Dating involves rejection and uncertainty so the process is ripe for us to use psychological defenses, to help protect us from being hurt in love. The problem with defenses is that they can keep the other person at bay. And we all know that a soul mate will love the real you when you risk opening your heart and really connecting with them.
In my twenty years as a psychotherapist, I’ve seen these dating defenses play out even when the person doesn’t realize it. So, here are 7 common dating defenses and how you can notice them as well as begin to counteract them:
1. The Avoider
The Avoider likes to avoid dating for fear of getting hurt. They won’t show up at an event or date last minute and they’ll tell themselves something like, ‘Rest tonight and you’ll go next time.’ If you do this, a way to challenge this tendency is to hold yourself accountable for going out to meet people and/or ask someone else to help keep you honest. If you want to attract love, you need to take steps towards it, instead of letting fear hold you back.
2. The Needy Dater
This dater expects a date to be very interested and committed right off the bat. He expects dates to read his mind and to be intensely present in his life. This defense seems protective because he feels that if he’s clear about his needs and expectations, he won’t settle for less. It is unrealistic to expect so much closeness early on, so to challenge this defensive style, he can practice fulfilling his own needs and putting less pressure on dates. He can remind himself and his dates that he has a fulfilling, full life of his own to share.
3. The Independent
This dater uses her independence as a way not to get too close because deep down she’s afraid of relying on anyone and getting hurt. Even after a year into a relationship she makes her partner feel that she doesn’t need him in any real way. He doesn’t feel important or valued. She rationalizes, ‘If I don’t ever need need a guy, he can’t hurt me.’ If this stance becomes too extreme, she can challenge it by letting her date in emotionally, a little at a time. For example, when she is sick (even though she can take care of herself) she can let her date bring her some soup.
4. The Perfectionist
This dater feels that if they’re really picky, they won’t make a mistake and get hurt. This causes them to look for perfection in a date, which isn’t realistic. If you employ this defensive dating style you can actively look for the good things in the other person and agree to reasonable standards only!
5. The Pleaser
This person feels they need to do everything to please their dates because they are afraid their dates won’t like them otherwise. They forgo sharing their real interests and don’t assert their needs and desires in order to avoid rejection. The problem is that although their date may like them, they won’t ever get to know the real person! If you are a pleaser and want to challenge this, begin taking risks to disagree, to speak your truth and to assert desires. In this way you’ll be able to discern who is truly a good fit for you.
6. The Project Master
This dater finds prospective dates to save. This feels protective because if they have a special role as “the fixer,” they feel their date will need and appreciate them for their efforts to help. We all have good qualities but The Project Master will find a guy who is smart but an alcoholic with no job who has always cheated on his girlfriends. Then she will decide that he has potential and that she is just the person to save him! The problem is that people don’t change unless they want to. To counteract this dating defense she can begin to write out the things that she most wants in a date and what is unacceptable. She can look for someone who takes care of his own life from the start, someone who will give back to her as much as she gives to him.
7. The Romantic
This dater is in love with love, more than the reality of the other person. This is the type of dater that imagines marrying the woman after the first date… even though he doesn’t yet really know her, or their compatibility. He may feel his fantasies are better than reality and they allow him to overlook anything negative so he doesn’t feel worried or upset. Of course, in the long run this doesn’t work because it’s not grounded in reality. This dater needs to learn to base his feelings on the real person before him, in the present. He should catch himself, try to slow down and let the relationship unfold naturally.
I actually list 15 defensive dating styles and have a quiz so you learn about yours, in my book, Dating from the Inside Out, published by Atria Books.