Coping with disappointment in dating: The Rollercoaster syndrome.

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A girls meets a guy and is super excited about the date. This excitement remains at implausible levels for a few dates… until reality hits that this ‘god’ has feet of clay. Cracks appear in the image of perfection. She had built him up in her mind as the “perfect one” in every way. She was sure that he was the greatest thing ever, but then she got to have a closer look. What she begins to see is that he too has faults and is a fallible human being. As she gets to know him better, she has to face the fact that there are things about him she is not too keen on.

When this happens – and inevitably it will! – what often results defies all logic. Instead of rationalizing that this was only to be expected and to accept that we all have imperfections, the realization leads to a crushing sense of defeat and loss. The air quickly dissipates from her balloon, and she is totally deflated. People have told me how they have spent nights crying themselves to sleep.

From the heights of enthusiasm to the depths of despair

Chana met this amazingly attractive, charming, and impressive guy. After three dates, she was already certain that he was the “man of her dreams.” Then he started to become distant and unresponsive. It became apparent that he had difficulty being open and had avoidant tendencies. Chana was crushed when it dawned upon her that this picture of perfection was illusionary. She was devastated over the loss of a “perfect” relationship – perfect in her imagination, that is. Speaking to Chana, it became apparent that this was a cycle that repeated itself with comparatively reliable succession for several years.

Most people do not go through this experience. They do not have a tendency to repeatedly exaggerate in their mind the positive qualities of their date to such an extent. Most people get to see the negative features of the person they are dating, and may even decide to discontinue the connection. However, if the person is mostly compatible and the dating is going well, most people do not react to the discovery of imperfections as if they have been struck by a full-blown calamity.

This is primarily because they never created an implausible image of perfection in the first place. Our young lady, though, is flattened by her realization – even though deficiencies should be expected in real human beings. She starts out with hyped up enthusiasm and ended with a high-drama crash.

It doesn’t end there. One reaction to such feelings of disappointment is to complain about the other’s faults during dates, and this has the potential to turn the relationship sour. Understandably, the other person could feel that only his faults are being identified and his good qualities are never enough. The outcome is a steady – often rapid – deterioration in the relationship.

The ‘disappointed one’ seems unable to overcome her disillusionment, and it festers and gnaws away at the appeal the other person has. Often, this is the beginning of the end for them as a couple. While this is sad, the real problem is that people who react in this way are prone to keep doing it – resulting in a cycle of failure and frustration.

Rollercoaster model of dating.

I call this the ‘rollercoaster model’ of dating: The relationship takes a steady but rather steep climb until it reaches the summit. From that position, the person feels on top of the world. However, before long and without warning, the relationship takes a precipitous downward turn. Unprepared for this fall, the blood rushes from the face, panic ensues, and in some cases the person has a vomiting sensation.

Under such circumstances, many a person would be forgiven for ‘wanting out.’ The relationship – like the rollercoaster – seems wildly unpredictable, unsafe, and traumatic. And were it not for the restraining bar on rollercoasters, undoubtedly many would make their exit at that point. In relationships, there usually are no restraining bars, so a swift exit is often the reaction to the shock.

However, as with the rollercoaster, that initial shock is the hardest, and usually means that the worst is over. From here, there will be fewer shocks, and none so sudden and unexpected. There will continue to be some highs and some lows, a few bumps and sudden stops, but if the person manages to contain or overcome the instinct to panic at the first major crisis, then the prospects for the relationship may well be good.

My experience also is that once the person realizes that this is happening, they can react more calmly when this cycle reoccurs, and will take counsel before losing hope in a relationship. If you find that your own dating experience mirrors this rollercoaster pattern, then you need to realize that this is happening so you can adopt more proportionate reactions.

If you are inclined towards this phenomenon, you need to be aware that your initial positive view of your date is likely to be inflated, and your reaction to discovering aspects you dislike is prone to be overdone. One you are aware of it, you can use your rational faculties to assess whether you had got carried away at the beginning, and whether you are being too down on things now. Be assured that, in many instances, with patience and good sense those feelings of disappointment can pass and give way to a more balanced appreciation of the person you are dating.

You are not settling for “Second Best”.

This advice sometimes meets pushback, and I get accused of telling people to “settle for second best.” If someone feels disappointed in the person he or she is dating, why should they reconcile themselves to this? Should they not aspire to marry the person they always dreamed of marrying? The answer is “yes, but”. Sure, go for your dreams, but not when it is clearly dysfunctional. Sorry for the brutal honesty.

These self-same individuals in their professional lives make pragmatic choices all the time. They understand perfectly well that, mostly, it is not a choice between nothing or perfection. That this common-sense attitude is being abandoned when it comes to romantic pursuits is because of this rollercoaster syndrome. It does not work. How do I know? Because it keeps going wrong. And, in all probability, it will continue to do so until you realize that marriage is not a rollercoaster. You need a different model for how to find your husband or wife.

Rachel was an attractive 29-year-old lawyer who had been unlucky in love. She explained that, “Had I been interested in and married a real estate agent type, I’d have been married years ago,” and was looking for something more suitable. I asked her, “Why don’t we review what you are looking for; maybe you should be going for something a bit different?” Her rebuff was firm and total: “I didn’t wait 29 years to settle for second best.” She will do a lot better when she understands that it is not about accepting less than one wants, rather it is about making sure one understands what one truly needs. When the penny really drops, people can find true happiness with a person they may have rejected or discounted before, because their attitude made that person seem unattractive as a partner.

No one promised that dating would be easy.

For quite a number of people, dating will involve a degree of coping with disappointment. If that is your personality, you will go through a period of struggle. You will feel you are giving up on some of the things you were looking for. It will not feel great. No one promised that dating will not involve some struggles. If that is how you are built, that is what you are going to face.

The question is not what you go through; the question is how you respond to it. Do you seek good advice and wise counsel or do you cut and run driven by crazed instinct? Do you pause for thought and try to question your feelings, or do you lose all hope for the relationship and sink into despair? Do you try to understand yourself and your reaction to gain some intrapersonal insight, or do you eschew all self-reflection and put all the blame on the imperfections of your once dream life-partner?

So, let me just say this to you: whoever ends up marrying you is going to giving up on things too. Unless you fancy yourself some perfect specimen of a human, your future husband and wife is going to have to overlook your imperfections. It works both ways. Let us smarten up, so we can enjoy relationship success.

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