Let’s say you’re newly single and dating again; or you never had positive role-models to show you how to show interest in someone in the first place; or you’re recently-arrived to the United States from a country where love and marriage are handled very differently. Or perhaps you’ve simply gotten into some bad habits that make you seem less desirable as a mate. So you put in the footwork to change your dating behavior. You adjust your mindset and your posture; you discover your style and change your wardrobe; you’ve become acquainted with technologies that didn’t exist or were in their infancy the last time you dated; you clearly define who you are, to yourself and others, and let it show; and you face down your social anxiety and meet a ton of new people. And your efforts are beginning to show results. Suddenly you have a full social calendar again, and you’re on your way to the relationships and the love life that you want.
But your friends – even the ones who said they wanted to see you succeed in this area – don’t respond the way you expected them to. They may say they’re happy for you, but they don’t look happy for you. Instead, they act surprised when you’re no longer available on short notice, or when you show up to a party with a woman by your side. They seem jealous of your new-found ease and freedom in the world of women. Or worse, they try – subtly or overtly – to sabotage you, to reverse your progress.
One unexpected side-effect of changing yourself, which most of the self-help books don’t tell you, is that, when the changes in your life finally start to bear fruit, we sometimes discover there is little in our environment to support our healthy choices. It’s true of any positive change, and it’s true of dating too.
Some people will be pleasantly surprised by behaviors they never noticed in you before, or they’ll notice changes in the way women respond to you and actively show you appreciation and support for your changes. Any time someone just rolls with the changes, even if it’s a neutral statement, you can consider it positive support.
“I had no idea you were such a flirt!”
“How long have women been reacting to you like that!?”
“What have you changed? Something’s different about you.”
But often, friends and loved ones feel threatened by the positive changes you’ve made. Sometimes it’s because your hard work and success puts their own laziness or inaction into stark relief; more often, though, it’s simply the fact that they’ve become attached to the person you used to be, and they don’t want to see that person disappear. So they undermine your changes, in subtle or not-so-subtle ways.
“I feel like I don’t even know you anymore.”
“So you’re too good to hang out with us now?”
“I can’t stand your new girlfriend.”
“Why can’t you find someone your own age (race, ethnic group, etc.) to date?”
As strange as it may seem, others have traveled similar territory before, mostly in the realm of alcohol addiction. The husband or wife of the alcoholic gets used to running the household without him or her; if, as functioning improves, the alcoholic begins to take an interest in the activities of the household again, it can lead to problems. Or the alcoholic makes new friends in recovery, and his or her family doesn’t get along with them. In all cases, the codependent partner has become so used to their partner’s dysfunction that they’re uncomfortable when it changes, even for the better.
Dysfunctional relationships perpetuate control and predictability. Healthy relationships allow some chaos – though it’s usually safe chaos – and spontaneity.”
—John Herald Lee, Recovery Plain and Simple
In general, the more casual relationships will respond earliest and best to the positive changes you’ve made in your dating life. Family and long-term friends, though, might fear losing you. The praise and encouragement you were expecting from them might not be forthcoming, or in worst-case scenarios, they might actively try to sabotage your progress.
You will almost certainly need to make changes in your social circle that take into account the changes you’ve made in your love life. If you’ve got a girlfriend now, you’ll want to spend more time with your partnered friends than you did before; if you’re single and dating, you’ll want to spend time with other men who are single and dating. In this, as in most things, you need to use balance and good judgment: there’s no need to stop seeing your single friends altogether, even if you’re partnered, and no need to avoid married friends if you’re single.
How will you know whether changes are in order? Here are a few telltale signs:
- You’ve had the unusual feeling that people you’ve met more recently know you better than friends who have known you a long time.
- Your old friends show disdain for your new lifestyle, or actively work to sabotage it.
- They actively judge, berate, or show hostility to your new friends or your partner.
Understanding Vs. Compassion
Keep in mind that long-term friends and close family often bring benefits that far outweigh any support they can give you over a change in a single area. If people close to you don’t understand your new lifestyle, but aren’t actively sabotaging it, you don’t need to separate yourself from them. They may love you, even if they don’t understand you. As always, be clear with yourself about what you want. Most people, if they had to choose only one, would prefer to be loved than understood.
Some of your friends might be curious. They may even want to know how you did it, and express interest in making some changes themselves. If you think it’s appropriate, you can go ahead and answer questions. Just keep in mind that your decision to change almost certainly came at the end of a lengthy decision-making process. The same will be true for them; don’t expect to short-cut the process for them.
Some coaches recommend changing your whole environment: job, residence, social circle, and venues (bars, coffee shops, restaurants, etc.) where you spend a lot of time. This isn’t always possible, or even desirable (except in cases where they try to sabotage your progress). But in all cases, you should continue to practice your new behavior, even in the face of resistance from people closest to you. Gradually, they’ll become used to your new-found habits. Once they realize they won’t lose you, they’ll develop new expectations for you.