For many of us, dating is a recreational activity.…a sport or a game, like the NBA Playoffs or the ever-addictive Words With Friends. At its best dating is a ritual that brings two people together to explore the potential for building a longer-term, more serious relationship. At the unhealthier end of the spectrum, it can be a compulsive and self-sabotaging behavioral pattern that I call “Dating While Broken.”
Dating While Broken is what some people do when going through a major life transition such as unemployment, divorce, loss of a loved one, foreclosure, bankruptcy, etc. The central purpose of DWB is to escape responsibility, not to create a loving union. As a woman who has gone through her share of life’s ups and downs, I am unfortunately all too familiar with this syndrome. At one point in my life I was a repeat offender. It took a long time, but I eventually learned (the hard way, I might add) that escapism is a surefire recipe for disaster.
Being “broken” isn’t a character flaw or a sign of weakness. Emotional pain or suffering is a very normal response to the painful and challenging situations that are for better or worse, a part of the human experience. But because they are in pain, someone who is Dating While Broken pursues new relationships from a position of fear and avoidance, not from empowerment and self-love. Some of the symptoms of that you may be going through a “broken” period include:
- Negative Nellying: If you stop long enough to listen to the tape in your head you’ll find that far too many of your thoughts are negative and full of harsh self-judgement.
- Emotional Rollercoasting: You’re moods are unpredictable, constantly going up and down, up and down. You spend a lot of time managing your feelings, instead of simply just living in the moment or being happy.
- Central Casting: You’re less interested in getting to know who they really are. Instead, your focus is on how they can fit into your fantasy of who you need them to be. The obvious problem with this is that you aren’t dealing with people as people with their own needs and desires, but as objects to satisfy your own.
- Misplaced Priorities: The stress one faces while going through a major transition can create overwhelming feelings of anxiety. You’re already struggling with getting through your day-to-day responsibilities, however instead of focusing on what needs to be done, you focus your attention on the person(s) you’re dating.
Look, I realize there’s no “perfect” time to date. The reality is that life is messy sometimes. But knowing (or in some cases not knowing) you are broken and dating anyway is a way to distract ourselves from the bigger issues that need to be faced. Admittedly, there is something absolutely delicious about the endorphin rush that accompanies a new romance. But once the high of begins to wear off (typically within the first 3 to 6 months) you’re left having to face the same feelings you had BEFORE you met them. When they surface, your new-ish honey is going to be left wondering why you’re now such a wet blanket. After all, you were probably struggling with the same issues before you began experiencing “Sexual Healing” with your “Cherie Amour”.
Some people have said to me, “It ain’t that deep. Anyone I’m spending time with ain’t lookin for anything serious, either.” But if that’s the case you’re only engaging in the game of “Let’s pretend.” (“Let’s pretend that I can handle casual, non-committed sex. Let’s pretend I’m available for a real relationship. Let’s pretend that I can afford to pay for that dinner at Red Lobster while the IRS is breathing down my neck.”) If they aren’t lookin and you aren’t lookin, then perhaps you’re both just using each other for the moment. In the end, the “Let’s pretend” game will give you the additional pressure of having to navigate a faux “non-relationship” while you’re still struggling to get through your current circumstances.
Human beings are hard wired to try and avoid pain. But we are also capable of tremendous courage and strength. Navigating through life’s inevitable trials and tribulations requires discipline and the ability to delay immediate gratification in exchange for the achievement of our larger life goals. In my opinion, the wisest thing one can do when going through a major life transition is avoid seeking a new intimate relationship. Drawing a line in the sand and declaring a dating moratorium isn’t necessarily easy, especially if there is tantalizing honey who is already in your life that is making your heart race. But those hours spent on the phone/internet/email seeking a new romantic interest can be much better used facing the larger life issues that really need to be handled.
It’s only when we are operating from a space of wholeness that we have a real chance of creating lasting, loving and healthy intimate relationships. Instead of pursuing a new relationship (or multiple ones, for that matter) when going through a difficult time, why not give yourself the chance to simply be? If new friends are made during this time, by all means enjoy them–platonically. The most enduring and loving intimate relationships often begin as friendships. If they can love you as a friend while you’re going through difficult times, you’ve got at the very least the foundation of what could eventually become a healthy intimate relationship – once the dust settles.
Sil Lai Abrams is EBONY.com’s Relationship Expert and the author of No More Drama: 9 Simple Steps to Transforming a Breakdown into a Breakthrough and a board member of the National Domestic Violence Hotline. Follow her on Twitter: @sil_lai and connect with her on Facebook. Want Sil Lai’s advice? Email SilLai@ebony.com to have your love questions answered in a future column!