The dating detox that will transform YOUR love life: Tracey Cox reveals the strategies for every stage of life – from ditching men who say you’re ‘too much’ in your 30s to waiting a year to trust if you’re divorced
Few of us are the same people we were two years ago – and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
One thing the pandemic did for lots of single women was give them a much-needed break from the pressure of finding a relationship.
Not just that, they had time to reflect on past dating experiences…and realise how disastrous and demoralising lots of them were.
Which is why now is the perfect time for a dating detox – and that’s exactly what I’m about to deliver.
Whether you’re 18 and just starting out or suddenly single at 60 and looking for love, these nuggets of advice are designed to help you break bad dating habits and get the relationship you deserve.
(It’s aimed at women, but a lot of points are applicable to anyone in any dating situation.)
The New Year Dating Detox: Tracey Cox, a UK sex and dating expert, has revealed her best nuggets of advice for singletons to help break bad dating habits for good (file photo)
WHEN YOU’RE YOUNG (OR NEW TO DATING)
A book landed on my desk earlier this week and if I could personally gift it to every young woman in the UK, I would.
It’s called ‘Block, Delete, Move On: It’s not you, it’s them’ and it’s written by Lala, Instagram’s LalalaLetMeExplain who has an army of followers (176,000 and counting).
Lala is a social worker and dating and relationship educator who offers no-holds-barred advice to empower young (and not so young) women. I am a big fan.
Some of the points she raises in her book are in this section. This one I particularly echo…
Find out your attachment style
Your childhood has a huge impact on what you need and want from a relationship. Understanding your attachment style is a usually a lightbulb moment – particularly for those who struggle with relationships. I have never met anyone who isn’t knocked sideways with ‘Oh my God, that’s me!’ when they discover theirs.
If you’re lucky enough to have an idyllic, nurturing upbringing, you’ll go on to form strong, emotional bonds and navigate relationships well. Others aren’t so lucky and end up dismissive-avoidant, anxious or fearful.
(Lala covers this and I also love Attached by Amir Levine and Rachel Heller.)
There are nice men but not all men are nice
Open your eyes to the statistics. One in three women will experience domestic abuse in her lifetime. A woman is raped every six minutes in Britain. These are facts.
If you’re checking your partner’s phone, it’s time to leave. My stepdaughter who is 20, tells me this is what her generation do. It might be common to secretly check up on your partner but that doesn’t make it right or healthy.
If you don’t trust your partner, the relationship is doomed
If you’re suspicious for a reason – they’ve cheated on you repeatedly – you have good reason not to trust them. Going through their phone is only going to confirm what you already know.
Become financially independent
It’s one thing I set out to do early and it’s bought me incredible freedom. I never have to think ‘Can I afford to leave this relationship?’. I’ve never had to stay unless I really wanted to.
Surround yourself with clever, caring people who have your best interest at heart
It’s up to you who you date but no harm in letting protective friends suss out prospective partners early on. That early relationship flush often blinds us to red flags. Friends are more objective.
Nice guys aren’t boring
Don’t mistake drama for love. Rollercoaster highs and lows aren’t passion, they’re a sign of incompatibility. Calm is good.
The ‘safe bets’ are just as capable of dumping you or treating you badly as riskier but more appealing partners. You might as well go for what you really want.
Watch for pink flags as well as red
Red flags are someone being unavailable (married or in a relationship with someone else), controlling behaviour, misogyny, violent or abusive behaviour. If you spot a red flag, get out immediately.
Pink flags, Lala says, should make you sit up and pay attention. Exes that are still hanging around (unfinished business), being curiously unavailable to see you on the weekend (in a relationship), unjustified sparks of anger, never meeting their friends. One pink flag in isolation might mean nothing, but more than two equal a red.
WHEN YOU’RE LOOKING TO SETTLE DOWN
If you want to have kids within a relationship, that damn ticking biological clock puts a time limit on women enjoying being single.
The resulting pressure can send the sanest of us crazy.
This is the dating period when we’re most inclined to look at potential partners through rose coloured glasses.
Ironic, when we should be even fussier than normal. We’re searching for a man who is worthy of being the father of our children, after all.
