OK, you've been out there dating, trying incredibly hard to find the right partner, and you're not having any luck. It's just one failed relationship after another. You meet someone new, you go out on a few dates, and you try to like them (even though you really don't), because, dammit, you deserve to find your special someone. So you spend months and months with Mr. or Ms. Wrong, hoping your opinion will change or (s)he will change or hell will freeze over and you'll somehow live happily ever after.
Why do you stay in these doomed relationships, even when your instincts tell you they're not working? Maybe it's because, when it comes to intimate connections, people sometimes need more specific guidance than their instincts provide. If this sounds like you, I suggest you answer the following four questions, designed to help you better understand your past, present, and future dating life.
1. What are your goals for dating and relationships?
You may want to date seriously with an eye toward marriage; you may want to date casually and have an exciting sex life; you may want to feel safe and protected; you may want to feel loved but unconstrained; etc. To fully define and understand your objectives, I suggest you write down as many goals as you can think of. Then put your list away for 24 hours, returning to it the next day, rereading it, and circling three to five goals that stand out. Moving forward, you should date with these three to five very specific objectives in mind.
2. What characteristics are completely unacceptable in a romantic partner?
Create a list of serious issues that you will not put up with under any circumstances. For example, you might not want to date an active addict, or someone with a history of violence, or who is chronically unemployed, or already in a long-term relationship, or whatever. If someone you're dating (or thinking about dating) displays even one of these unacceptable traits, (s)he should automatically be crossed off your list of potential partners. This will keep you from wasting time on people who will not work out.
3. What characteristics would cause you to proceed with caution?
Create a list of things that have bugged you in previous relationships but that aren't automatic deal-breakers. For instance, habitual lateness, not seeming interested in meeting your friends and family, or expecting sex at the end of date no matter what. If someone displays one of these "yellow light" traits, it's probably not automatic cause for breaking things off, but you might want to say, "Hey, you know, this is the third time you've been late, and you've not even bothered to send a text letting me know you're running behind. This bothers me. I would feel a lot better about you and our relationship if…." Depending on the discussion that follows, and the behavior that follows that, you'll have an improved idea of whether this relationship has a chance.
4. What character traits and behaviors do you find really desirable in another person?
This list will in some ways mirror the three to five goals you created above. You may be looking for things like employed, emotionally available, and interested in the same type of relationship as you (casual, serious, or something in between). What's great about this list is that it encourages you to stick with someone who might turn out to be a great partner by helping you see and appreciate the little things you find attractive and meaningful in the long term.
Of course, even with the above guidelines you're likely to still date a few (or a few dozen) people before you find your soul mate. If so, that's fine. You needn't get discouraged. Instead, you can look at each non-winner as a learning experience that gets you one step closer to your goals, whatever those goals happen to be. The good news is that you no longer have to stick it out with the bad relationships, hoping they'll get better, because now you can spot them for what they are early in the process. Similarly, when the right person does finally come along, you'll be able to recognize and capitalize on that a lot sooner.