Dating, Decoded
photo of a woman pondering dating struggles; photo of advice columnist Sarah Ellis

How Do I Protect Myself From Getting Hurt When People Can’t Commit?

I’m honest about what I want, but it doesn’t seem to be helping.

Q: I’ve been very up-front to potential partners about my dating goals and how I’m looking for something serious. Despite this clear communication, I’ve been through a string of situationships with people who change their mind a few weeks later and say they’re not ready to commit. These situations leave me feeling hurt and sometimes lied to — especially when someone says one thing, then says something completely different later on.

It’s hard having to let go of something you invested time and energy — and more importantly, feelings — into. I would appreciate any advice you have about navigating these situations and protecting myself from getting hurt by someone who doesn’t know what they want. — Allison*

A: Hi, Allison! First of all, I want to say I’m proud of you for being honest about what you’re looking for. Too often, I hear people (especially women) downplaying their desire for commitment by trying not to appear “too difficult” or “scare someone away.” But the truth is that everyone would be better off if we all just said what we wanted. The goal of dating should never be to contort yourself into a box you think is desirable you’re vetting people to see if they’re a good fit to merge their life with yours. It sounds like you’re already doing a great job of that, which takes confidence and self-awareness. Celebrate that as a win.

Moving on to your question: How do you protect yourself from getting attached to people who ultimately end up letting you down? Unfortunately, there’s no magic wand you can wave that will create a force field around you to keep out wishy-washy situationships. No matter how clear and specific you are in dating, you’re going to run into people who don’t communicate, who change their minds, who get spooked, who meet someone else... the list goes on. It sucks, but so much of this comes down to luck and timing.

You’re doing your best to control the factors you can here: You know what you want, and you’re keeping an open heart. I don’t blame you for feeling frustrated and cynical, and you should absolutely take breaks from dating when you need to recalibrate. Sometimes there’s nothing like a clean break to remind yourself how amazing your life already is as a single person.

But please don’t let these bad experiences convince you that there’s no one out there who can match you in terms of commitment. This isn’t to say your future partner should check every single box on a laundry list of needs, ranging from 1) can cook to 87) will listen to the entire Eras Tour set list with you start to finish. What I’m saying here is that you are not too much for wanting a partner who gives 50/50. Not everyone wants commitment or is at a place where they’re ready for that, and those people aren’t for you. Don’t settle. Full stop.

Maybe I’m feeling extra witchy because it’s October, but I’ve been really leaning into the law of attraction when it comes to dating. Whether or not you believe in manifestation, the idea that what’s meant for you will find you can be comforting when sh*t gets hard. When a door closes, that’s one more piece of clarity on your way to finding what’s always been yours.

I know that’s easier said than done, and I don’t say it to discount the very real hurt that arises when things don’t work out with someone you like. But reframing it in your mind as a good thing (“This wasn’t for me, there’s something better out there, and I attract and believe in that future”) can make it easier to move on.

You’re doing so many right things. You’re communicative, open-hearted, and show a lot of maturity by considering the best way to care for your own feelings. Not to sound like a broken record, but I promise you this path is leading you somewhere good and I hope you’ll write to me with an update when it does.

*Name has been changed.

Dating, Decoded appears on Elite Daily once a month. Have a question for Sarah? Submit it here.