In her new book Love Me, Don’t Leave Me, therapist and author Michelle Skeen offers tips on mindfulness while dating and learning to accept your partner’s flaws. She also discusses understanding how to take “warning signs” into consideration, when meeting a new potential lover. We had a chance to catch up with this relationship expert, and learned some tips about exploring the always-confusing and eternally intriguing dating scene.
For many single women, especially those who are in their thirties or forties and are looking for long-term relationships, looking for the “perfect guy” is a challenge. In your opinion, what are some tips to learn to accept flaws while dating?
One of the first things that I take the reader through in my book is to understand yourself and get to know what works best for you, and also what doesn’t work. Get to know yourself, as we’re not perfect people. This is a barrier to getting into a relationship. Oftentimes, this is unconscious. It’s important to focus on what’s realistic.
As much as I enjoy watching romantic comedies, that’s a big order on the shopping list! A lot of relationships can develop into that, but it takes a lot of work. Some people think when the right person comes along, no work is needed. I liked that show Married At First Sight, where people were put together based on how they looked on paper. The thing I loved about the show was that there were experts helping them, but even in the best situation, you can’t run away from an imperfect interaction, situation or person.
It’s important to not be rigid and to stay focused on your communication skills. We are all designed to be in love and to be partnered. My purpose of writing this book is to help women overcome these barriers
What are the unconscious behaviours that can really change the route a relationship is taking, and maybe lead to a break-up or a troubled relationship?
I talked about “testing” earlier, where a lot of the times we test the other person. We want the other person to test us, but we’re not thinking “Oh, I want to test this”. Maybe you start showing parts of yourself that are less attractive, or will show him that you’re not perfect. Maybe you worry that if you’re not perfect, he won’t want to be with you. I think in the early stages of a relationship, you have less of a history and can push that person away. In the middle stages, the other person becomes challenged. “I’ve proven myself to you, why do I need to keep doing this?” There’s this person who is throwing a lot of these uncertain conversations or situations into the relationship. That’s one way it can play out. There’s that self-fulfilling prophecy, and you have proof.
Do women often ignore initial warning signs that a man may not be the “perfect guy” for them? What are these signs?
I added a final chapter to my book that is designed to give strategies and tips to new couples who have just started going out. I think we always want to be done with the dating, and want this guy to be “the guy.” It’s easy to overlook early warning signs, and say “oh maybe he’s having a bad day.” Even though it doesn’t sound romantic, keep a journal and keep track of these behaviours. It’s new, it’s easy to get swept away, and think “oh, he didn’t really do that before.” We can all engage in these behaviours, so it is important to identify if it’s a pattern.
For example, there can be the black and white thinker, who has strong opinions on everything. It’s normal for all of us to have one or two areas that we’re passionate about, but with this person, there’s no grey in his life. That’s someone who you would want to avoid, if it’s a pattern.
The other type is a victim, blames others and does not take any responsibility. Another type is the ex-talker, who can’t stop talking about his ex in a negative way. While it wouldn’t be good if he always spoke of his ex in a positive light, this guy won’t take any shared responsibility. There is also the criticizer, who may not be critical of you right away, but you can anticipate that he may be later.
There is also the idealizer, who puts you on a pedestal and sees you as perfect. The last type is the Don Juan, who is constantly flirting with everyone, whether it’s the waitress, barista or hostess. He is not just focused on you, but also on other women.
This devalues you and you wouldn’t want to be in a relationship with him. It’s easy for us to go to the extremes and reject people, however. That was just a quick chapter at the end, but there’s a section for women who are overcoming certain fears.
What are your best ways for women to stay strong, assertive and open-minded while dating, both before and after they’ve found a great partner?
It’s important to appreciate parts of your life that are working, even without a partner. You might end up meeting someone while doing an activity. Be active, this will make you a happier person, and we’re all attracted to happy people. Get caught doing what you love.
What do you want the other person to see you doing- not staying in your apartment and hiding! Don’t think about it, just do it. Women think too much, and this can be a barrier to action. Pay attention to your behaviours.
For women in their twenties who are trying to figure themselves out, if it starts with only sex, there is already so much pressure on both people. You may attribute nicer qualities to the guy, in order to make it work, or this may lead to you backtracking.
Many relationships which start with just sex never get to the relationship stage, although some do. I love working with younger people, because it is easier to adopt new behaviours. There are no deeply entrenched behaviours, so they are interested in change. However, the dating scene is not just confined to one age group. For women who are older, the change is more dramatic.