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Relationship Problems

Dating, Finding a Partner, and Staying Together: Why can they be so Difficult?

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

lovers sitting on a bed not looking at each otherSomeone recently asked, on one of the essays entitled "Dating Desires and Expectations ", why it is that the first two days of dating two people can be so much in love but two years later they end up hating each other?" Actually, I have a modified version of the same question and it is this:

Why is it that two people will date one another two or three times, seem to like on another and never date again?

Both questions are relevant and important to explore.

I work with many men and women who range in age from 20 to 35 years old. These people are attractive, intelligent, healthy, working and independent. Yet, they all have difficulties meeting significant others with whom they can settle and live their lives. In fact, settling down with a loved one is something they all report that they want. Yet, in all cases, they have great difficulty finding that one special partner. In a few cases, they seem unable to get beyond a couple of dates before the new relationship that may have seemed promising comes to a prompt and sudden end. Others are able to have relationships but they end after one or two years if not sooner. Why does this happening to so many people?

Older Explanations:

1. One theory entertained by many professionals in the mental health community about why some people never seem to enter into an intimate relationship is that they fear intimacy and, unwittingly, do what they can to subvert any chance of getting into a long term relationship. Why would they fear intimacy? For one, some individuals are extremely rigid and obsessional in their thinking. This obsessional thinking is a type of defense mechanism that allows them to feel in control of their lives. However, such a defense does not go will with intimacy where it is important to be flexible, compromising and empathetic to the other. Two, some people were so traumatized by their experiences growing up with parents who abused one another that they dare not enter into an intimate relationship for fear of being themselves victimized in such a relationship. These are just two of many possible explanations for the fear of intimacy.

2. Upon entering into an intimate relationship we tend to look for and see only an idealized image of the other person. This may work well for that wonderful feeling of infatuation but it is not based on reality. Under the influence of infatuation it is impossible to view all the inevitable flaws in the other. Once infatuation wears off their can be feelings of great disappointment and even anger. For some people some of the characteristics they believed they loved about the other now become the very thing they hate and reject about the other.

3. There are those people who love the chase and once having obtained what they were seeking lose interest. For instance, sexual intercourse comes to represent just one more notch on their belt or one more victory. Hidden beneath the quest for the sexual conquest of the other lies real contempt. Having "conquered," they become bored and move on leaving behind deeply hurt feelings of loss and humiliation. Some people with personality disorders that fall into the range of narcissism are extremely self centered and, seemingly, without human feelings. Anyway, the goal for this type of person appears to be the excitement of the chase and, after that ends it becomes time for a new chase.

4. Returning to the exhilarated feelings called infatuation, there appears to be some individuals who constantly seek the "high" that goes along with that emotion. Perhaps they are the types of individuals who constantly need stimulation in order to thrive. Infatuation is certainly exciting and stimulating. In a manner of speaking, these are people who are in love with love. Sadly, they never move into the deeper and more powerful love that comes from people growing together and building family and friendship for their entire lives.

5. People respond to one another not just through verbal communication but through a very intricate and non verbal system of "body language." In other words, when a man and woman look at one another they communicate a lot about how they feel about one another. A smile is usually interpreted by the other as an invitation to verbally communicate in a way that is friendly. Eye contact along with a smile further emphasizes the wish to meet and talk. However, a frown along with the avoidance of eye contact says "stay away from me." People who look down are advertising the wish to avoid meeting and talking to others. Then, too, there are lots of ways in which a look and body posture communicates that "I find you very attractive." Here, what is referred to is not a lecherous leer but a friendly message of "hey, I would like to meet you."

Without being aware of it there are some of us who never learned how to communicate effectively in a non verbal way. Another explanation is that fear, social phobia or social anxiety and the wish to avoid anxiety cause some people to send an unfriendly signal without realizing this is what they are doing.

Newer Explanations:

1. The fields of Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, Psychiatry and Brain research have provided us with a lot more information about what goes on during the dating process. Ultimately, the purpose of dating is to mate and reproduce the species. To this end a lot of things occur on a physiological and neurological basis. Some intriguing research shows that:

A. Smell is an important part of the dating and mating process. Men are able to sense when a woman is ovulating. Without any conscious awareness of the fact, the male begins acting romantically in order to win the female. In addition, men are attracted to women with large breasts, small waist lines and broad hips. Females are attracted to the scent of the male along with feeling attracted to such things as the depth of his voice, and his upper body muscle. Why do these mutual attractions occur? The answer is that, without conscious awareness each person senses in the other with these characteristics the ability to have children. In other words, women with large breasts and wide hips signify the ability to deliver children while the deep voice of the male and larger muscles represents the presence of testosterone levels to mate and have children while also protecting the woman.

