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I’ve been in enough pseudo, illusionary relationships to know that I have sometimes made assumptions about the state of play and engaged in behaviour that was counterproductive to me actually forging a healthy relationship with a chance of growing. This happens because the lines get blurred between ‘dating’ and a ‘relationship’ and we start building sandcastles in the sky and love and trust blindly even when there is real evidence to show that we should be rolling back.

I get asked a lot of questions about dating but I felt the easiest way to start a series of posts addressing dating was to say:

You need to go into dating with a reasonable level of trust and self-esteem. Let’s imagine that you go through life and engaging with people that you have just met and don’t know enough about them to know exactly how much you can trust them, it’s best to have reasonable level of trust and increase or roll back accordingly based on your interactions with them.

Dating is a discovery period. If you imagine that the idea of dating is about discovering other people and seeing how much you ‘click’ and whether you have enough going on to forge a relationship, this period is for you to learn about one another…even if what you learn is bad news.

This is why you shouldn’t be so committed to a relationship you don’t have yet because if the ‘feedback’ is ‘Abort mission! Back away from the target and abort mission’, if you’re too invested, you’ll think ‘Yeah..but I love him! I can change him! And this one time in bandcamp he said he was going to marry me and take me on a cruise!’

Unfortunately, we don’t all date for the same reasons.

Some people date because they are genuinely looking for a relationship.
Some people date to pass time.
Some people date to get laid and they pretend that they want more so that they don’t endanger the possibility of getting laid.
Some people date because they’re afraid to be alone.
Some people date because they want to see what’s out there – a bit like experimenting.
Some people date lots of people and treat it like a numbers game but don’t end up being close to anyone.
Some people date because even though they claim to want a relationship, they’re afraid of commitment and have no true genuine desire to forge a committed healthy relationship, but have not connected their actions with the results and assume it’s ‘everyone else’s fault’.
Some people will claim they want a relationship, but are afraid of commitment, but feel compelled to keep ‘trying’ placing the onus on some mystical person to come along and ‘change their mind’.

Many people date and have intentions to have a decent, healthy relationship but don’t always behave in ways that are productive for dating or a relationship making it you in the end, incompatible.

You just don’t know enough about someone immediately or even in the first few dates to know whether they are on the same page as you with their intentions, although if you say you’re looking for a relationship and sex is the primary thing being pushed on their agenda for example, you can rest assured that no matter what they say about looking for a relationship, they’re looking to get laid.

If you date someone and take the time to get to know them, you can work out whether you actually do want the same thing as opposed to saying that you do and something else resulting.

If you’re looking for a relationship and they’re looking for a relationship then you have a starting point.

LOOKING FOR A RELATIONSHIP + LOOKING TO PASS TIME = YOU BEING IN LIMBO WHILE THEY FLIP FLAP

LOOKING FOR A RELATIONSHIP + LOOKING FOR A SHAG = YOU BEING USED FOR A SHAG & BEING AN ‘ACCIDENTAL BOOTY CALL’

LOOKING FOR A SHAG + LOOKING FOR A SHAG = GOOD TIMES (but if you change your mind and start looking for a relationship, you’ll become an accidental booty call)

If you’ve had a history of being involved in dubious relationships or base a lot of your interactions around attraction, chemistry, and common interests, you are likely to need to address some of your beliefs about dating to have greater dating success, starting with remembering what dating is about:

Dating is a discovery period. It is a fact finding phase where when you get involved with someone, you go in with a reasonable level of trust and then use your discoveries like an internal system of checks and balances.

You go in with your eyes and ears open and your feet on the ground and as you engage and interact with them, using your boundaries, values, and awareness, you either increase your level of trust because their words and actions match up and you feel good within the relationship, or you decrease your level of trust because you get signals and evidence that show that the basic level of trust you date with is misplaced with this person. If you do these things as a basic, it won’t be a hardship to do and you’ll filter the information naturally and process the signals.

You cannot make the decision that you’re in a relationship until you’ve gone beyond the point of seeing past attraction, appearance, chemistry, and common interests, to whether you have shared values.

