capable of taking care of themselves.
So I cast a wide net. Dating adventurously, I went out with men who were older than I am and men who were considerably younger. I went out with men who were very religious (my date with a minister), men who were from sects I knew nothing about, and those who were more "spiritual than religious." I dated men with children, men who never wanted children, and men who were, despite their actual age, basically still children themselves. But if I got the sense that a man was needy, troubled or looking to be saved by a woman (my previous "type,"), I declined a second date. I even had one guy tell me that I needed to be cautious as I stepped back out into the dating world; that I exuded a kind of loving-kindness that men would want to latch onto. He said if I wasn't careful, I could be sucked dry. He added that he was essentially warning me from types like himself.
I dated a lot after my divorce, if you call 87 first-dates in two years a lot. During those years -- and the seven dating websites, dozens of singles events, and matchmaking by friends and strangers -- I learned enough to write a book about it. I also decided to hold a workshop for women who were also braving the brave new world of dating the second time around. We swapped relationship stories, dating stories, moving-on stories. I helped them choose dating sites, pictures to post to their profiles, and most importantly, a new way choose the men we date. Because while none of us had ever met before, it was uncanny what we all had in common, and what I continue to see in the workshops I have given since: we seek, date and marry our "type," even when experience has proven that "type" is not a good match.
In that first workshop, all of the women (including me) had been in marriages that involved abuse -- their husbands had either abused them physically or verbally, or their men had abused drugs, alcohol or all of the above. I also discovered that each of these women considered themselves the "responsible" ones in the relationship, and many had learned the hard way that they had become enablers in a co-dependent relationship--and not for the first time.
In other workshops, I've worked with women who exclusively dated "the power man" (read: workaholic); "the charmer" (read: cheater); "the challenge "(read: emotionally unavailable). All of these types seemed to come with unhealthy baggage and a hefty dose of drama.
In many ways, I think I was drawn to the drama as much as the ability to help someone. Many women tell me the same thing -- you get used to the emotional rollercoaster ride. But let me tell you, eventually drama becomes a drag. Saving someone is not sexy. Trying to change someone to get what you need takes a toll. At some point, you want to grow, and you want your partner to grow, too.
As we all know, love is clouded by our emotions and hormones. We fall in love with the very things that will eventually tear the relationship apart. In our ongoing search for Mr. Right, we continue to pick Mr. Wrong.
Deciding to date people outside your comfort zone is easier said than done, but with more than a million single men on reputable dating sites such as Match.com, eHarmony and Chemistry.com, we definitely have a wider pool to choose from. Several sites even have compatibility markers that send you the profiles of men they think you should date -- hell, if we haven't been choosing well for ourselves, what have we got to lose by letting a computer algorithm help us?
Dating differently also forces us to consider just exactly what "different" is. For this, I recommend a ManfileTM -- creating a list of non-negotiables (the things you absolutely will not put up with in a guy ever again) and must-haves (the qualities a man must have in order to be in a relationship with you -- or even to get to a second date.) By creating your new Manfile TM, you have to come up with qualities and characteristics that are different than the ones that would describe your ex. This in itself is a powerful, sometimes magical, exercise. It helps you understand who you are now, and what you want to create in a healthy new relationship.
Years after my divorce, I continued to follow my own advice of dating differently. After all those first dates -- and a couple of healthy, short-term relationships -- I began dating a capable, stable, kind, fun, intelligent and loving man. He is as giving as I am, if not more, and that is completely new for me. He doesn't "need" to be with me; he simply wants to. And that's when I learned that finding someone outside your "type" is only half of the process; learning how to love him -- not enable him, not save him, not live co-dependently -- is another process altogether.
... to be continued...This is the second in a 3-part series from Ginger Emas about Why We Choose The Men We Do. Come back next week to learn more about choosing differently, and how to love a "new type."