What's Destroying Your Love Life?
Look, we're all for blaming jerky men, but — tough-love truth — a lot of the time it's not him; it's you. Here's how to stop self-sabotaging so you can find (and keep) the love you deserve.
By Genevieve Field
Ever wonder why so many women flock to romantic comedies (besides a desire to see Bradley Cooper shirtless)? It's that self-sabotaging heroine. She may have $500 highlights and a corner office, but we relate because when it comes to love, she just keeps messing it up. Remember overeager Ginnifer Goodwin in He's Just Not That Into You, unappreciative Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada or workaholic Sandra Bullock in The Proposal?
Truth is, we all have our LBHs (Little Bad Habits) in love. And they sure can snowball. As Glamour reader Tosin, 29, put it: "After spending my twenties getting my heart broken, I was turning into a man-hater. Then I heard that if you look at your past relationships for a common thread, you'll find out why you're single. I realized, 'Oh! The problem wasn't the guys; it was me!' I had an attraction to men on the rebound." Sometimes men are to blame, but you've got to square away your own issues before you focus on your partners'. Read on for more breakthrough confessions from real women, plus wisdom from experts who help people change their intimacy-thwarting ways. Here's to new beginnings, happy endings and no regrets.
Do you take the fun out of it?
Jessie, 34, secretly worries that she may drive her free-spirited husband of six years to fall out of love with her. "Marriage has turned me into a fun-squasher," she says. "Somehow I've made it my job to rein my husband in. He wants to have sex in the middle of the night, and I say no. He wants to make ice cream out of liquid nitrogen with our toddler, and I say no. 'No' just comes out of me like a hiccup. The irony is that now he doesn't tell me when he wants to do something — he just does it. But that's even worse! How do I shake up our dynamic before he leaves me to find someone who'll say yes?"
"Jessie should give herself some credit," says Patty Howell, vice president of the California Healthy Marriages Coalition: "The ability to see what you're doing wrong is huge." But that's just the beginning, of course. Recognize also that it's no fun to always play the role of the practical-shoes disciplinarian and enlist your guy's help in getting to "yes," suggests Howell. Instead, she advises, "Jessie could pose questions to her husband like, 'Can we come up with an approach that makes sure the kids don't get blown up and I don't feel like the naysayer?' and 'How do you think we could get our sex life back on track?'" That's a relationship talk most men will be more than happy to have.
Do you over-rely on technology?
Facebook, online dating, texting … there are endless ways to hook up now. Great, right? Not so fast, warns sexologist Logan Levkoff, Ph.D.: "Thanks to our reliance on technology," she says, "we forget how to express ourselves when we're face-to-face." When Tracy, 38, broke up with her fiance (he was still in love with his ex — painful!), she discovered that dating was nothing like it had been three years earlier. "I was confident on dates before," she says. "Now, when a guy calls, I won't even take it. I'll text him back so I can craft some clever response. Most of my relationships don't make it very far."
Coupled women face an even more worrisome problem: temptation. Elizabeth,* 30, often texts an ex with whom she reconnected during a rough patch in her marriage. "It's just flirting," she says. "But I don't want to give it up." Therapist Ian Kerner, Ph.D., says she must: "She's letting technology suck up her time and emotional energy instead of being friends with her partner again."
Do you confuse sex with intimacy?
The romance novelist Barbara Cartland (who died in 2000 at the age of 98) reportedly said, "Among men, sex sometimes results in intimacy; among women, intimacy sometimes results in sex." These days, though, it's hardly so cut-and-dried. In fact, says LaDawn Black, host of the Baltimore radio relationship advice show "The Love Zone," "Many women are playing by men's rules now. They don't need intimacy before sex, but they crave it eventually — and they're surprised when they don't get it." Christa, 33, is a case in point: "I spent my twenties having sex with lots of men," she says. "It was the only way I felt comfortable relating to the opposite sex. But I don't want to be having one-night stands when I'm 40 — I'm ready for a meaningful relationship."
Black's prescription for Christa, or any woman who's trying to sleep her way to emotional intimacy: "Stop trying to prove how empowered you are, and go old-school. The next time you're with a man, let there be no confusion that this is a date, not a hookup. Guys are really literal. If you tell him you're not looking for anything serious — because that's what you think he wants to hear — he's going to run with that. If you set limits from the get-go, he'll have to learn to talk to you. It's sink or swim!"
Do you need to drink to date?
It's the little bad habit way too many young women fall into. A recent study at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles found that 71 percent of women say they push themselves to drink more on dates than they normally would because of "social pressure." Sound familiar? Ask yourself these three questions:
• Do I feel more attractive to men when I drink?
• Do I often start drinking before a date?
• Does drinking make me feel—and act—attracted to men I wouldn't otherwise be drawn to?
If you answered yes to any of these, think about stopping after one drink, or altogether. For more information and support, visit aa.org.
Do you pick unavailable guys?
Many experts say that it's one of the most common, dangerous patterns. "Women lacking confidence may be drawn to distant men," says Lissa Coffey, Ph.D., a sociologist and relationship coach. "And if a man shows real interest, they think, Something must be wrong with him." Aidan, 21, knows about that. Last fall, she passed up art college to live with a guy who then told her he didn't love her. A year later, Aidan hasn't broken up with him, and says: "I have another chance to go, but I'm still reluctant. I love him."
Time for an intervention? Says Dr. Coffey: "Aidan needs to move out. When you know something's not good for you, but you do it anyway, treat it like an addiction. Break off the relationship. Dial a friend whenever you want to call him. It's like AA: Call your sponsor!"
For other women, the secret, nagging belief that we're not cut out for real commitment can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. Tiffany, 27, is a busy actress with tons of dates. But, she says, "Ever since my ex cheated on me, I've flirted only with unavailable guys. Like, living-across-the-country unavailable; like, married unavailable. My rationale is: They'll never get close enough to hurt me." Perhaps true, but Tiffany deserves better! According to Dr. Coffey, she can find it. "Just realize you've learned what you don't want so you can be sure now of what you do," Dr. Coffey says. "Tiffany doesn't want 'unpredictable'; she wants 'loyal.' If she keeps that in mind at all times, her instincts will guide her to the right guy."
Do you get off on drama?
Communication, talking things through — women are supposed to be great at that. But what if, like Tana, 33, you're not? What if you specialize in blowups instead? "After three years in a tumultuous relationship," she says, "I realized I was addicted to all the slamming doors and the makeup sex." Eventually, the couple broke up — but Tana has already started another fiery fling. Kate, 33, admits she throws tantrums too: "Once, my husband's mom said something that angered me, and I screamed at him, 'That's it! She can't come to Christmas!' I need to curb it. But I don't want to be some meek housewife. Being dramatic makes me feel alive."
Expert Patty Howell, author of World Class Marriage, is surprisingly sympathetic. "That vitality is part of what attracts your partner," she says. "Don't stifle it. Find other outlets. And never make him feel blamed. Say, 'I felt at my wit's end,' not, 'You made me want to kill myself.' And try writing your anger out — give the paper everything you've got."
In the end, finding love is about more than just luck. It's about making mistakes, recognizing them and growing as a result. Discovered a bad habit reading this story? That's good. Now dare yourself to break it.
*Some names have been changed.