You’ll only find out if you have shared values and a foundation of care, trust, and respect that can lead to love in a loving relationship if you take the time to get to know the person in the reality for who they are. You cannot do this if you’re already in lala land building sandcastles in the sky betting on potential or building a fake future with someone in spite of the fact that they don’t back up their words with actions.

Dating is the beginning. There’s the initial dates where really, you’re finding out if you want to take the time to continue getting to know one another. This leads into the interim stage where you date some more and continue the discovery, which can lead into a loving relationship.

If you enter at the beginning, jump straight into bed or sexual contact and decide you’re in a loving relationship before it is a loving relationship, you will miss vital clues and information that tell you whether it can be a loving relationship in the first place.

The mistake that many people make in dating is assuming that because they find someone attractive, feel a chemistry with them, and share some common interests that it’s a match made in heaven because they make blind assumptions with these nuggets of information and correlate them to the rest of the person and assume they share the same values.

If you use dating as a discovery phase, even if you do feel attraction, chemistry and have common interests, you’ll seek to discover whether you have shared values.

If you miss the vital steps in dating and don’t take the time to lay the foundations, you’ll end up in a shady relationship built on little or no foundations wondering why the relationship isn’t working. It stands to reason that if the way that you have been dating isn’t working, to continue to repeat these behaviours would be relationship insanity. It’s time to get out of stuck and take your time.

Dating takes time. Take the time to get to know people you’re dating and don’t be too quick to give away all the goods, whether that’s sex, your full trust, or your commitment. There is no fire – do due diligence and you will reap the rewards.

Your thoughts?

Mr Unavailable & The Fallback Girl is a no holds barred guide to emotionally unavailable men and the women that love them and will provide all the missing clues to why you date the men that you do. Also check out the rest of my ebooks in my bookshop. For personal advice or analysis of your relationship/situation, check out my consultation service.
Image source: SXC

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32 Responses to Why Dating Is a Discovery Phase To Work Out If You Want a Relationship (With Them)

  1. Gosh-glad i haven’t dated anyone but my husband for 20+years. LOl

  2. judy says:

    great post…this is probably a no brainer but from now on I am speaking up front, clearly and honestly about what i want and find out where the man is at, this is after initial attraction, maybe even the first date. no more subterfuge, hidden agendas and sandcastling which i am a pro at.

    for me to be successful going forward i must control the physical element, i always wanted to please and was in hurry for the physical experience that i jumped in way too soon, it ruins the possibility of what could have been without all of that form of release.

    i missed in my youth, the first love business and all the innocence of young love and proper dating but i am not at all bitter about it, it is something i hope to rekindle in present life as well as the beauty of it, the innocence and the joy in my work.

  3. jenny says:

    Recently out of a bad relationship and successfully implementing NC, this is good information to mull over now before I start dating again. For me, this is like dating 101 and relearning, unlearning the bad, and staying on the path of healthier future interactions with men and potential relationships. Instead of the newspaper, I now read this blog and the archives with my coffee in the morning. What an empowering way to start my day!

  4. notsosadthing says:

    All too true, I have spent my entire adult life trying to forge relationships based on instant and overwhelming attraction. Needless to say this approach has never worked long term.

    Only now, in my 50’s, do I realise that my instant attraction has always been to emotional replicas of my father, so doomed to fail. The idea of dating and actually getting to know someone is so totally outside of my experience that I cannot imagine it, but then I have never tried it!

    Not sure how to proceed with the whole ‘dating’ concept at my age but I suppose that once we understand what we are looking for and why, then it becomes easier to experiment with other people no matter how we meet them. Scary though!

  5. l.a. says:

    When you talk about “dating”, how long of time is this usually to be? I know everyone moves at different paces and has different schedules in their lives to begin with. Yet, how long is long enough to say okay, we are boyfriend/girlfriend now.

  6. nubienne says:

    This is such a good post! Thank you for this, I live in NYC where the men really play with dating and a relationship, taking you on so many dates and saying they wan’t to continue “doing this” but then 3 months out you’ve been trying to play cool you don’t even know if you’re in a bonafide relationship for sure or not and never took the time to discover those key issues!

  7. Eathan says:

    Well said. People date for many reasons. Of course, the classic reason to date is to screen for the potential long term.

  8. Miss Thang 2010 says:

    2 months of NC with an EU Assclown! I am ‘dating’ casually… meaning I tell everyone I date – my eventual goal is a long term relationship – but right now, I wan tto go slow and get to know many people before I committ to any one person – I encourage them to do the same… and I do NOT have sex with them.

    Guess what happens – now they all want me? What a change from 2 years with a man who never complimented me, never wanted sex, rejected me, and basically blew me off more times than I can count.. Its empowering to be open and honest about what II really want and how long I plan on taking to get there. I looked through my past relationships and relaized most of what you need to know about a guy you start to see in the first 3-6 months (not always but usually)… so my plan is date someone I really like for a full 6 months before I committ – this gives me time to let the early dating hoopla settle down and get to know the real man, warts and all.

  9. Pushing.Thru says:

    This post came to me at a perfect time, i’ve been “dating” a new guy for the past month or so – and it hasn’t moved in the direction that i hoped it would.
    Started over “bbm” – great conversation,… and lots of flirting – i am like you – *Miss Thang 2010* – where I’d like to take things slow, now that I’m AC free and moving on). BUT – then it started the “game playing” so are we gonna hang out? when? where? and then he cancels and reschedules and I kinda back off and he comes forward and bla bla.bla….

    Even though we have been msg’ng for 1 month every day… all day long…I’m starting to see the toxic pattern beginning… and although he doesn’t rob me of my self esteem or dignity… i feel it’s headed in that direction.. and guess what? I’m thinking about him more and more…
    it’s the toxicity that i’m feeling and – it’s scary – and all too familiar.

    Before i even read this post. I backed right off, took my head out of the clouds and made a decision to move forward without him – and if he were to contact me, i would tell him straight up – “im not into virtual friendships, if you wanna hang out and get to know each other, great, if not – this situation is not for me” very tough for me to say and do, since i too am veeeeery comfortable with the “phone relationships” which is how all my EUM relationships started. i won’t put myself through it again. @ 27, i know too well the pattern is forming.

    It would be great if he says sure, let’s do this and steps up, but if not – it saves me alot of time and energy.
    This to me is not “dating” it’s actually avoiding the real dating experience. I’m to blame as well… hiding behind my phone. He’s given me his number a couple times, and i don’t call. Do we have to take the initiative??

    Than i think to myself – if he was more forceful, would i even be as interested??
    Wow – i’ve still got a long way to go.

    • Grace says:

      Iv’e been there myself and I would just forget it. You shouldn’t have to persuade a man to see you. I wouldn’t even point out that this is what you want. I’s blindingly obvious that real relationships are not based on IMs and texts. If he is heavily into IMs and texts he is CLEARLY not looking for a real relationship. While you may be able to – with great effort and angst on your part – cajole, manipulate, game-play, or persuade him to see you – it’s not worth it. He will always, always, always, push the relationship to what works on his terms. ie, no commitment, “communication” as and when its suits him, IMs/texts at his convenience and then, God forbid, sex at his convenience.

      • Nubienne says:

        Grace,

        you are so right! I was recently played big time by an AC who only texted, gchatted, and facebook messaged! I dont know how I stupidly spent 3 months (of course on and off with this man). I told him a few times I wished he’d call and he claimed he never called anyone. Then he contradicted himself by mentioning calling his Grandfather and also once I was at his house after he had a friend stay in town and she had written a note “Call me when you wake up!” I actually called him once and he hung up one me like tried to pretend the connection died, and when I called back straight to vm! Yet obviously my self esteem was so low I continued to see him! Recently I learned I was a big time rebound. Thank goodness for the epiphanies this relationship made me have! Thank goodness for websites like this :) There are no two ways about it, if hes not calling or relying on texts or im its probably cause hes up to no good!