With this in mind…
DATING WHEN YOU’RE A SINGLE PARENT
‘It’s not just trying to find time for dating, it’s realising you deserve to have both love and sex,’ one Mum with two young children told me.
‘When it’s just you, everything is focused on your kids. You feel guilty wanting something for yourself.’
Most single mums do eventually decide a happy mother means a happy child and get out there again, even if dating can be difficult.
Here’s how to make it easier.
Let it be known you’re a single parent: Put it on your profile, if you’re using apps; talk about your children early on if you meet someone with potential in person. Yes, some guys won’t be interested once they know, but better to find out early. Be proud of your kids and who you are.
Don’t let anyone you don’t know well into your house: Better to be a little paranoid than overly trusting when there are children around. Don’t let men you don’t know well pick you up from home or drop you off at home: you might not want them to know where you live.
Don’t settle: Your kids are a bonus not a drawback. Just because you’re a single mum doesn’t mean you have to settle for second best. There’s no need to settle.
See what’s there, not what you want to see: Be positive but not delusional. Men aren’t like houses: you can’t gut the interior and redecorate. He may mould a little, but it’s unlikely he’s going to change dramatically.
Stop making excuses: If he only comes over when he’s drunk and been out with the lads, you’re a booty call, not a relationship. It’s not because his mother didn’t love him or his ex-wife has made him ‘hard’, it’s because he doesn’t respect you.
Life’s too short to waste on iffy/undecided people: If they can’t decide if they want in or out at the heady beginning, they’re never going to stick around when you hit the boring or difficult parts.
Their relationship with your children is as important as their relationship with you: If they refuse to engage or show no empathy or compassion towards your children, it’s irrelevant if they treat you like a queen. You’re a family. You come as a package.
Don’t rush to introduce a new partner to your kids: As a rule of thumb, wait at least three months. If you can, wait six. It’s confusing for everyone when you introduce people before you know it’s for the long haul.
Avoid any man who says all his exes are crazy
At best, he’s repeatedly choosing unsuitable women and has no clue of what he really wants. More likely, he’s blaming all the women he’s dated for his own glaring issues that prevent him being able to make a relationship work.
If you go on every date thinking they might be The One (stupid concept – who says only one person can make you happy? Are you 12?), you’re going to end up mighty disappointed. Just aim to go out and have a good time. Make a few new friends.
Relationships aren’t everything
You don’t just get love from a partner. Close friendships, family, pets, career, books, great box sets, movies, travel, food, wine, solo sex – all give us pleasure. If you want one, go for it. But don’t turn it into your life obsession.
Nothing is less attractive than desperation. It attracts the worst kind of person. It’s not being desperate to admit you’d like a relationship with a particular person. It is being desperate to want a relationship so badly, you don’t care who the hell it’s with.
If you’re seriously over dating, give up and make yourself happy another way. Some people have so many bad experiences they simply aren’t open to anymore – at least for a while.
Step outside and look in
Would you be happy if your best friend was dating the guy you’re seeing now? Sad but true: we often have higher standards for the people we love, than we do ourselves.
Letting yourself be loved is as important as being able to love. Learning how to be loved is harder because it requires vulnerability and that comes from a place of strength. If your relationships aren’t working, it might be because your self-esteem is low and you’re not in the right head space to take a risk.
If you’re not in the right mood, don’t go
Showing up for a date all bitter and twisted, eyeing them with suspicion and being defensive is utterly pointless. Why bother? Stay in and watch Netflix until your mood improves or make an appointment with a good therapist.
Heartbreak is inevitable, constant heartbreak isn’t
If all your relationships leave you in pieces when they fail, stop dating and figure out what’s going on. Read some good relationship books, watch self-help videos, see a therapist if you think you need to. Self-love is more important than finding love.
Move on from men who say you are ‘too much’.
It usually means they feel dwarfed by how powerful you are.
It’s not always about you
Launching into a ‘How dare you ignore me’ rant if they don’t reply to a text within a few days can come back to bite you on the a**e. Things happen in people’s life that take over. Parents die. People get sick. They lose their jobs. They go on holidays.
Might be they’re just not quick responders and replying within a week is good for them. Exit quietly and mentally write them off without letting them know you are. If they get in touch, great. If they don’t, you’ve retained your dignity.
