Contributed by Thomas B. Holman, Natalie Gilbert, and Matthew Call
Understanding and Maybe Changing Your Dating Style
Asking someone out for a date or making it clear you would accept a date if asked is easier if one has realistic and positive expectations and perceptions of themselves and of others. These feelings and expectations develop over time. When a person has a history of positive experiences with parents, peers, and others who are available and responsive to their need for closeness and comfort, that person tends to feel at ease with themselves and comfortable with others.
On the other hand, there are those who question their own worth as potential eternal companions, or have negative feelings about other people’s willingness to provide the comfort and emotional connection they need. They often avoid relationships, saying and thinking things like “Who needs them, anyway!” and may deny any need to change. Or conversely, they will anxiously and inappropriately pursue relationships too vigorously and get overwhelmed with emotions.
In fact, research shows that both males and females tend to have three different styles based on their history of relationship quality since childhood. Natalie Gilbert and Matt Call, who were two of my research assistants, recognized these styles in a dating study we did of singles. These three date styles can be called the “Save Me” style, the “Get Away from Me” style, and the “Come Walk with Me” style. As you read about each style see which one is most like you.
The “Save Me” Dating Style. A leaky bucket is a good metaphor for this group, since it seems that they can never get enough validation or attention to have a “full bucket” of self-esteem and self-confidence. Frequently their past experiences with parents and in other relationships is that people can be unavailable when they need love or are insensitive to their needs. These young men and women had many of the following characteristics when it came to relationships:
- Needy for attention and validation
- Their self-esteem depends on being in a relationship
- Focused on the physical part of a relationship
- Females of this style are often very flirtatious and use jealousy to test interest
- Get emotionally attached quickly (wear their hearts on their sleeves.)
- Often controlled by the emotions of the moment
- Feel they are not in control of their lives and do “I couldn’t help myself!” sort of thinking
- Fear loneliness and partner leaving
- May overcompensate to win affection
- Can be clingy and hyper-vigilant in relationships
- Often experience breakups they do not fully understand and therefore fear that it might happen again
- May become hopeless as they get older
Natalie found the lyrics of a song by singer-song writer Pink a great illustration of the Save Me dating style:
“I can be so mean when I wanna be,
I am capable of really anything,
I can cut you into pieces,
When my heart is, broken.
Please don’t leave me
I always say how I don’t need you
But it’s always gonna come right back to this
Please don’t leave me” (“Please don’t leave me” by Pink)
Matt, a movie buff, saw Edward from the Twilight movies as an example of the Save Me male daters—insecure, needy, having a tendency to overreact.
Here is what one young man said that shows the Save Me dating style:
“Sometimes I get too emotionally attached because I want to be with them all the time, and like I said earlier, I’m always thinking about them, that it’s almost overbearing for them. They’re like, ‘Why do you text me every day? Why do you call me so often? Why do you always want to hang out? Why do you always want to go on a date?’”
The “Get Away from Me” Dating Style. These young single adults have learned over a lifetime that others can’t be trusted to meet their needs for comfort and security. So to protect themselves from being hurt (again!), they back away from close relationships. Here is what we learned about their characteristics:
- Afraid of divorce and relationships ending bad
- May be more picky and selective, fear “settling”
- Date out of a sense of duty
- Slow to move into a close relationship, can seem indifferent to relationships
- Have no problems initiating breakups if they don’t like where the relationship is heading, especially if the partner is asking for greater emotional intimacy
- Prefer hanging out over going on a lot of dates—it’s safer emotionally that way
- Feel discomfort if someone gets too close to them emotionally
- Tend to be fatalistic–“Whatever happens, happens” sort of thinking
- Tend to be very rational, overly rational, showing little emotion
- May resent Church leaders, parents, etc. who “pressure” them to get married
- Say they really like singlehood and are in no hurry for marriage
- Very confident that they can get dates—if they want them
Again, Natalie found song lyrics that illustrate this dating style; this time from the rock group Paramore:
“Maybe I know somewhere deep in my soul that love never lasts.
And we’ve got to find other ways to make it alone or keep a straight face.
And I’ve always lived like this keeping a comfortable distance.
And up until now I swore to myself that I’m content with loneliness, ’cause none of it was ever worth the risk.” (“The Only Exception” by Paramore)
Matt thinks Matthew McConaughey’s character in Failure to Launch is a classic example of a “Get Away from Me” male dater.
The “Come Walk with Me” Dating Style. These young single adults have generally had secure, loving family relationships and good peer relationships while growing up and learned that they are of worth and that others are trustworthy. They also have learned how to respond calmly and thoughtfully to disappointments and stress. In dating some of their characteristics are:
- Dating is viewed as a meaningful process of growth
- Not afraid to show interest in someone
- Read signals or interest cues from others accurately
- Willing to try out relationships
- Optimistic they can develop interest for someone
- Comfortable with commitment
- They feel like they are in charge of their own lives and not controlled by other forces
- Thoughtful, careful, but not afraid to move forward in a relationship when they’ve thought it through.
- Provides care and expects to receive care in relationships
- Rational, long-term perspective
- Secure with self, and desires to invite others into their lives
- Responds to pressure by analyzing whether it applies and then acts upon the desired changes
- Views breakups as a natural part of the process of finding a spouse, even if it hurts, and doesn’t allow disappointments and hurt to get to them for long. They recover by processing what happened and why, and coming to terms with it
- Don’t rush emotional commitment, but don’t run from it either
- Clear expectations about the kind of person they are interested in
Celine Dion’s song Because You Loved Me, has lyrics that illustrate how women with this dating style view relationships:
“You gave me wings and made me fly.
You touched my hand I could touch the sky.
I lost my faith, you gave it back to me.
You said no star was out of reach.
You saw the best there was in me
I’m everything I am
Because you loved me, ooh, baby.”
Here is an example of a “Come Walk with Me” male’s description of how he is in relationships:
“I never worried about them leaving me until it was pretty much upon me when I knew it was going to happen. It is not something that I stress about while I am dating somebody.”
So there you are. Three typical dating styles. Most of us have moments when we flip-flop between styles, but we also have one dating style that describes who we are and how we think and behave most of the time.
Which of these dating styles is closest to your own?
Is it “Save Me”? Y____ or N____
Is it “Get Away from Me”? Y____ or N____
Is it “Come Walk with Me”? Y____ or N____
What in your dating style led you to choose your answer?
If it is one of the first two, you probably aren’t finding much success in sending or receiving interest cues and therefore in establishing real, authentic, mature relationships.
If this is the case, where can you look for help?
Now look at the four sources for help we list below. If your thinking led you to one or more of them, then you are on the right track.
Sources of help:
- Heavenly Father
- Trusted friends, family members, and Church leaders
- A professional counselor or therapist
In the next articles we have several suggestions for how to use these sources of help for dealing with improving your dating style and/or doing better at sending and receiving interest cues. Even if you primarily have a “Come Walk with Me” dating style, you will find the helps in the next two articles useful.
This article is one of a series. For others in the series, see: