Why Empaths Tend To Date The Wrong People — And How To Break The Cycle

Written by Marci Moberg

Image by Marco Govel / Stocksy

Have you ever found yourself dating the same type of person, and it never works out? Or been head-over-heels in love, but then when you break up, you suddenly can't figure out how you fell for the person in the first place?

I spent years dating the wrong people—repeatedly. I ended up in familiar scenarios that left me frustrated and confused. When I sat down to reflect on what was happening, I noticed some familiar reasons why people don't work out. With some people I dated, there was a clear mismatch of needs and values. And with others, I recognized that after the three-month honeymoon period, my idea of who the person was did not match the reality of who they are. These are common challenges that most people face when dating.

But there were other dilemmas that I couldn't quite put my finger on: For example, I was unable to figure out why I repeatedly only recognized the red flags of people I dated once we stopped dating. Or why I had such a hard time getting clear about how I felt when dating a person. Or why I was sure someone was a soul mate, and the connection ended in burning flames.

As it turns out, there's actually a psychological explanation: People like me who feel the emotions, mental states, and physical symptoms of other people—known as empaths—face unique predicaments, many of which lead them to often date the wrong types of people.

Why? A few reasons:

Empaths are sponges.

Everyone is affected by the ideas of others around them, like the media's ideas of what love looks like, a friend's opinion, or our family's modeling. But empaths, more than anyone else, are exponentially affected by the ideas of others because of their sponge-like nature. Often absorbing other people's truths and feelings as their own, empaths can struggle to distinguish what is true for them and what is not.

This might look like knowing someone is not a good match and then, after spending time together with them, overriding your own inner knowing with the other person's belief that you are a great match. Or having a conversation with a good friend who is convinced the person you are dating is a perfect match and ignoring your own doubts.

Empaths have compassionate hearts.

Deeply giving in nature, empaths often have big hearts. This, however, can create a sticky situation when you are just starting to get to know someone while dating. The compassionate heart of an empath at times can lead them to overlook, talk away, or ignore red flags that another person may otherwise catch.

This can look like empathizing with another person’s struggles or suffering behind an angry moment, forgiving, and then overriding the fact that the person you're dating repeats this pattern and has a greater anger problem. Or the fact that a person you're dating continues to cancel, change, and reschedule your plans together, which could be a signal that they struggle with commitment. This can lead empaths to date people who cannot meet their core emotional needs and, in the worst of scenarios, to enter into abusive relationships. 

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Empaths are susceptible to confusion over what love is.

When an empath meets someone while dating and feels big, charged, even magnetic-pull-like emotions toward another person, they often make the mistake of thinking this big feeling must be a deep connection due to their highly feeling nature. They may even mistake the big feelings for true love. In reality, this emotional wave is often a heightened signal from their intuitive self to pay attention and take a closer look. Whether it's to signal a repeating of unhealthy patterns and habits from their past or simply to check in with what they are feeling, charged emotions can be a signal that things may not be as they seem. Believing these potent feelings to be love can lead empaths to date the same type of people over and over again in the name of "love," repeating unhealthy patterns and leading to an emotional roller-coaster ride.

So what can empaths do to date the right people? 

1. Slow down the relationship.

Slowing down our pace can give us space to check in and see what feelings may be ours versus those that are actually the feelings of the person we are dating. We may catch the red flags we would otherwise miss along the way that tell us someone is not emotionally available, ready for commitment, or able to meet our needs. And we can notice when we might find ourselves in an old unhealthy pattern.

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2. Make quality alone time with yourself a priority.

Since empaths tend to merge easily with people they date, alone time with oneself is especially important in the early stages of dating to ensure you maintain a healthy connection with your own thoughts, feelings, and needs. Take yourself on your own dates to your favorite restaurants. Spend a cozy night in watching your favorite movie.

3. Keep a regular journal practice.

Regularly writing down your thoughts and feelings will empower you to know your truth and can serve as an anchor to come back to yourself when you feel confused. Over time you will be able to catch trends and patterns that you may otherwise miss along the way that can show you whether the person you are dating is a right match. 

Keeping these three strategies in mind can empower you to shift your dating experience from going along with shaky relationships and emotional intensity to finding a truly nourishing bond. Over time, you'll learn who is a better match for you and catch when people are not sooner in the process.

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