It was awful. Now what?

Posted on January 18, 2011


Your last relationship was awful. Or that date you just went on was awful. Or the guy your sister’s boss’s cousin set you up with was awful.

Something-or someone-happened and it. was. awful. Terrible. Almost too embarrassing to laugh about with your friends. Now what do you do?

Your knee-jerk reaction may be to try to quickly put this happening out of your conscious mind. But that can actually be one of the most counterproductive things you can do. See, when a relationship disaster happens, it’s often crucial to figure out just what went wrong, so that you can prevent it from ever happening again.

Step One:  Accept that Everyone has a Trailer

Have you ever been sold on a movie by the awesome trailer created to reel you in? And yet, some times the trailers are completely misleading. In fact, some of the worst movies I’ve ever seen had fantastic trailers.

The thing about trailers is that they only show you a few parts of the entire movie. (And sometimes those few parts are the only good parts).  This is why they aren’t reliable indicators of movie quality.

Many times, awful relationships and awful dates look pretty good in the beginning because they have a good trailer-a preview of some type that convinces you this might be a promising endeavor. Everyone has a trailer-or they have others who create trailers for them (the friend who sets you up with someone they said would be just perfect for you is creating a trailer).

Your job is to take a look at the awful date or relationship you were a part of and figure out what made it seem so appealing in the beginning. Accept that everyone has a trailer and figure out what trailer you were buying into. Ask yourself: What made this date or relationship seem potentially good?

Step Two:  Make your Hindsight your Foresight.

You know why people say ‘Hindsight is 20/20?’ Because it is. It’s often easy to see where we went wrong once we’ve gone there.

So once you’ve taken a look at you know who’s trailer, figure out what specific information you didn’t get from the preview. Information that would have helped you realize (before you wasted all of that time and energy) that this would probably not turn out well. Ask yourself: What do I wish I had known then that I know now? How can I gather this kind of information in the future?

Step Three: Create some “If X, then Y” goals for next time.

Psychologist Peter Gollwitzer realized through over 90 scientific studies that when people make goals based on If-Then contingencies, they are more likely to keep them. After completing steps 1 and 2, you should have a pretty good idea of what information you’ll need to gather in order to prevent future awful dates and relationships from happening. Now all you need to do is state these in a way your brain will encode easily.

For example, you could state:

-If Julie offers to set me up with anyone else, then I’m going to ask her a series of questions about this person’s past romantic involvements.

-If someone on is interested in me, then I’m going to exchange at least 3 emails with this person before I agree to meet for coffee.

-If a person at my office asks me out, then I’m going to think about the potential office gossip that may ensue before I say yes.

Although it’s unrealistic to think that one can always prevent dating and relationship disasters, taking the three steps listed above will at least greatly minimize their potential.