  10. Angelcake says:

    Thanks for another great post NML. Your site has been a lifeline during 2010. I always look forward to your weekly posts. You write so clearly and tease out complex behavioural patterns with such insight, constantly reinforcing the same basic principles. Finally your advice going in and staying put!! The paragraph in bold above is key. It really does take time to build deep love and trust… people can mask the real them behind infatuation etc for a long time, and equally it oh so easy to ignore/explain away/bury the niggle of ‘red flags’ because you have become are addicted to their smell and revel in the fact both love auriculars, risotto and long distance running etc etc etc ….

  11. ME says:

    I am with Miss thang and pushing through. Perfect timing! I am also actually in the VERY INITIAL stage of dating a man. I have to say phisically I wouldnt have payed any attention to him but because what he says about his values resonates with me I have given a chance. Is too soon to tell but I am willing to take the chance and learn more about him.
    I also agree with the 3 to 6 months period of actually dating someone before entering in a relationship. Its sad to think I have not waited that long to enter in an (obviously fake) relationship. But I am a new woman and from now on I will take my time to get to know men.
    I think I will get to know a couple of men at the same time and not focus on only one, as many men are not really ready for a genuine relationship and only talk but not walk.
    Thanks NML!

    • ME says:

      I would love to read a post about: signs of men who want genuine relationships.
      Might sounds obvious but I think I have lost my ability to identify them.

  12. aphrogirl says:

    if you are dating older single men I think many have a lot of EU issues, and that might very well be why they are single. Being single for the first time in 30 years, ( I am in my 50’s) I have encountered little but juvenile clownery from single guys who I have known as acquaintances for years. Most invites from them to ” date” include lines like.. we could just fool around, I’m never getting married again, blabla bla..non committal crap that makes them seem insecure and undesirable to me,

    The funny thing is that after recovering from the AC supreme I am so clear that I DO want a mature committed relationship. So, I tell the invites this and then watch the backpedaling begin. So, now the guy is contradicting himself but…it’s too late … my mind has already said forget him.

    I have to admit, the backpedaling makes me smile some, only because it feels good that I am so clear on what I am looking for and am not afraid to express it. I know how miserable a bad relationship feels. And now I know how good empowerment feels when I spot a time waster early on and politely decline.

    • ME says:

      You go girl! I am the same way, I dont give a crap what they they think about what I really want in a man anymore. Its either there or not.
      And I agree, some men want to give the impression that they are cool, easy and will be fine being single forever and not get married. Thats a huge turn off to me too. Like you said it only show how inmature they are.

  13. Eve says:

    NML hits the nail on the head (again) if people were much more honest and upfront about what they wanted less people would mis-match i.e. one is dating casually, one is looking for a shag, less people would get hurt.

    But I also understand some people aren’t sure what they want when they start out or indeed actually change their mind along the way. The only way I can out of that is as soon as people notice this shift (and not many do unless pressed) they tell the other person before they get invested.

  14. Debra says:

    Thank you for this post. Just ended a 5 month pseudo relationship, which really would have been better described as a long dating discovery phase. In the beginning, he wanted in, I wasn’t sure. Five months later, I was sure I wanted in for real and he was sure he wanted out. An “informed” rejection does not hurt less, if anything it hurts more, but I now see that I had turned it into a relationship in my mind, one that I was in alone. If I had thought about it as described in the post, I wouldn’t be hurting like I am now. The chemistry was there, the common interests but what was not there was his commitment – he was killing time while I was planning our future. If I had lived less in a fantasy, I would have seen it sooner and walked away. Thank you for what you write – it helps.

  15. Nicole says:

    NML, you are so right about missing vital clues, when the relationship gets too physical too fast. I had not been in a relationship for a few years, when I met my ex-AC. We went to dinner, then back to his place, had a few drinks, got hot and heavy. I was so overwhelmed by the attraction, it took all my willpower to stop before we went too far on on the very first date!

    Of course, he was very eager to see me again. (What a shock.) I told him I really didn’t want a casual relationship, and of course, he agreed. He actually backed off for a whole week, before starting to ask me when I would be ready.

    After about a month, I decided to have sex with him because of 1) frustration, and 2) fear of losing him. About a week later, he broke up with me.

