Being that studious, Type-A overachiever-type throughout my life, I waited a long time for my first real relationship. So long, in fact, that I thought I had equipped myself with enough knowledge, and dismissed enough men with toxic tendencies, to choose a good guy.

My first boyfriend post-college was a brilliant businessman with a great sense of humor, and we had so much fun together. He was confident, his interest was sincere and he made time for me from the get-go 鈥 despite his packed schedule. I didn鈥檛 even think to check myself and ask, 鈥淚s this unsafe? Am I investing too quickly?鈥 With him, I thought I could save myself the heartache, fall deep and set myself up for a happily-ever-after that would make even Walt Disney shed a tear and give me a slow clap.


So imagine my shock when he called it off after one month of sunshine and roses. We鈥檇 hit milestones like his birthday and meeting his parents. We鈥檇 enjoyed Whole Foods shopping trips, tons of laughter, lazy summer days and general blissed-out time together since the very first day. In a crash and a blink, it was dunzo.

Fast forward 24 hours, and we were back on. The day before, he鈥檇 blamed the breakup on my trust issues. Now he鈥檇 changed the script, saying he was falling for me too fast and was scared of getting hurt. I accepted this storyline, but suddenly it wasn鈥檛 safe. I was still living in a whirl of confusion and emotional whiplash prompted by his brief exit, which rocked me into a state of fear.


I鈥檇 never imagined that 鈥淚 really care about you鈥 could go hand-in-hand with 鈥淚鈥檓 leaving you,鈥 but I now couldn鈥檛 stop associating the two seemingly interconnected contradictions. So we reconciled, but we never recovered. We had three more months of ups and downs, breakups and makeups (prompted by me), before the final fracture.


And then, eventually, I started dating again 鈥 complete with weird, foreign abandonment issues (no thanks to two still-married parents who still suffocate me with attention). I鈥檇 have a really good date, and then I assumed that person would just ghost me. I鈥檇 refuse to get invested. Or I鈥檇 hold back, even when I was invested. Or I did what my ex did, and I鈥檇 bounce whenever I sensed things getting too close, too fast, before the other person had a chance to notice and do the same to me. Like, #winning? Not so much.


I never dreamt the relationship ride would be such a rollercoaster. Heck, I never even thought it鈥檇 be a merry-go-round with little dips. Up/down, back/forth, off/on was completely off my radar until it was my reality.


鈥淎DD Nation鈥 and 鈥淒isposable Society鈥 are two ways Karla Ivankovich, PhD , an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Springfield, describes the mindset of many 20-somethings. 鈥淢illennials only know a life of fast-paced, action-packed days structured with engaging people,鈥 Ivankovich says. 鈥淐ouple that with mass media, especially social media telling them that they 鈥榙eserve鈥 better, they know they have options that were not afforded to previous generations. The option to choose and choose often.鈥


Most millennials鈥 moms and dads were raised on good old-fashioned values and encouraged to make decisions and then to stick with them. They valued things like loyalty, commitment, hard work and dedication. Unfortunately, says Ivankovich, the current generation, brought up on enticing, surface-level forms of mass communication, has a tendency to look for happiness in what serves them most right now.

With millions of options at our disposal 鈥 from hobbies to jobs to suitors 鈥 we鈥檝e all been taught to toss anything that isn鈥檛 an insta-perfect fit. Problem is, no person with real emotions and real flaws is going to do exactly what we want them to do 100% of the time. You know this. I know this. And yet we constantly forget 鈥 and then remember, and then forget 鈥 this very basic concept, rolling through an on/off cycle that鈥檚 dizzying at best. It is the basic recipe for yo-yo swingin鈥. 鈥淢illennials discard, rapidly, anything that doesn鈥檛 work for them,鈥 Ivankovich says. Whoaaa, I think immediately. Harsh much?

Well, okay, kind of true. (We can admit it!) Cultural conditions have actually set us up to fail.


With apps and online dating, everyone鈥檚 pool of potential mates has dramatically increased 鈥 in theory, anyway. So, we always think we can do one better. According to Marisa T. Cohen, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at St. Francis College and co-founder of the Self-Awareness and Bonding Lab , this is definitely the 鈥淧aradox of Choice鈥 in action.