AFTER A DIVORCE
Relationship break-ups are never fun and divorce is even more painful. Most emerge from it feeling exhausted, bruised and thin-skinned – which is why it’s especially prudent to tread cautiously.
Wait until you’re ready.
This is crucial. You need to have had time to lick your wounds and process what’s happened. What do you want to do differently the next time around? You’re only ready to date when you’ve done some analysis of what went wrong and what your part was in it.
If you’re lonely, make friends
Sex expert Tracey Cox, pictured, says that the pandemic gave single women a much-needed break from the pressure of finding a relationship
Dating is tough. You need to be strong and resilient to survive it, not vulnerable and needy. Rebuild your self-esteem through friends before you put yourself out there. Get a pet, join a group, throw yourself into a new project.
If the person isn’t kind, don’t go there
If the split was acrimonious, all those barbed comments will still be ringing in your ears. Most newly divorced people are highly susceptible to anyone’s opinion of them. The last thing you need is criticism.
Wait one year before trusting fully
Most people give themselves away within 12 months. Take things slowly.
Don’t make it all about your ex
Don’t judge every person and encounter on what’s gone before. Don’t think if you fix what your ex hated, this new person will love you. Talk about your divorce when the time feels right but resist the urge to continually bitch and bad-mouth. Your ex isn’t part of your new relationship – don’t make them part of it.
Remember that it should be easy
If you’re trying really hard and it still isn’t working, you’re in the wrong relationship. When you find the right relationship, it’s easy because you’re working with each other. Some couples are a toxic mix: you both bring out the worst in each other.
Know when to give up
If they don’t call or don’t respond when you reach out to them, move on. Don’t waste your life trying to analyse what went wrong when the answer is usually that the guy’s an idiot and felt intimdated by you.
Aim for balance
You both need to feel you’re getting a good deal. It doesn’t matter if one’s better-looking, richer or wittier, what matters is the balance. Ironically, it’s the person who is getting the better deal who ends up leaving because they never feel good enough.
LATER IN LIFE
When I wrote my book ‘Great Sex Starts at 50’, I interviewed hundreds of women and found single older women divided sharply into two camps. Those who embraced being older and were excited about entering a new chapter in their life and those who felt they were ‘too old’ and not attractive enough to find new love.
No prizes to know who had the best dating experience. Which is why my first point is this.
Youth isn’t wasted on the young
There’s a contentment that comes as you get older. You feel calmer, you’re able to see things more clearly, you know what’s important and what isn’t. It’s a waste of time wishing you were younger or look younger. Embrace the pluses of where you’re at now.
You’re probably in charge of the date (if you’re straight)
Most men are crap communicators. Be curious: ask questions, find out about the person, who they really are, what they’ve done in their life, about their family. Steer the conversation. But don’t be scared to talk about yourself. Be warned: if the sharing doesn’t equal out over the first month or so, it’s unlikely to.
Watch out for con artists
There are people out there who are out to get what they can. That might be no-strings sex (and if that’s what you’re also after, great!). It also might be your money. If someone seems too good to be true, they generally are.
If you’ve fallen for someone and they suddenly want money for an operation, a loan, anything you feel uncomfortable giving, get out of there. Stream any of the many I-was-swindled documentaries if you think it won’t happen to you. Some con men come in mightily attractive packages – that’s how they get away with it.
Don’t have rigid expectations
The love you find will probably look nothing like what you thought it would look like. What suits you now is different than what suited you when you were younger. Be flexible. Move away from your ‘type’ and you might just end up happier than you’ve ever been.
Try hard not to judge on appearances
Many frogs have turned into Princes once you look past the first layer. The factor you thought was the deal breaker, might not be. The guy who wasn’t tall enough, grows in stature when he turns out to be the kindest man you’ve ever met.
It’s pointless trying to change people
This is especially true if they’re over the age of 50. This goes for your kids, your friends and prospective partners. They aren’t you and don’t think like you and neither should they. Enjoy the differences rather than try to turn everyone into mini-me.
Finally, this one’s for everyone, regardless of age, gender and sexuality…
Being alone doesn’t mean you’re lonely. Nothing is lonelier than being in an unhappy relationship.
You’ll find Tracey’s SexTok podcast, her two product ranges, books and lots of advice on sex and relationships on traceycox.com.