    Our relationship was superficial, at best. He really did not seem to take all that much interest in who I was as a person, or my wants and needs (except maybe to determine how much I wanted to have sex.) He did make lots of comments that spoke of wanting a future, but now I think he was just saying that to get what he wanted. And I WANTED to believe him. But I think I really knew, deep down, he was not sincere. It was too much, too soon. After all, he hardly knew me.

    I can point my finger at him all day, but what it boils down to is that I wanted to believe we had something more. I enjoyed the physical closeness, and wanted to believe I was cared for and loved. I think I really missed having that, and so I took it and made it mean something it did not. I chose to ignore the red flags, because I didn’t want to be alone. I chose to have a few drinks with him pretty much every time we saw each other, because I was nervous and it took the edge off. I chose to cloud my judgment and lower my inhibitions, and therefore my values, in this relationship.

    I think I was more hurt by my betrayal of myself, than by what I thought was his betrayal.

  16. Nikki says:

    Love this post! Six-months post-EUM, finally dating again, trying to do things right this time. Still looking for a long term relationship and being upfront about it (I mention it on the first or second date). Now finding myself seeing a guy who is pushing for intimacy after just a few dates. I guess deep down inside I have a feeling maybe this is in the “Relationship + Shag” category but had a hard time voicing and recognizing it until I read this post today. I’ll have to confront him about it and see where it goes – and be ready to walk away if I need to, which is always difficult for me. This post is one more diagnostic tool to help week out those who are not worthy of my time. This will be very valuable!

  17. dreamevil says:

    I’m upset.
    I’ve been talking to this guy for months, and he was always after me. From the first moment we talked we clicked, and we spent more and ore time talking. It got more and more intense until one night when he told me that he loved me and needed me.

    And then the net day he told me he didn’t want this, that I deserved a prince and not him( he has some serious backstory). And just hell from there. He told me he couldnt deal with another girl in his life ( wtf now you tell me after you’ve been hunting me down for months?)

    He told me that he loved me but couldn’t deal with this and wanted to be alone like he had always been.
    I asked him to just fucking talk to me. I’m aware of his problems, but we had a really good connection and I thought we could make it…
    And then he got more and more hostile and told me to leave him alone or he’ll call the police.
    So I’m leaving him alone. But why the fuck would he act like this? This is not someone who’s a player unless my nose has fallen off my face. He’s a genuinely good person. So wtf?

    • MaryC says:

      I’m sorry to say this but even though you’re confused by his behavior you’re lucky you got away. Like NML always says “People tell us show us who they are”. We just have to look and listen.

      “Leave me alone or I’ll call the police” Pleeease

    • aphrogirl says:

      Been there, its pretty simple in its irrationality. You are dealing with a person who does not want to learn to handle the strong emotions that come up in relationship. It is sad, and of course you want him to talk..but to talk means he would have to want to try to learn and understand his turbulence.

      My experience is that these guys not only want to avoid understanding but also actually seem to get off on their self imposed troubles and struggles. Like they are creating this stormy drama battle that they get to play center stage in.

      Yeah its sad for sure, and thus you may be so very tempted to be nice and try to help the poor lost lamby. But, before doing so, Just ask yourself if you honestly want the drama of a man-child in your life. And then kindly let him go on his way, maybe saying a prayer for him and his childish and crazymaking behavior. I would question how ” good” of a guy he is.

      • dreamevil says:

        you’re probably right, both of you. Seriously, I am still astounded at his behaviour. I bet the police would have laughed their ass off “you big strong guy, biggest troublemaker in town, can’t deal with a girl”

        I’m an army brat, and so is he, and we even fought on opposing side in a war, before we met (Yugoslavian wars in the 90s). And i probably don’t need to tell anyone here that most men crap their pants at the idea of a woman who can beat the living daylights out of them.
        Oh well, I am probably better off, while he gets to walk around moaning “I’m a loner, always will be, and I like it that way blah blah”.
        No dude, you aren’t a loner, you’re a man child who can’t handle his own emotions and runs away like a chicken. There’s a difference :D

        • Used says:

          Oh, that explains everything–Eastern European.