What鈥檚 that all about? Cohen says to think about it like this: You are in a town with only one restaurant. If you decide to go out, you know that you will get some good food, most likely run into some friends, and 鈥渉ave an all-around good time.鈥 Now, erase that mental picture and picture yourself on restaurant row in Manhattan, with an overwhelming number of options. 鈥淚t is much more challenging to pick a place and definitively know that you are getting the best food,鈥 says Cohen. 鈥淏asically, when we are afforded more choice, it can lead to higher levels of anxiety.鈥


When we have as many choices as we do today, we often have to weigh the pros and cons 鈥 and there are always doubts about which option is best, when there are so many to consider. 鈥淭his leads to dissonance, or uneasiness, and the more important the decision, the greater that dissonance can be,鈥 Cohen says. 鈥淚n the case of yo-yo dating, people are just flip flopping between alternatives to reduce the tension experienced as a result of doubting their mate choice.鈥

If you let the tension turn into fear, though, it鈥檚 bad news 鈥 and the never-ending cycle of on/off, up/down is seriously messing with us, guys. 鈥淲e are simply reinforcing or conditioning behaviors that are not conducive to sustainability of relationships by encouraging millennials to try on every shoe to see if it fits,鈥 Ivankovich says.

So, what on earth do we do? Cohen says the options are just what she tells her psychology students. 鈥淐hange your belief or change your behavior.鈥


Honestly, just because you have moments of doubt does not mean you鈥檝e chosen an incompatible egg. For instance, maybe sometimes he鈥檚 not as verbally complimentary as you鈥檇 like, and maybe sometimes he does forget to pick up your freaking almond milk on his way over (gah) 鈥 but if your current boyfriend is always kind-hearted, super-supportive of your unconventional career path and you can both laugh together until your gut hurts, then what is most important, y鈥檃ll?

1. Figure out what you really want. You may have to take a hard look at your laundry list of 鈥渨ants鈥 and find out which of those you actually 鈥渘eed鈥 instead of cutting off someone who isn鈥檛 up to snuff on paper. If you want a real relationship, first you need to mold your beliefs about what kind of person can provide it. A chiseled jawline bringing you almond milk does not an awesome relationship make. Just saying.

2. Search for signs of a quality SO. Thankfully, there should be clues of promise all along the path to commitment. You just have to commit to it, says Boston-based dating coach Neely Steinberg . First step? Follow through. 鈥淟ook for actions over words,鈥 she explains. This person should not just be telling you what you want to hear or saying who they want to really be.鈥

So, what are the golden qualities? Cohen says that relationship gems are investing; they are spending time, and likely money, getting to know you and showing you that the relationship is important. They are talking about the future; taking you to friends鈥 weddings, they are mentioning that concert in August they really want to go see with you. They are also identifying; this means that 鈥淚鈥 becomes 鈥渨e,鈥 you are scheduling together and you are considering how your decisions might impact your partner.

3. Communicate and give. When I ask Ivankovich what to look for, she says, 鈥淵our partner has to be able to communicate, and not just technologically.鈥 Oh, and remember our bummer, second-nature, self-serving sides? Yeah. That might just cause you to become *totally* blind to what a healthy relationship looks like, says Cohen.

鈥淚t is really when both individuals give all they have, without expecting anything in return,鈥 she explains. 鈥淓ach person is devoting himself or herself to the relationship and the other person for the sheer joy of it鈥 In my opinion, getting something back is just the icing on the cake,鈥 she says. So, if you鈥檙e not feelin鈥 it, maybe you鈥檙e focusing a bit too much inward and need to look outward. Don鈥檛 forget that, in addition to looking for all the above awesomeness in a partner, you want to be that awesomeness for someone else too.


