A problem shared: Why is my love life such a disaster?

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Something troubling you? Share it with your new BFs, Jo Davison and Nik Brear

Since my divorce six years ago I’ve had about 19 relationships. Some of them lasted a few weeks, others a few months. The longest I dated someone for was six months.

But every one of those 19 men dumped me, which is a pretty upsetting thing to admit. I just don’t understand why I can’t make relationships work. It’s not as if I’m rubbish at relationships. I have a very strong circle of friends that I have had for years and socialise with regularly.

I also have a group of colleagues that I get on really well with - they like me and I like them and we often go out together as a group.

But when it comes to dating men, I am absolutely hopeless. A walking disaster zone.

I don’t have a problem about being asked out. I’m reasonably attractive, friendly and approachable. But even though I try hard to please when I am dating someone, it never lasts.

I do all the thoughtful things I know men like. I cook them nice meals, show an interest in their hobbies (in the last six years I’ve taken up photography, motor-cycling, fishing and watching football in an effort to share a new man’s interests) and I don’t try to stop them doing the things they want to do.

I think I do everything right. Then they tell me I’m just too nice and they feel like I’m suffocating them, even though I’ve never once tried to dictate to them.

I’ve heard about ‘The Rules’ of dating; about playing it mean to keep men keen, but being so sly and manipulative seems wrong. And it’s just not me. Plus what’s the point? I want someone to like me for just being me.

I yearn to find my soulmate, someone I can be as close to as I once was with my husband, until he left me for a woman at his work who he said was more interesting and challenging than me - which hurt me immeasurably and knocked my confidence for a long time.

I’d always thought we had the perfect marriage. How wrong I was. When I do meet the right man, I want to make our relationship work.

Jo advises:

Steady on, girl - 19 boyfriends in six years is some going!

It’s not the way to find a lasting relationship. It’s not even the way to pick out a new pair of shoes.

You need to be way more choosy - and take your time. If it was the perfect pair of heels you were looking for, I bet there would be loads more umming and ahhing and holding at arm’s length before you so much as slipped a toe in to try for size. Then you’d discard the ones that didn’t look or feel right, and probably even walk away to think about it for a while before you actually committed to taking them home.

And choosing a partner should be a heck of a lot more complicated than picking out slinky new stilettos. Note I said “choose”. I don’t think you’ve been doing much of that. I suspect these men selected you - and you felt so flattered, having gone through the pain of your husband leaving to be with someone else, that you jumped at the chance. Then you did everything you could to please them so they wouldn’t leave you, too.

What you have found, though, is that no one wants someone who abandons their identity and personality in as bid to fit in. No intelligent, independent, decent bloke is going to feel comfortable with a Stepford Wife. Let’s face it, harsh though it sounds, your husband didn’t.

Don’t even consider playing ridiculous mind games either; that calls for far more fakery. You say “I want someone to like me for just being me” - so make sure that you ARE yourself - the special and unique person your friends know and love - with the next man YOU choose to date.

Nik advises:

‘I try hard to please’ was the first thing in your message that set off alarm bells. Just why is it you feel you have to try so hard?

I think it’s time you stop thinking about everything you can do to make yourself perfect for the other person, and start asking yourself what it is you want from them?

You’ve clearly had a bad run since your divorce and I have to wonder about what damage your husband leaving you the way he did caused to your self-esteem.

Although it’s always nice to take an interest in the hobbies of the person you’re dating, trying so hard to mould yourself into their perfect partner will, ironically, have nothing but disastrous results. And, I’m sorry to say, it makes you seem desperate, which is what these men are detecting. I understand you don’t want to ‘treat em mean’ but it sounds to me like you’re just being too keen. While you’re getting to know somebody new, they should be fitting in around the interests, friends and commitments that already exist in your busy well-rounded life. What message do you think it sends to somebody if you’re so quick to volunteer your centre stage for them to dance around on.

19 relationships is a lot in six years - I think it’s time to focus on you. Learn to appreciate your own company and find out what hobbies you enjoy. That way, when someone new comes along, you’ll have things of your own to bring to the table.

Your role in a relationship is not to make the other person happy, it’s to find someone who allows you to be yourself. In doing this, you’ll make each other happy without trying.

Clare Tollick, a PR for Sheffield firm Vulcan & Co and food blogger at Feast and Glory advises:

My gut feeling is that you haven’t had time to mourn the breakdown of your marriage. Your husband was a huge part of your life and with 19 relationships in six years it sounds like you started dating too soon. You’re moving from one man to another, looking for your soul-mate and you may be coming on a bit strong. Sharing hobbies is a good way to connect, but if you try to get involved in all your boyfriends’ interests they will feel suffocated. There’s nothing wrong with you - you have good relationships with friends and colleagues and you will find the man for you. Take a break from dating, grieve the end of your marriage. You’ll have changed a lot over the past six years – find out who you are and what you want out of life. When you’re ready to date again, take things slowly and be yourself.

What would you advise? You can offer your own words of wisdom. Send your 200-word answer to this week’s problem. We’ll publish the best next week. Write to jo.davison@thestar.co.uk (include A Problem Shared in the notes field and add your name, age, occupation and area of Sheffield you live in).