OK, so, I hear you ask, what has this to do with difficult in dating. If anything, everyone should find a partner without difficulty. Well, not so fast or easy about this. Here are the problems. For one, women today take birth control pills and it is believed that these pills interfere with her olfactory ability to "sniff out" the partner she really wants. The same is probably true for men. Second, the use of all those colognes and fragrances may actually interfere with both sexes abilities to smell the partner they want.

If you think the importance of smell and sight are ridiculous explanations for dating problems, think again. For example, women who work together soon learn that their menstrual periods begin to coincide so that they are having their cycles at the same time. It is thought that the olfactory system is the reason for this. In a similar way these olfactory sensations help people meet the individuals of the opposite sex with whom they are most likely to successfully have and raise children. When there are interferences into the system, as by birth control pills and perfumes, people discover, later, that this was not the person for them.

An intriguing piece of research done in Switzerland involved females being asked to smell T. shirts worn by anonymous males. After sniffing the T. shirts, they were asked which ones they found most appealing. The results showed that the men who were the most histologically compatible to the women were the ones they selected. Histology is the study of body tissue and if two people are histologically incompatible there is a risk that the fetus will be rejected if they conceive a baby.

Lest you believe that we rely on smell, sight and sound only in selecting our mates, taste is important as well. Evidently, this is why kissing (yes, tongue kissing) is so important. It allows us to determine if this is a good match and even informs the woman if the man has enough testosterone.

B. Sometimes people meet under circumstances that bring them together, convince them that the other is their partner and sooner or later learn that they were wrong. People who meet during a crisis and find comfort in one anther may come to believe they are in love and right for each other. Unfortunately, it does happen that the pair is not right for each other. It is often suggested that starting a relationship on the "rebound" is not a good idea. In other words, a crisis situation is created after someone breaks up with a partner. If they enter a new relationship too quickly, it is the need for comfort or for calming hurt feelings that cause them to meet someone rather than a genuine attraction. In this set of circumstances, two people may "love each other," but not in a way that is romantic.

C. One of the most painful circumstances that people find themselves in is when they date someone, really like that person, even fall in love with that individual but the feelings are not mutual. Logic states that it is best to move on and find another relationship to fulfill one's needs. However, brain and neurological research shows that the parts of the brain that drive this mating behavior is centered in the pleasure parts of the brain so that it becomes difficult to give up when one is rejected. In other words, what happens is somewhat akin to a habit in which someone just cannot stop. There are lots of movies and stories about the rejected lover who "stalks" this person they are convinced they love. In my practice I have seen this occur many times so that a person remains fixated on the rejecting partner and seems unable to look in "greener pastures." The combination of the pleasure centers of the brain along with strong memories, if the relationship lasted more than a few days, add more motivation to attempt to hold onto the rejecting lover.


Please do not become discouraged by this essay if you have not yet found your "soul mate." In actuality, the system works quite well. Consider the fact that if the system did not work well we would have a planet with far fewer people.

Rather than stubbornly remaining insistent on someone who is rejecting you, move on and continue to explore dating.

Practice your non verbal communication, remembering the importance of eye contact, a smile, a friendly look and a friendly tone of voice. Communicate the fact that you are open to meeting other people and that you are friendly.

Remember that just because you like this person does not mean they will like you back. As my grandmother used to say (a very trite and old saying) "there are plenty of fish in the sea."

Do not allow that wonderful and euphoric feeling of infatuation blind you to reality. It is important to get to know the other person and not rush into relationships. Taking time to get to know the other person allows you to see their imperfections. Taking time in dating also allows one to determine whether or not this individual can be committed to having children and remaining married or together for "the long haul."

The fact is that after the infatuation wears away there needs to be the ability for two people to live with each other, enjoy watching television, going to the movies and just being together in a ways that are warm and secure.

Your comments are welcome and encouraged.