The Latest Dating Trap and How To Avoid Getting Caught

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By Melanie SchillingPsychologist and Dating Coach

What would you say if a friend came to you and proclaimed “I’m training for a marathon and a body building competition at the same time”? Or what about this; “I’m saving for a house and regularly betting on the horses at the same time”?

You’d probably tell them they’re crazy. You’d probably see that they have two competing goals and that one is going to undermine the other.

Let me tell you about two of my clients who are both struggling with a lack of dating success.

Miss X – 42 year old finance professional

Miss X talks openly about wanting to find her next big love. She has had mixed experience in her past relationships and is starting to build a clear picture about what she really wants in her life partner. She is ready to open up and share her life.

She is an avid user of the latest mobile dating apps and enjoys the thrill of having instant access to a smorgasbord of available men. Constantly scanning and swiping her way through her phone, she has been known to have several casual dates per week. She typically describes these men as ‘inappropriate’ life partners, whether they be too young, not attractive to her or just not her type. Despite this, she continues to invest her time in casual hook-ups and describes it as a kind of addiction.

Meanwhile, Mr Right is nowhere to be found.

Mr X – 28 year old electrician

Mr X also talks about wanting a real, loving, committed relationship with a woman. But does he walk the talk?

Although not keen on dating apps, Mr X is a man’s man and enjoys his weekly boys’ nights out on the town. After a solid gym session he likes nothing more than to meet up with his mates and drink himself into oblivion. Sometimes, he meets women on his nights out and sometimes he doesn’t. The women he does meet in the wee hours of the morning tend to be ‘inappropriate’ as potential partners but fit the bill for short-term interactions.

Meanwhile, Miss Right is nowhere to be found.

The latest dating trap

So what is the trap Miss X and Mr X are falling into?

It’s called Conflicting Goals and it tends to show up when we are unclear about what we really want. When we have a level of ambivalence about our primary goal, there is an opportunity for a secondary goal to sneak in and muddy the waters. In this case, the primary goal is finding a life partner and secondary goal, casual encounters.

If our level of commitment to our primary goal is mediocre, we are vulnerable to competing goals sneaking up on us and stealing our goal-directed energy.

Let’s assume you have 100% of energy available for your dating life. Due to a little ambivalence and a few doubts about your capacity to find the one, you only direct 60% toward finding your next serious relationship and the other 40% toward secondary goals, such as casual hook-ups.

What happens is a dilution of energy and commitment toward your primary goal. In a sense, you undermine your own success. This is the newest form of dating self-sabotage.

Why do we do it?

Every time we chose to do something, we are responding to some kind of personal need. As human beings, we are driven to gratify our conscious and unconscious needs on a moment-to-moment basis. So whether we are working toward a long term primary goal or a more immediate secondary goal, we are looking to scratch some kind of psychological itch.

If you have been indulging in conflicting, secondary dating goals it can be helpful to examine the reasons why. What need does this behaviour serve?

– Is it about sexual gratification? If so, a little creative thinking will help you find an alternative to this one.

– Is it about emotional gratification (i.e. an ego boost)? If so, think about other ways of having your ego needs met. Time with good friends, work achievements, health goals or a new hobby may provide a similar fix.

– Is it about social gratification? Are all your friends having casual encounters and you’d like to fit in? If so, consider talking to your friends about your primary goal and explaining how important this is to you. You might just find that some of them share similar internal conflicts.

How to avoid getting caught in the trap

The first thing to do is become extremely clear about what you want. Consider these questions:

– Do you really want a committed relationship in your life?

– If no, then feel free to engage in casual encounters and enjoy the experience

– If yes, how important is this goal on a scale of 1 – 10?

– What percentage of your ‘dating energy’ are you prepared to direct toward this goal?

– What are the risks associated with splitting your energy between primary and secondary goals?

Once you are clear about your primary goal, you can start to engage in activities that will take you closer toward your desired outcome. If you were committed to training for a marathon, you probably wouldn’t spend time building your bi-ceps between running sessions. If you were committed to saving for a property, you probably wouldn’t pop into the TAB for a flutter on the way home from work. Would you?

So get clear about what you want, make a conscious choice about where you are going to focus your dating energy and get out there and do it.

Happy Dating!


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