I dated my first Mr. Wrong when I was 20 years old. I knew shortly after meeting him that he was, in fact, Mr. Wrong, but I was young and not really looking to be anyone’s wife so I didn’t mind dating someone I didn’t consider a candidate for marriage. A few years after that backfired, I dated another Mr. Wrong, and then another a few years after that, and then another. As I reached my late 20’s, the newly applied pressure to get married hit me like a ton of bricks. When relatives would inquire about future wedding plans I’d politely inform them that as soon as the right guy came along, they’d be the first to hear about it. But the truth was I wasn’t any closer to finding the right guy in my 30’s than I was in my 20’s.
For once, I needed to be serious about only spending my time with men of quality. No more trial runs, no more casual situationships. I convinced myself that I could just hit the reset button and snap back to my senses — get back to being the “ready made wife” I was raised to be. But I was wrong, years of dating the wrong men had in many ways turned me into the wrong woman. And once I accepted just how far from my own standards I’d gotten, for myself and for others, I realized how years of dating Mr. Wrong made it even harder for me to find Mr. Right.
Have you ever wondered why you can list everything you want in a man down to the shape of his nail bed, yet you find yourself ignoring that very same list when a less-than-worthy suitor comes along? Well you’re not the only one, in fact, the behavior is far more common than we’d like to admit. Sociologists have been trying to explain why our dating choices often fail to match our dating preferences for quite some time, especially since studies show that people in established relationships are happier when their partners actually match their ideals. Well, one of the reasons this is such a phenomenon is due to our human aversion to rejecting others. Not only are we innately wired to avoid hurting people — most of us anyway — but we’re conditioned to be twice as accommodating. From children we’re encouraged to speak when we don’t want to, share when we’d rather be selfish, be polite when we’d rather be rude and do it all with a smile. As adults, we carry these same pseudo pleasantries into our adult interactions.
A study out of the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that 74% of people would agree to a date with an incompatible potential partner if the alternative meant delivering the rejection in person. Not only does the thought of being the “bad guy” keep us open to dating individuals we know aren’t a match for us, but sociology tells us that our empathy for them grows the more we get to know them. So what starts out as a brief pity party often turns into a much more time-consuming affair, one where the disappointment is all but guaranteed.
It’s hard to land Mr. Right when you believe you owe a yes to every potential suitor that comes along. And once you start to rationalize those bad relationship decisions, it becomes even harder. When your conscious mind finds itself struggling to accept decisions that go against its’ better judgement, it creates the necessary exemptions to help you bypass those internal checkpoints. Maybe you said you’d never date a married man, but this guy is separated, and according to him his estranged wife is crazy and there’s no chance for reconciliation, so that makes everything alright, doesn’t it?
These tiny exceptions demonstrate just how the smallest rework of a situation can trick us into thinking that we’re not losing by loosening our standards. But those standards don’t just snap back into place after the first Mr. Wrong, they get a little looser every time we overrule our own objections. ultimately resulting in a pattern that appears to be rooted in self-sabotage, we find that we develop attractions to the things we make exceptions for. What started out as a one time thing slowly becomes a habit, the guys we said we’d never date oddly become the ones we attract the most. We go from “He’s not technically married, he’s separated” to “Well, married guys are the only men who approach me.” Over time what starts as one exemption quickly becomes a pattern of overlooking red flags. And when our standards for others change, the ones we set for ourselves follow suit.
As the old saying goes “Water seeks it’s own level” and if there’s any validity to this statement, a lot of us are in for a rude awakening. The metaphor refers to the idea that high quality finds high quality and low quality finds low quality and we see this evidenced in the business world all the time. People prefer to apply for jobs for which they are appropriately qualified, likewise employers set out to attract the highest quality talent they can for any given position. A person with 20 years of experience isn’t looking for an entry level position. Neither is a person with a doctorate applying for jobs that require a high school diploma. As we do the work to become more valuable to our potential employers, our expectations follow suit and on the employers side, the more lucrative the position, the more rigid the requirements. This is no different when it comes to dating.
As our standards become more inclusive, the applicant pool becomes less exclusive. Well qualified men aren’t lining up to compete for women who require the bare minimum, neither are women chasing men who demonstrate they have no selectivity to how they choose the women in their lives. And this is why once you lower your standards, you find that you begin to attract men who meet those lowered expectations. It’s not enough to just verbally declare that you’re done wasting time with the wrong guys, you have to readjust the standards that allowed you to deal with the wrong guys in the first place. Sometimes we’re not good enough gate keepers of our own emotional sanity and wellbeing. And when we lower ourselves to make room for the shortcomings of others, we’re just as responsible as they are for the disappointment they subject us to.
For a while I wished that I could go back to the person I was before I fooled myself into thinking that instability and uncertainty in a relationship were exciting. What I realized was that that person no longer existed. I could never actually go back and reverse those experiences and therefore I was forever changed by them. I was untrusting, embittered, skeptical, suspicious, and overly pessimistic after my slew of bad guys and I believed that the right guy was the one responsible for undoing all of the pain the wrong guys had caused me. It took me a while to take responsibility for my own healing and to recognize that it wasn’t Mr. Right’s job to fix a broken me. I had to do the work to get myself to a space where I could both recognize a good guy and also be recognized by one and that’s what I did.
The reason it’s harder to find Mr. Right after dating a bunch of Mr. Wrongs is because these experiences change you, often requiring that you become a lesser version of yourself in order to create some balance in the chaos. We may break away from our undeserving lovers but we carry huge pieces of them when we do, forcing not only the question of what have you been through but also who are you now as a result of it. There’s no rush to find Mr. Right, there’s no shame in dating around and learning what you like and don’t like, and truthfully dating is tough for everyone. But we don’t have to struggle through every situation to get to the lesson, and this is one of those situations where listening to your gut pays off hugely in the end. Every woman deserves her Mr. Right, just make sure when it’s time to find him you haven’t become his Mrs. Wrong.