Maybe you are flat-out choosing crummy options, though, and you need a relationship reset 鈥 which is more about you than the individuals you date. Steinberg says that women especially can get addicted to the drama of yo-yos, or, for some weird reason, yo-yos are actually fulfilling a random need. In this way, she says, one or two yo-yo relationships might actually be helpful. 鈥淵ou get a chance, if you鈥檙e courageous enough to take it, to examine the 鈥榳hys鈥 and the 鈥榳hats,鈥欌 Steinberg explains. 鈥淲hy am I attracted to this type of person or relationship? What am I getting from this?鈥

Steinberg runs down a list of examples: new opportunity to heal old wounds, the limbo is familiar, it鈥檚 easier than introspection. And then she nails my very own issue. 鈥淥r maybe this type of relationship is a convenient excuse,鈥 she says. 鈥淵ou don鈥檛 have to examine your own relationship fears and commit your time, heart, and energy to someone who is relationship-ready, because you鈥檙e spending all your time trying to figure out why HE can鈥檛 commit?鈥

I mean, I don鈥檛 think鈥 yeah, okay. That鈥檚 me.

As an over-analyzer and problem-solver (blame my INTJ nature), it鈥檚 much easier for me to 鈥渟olve鈥 someone than to simply assume they鈥檙e going to commit and be there for me 鈥 in my mind, that鈥檚 when you get blindsided. So I perpetuated an on/off cycle with guys thereafter. I knew I鈥檇 never really emotionally invest in a bad boy or wounded artist type as long as they were unsafe, so I chose them to engage with, spending all my energy trying to 鈥渇ix鈥 them instead of enjoying a legit relationship. You could call that a defense mechanism.


1. Pull yourself out of the yo-yo. Once you understand the scenarios, Steinberg says you have a much better chance of being able to make different, conscious choices with your next relationship. But if you don鈥檛 take the time to work on it, you may find yourself in 鈥渁 never-ending cycle鈥 of up-and-down yo-yos, Steinberg cautions. 鈥淏ecause the psychology is so entrenched,鈥 she says. 鈥淎 woman becomes more susceptible to believing she鈥檚 just not relationship material, or there鈥檚 something wrong with her.鈥 Pretty frightening, amiright?

You might just need a shot of self-awareness in order to do the right things to support a relationship. Frankly, better relationships don鈥檛 just exist out there, like wild unicorns. Better is built, says Ivankovich. 鈥淎t some point, everyone, including millennials, searches for a sense of belonging that can鈥檛 be found in short-term relationships,鈥 she explains.

2. Get present. Right now. You might swing back to an old flame 鈥 鈥渋n yo-yo terms, this is like 鈥榳alking the dog,鈥欌 Ivankovich says 鈥 or you might choose to find someone new and start over, actively doing better. But rather than spending all of your time thinking about if you can do better, try simply being present in your current relationship. 鈥淭hink about the person that you are currently with,鈥 says Cohen. 鈥淚f you are able to say with confidence that you are feeling loved, cared for, and fulfilled, you should value what you have. If your answer is no, it is important to find a better relationship and not turn back.鈥

3. Time for a reboot: You can do it. It鈥檚 easy to romanticize relationships when you鈥檝e never had a real, honest-to-goodness, committed bond 鈥 I mean, hello! And Ivankovich stresses you have to be up to the challenge for your union to last. 鈥淩elationships are hard work, end of story,鈥 says Ivankovich. 鈥淵ou cannot expect something potentially lifelong to only take a partial commitment.鈥


As for me, I鈥檝e cooled my jets a bit. I鈥檝e tried to stop overanalyzing the crap out of men. I鈥檝e stopped blaming new guys for my ex鈥檚 initial exit. I鈥檝e started looking for better potential partners, who have relationship-worthy qualities, instead of broken ones that I can fix up and mold into something I honestly know they鈥檒l never be for me. There are actually more of the good guys than you may think. It鈥檚 just hard to see that when you鈥檙e whizzing around in the yo-yo.


I鈥檝e also started realizing that people make mistakes, and you can鈥檛 be afraid of investing in someone who is rough around the edges. Aren鈥檛 we all? Remember: 鈥淧erfect鈥 is only the title of a One Direction single, and the love of your life isn鈥檛 found, but created 鈥 with commitment, patience and teamwork. Now how鈥檚 that for romantic?

Have you been a victim of yo-yo dating? Tweet us about your experience @BritandCo !

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