          Ditto for the southerners (southern Europeans).

          Blame their mothers and the existence of machismo in this type of “culture”.

          • dreamevil says:

            Amen to that, sister.
            I’m eastern european too, but after living in the West for 10 years, being a veteran of 2 wars, I’ve learned that just because our parents did it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.
            Fuck, when I was growing up people still insisted the bride had to be a virgin on wedding night- how backwards is that?
            As in- the sheet the newlyweds had sex on wedding night was walked with a procession to the bride’s parents’ house for everyone to see the stain of blood showing she had been a virgin.
            As for mister Tough Guy, NOW he wants to give it a try. Sure dude, take it somewhere else. You already showed your true colours and I aint buying that picture.

            Better alone than in bad company.

          • Used says:

            Dreamevil–

            God, and I thought the southerners were traditional!

            There is NO reason for a woman to be a virgin today. NO man deserves a woman who goes into a marriage at that level of “no baggage”/clean-slatedness. For many reasons, not just that men sleep around like crazy now (b/c they can get it soooo easy). B/C they have become accustomed to taking women for granted, with sex and other matters, why in the world would they (or their mothers who were the FIRST to spoil them) value such a prize (the pure clean slate)?

  18. Lucy1 says:

    Hi ladies, just added 1 to my name as there is another Lucy on the site. This is a very timely post for me as I have decided to get out into the dating world again after eight months of NC. Just want to share that I had my first date today – and this guy made my EUM look like a prince!!!!!! (which I have to say takes some doing!) What is truely wonderful is that the red flags were flying all over the place and I SAW THEM and acted accordingly with a polite and respectful (for myself) goodbye and good luck. I am hoping that he does not come across an unsuspecting woman like I USED to be before my first and last EUM. It is a pity we can’t mark these guys out as a warning to others – maybe some bright red invisble ink on their foreheads saying RUN AWAY that only women could see!!!! Love to you all, you have kept me going through painful times and helped bring me to the good, strong place where I am right now..

  19. CB says:

    comments? you rock sista.

    always on it with great advice, and youre making me and my gal pals feel proud coz we just said the same thing – that its vip to take time to get to know someone before we fall for them (or into love) completely… to quote my gal pal’s gal pal she says “it takes about 8 weeks for the worm to leave the apple”… not to say anyone’s a worm but as a metaphor i guess similarly it takes time for a person’s true nature to come thru’… so we need to… (and im reminding myself as i type, be sure of that… coz im an aries and it’s not in my nature to…) be patient and keep observing what people show us – and what shows up in people… and know the object of your affection/attraction is likely doing the same to you too!

    best of luck to us all, and keep these great blogs coming, hot stuff!

    xxx CB in bondi, australia.

  20. thank you for this information. “Dating is a discovery period”, I agree with that. The first step to have a relationship is in “to getting to know you phase”. It’s better to know your men or women before you commit in a serious relationship. Dating is the time for evaluating the person you like and if they pass your certain standards for a person to love. Whether we admit it or not, we set standards on people that we want to be with and we use dating as a way to observe the person we adore the most.

  21. Minky says:

    Never been on an actual ‘date’ in my life. I always meet guys through friends and just hang out with them. It’s so true that you have to make your intentions clear. If they’re commitment phobes they’ll run a mile – which is what i want, whereas perviously i would be worried about scaring them off if i came across as wanting ‘too much’ – how silly is that?! I am 3 weeks into NC and finding the thought of dating again scary. I’m not going to bother for a while as i still need to sort myself out. I worry that i will be so focused on the red flags that i will jump at the slightest dodgy comment or sign of EU. Or worse, that i will be lied to and not know it. Definitely not ready!

My Book - Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl

Stop believing that you did something to make them unavailable or that their inadequacies are down to your inadequacies - it is not about you; they are unavailable!

My Book - Mr Unavailable and the Fallback Girl

Stop believing that you did something to make them unavailable or that their inadequacies are down to your inadequacies - it is not about you; they are unavailable!