In the dating world, there are a million people with a million and one different opinions. The funny thing about the internet is that you can almost always find someone who’s willing to agree with you – that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re right, even if you’re in the majority.
What are some examples of “bad habits” in relationships and dating that are often considered “good advice”? These things usually come from people who mean well, but maybe don’t know enough about the situation to actually be helpful. You can’t advise someone if you don’t have all the information, and unfortunately it’s almost impossible to have all the information.
It’s important to realize that there are three sides to every story: Your side, the other person’s side, and the truth. This is true in pretty much any relationship, whether it’s a friendship, a family situation, or even a romantic relationship. It’s important that we try to give the truth whenever we can – which requires us to look inside ourselves and acknowledge our flaws. This is especially true when you’re seeking advice.
What are some things that are passed along as “helpful advice” that are rarely helpful, and why do people pass these things along if they aren’t true?
Advice: You should stay together for the kids.
Obviously, any time there are kids involved, a situation automatically becomes more complex and difficult. Many people advocate for families to stay together “for the kids” even if they might be unhappy together or even unhealthy for each other. This is a load of crap.
This advice usually comes from people who value the family unit, and give it the ultimate priority in things. It’s well-intentioned advice that often misses its mark. Take it from a child of a so-called “broken” home: Your kids don’t want you to be miserable for them.
If your kids are young, it may be difficult for them to adjust to the idea of their parents splitting up. But as they grow up, they will be able to see that you are unhappy together, and they may assume that it’s their fault. If you’re staying together just because you have kids with this person, you’re making it the kids’ fault, and that’s not fair to them.
If you are worried about splitting up at a specific time because it could interfere with something going on in your child’s life, this is different. For example, the family breaking apart while your kid is in the middle of finals might cause them to bomb their finals. But this doesn’t mean you should stay together indefinitely because it’s inconvenient.
We, as humans, are always trying to find the “easy” way to do things. We tell ourselves that we’re just going to wait until the “right time”, whether it’s something good or something bad. But the truth is, there is never going to be a “right time”. Life is complicated, and things can change any day – you shouldn’t stay with someone who makes you unhappy just to save your kids from confusion.
I understand that your children’s happiness is often more important than your own. But when you make yourself miserable for the sake of simplifying things for your child, the message you’re sending them is relationships are not about being happy. Is this something you want them to practice as an adult?
Advice: You can’t find love if you’re looking for it – so stop trying.
This bit of advice is usually wrapped around the idea that you have to have your own interests before you can be happy in a relationship. And if it were worded that way, it would actually be really good advice. But to say that you shouldn’t look for love is a bit ridiculous. After all, if you’ve got your walls up, you’re not going to find love, either.
You can date while still being single. In fact, it’s a good thing! You can do your own thing, have some fun on your own, and still look for a partner. There’s no real rule that says you have to be 100% perfect in order to attract someone. It doesn’t work like that. No human is capable of true perfection, and if you wait until you’re “ready”, you’ll be waiting for the rest of your life.
Ladies, there’s nothing wrong with working on yourself and looking for love at the same time. It shouldn’t be the focus of your life – you need balance. But don’t let anyone tell you that you’re not going to meet the love of your life if you’re trying to find her. The unexpected can happen at any time, and yes, that includes finding love when you may have been looking for dinner and a movie.
If you won’t let love into your life, what you’re saying is I’m not good enough for a partner. This is absolutely not true (in most cases). You are worthy of love, even if you’re not “ready” for it.
Advice: If you can’t find love, you should lower your standards.
“Standards” are a silly thing when you really think about it. I mean, everyone claims to have them – but it’s important to understand that standards and criteria are not always the same thing. There’s this assumption that they are, and this can lead to unnecessary pain when someone doesn’t meet them, on one side or the other.
Our standards refer to the things we want for ourselves. These are not material things (or at least, they shouldn’t be) and they’re not things you should compromise. Standards deal with your core values, which are things you’re unlikely to change – your ideal partner should align with your core values. Your standards relate to the things you truly deserve in your relationship. You have every right to want honesty, stability, respect, and maturity from your partner – and you have every right to reject a partner who doesn’t have these things to offer you.
Our criteria are something else. This usually refers to preferences, rather than demands. Your criteria could be someone with a high-paying job, their own car, a college degree, red hair… These things will often have to be compromised. You can’t really expect to find a woman that’s exactly what you’re looking for. It’s much better to sacrifice a preference than it is to sacrifice your core values. This is particularly true if you have “shallow” criteria. These things should be considered a perk and not a requirement.
If you sacrifice your standards in order to meet your preferences, the message you’re sending is I value looks and success more than I value my own beliefs. Most likely, this isn’t actually true – so you shouldn’t run your relationship this way.
Advice: Hit up a group to find someone new.
There are some people who recommend checking out events that you have no interest or reason to be involved with (such as an AA meeting if you’re not an alcoholic, or a hockey game if you’re not a fan) in order to meet new people and expand your social or romantic circle.
