Editor's note: This article is the second installment in a four-part series. If you missed Week 1, get the full recap.
Meet iVillager Kirsten, winner of the iVillage Date Coaching Essay Contest! As her prize, Kirsten will be be coached by Dating Expert Sherry Amatenstein for the next four weeks, one session at a time. Feel free to follow along and find out if Sherry's tips can work for you, too!
The Single-Girl Stats
iVillage name: Kim427 Age: 35
Dating Dilemma: I always meet men who need me to fix them!
Best present I ever received from a guy: Bracelet with my children's names on it
The worst: Gift certificate for a lube job. I didn't have a car at the time. Hmm.
Last Week's Homework:
- Write a romantic resume of her love history.
- Keep a journal. In it, write 10 things she likes about herself.
- Begin saying positive affirmations daily.
- Ask a single platonic male friend whether men really feel confident when it comes to the other sex.
Week Two: Making the Change
Kirsten found the past week unsettling -- particularly writing her romantic resume. "As I was doing it I kept thinking to myself, 'God, am I really that bad?' Looking at my patterns felt like being smacked in the face."
In her three serious relationships, Kirsten played the giver role. "I tried changing to please these men. I gave up friends for them when they didn't get along. I tried so hard to make them happy without ever thinking of myself." What did her exes do for her? They called her pretty (she didn't believe them) and made her feel special ... for a while. "A man I lived with for three years only said he loved me once." She adds, "I realize I have to rethink the way I've gone about seeking love ... the way I think about myself."
On the next page: How to stop, erase and replace low-self esteem for good!
I tell her to let the resume percolate, then to slowly begin a Romantic Future List. I explain that finding the right mate involves putting pen to paper and developing a plan based on true self-understanding. For example, one man, after writing his resume, realized his pattern was to date women who needed to be rescued. He sat down, admitted the ways he'd contributed to the breakup of those relationships and who he now was (someone interested in finding a woman strong in her own right) and wrote down the qualities he wanted his next -- and hopefully last -- partner to possess. He's now married to his ideal woman.
Kirsten is game. She's happy to report that she is now keeping a journal. However, she found it difficult to write down good things about herself. "It's uncomfortable putting things down like, 'I'm pretty.'" I remind her that her low self-esteem wasn't built in a day. It won't fade overnight. But she must build a foundation of self-worth strong enough to withstand a barrage of negative thoughts. A great way is through an intensive behavioral technique called stop/erase/replace. I suggest she choose one of the recurring negative phrases that buzz in her head dozens of times a day ("I'm a bad, unlovable person") and diffuse it through this 21-day habit changing exercise. "The brain needs 21 days to re-wire itself. So from now on when that thought strikes, erase it by visualizing the phrase on a computer screen and seeing yourself hit ctrl, alt, delete. Then substitute a positive new thought (such as 'I'm a fabulous, lovable human being. No one is better than me'). To ram that thought into your brain, write it out 500 times. Also jot it on Post-It notes that you hang everywhere."
Kirsten admits she needs such an intensive exercise to root out her demons: "My mother used to tell me my sister was pretty but that I wasn't." Hearing this, I tell Kirsten to write out a scenario in her journal where her mother starts "talking up" her sister and Kirsten, instead of accepting this pronoucement, demanding to be nurtured and complimented as well and receiving from her mother what she needs.
On the next page: What is Kirsten's dangerous assumption about men?
I laugh and say, "You must be wondering what this exercise has to do with dating. Why don't I just tell you to go out and flirt? But until you root out the seeds that caused these patterns and dynamics, you'll continue investing in them. You were taught to chase after people for their approval, to beg for love. If you mentally revise the way these damaging childhood scenarios played out you can succeed at changing the type of man you are attracted to." I remind Kirsten, "Until you feel lovable you won't seek out men who can truly love you."
Another facet of Kirsten's problem pattern was her assumption that men had it easier in the dating world. In last week's homework assignment, Kirsten asked two guys who truly (platonically) love her whether, as she believes, men find dating a snap. The answer: Guys suffer rejection and doubts every bit as much as women. They find it difficult to always be the initiator and are uncertain what to say on dates. "It was an eye-opener," Kirsten said.
For another eye-opener I suggest she ask people in her life what they value about her. A proviso is that she must not tell them they're crazy to say all these great things about such a "bad person" but to soak in the positives. Her final assignment for next week? This uber-giver has to learn how to ask people to support her in her time of need. Kirsten's mother died last month, and she must be able to soak in the love of friends and family as she grieves.
She agrees. "I'll do all of it, Sherry. I've got to change the way I view myself."