I have had more than my share of trials and tribulations in love. Despite going on what feels like hundreds of first dates, I have nary a serious relationship to show for it. Though some may assess my love life as a “failure” or, more accurately, a “hot mess,” my seemingly never-ending series of relationship false starts has led me to the greatest triumph of my dating career: deciding to stop making compromises just to keep men interested in me.
Throughout my early 20s, I found myself constantly doing things I didn’t really want to do. I stayed up late to spend time with a guy even though I had an early start at work the following morning. I claimed I was “totally cool” with casually seeing a man who was in an open relationship with another woman, even though I wanted to be his only partner. I was too often finding ways that I could change myself — or at least the way people perceived me — to become the kind of woman I thought these men wanted. It wasn’t until the past year that I asked myself, why the actual hell would I want to be with someone that requires compromising my personal interests and agency to this degree?
Perhaps I can credit this epiphany to the natural progression of maturity, or more likely, it is the manifestation of my adoration of Brené Brown. Whatever it is though, I am here to implore you, for your own sake, to stop making these compromises. Because TBH, you’re worth it.
1. Flaking on friends and family
“I was so infatuated with a guy who pretty much exclusively wanted to see me on his terms. So any time he asked me to hang out, I would drop everything to see him,” says Ryan*, 26. “I would flake on my friends or even [sneakily exit] family gatherings. I felt like if I said I was busy, he would lose interest, or worse, find someone else to hang out with instead.”
Most of us have been on both sides of this. We have been the friend who goes MIA on a night out to meet up with a new love interest and have also been among those being ditched. It feels, for lack of a better word, shitty, to play second fiddle to your friend’s latest conquest. “Friends, family, etc. are essential parts of a full and well-rounded life,” says dating coach Jill Gross, Psy.D. “They help give our lives depth and meaning. When we neglect or abandon them, we are turning away from ourselves, making it more difficult to experience healthy connection with anyone else.”
While it’s easy to be swept up in a new romance, it’s imperative to prioritize those who matter most to you. You are actually harming your fledgling relationship if you don’t. If your love interest is at all emotionally intelligent, they will recognize, respect, and hopefully even be attracted to the fact that you value your commitments and friendships. And if things go well, maybe at some point you can invite them to Tuesday night karaoke with your friends.
2. Feigning interest in their hobbies
“I had a strange infatuation with snowboarders when I was in my early 20s,” says Maya, 25. “I would tell guys that I ‘boarded’ but was ‘too broke’ to buy a season lift pass. When they would inevitably realize that I could actually afford a lift pass but just didn’t enjoy snowboarding, they’d send me to the curb.”
There is a thin line between exploring someone else’s interests to be supportive and fully acquiring someone’s hobbies out of desperation. But Maya is not alone in her attempts to make it seem to others, and perhaps to herself, that they share interests. I mean, hello, I played fantasy football in high school in an attempt to relate to boys I liked and did not discover what a first down is until a solid nine years later. It’s easy to pretend to share passions here and there, but it’s not as simple to see how toxic this habit is when all of these white lies pile up. “We think that by being a version of who or what our partners want us to be, we will earn their love and approval, [but] this pattern sets the stage for fear-based dependency, not healthy intimacy,” cautions Gross.
A relationship shouldn’t be based on being afraid that you aren’t living up to someone else’s standards. If they can’t handle the fact that you would rather retreat to the lodge, sip on a hot toddy, and scroll through Everlane’s latest arrivals than carve up that sweet, fresh powder with them, then they aren’t worth your time or trouble.
3. Deprioritizing your physical and mental health
If your partner’s actions are detrimental to your health in any way, let them know, and if it comes down to it, break up with them. “My now ex-boyfriend…asked to be in an open relationship,” recounts Meghan, 24, who begrudgingly agreed to give it a try. “While in an open relationship, he grew distant and [accused me of] being jealous when all I wanted was firm boundaries. It made me feel unimportant, unattractive, and as if I wasn’t ‘good enough’ in bed. I drank a lot more [and] became depressed to the point where I wouldn’t even get up to go to work.”
The ability to overlook this kind of behavior, despite its harm to your health, comes down to science. Dating coach Evan Marc Katz notes that attraction is marked by “the chemical cocktail [of] dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, and pheromones, which light up the same pleasure centers in your brain that drugs like cocaine do. This can stimulate high highs and low lows similar to what drug users experience.”
So while you may feel anxious or depressed at several points in your relationship, the high you get from occasional affirmation or attention can make you look past these negative feelings entirely. While many live with anxiety and/or depression in their day-to-day lives, it’s important to take note if a disproportionate amount of anxiety is stemming specifically from your relationship, and if it is, to consider moving on.
4. Staying with someone because you don’t think you can do better
I spent over a year dating a man who was emotionally unavailable and, all in all, just not that into me. While I should have realized it wasn’t going anywhere after six months of dating without successfully having the DTR conversation, I stayed with him. I felt validated just by being with him, because I thought he was better looking than me, that his career was more prestigious than mine, that his apartment was nicer than my own, and that he was just all-around better than me. I attached my self-worth to my perception of his worth. Though I knew we weren’t a good match, I would make compromise after compromise and postpone breaking things off with him for fear of never finding another man who was “as good as him.”
“We must choose only the partners who choose us,” says Gross. “Working too hard [to keep someone’s] affection is surefire sign that you are with the wrong person.” If someone does not consistently go out of their way to choose you, you can absolutely do better than them. And to my surprise and delight, once my time with this man concluded, I found myself dating people who, believe it or not, were actually much better.
My personal queen, Brené Brown, sums it all up in her Netflix special. “True belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are, it requires you to be who you are.” I don’t ordinarily speak in tired platitudes, but at the end of the day, be your mothereffing self. Avoid having to keep track of little lies you have told along the way, put value in your health, and show up for your friends and family. You’ll be all the better for it.