Break Your Bad Dating Patterns

Whether it's watching Law & Order obsessively or your Sunday morning paper ritual, your habits give you a sense of security. Usually they're harmless, but in dating, bad habits can keep you in an emotional no-fly zone that prevents you from landing the right partner. We asked relationship therapists for advice on breaking the four most common patterns that cause problems.

Hurtful habit #1: You just can't axe the ex
Most of us have been down the on-again-off-again road before. "I know my boyfriend isn't right for me, but after every breakup we wind up back together," says Ryan from Boston. "It's great for a while, but then all the same issues resurface." Obviously there's a strong bond between you two, says Tina Tessina, Ph.D., author of Gay Relationships. But if it isn't working out, the time you spend on this guy is time not spent on the love of your life. How do you convince yourself it's over for good? "Have a ceremony," says Tessina. "It will help you achieve closure and foster a -can't go back' mentality." Destroy something symbolic of the relationship, like a picture or trinket. And enlist your friends-since they're tired of hearing about your repetitive ordeals, they'll likely help you stick to your goal of finally being free.

Hurtful habit #2: You bail at the first sign of trouble
"Whenever problems arise with a guy, I take it as a sign that things just aren't meant to be and break it off," says Brian from Wakefield, MA, who's certainly not the only love-'em-and-leave-'em offender. "Taking any relationship to a deeper level means you could get hurt," says Scott Haltzman, M.D., clinical assistant professor at Brown University's department of psychiatry and human behavior. "And the idea of being hurt is so intolerable for some that they'd rather leave the relationship." How to stop panicking and packing up? Spend more time with friends and family, says Haltzman. Counter-intuitive as it may sound, you'll then be able to dive into dating. Here's why: You'll be confident that if something goes wrong in your love life, you've still got an amazing network of support.

If it's not fear but boredom that makes you split after a few fun dates, you probably like the idea of being attractive to a person but aren't actually interested in a relationship. If that's the case, do yourself and potential sweeties a favor and only look for others who are interested in casual dates.

Hurtful habit #3: After a date or two, you're sure it's love
Not only have you Googled, Friendstered and People Searched him, you're planning the commitment ceremony in your head. "I tend to get attached really quickly," says Alex from Alfred, NY. "I wind up scaring the guy off or just getting let down." Often, a fear of being alone contributes to this rush to commit, says Patricia A Farrell, Ph.D., author of How to be Your Own Psychologist. "Take things slowly, and get to know the person as a human, not as a potential soul mate," she says. The more you romanticize, the greater the chance that the reality won't live up to the fantasy. That's where premature Googling can hinder your relationship: You're creating a picture of someone that may be totally different from what he's able to offer you. Plus, if you bring up something that you could only know from running his name through a search engine, things can be awkward. (Can you say "stalker"?!) Getting to know someone, faults and all, is the best way to create a fulfilling bond.

Hurtful habit #4: You like having a date (or two) on deck
While some people have together-forever daydreams after a first date, other guys fantasize about who they'll be going out with tomorrow night. "I like to date a lot of guys at once," says Ido from New York City. "That way if one doesn't work out, I know I have someone else." The serial dater is fearful of winding up alone, which is why he keeps a replacement sweetie hanging around. Sure, he may say it's so he doesn't seem desperate, but he actually is desperate...for control. "Having a guy waiting in the wings makes a man feel in control of his love life, says Tessina. Trouble is, the more you juggle, the less chance there is you'll get to know any one person well enough to develop something meaningful. So ask yourself, of the people you're dating, who are you the most compatible with on several levels: looks, personality, etc? Which one would you call if you were sick and needed a grocery run? Try dating just that person for a while, even if you fully intend to go back on the market at some point. If you never narrow the playing field, you may never score a home run.

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