Have you ever had a dating situation that started out great but then went downhill rapidly when things got more serious? This seems to be a fairly common phenomenon – and a tremendously frustrating one. This reminds me of a question one of my students once asked me: "Do you believe that both parties of a relationship must first have self-love in order to function healthily without attachment and dependency?"
The short answer to that question is 'Yes'. But you did not come here for the short answer, so here's the long answer.
The self-love question is essential. Let's talk about the 'self-concept'. Basically, our self-concept encompasses all our beliefs and judgments about ourselves. The self-concept attempts to satisfy two motives simultaneously: self-enhancement and self-consistency.
Generally, people like things that give them self-enhancement (eg compliments). However, if you do not like yourself, then the self-enhancement runs into the self-consistency requirement (eg "Why does he like me when I'm clearly not deserving").
In the beginning of a relationship, when you start dating, the self-enhancement motive is dominant. But as a relationship becomes longer term, the self-consistency motive starts to dominate, and what you get is the partner with low self-esteem thinking that the other partner is insincere, lying and just buttering her (or him) up.
And then she breaks up with you. Basically because you were being a sincere, genuine, complimentary kind of guy. (This also explains why some women gravitate again and again towards jerks – because the jerk is fulfilling her self-consistency requirement * exactly *. Rather unfortunate.)
This is so prevalent, it even has a name – 'the marriage shift'. At the beginning, things are hunky-dory, but then it all goes to pot.
(Note: You've probably figured out that you do not need to get married to experience the marriage shift. It can happen in the context of any long-term committed relationship.)
So, short answer: healthy self-esteem, or self-love, is the key to successful long-term relationships and dating.
Is there something you can do about this? Well, yes and no.
Yes, in the sense that you can pick from the outset someone who already has healthy self-esteem. That way the marriage shift problem does not have a chance to come up.
It's * possible * for a person, through sheer force of positive reinforcement and relentless love from a partner, so shift her (or his) self-concept to accommodate that love. Possible, but not probable.
Which brings me to one of my favorite sayings in all of dating and relationships (and many other areas of life): "Those who are skillful persuade. Experts sort."
What am I talking about here?
The idea is that a lot of the art of relationship comes down to sorting for the right person. And when you get really, really good at that, you can sort, or select, for what you're looking for from the smallest of indicators.
Most men are experts at sorting based on appearance: hair color, physique, complexion, gait, dancing ability, etc. etc. One look and you know exactly whether a relationship can even start with a given woman, and if it does, how long it will last.
Some guys make the mistake of going for someone who is not their type, and then a few months down the road grudgingly admit to themselves that maybe it was not such a good idea after all.
There's a basis for this in the Tao. Finding the person who's already right for you is the path of least resistance. Chances are better that things will just flow with this person. Trying to 'fix' someone so she (or he) is right for you is like swimming upstream – against the Tao.
But what about intangible (or less tangible) things? Like self-esteem, kindness, extroversion, adventurousness? How do you evaluate those, my friend?
Well, you're surprisingly good at those, too. You just do not know it yet. In fact, qualities like kindness in a mate are so essential to survival that evolution has kindness-detectors built into your brain. Really.
Most of the time, all you have to do is listen to your intuition when it says "Dude – she just treated the waitstaff poorly. Danger Will Robinson!"
But enough teasing. We're dealing with self-esteem in this article, so let's talk about that. Here are some ways you can detect whether a woman has decent self-esteem * before * you dive into a serious relationship with her:
1) Give her a compliment – a genuine one preferably. How does she respond? Many people tend to be self-effacing when complimented, which is normal. But does she go out of her way to deflect the compliment and deflate herself? If so, beware. On the other hand if she says "Thank you" with a smile, or just simply returns the compliment, it's a good sign.
2) How does she treat other people? She may be treating you nicely, because we usually put our best foot forward at the outset of a relationship when we start dating. But how about the rest of the world? Generally people treat others with the same degree of respect they have for themselves (think about that one for a sec). So if she's mean to others, treats others like dirt and is generally unreasonable and demanding, chances are she thinks that's the kind of treatment she deserves herself as well. Be very, very wary of such a companion.
3) Is her speech mostly positive or negative? Is the glass half full or half empty? Are her days a litany of disaster and conspiracy against her happiness? Is she inordinately fond of words like can not, will not, did not, is not going to, should not, etc etc? Once again, we tend to see the world not as it is but as we are. Beware.
In the absence of extended contact, these three clues should keep you in good stead. That's the kind of teaching I like to conduct in all my seminars: tools you can use IMMEDIATELY to enhance your fulfillment and success in life, especially in dating.