One of the things that dating and even pre-dating (the bit where a website introduces you to a potential date or when someone introduces themselves to you and asks you out) along with relationship experiences does is that it helps you to fine-tune your gut instincts.
No one is an expert in every situation–it’s called being human– and everyone is a novice in many situations throughout their lifetime.
When we have little experience of romantic relationships that makes us a novice, which is something that we all are in unfamiliar situations where we have little experience and applicable knowledge to build ‘data’ to help our gut.
When I hear from people who had what call a Critical Heartbreak Experience and it was their first foray into romantic territory or certainly early on in their dating and relationship journey, I really feel for them because they’ve judged themselves for far too long as if they should have had the ‘expertise’ to avoid the outcome or to ‘make’ the object of their affections feel or behave differently. This experience goes on to inform their self-image including their perception of their future romantic capabilities and opportunities and the Critical Heartbreak Experience ends up being treated like a permanent statement of the future. It’s like, This was my big moment to get things right/correct the past/prove myself and I effed up and failed and/or I wasn’t enough.
But is it really fair and reasonable for us to expect to be an expert in our interpersonal relationships, especially when we might have little knowledge or experience of certain situations or people?
Let’s imagine that we’ve always taken pride in not telling lies, being honest with respect, and not treating people as a means to an end and on top of this, we have zero experience of being screwed over by somebody who is the opposite of that: why would we see their shadiness coming? We haven’t had much to test us out in this area so why wouldn’t we take this person at face value?
On one of my New York visits a few years back, I met a small-town girl who had arrived full of hopes and dreams and fallen for a charismatic musician who promised her the earth but really only delivered dust. With the benefit of hindsight she acknowledged that she had been that rather dangerous cocktail of too nice, non-confrontational and naive and although she had initially felt like a fool for trusting in him and going back, compassionate recognition of her journey to that point gradually helped her to move forward. Rather than hardening herself against everyone and writing off love, she accepted that it was gonna take a few goes to figure out this relationship thang. She learned to be more discerning about where she invested her positive qualities.
It’s also unfair and unreasonable to beat us up for not having the experience and knowledge to recognise that trusting our feelings alone isn’t enough.
We need to be able to discern feedback that we’re getting about the person and situation to get a sense of what our feelings might mean or what we need to pay attention to or do despite the feelings.
When we’re around a new person or in an unfamiliar situation, that makes us a novice which means that we need to take our time making decisions.
Feeling, for instance, what we regard as great chemistry or a deep connection, doesn’t make us an expert on that person or the relationship. It doesn’t preclude us from needing to take our time making decisions and if we think it does, we are in danger of being complacent when we need to be attentive and present.
We all have our biases as well but as long as we’re aware of these, they don’t become our blind spots. We’re inclined to use our biases to make snap judgements but if like me, you found that this kept leading you into the cul de sac of toxic type and that you struggled to create, sustain or exit from relationships, these are areas where you need to wait a bit longer to make up your mind about someone in the early stages (basically a few minutes versus split-second decisions) so that you update your gut responses.
I have a number of friends and readers who have met their partner on Tinder which is particularly renowned for its superficial nature due to swiping left and right based on whether you find a person attractive. What they all acknowledge is that the snap judgement about the person’s looks told them little because almost all of them have previously dated people via Tinder and other apps using similar snap judgments and had tricky experiences. None of them regard themselves as being expert at being able to gauge compatibility based on a photo or profile description. Granted, they have a sense of whether they find a person attractive but it’s only time and experience that gives way to knowing how they feel inside in a deeper way plus there are people who they’ve found instantly attractive who as they got to know them, they discovered it wasn’t workable. A number of them pointed out that they deliberately steered clear of the bells and whistles photos and profiles and opted for calmer inner responses around attraction [because the instant or intense attraction that they relied on had repeatedly led them to dead ends and toxic relationships and they wanted to build sustainable compatible attraction that would amount to a mutually fulfilling loving relationship].
If you’re going to get expert at anything, it’s about how to pick up and read the ‘feedback’ you receive about a person and situation as well as how to read your own responses. This is better than having an unrealistic expectation of becoming really good at guesswork based on superficial information.
No one who is in a loving relationship is there purely based on feelings and guesswork. It’s taken investing time and energy, not just in getting to know this person and building the relationship with them, but also getting to know themselves prior to that relationship often via a series of previous experiences including ‘failed’ romantic involvements that have made them that much more successful at understanding what they need, want, and deserve in their current relationship.
No experience is a waste. Getting it ‘wrong’ in all the other relationships helps you to recognise the loving relationship that’s more befitting of you.