This advice comes from the idea that the people you have less in common with will probably be hiding somewhere you haven’t looked yet. Of course! But do you want to know why that’s bad advice? Because the people you meet at these places will be meeting a fake version of yourself. Do you really want to be the person who lies in order to get that first date?
It might seem like a little white lie, and I guess in many ways it is. But if you start your relationship with a lie, the urge to lie more can (and usually will) pop up. You may feel obligated to continue being this fake person that you’ve created for this individual. This is, generally, a terrible idea.
No one wants to be with someone fake – not even someone else who’s fake. If you’re acting in order to get with someone, you’re basically saying It’s more about having a relationship than being myself. If you have to lie or change a big part of yourself in order to be with someone, they’re not the right person for you. Pure and simple.
Advice: Taking the next step will fix all your problems.
Some people think that getting married, or having a baby, or moving in together (or all three) is going to fix all the problems they have in their relationship. This is dangerous thinking, particularly if children are involved. Using any of these relationship “steps” when you’re not actually for them can have disastrous consequences.
The people who pass along this advice are operating under the assumption that these things are bonding activities – and they are, when they are used in a relationship that is solid. But if your relationship is lacking, the extra stress from any of these things (because they are all stressful events) can make the situation even worse – not better.
The idea that moving in together will fix your problems is confusing for those of us who have actually lived with a partner before. After all, when you move in with someone, you’re combining more stuff, more people, and less space. You’ll lose a portion of your autonomy. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you’re already having problems, it can add extra strain to an already hectic situation.
Having a baby to fix a problem is, essentially, just as bad as staying together for the kids – because they come from the same place. A baby will not magically fix things, and it can add a lot of extra stress to the situation. You’ll have less sleep, more responsibilities, less privacy, less time to spend being romantic with your partner… Oh, and you’ll be tied with your partner, at least loosely, for the child’s life. (That is, unless one partner withholds the child from the other partner – which is pretty messed up. It’s not your kid’s fault that your relationship failed – do not punish the child for the actions of its other parent.)
Getting married is also a hugely stressful time, and it’s supposed to be a statement of your love and commitment to one another. Therefore, why anyone would want to marry someone that they’re not absolutely head-over-heels for is beyond me. Planning a wedding is incredibly stressful, even if you are happy together, and if you’re not, you’re just inviting trouble.
The idea that any of these things can “fix” problems is to believe that they are the goal of the relationship. By trying to force yourself past a problem by skipping ahead, you’re saying I want the happy ending whether it’s actually happy or not. Life is not a fairy tale, and not every relationship is meant to go the distance. Don’t trap yourself with someone because you think it’ll solve your problems – it won’t.
Advice: Once a cheater, always a cheater.
Most people aren’t completely faithful in every relationship they’re in. For some of us, we spent some time unhappy with men before realizing that we’d be better with women – and occasionally there may have even been some overlap between the two. Does that mean that we won’t ever be faithful to anyone? Not necessarily.
This advice often comes from the mindset of “slut-shaming”, which comes from the idea of penalizing people for liking sex. (Hello, most of us like sex – what’s the difference?) But the truth is, you can be unhappy in one relationship, and it has no effect on relationships after that one.
The only real problem is if someone doesn’t learn from their mistakes. Obviously, cheating is widely considered bad – but the definition of cheating is different for everyone, too. Just because someone was unable to meet the demands of one partner doesn’t automatically make them a “slut”, and it doesn’t mean that they don’t have the capability to do better in the future. Things happen sometimes, and while cheating is never an accident, it can be a mistake that we learn from.
The idea that a cheater will always be a cheater is no different than thinking that someone who was cheated on once will be cheated on again. It just doesn’t hold up. Just because it’s true sometimes doesn’t make it “a truth” – although if you cheated in your last relationship, it may be worthwhile to go out of your way to prove that it’s not going to happen again.
Another point worth mentioning is that the temptation to cheat is a sign that we’re with the wrong person. It’s a sign from your mind (and sometimes your heart) that you shouldn’t be with that person. While it’s easier on everyone’s feelings if you wait until you break up to start looking for someone new, the last person being wrong doesn’t mean that the next person is wrong too.
If you assume a cheater will always be a cheater, you’re saying I don’t believe people can learn from their mistakes. As previously mentioned, just because it wasn’t an accident doesn’t mean it wasn’t a mistake. In some cases, this can even be true if you’re still with the same person who cheated on you – they may have learned that the other side wasn’t as green as it seemed. Don’t assume their bad behavior is going to continue unless it already has.
What’s the moral here?
Sometimes, people give bad advice. But every situation is different, and there’s no way that someone will know what’s best for you. All they can do is guess at it – it’s up to you to determine what advice to take and what advice to ignore.
You’re just as much at fault for taking bad advice as the person who gave it to you. After all, following any advice without taking all the details into consideration is, basically, presuming that this other person – who might even be a stranger to you – knows you better than you know yourself.
Pretty silly, right?
Don’t let other people make your choices for you. Thank them for their advice, and then do whatever you think is best. Maybe their words will play in, and maybe they won’t. You are ultimately responsible for your own happiness. Don’t count on someone else to solve your problems.
(And yes, that is my professional advice to you!)