Hi, I’m Gigi, and I’m a dating-drama addict.
I’ve been in recovery for more than five years, but man, if I didn’t have a wild run of it. I used to find myself in the most precarious situations. I was very attracted to complete, capital “V” Volatility.
In the past, I had trouble telling the difference between normal fights and hazardous behaviors, my own included. This isn’t uncommon — it’s easy to lose ourselves in the wild intensity of ugly drama-centric cycles. Holly Richmond, CST, a somatic psychologist and clinical sexologist, attributes this to our nervous systems struggling to differentiate between excitement and danger within romantic relationships. “Creating passion and novelty in our relationships is exciting. Creating arguments and drama is dangerous,” she says. The key is knowing the difference between the two.
It took me a very long time to figure out that distinction. Through a lot of therapy, self-reflection, growth, and a couple of good people I’ve dated along the way, I’ve come out the other side. And now that my love life has settled down, I feel qualified to guide you through the warning signs of an unhealthy tendency toward dating drama and how to just stop it already.
1. Things with the person you are dating are hot one week, only to run cold the next. You’re never entirely sure where you stand or where it’s going. Yet when you do see each other, it’s so fun and exciting that whenever they resurface, you eagerly make plans.
Healthy dating patterns are pretty much never characterized as on-again, off-again. In these situations, we’re always uneasy and unsure of what the other person is feeling, and we’re definitely too afraid to ask them.
“I found myself in my head most of the time with my ex,” says Jenny, 24, who dated her on-again, off-again girlfriend for two years. “I was always convincing myself she was about to leave me, [and] she was. One day everything would be amazing. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, she’d break up with me again. I always went back, because it felt so good to have her when I did.”
In this type of situation, one where the highs feel so high and the lows feel so low, we can find ourselves constantly chasing the positive feelings. It’s actually a biological response: Intense romantic (or love-like) feelings flood our brains with dopamine, the reward chemical. Although these feelings aren’t as physically addicting as an illegal substance, they can act the same way on the brain temporarily.
Additionally, in tenuous dating situations, we can find ourselves changing how we act in an attempt to quell the other person’s unpredictable moods or conforming to be more like the person they seem to want. “[If you] constantly feel like you have to strategize about your behavior based on how your partner will react [or if] you’re trying to control your partner’s perception of you by behaving how you think [they] want you to behave, rather than revealing who you really are and being vulnerable,” you should check-in with yourself and take some time to on whether this is a healthy dating dynamic, says Brooke Sprowl, LCSW, a licensed therapist and author of “Why You Should Date Emotionally Unavailable Men.”
2. You’re dating someone who texts you back right away, sticks to plans, and is clear that they like you. You start to fear that if there aren’t games, they may be boring or not your type.
The thing is, your so-called type may be someone with whom you’re bound to have an unhealthy dynamic. For a long time, every time I dated someone and we weren’t fighting on the reg, it felt as if things were about to end. If we were walking around, holding hands, and chatting about life, I began to feel bored. I wondered if it was time to move on and look for something more interesting and exciting. After all, how could this really be the seed of a passionate relationship?
Recognizing that you’re a part of your own problem is a big step toward dating-drama addict recovery.
Zach, 23, identifies a similar unhealthy pattern to my own with his ex-boyfriend of six months. “I wanted out the minute he and I were doing alright,” he says. “I remember this one time at a party when a friend of mine said, ‘Oh my god! You guys are seriously the most adorable couple I’ve ever seen.’ And instead of thinking this was such a nice compliment, I thought, Jesus. We’re officially boring. I’m going to need to either start some shit or break up with him immediately.”
“Society has conditioned us to equate drama with love and excitement, because [drama] can be read as our partner [being] passionate about us,” says certified sex coach and clinical sexologist Kristine D’Angelo.
The fighting = passion = love paradigm has everything to do with brain conditioning, “Our brains are wired to experience a chemical response when pulled into drama,” D’Angelo says. Once the dopamine kicks in, we begin to feel excited. It draws us in and keeps us coming back for more.
3. You start seeing someone who doesn’t text you regularly and seems generally unavailable. Your friends tell you this person isn’t that into you and you should move on. But every time you hear from them, you get butterflies and drop everything to see them.
If I had a dollar for every brunch where I’ve told one of my friends that someone just wasn’t into them, only to have them not listen and then have their new boo ghost them, I would have enough money to put myself through grad school. Just the other day I texted my friend, Brie, 30, in all caps: “DAN IS NOT INTO YOU. HE CLEARLY IS IGNORING YOU BECAUSE HE ISN’T THAT INTO IT.” Lo and behold, a screenshot of a conversation between her and Dan found its way to my phone yesterday:
“Hey, sorry about the late response. I really think I need to take a step back with the whole dating thing. I respect you but don’t want to drag you around. I think this is the right move for me at this point.”
When your friends and family tell you the person you’re seeing isn’t into you, they’re probably right. “This is when you should listen to an outsider’s perspective and make choices to better your situation,” D’Angelo says. Those closest to you know your M.O., including self-destructive patterns, and despite their biases, they want you to be happy and live as drama-free as possible.
Breaking the cycle for a better, happier dating life
The only way to stop finding yourself in bad dating situations is to stop feeding into the patterns that lead you to these situations in the first place. Recognizing that you’re a part of your own problem is a big step toward dating-drama addict recovery.
“Breaking the cycle means learning about yourself, becoming confident, and listening to your gut instincts when you notice red flags early on,” D’Angelo says. “Knowing your boundaries will help you navigate toward people who will be attracted to your confidence and self-awareness.” Therapy can help you get there.
For some inspiration, Richmond suggests looking at relationships — be they monogamous, nonmonogamous, official, or casual — you admire and taking note of their dynamic and the way the people involved treat one another. No matter your preferred dating style, this is a good way to suss out what qualities do and don’t contribute to short- and long-term happiness. Keep looking for those traits as you work on yourself.