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Women Reveal How They Broke Their Bad Dating Habits

A good deal of self reflection helps.
Lia Kantrowitz
illustrated by Lia Kantrowitz
Image by Lia Kantrowitz

Modern dating can be a nightmare, one stuck on a tedious treadmill of impersonal dating apps, lousy one night stands, and flaky fuckbois who can't be bothered to return a text message. It can be hard to see a way out. And it's especially perplexing when your friends are mired in this cycle, too. They can't offer much perspective because they're dealing with the same annoying shit. There's only so many emergency brunches you can attend and late night tear-filled phone calls you make before you realize maybe the problem is your entire approach to romance.


Well, there's hope. These women took a hard look at their crummy dating habits and made positive changes, finding confidence and happiness on the other side. Think of them as your older, wiser best friends giving real talk dating advice you need to hear. Answers were edited for length and clarity.

Photo by Melissa Petro.

Melissa Petro, 37

My worst dating habit was basically, I couldn't not have sex with the guy. If I liked a guy and was interested in a relationship, I'd fuck him. If I wasn't interested, I'd have conciliation sex. This got better after I got sober, but it was still a practice to take things more slowly, and see where it went before jumping to a conclusion—and straight into bed which, for me, really complicated matters.

I often felt hurt and confused. I'd get emotional hangovers after sex. I wanted a relationship, but didn't know how to go about forming one. My whole life, really, was suffering as a result of my dating patterns—as well as my drinking. So I went into treatment, and started 12-step recovery.

In 12 step—AA, Alanon, and SLAA (that's for "sex and love addicts")—you learn to trace your conduct to deeper, more underlying troubles. A fear of intimacy was definitely an issue for me, which I discovered by repeatedly sharing my story. Doing "step work" and other exercises helped me to reconcile with what I ultimately wanted with how I behaved.

I learned to put a longer "pause" between my impulse and my actions, to have faith in myself and others and wait for what I truly desired. I practiced mediation and other embodied exercises to more deeply connect to how the things I did made my body feel. At my worst, I didn't feel anything. I was numb—physically, emotionally. I couldn't even enjoy the pleasure of sex and relationships, because I had so limited my experience to avoid feeling pain. By reacquainting myself to the feelings of things, I opened myself up to hurt. The last time I had casual sex, it hurt so bad. But pain, I learned, was an indication that something was wrong. That last time, I knew I would never, ever do it again—and I didn't.


The key is being honest and seeking outside help if you really can't modify your behavior on your own.

Photo by Bentley Hibbard.

Melanie Barrows, 41

A few years back when I started online dating after a rough break up, I was hooking up with some of the dregs of humanity. Mainly to try to get over my ex. I let the worst people into my life and they, in turn, would show their true nasty colors. Like threatening me or cussing me out over text if I was done dealing with them, or didn't want to hook up with them anymore.

WATCH: How One Matchmaker Changed Online Dating for Women Everywhere

I changed the idea of dating by telling myself, "You are not dating anymore." I erased the apps and refused to get back on, even with friends saying I should give it another try. I don't know if I've turned it around, but I've just stopped worrying about finding that someone. And not getting online to find that someone. The hardest part is missing out on a physical and emotional connection. It can be lonely at times, but I'm happier and saner on my own right now. I can focus on my career, life in general, and trying to buy a house!

My best advice would be to listen to your gut. The red flags that are small are always warning signs for bigger issues down the road. Do not ignore them! If someone doesn't make an effort to want to be around you then they just aren't into you and that's OK, you don't need them. And don't let someone else rule or ruin your happiness.


Photo by Jen Denis

Jen Denis, 39

My worst dating habits were being too busy, trying every new app that came out, and not reading profiles thoroughly enough. The idea of dating through an app became a job that I could not prioritize. And with little to no real return for my effort, I decided it would be better to operate and exist in the real world. So I focused on myself and doing whatever I needed to do in my personal and work life to be happy alone. I would tell other women who are burnt out on modern dating technology to focus on yourself. The rest will follow.

Photo by Amanda Chatel

Amelia Parry, 37

I think this is a habit of mine in general, but it's especially unproductive in dating—I spent more time wondering how the other person viewed or felt about me than considering how I felt about them. I had difficulty being present in my own experience and emotions. Instead, I instinctively projected my fears onto how I thought they might be feeling and thinking. I had one experience where I allowed someone's aggressive enthusiasm for me overshadow my reservations about them. Once he pushed my boundaries too far I put an end to it, but it left me feeling uncomfortable and unsafe. I've taken a break from dating, I suppose, to focus on fine-tuning and learning to listen to my own instincts, and to assess what my needs and desires are. I don't know that I've actually turned my dating life around—I don't date, really. I mean, I still have relationships, ahem, but I've spent the last year and half really focusing on turning my career in a more emotionally fulfilling direction and learning new skills and hobbies that, as I get better at them, improve my confidence in healthy ways. Discovering what fulfills me and makes me feel satisfied and proud and smart and accomplished and talented through my own eyes has helped me get real about what I actually need from another person if I am going to have a partner in the future.

Photo by Leah Blewett

Leah Blewett, 33

I had two terrible dating habits and they were a bad combo: I was impossibly picky, and I also didn't make time for dating. Together, that meant I infrequently gave anyone a chance. I knew I wanted to find a partner, but I didn't make it a priority, and I didn't keep my mind open to all of the possibilities around me. Suddenly, I realized that I was in my 30s and no closer to finding someone than I had been ten years earlier. There was no one "Aha!" moment, but the things that were fun and took up my time in my early 20s stopped feeling so exciting after ten years of doing them. I was ready for a different kind of fun––building a life with someone––and the more time I spent gallivanting around town with friends, many of whom were coupling off and getting married, the less fun it was. Tinder gets unfairly maligned. You get out of it what you put in. I developed my profile, took care swiping, spent time checking it, and keeping up with my messages. I said "yes" to a lot more dates than I would have in the past. I tried to be more open to meeting people and to make time to spend with ones I met and enjoyed. I know I ended up with the right person, but I bet I could have had more fun, and met more interesting characters, if I'd applied my more open-minded, relaxed post-30 dating strategy all along.

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