“I just prefer men who are inexperienced in relationships. Then I get to train them in my ways.”
This was L. We were seated in a cafe on a lazy Saturday afternoon and she was waxing lyrical about her relationship values and the biggest reasons why she was with the guy she was with.
This was also someone who had been on dating apps for years and the way she spoke about men, you’d think that she’d have “high standards”. So honestly, her choice in a serious boyfriend really surprised me.
And as the relationship wore on, I found their dynamic and the way she spoke about him – rather interesting.
She mentioned how he earns 3x less than her (this became a huge problem later on when they were purchasing property), how she’s embarrassed of his dressing so buys him lots of clothes which, yes, she personally chooses for him. She prided herself on her food venue selections and constantly berated him for choosing food she considered “bad” or places that were “cheap”.
To top it all off, she told me she wasn’t attracted to him physically or emotionally. Which begged the question I was dying to ask,
Why are you even with someone you feel no deep emotional bond with and whom you are embarrassed of?
I couldn’t remember her response – she didn’t sound very convincing and I don’t think she was able to convince herself either.
In recent years, I’ve always been amused and quite puzzled I must admit, at clients who would regale tales of dating people they don’t really like – me: why are you wasting your time then? – or people who would admit to having partners they feel “weren’t at their level” and feeling frustrated with that.
So let’s explore that – what it actually shows about you as a person if you feel the person you are seeing is “beneath” you.
#1 You love control and molding someone to be your “ideal” because you cannot deal with the reality – that people bring their own personality and quirks into the relationship, which you do not like
So instead of adapting to the person, finding out if your values match and if you can live with and love one another for a long time, you instead try to find someone who you can mold to your liking.
Deep down you aren’t looking for an equal, but somebody “malleable” enough for you to shape into the partner that you want. There is a strong possibility you feel uncomfortable with the complexity and unpredictability of people’s personalities because you are perhaps afraid of:
- Not being confident to deal with what may suddenly come up
- The possibility of being vulnerable and getting hurt
Not being in control makes you feel unsafe. It is almost as if you feel threatened by someone else’s personality in an intimate relationship.
This usually points to some stories you’ve been holding concerning control, specifically in the context of a relationship and your underlying perceptions of others’ personalities and how it makes you feel.
#2 You secretly think you deserve “better” all the time and deep down you look down on your partner and treat them accordingly
When you intentionally “date down” or “date beneath” you, there is a tendency to go into a relationship feeling all high up and mightier than your partner. You may even think your partner should be so lucky to have you because they are hitting way out of their league. You don’t think they “deserve” you.
What could potentially be disastrous in this type of dynamic is that you start disrespecting your partner and treating them as “less than” you. You may start to resent their presence and possibly even resent a part of yourself for willing to “put up” with them.
This creates an incredibly unhealthy dynamic where you both are perpetually guaranteed to never be on an equal footing. There would be undercurrents of disrespect, condescension, disdain, resentment, anger, annoyance, irritation and in more serious cases, bullying and abuse.
Again, it would be helpful to ask yourself how does staying in this relaitonship align with yours and your partner’s happiness and values. And if there is something deeper that is driving this mindset, that needs to be addressed first.
#3 But you actually want to be put on a pedestal/treated like a “Princess” and choose people who will definitely give that to you
However, usually people who “date down” absolutely love being worshipped and put on a pedestal by someone else. When you are being put on a pedestal, the relationship is inherently unequal. Because you can’t be put on a pedestal or worshipped by someone of an equal or higher “rank” than you.
It’s gotta be someone “below” you. So unconsciously or consciously, you seek out people that show up a certain way. Perhaps they are more accommodating, easygoing or submissive.
My acquaintance, L, is/was an incredibly high maintenance sort of personality (although she will never admit to it) who would constantly chase this feeling of “being pampered”. It was a theme that came up with every single guy she dated in the past. So she’d choose guys who weren’t very nice to her in general but who knew how to create romantic events and pamper her.
Totally not important qualities at all to be looking for in a mate though! – especially if you want someone solid for the long haul.
My question to her and others like her is – Why wait for someone to come along and pamper you, when you can do it yourself?
#4 The relationship thrives on a power dynamic tipped in your favour
On top of being in control and being worshipped, there may also be themes of power that run through your relationships. Many times, power and control go hand in hand. So if you find yourself gravitating to relationships like this, it may be time to explore the theme of power in your life – because relationship patterns seldom exist in a vacuum.
Ask yourself why is a power differential so important to you in a relationship and if it actually even aligns with the kind of relationship that you envision for yourself.
#5 You may be superficial and choose partners based on superficial qualities
This may be a hard one to swallow but is a trap that many of us fall into. Instead of selecting partners based off solid, sustainable things like values and affection and patience and understanding, many of us go for things like height, physique, face, hair.
Or you choose people based off how romantic they are. Which is based off how many romantic events they can think of and organise for you. Or how much they pamper you. See point #3 above.
Romance is nice but being romantic does not mean the guy is a good catch.
Oh, and he’s also gonna lose the hair someday, as well as the body 😉
If you want a solid, loving, long-term relationship, these superficial qualities won’t get you very far.
There’s also another part to this, judging your partner or being condescending to them because they don’t fit the superficial qualities that you want in an ideal mate, be it looks, intellect, talent and so on.
This may sound harsh but needs to be said – if you have a tendency of doing the above, consider ending the relationship and looking for someone who fits your standards. There’s more to a person than just their height, looks or money. But if you are stuck on those qualities instead, then spare your partner and let them go. Your partner doesn’t need to be with someone who constantly berates them for being themselves.
If you are the partner of someone like that, think about how this makes you feel (probably not very good) and imagine how this would make you feel as you get deeper into the relationship. A partner who constantly criticizes how you dress or how you look will gradually chip away at your self-esteem – without you knowing sometimes – and make your feel very small and insecure over time.
I know because I dated a version of L before. The guy couldn’t stop going on about how my hair wasn’t nice (I have glorious wavy hair whereas he liked straight-haired ladies) and being young and naive, I’d try all means and ways to straighten my hair – iron it, style it, bought all sorts of hair waxes.
And for what exactly? To please someone I didn’t even end up liking?
Something to bear in mind here is that people who are very hypervigilant about how others look/how they dress (people like L and my ex) tend to be judgmental towards themselves and aren’t generally very secure about the way they look deep down. Hence this constant need to survey their environment and the people with them and dissect their external appearance.
If you find yourself constantly hung up on a person’s looks/dress etc before their character traits, consider how is that affecting your relationship and ask yourself why is that more important than anything else. If you cannot accept your partner the way they are right now, perhaps it’s better to consider someone else.
#6 You feel like there is nothing better out there and dating “down” is better than being single
If you fall in this camp, there may be a few things here to unpack.
Firstly, is it really true that there is nobody else out there for you? The dating scene isn’t as straightforward as it was a decade or more ago, but there are still people meeting and falling in love. It probably isn’t the case that there isn’t anyone else out there, but a perception that stems from certain observations and experiences. Are there ways to change your circumstances? Are there things that you could do to meet more people? I’d start from there.
Secondly, what is it about staying single that feels troubling to you? Is it loneliness, a need for attention perhaps? Validation? And why the need to date down/date anyone just to deal with those feelings? All those are things to explore.
Also, many people that I’ve spoken to, be it friends or clients, approach love with a scarcity/limitation-filled mindset that colours their entire outlook on their life ahead. They think that if they are single now, they are going to be single forever. That is also another story that so many people tell themselves about love and relationships, that is inaccurate and isn’t helpful.
We all have stories about dating and love. If “dating below you” has not been working out for you, it’s time to unpack why.