Don’t Date Like A Teenager!

Falling in love can make you feel like a giddy teenager again… but is that a good thing? Avoid making these five common mistakes the next time a new crush puts you into emotional overdrive.

By Jennifer Nelson

ating at any age can bring back memories of high school or junior high — and have you acting just as giddy as you did back then. It seems that the adrenaline rush that comes from a first or second date is also
Recklessness takes on a few forms in the dating world.
responsible for a host of behaviors that may leave you dating like a teenager again. "Adults need to take advantage of the wisdom they have learned through their experiences," says Carole Lieberman, M.D., psychiatrist and author of Bad Girls: Why Men Love Them & How Good Girls Can Learn their Secrets. Here are the top "teen" dating mistakes to watch out for while you're swimming in the adult dating pool:

Typical teen dating mistake #1: Recklessness
Recklessness takes on a few forms in the dating world. As a teen, you didn't think things through thoroughly because your hormones were surging and your brain's frontal lobe wasn't fully developed yet. You may have taken the car without getting permission first, blown off your curfew or made irresponsible dating decisions, like drinking or sleeping around. A study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health reported that love-struck adolescents sleep less, act compulsively, have lots of ideas and creative energy, and are more likely to engage in risky behavior, such as reckless driving.

As an adult, over-imbibing on a date or sleeping with someone too hastily is similarly rash behavior. "Our normal inhibitions may fall to the wayside in an effort to let loose and have fun while dating, but behaving recklessly is not the way to a fulfilling adult date," says Lieberman. Both teens and adults behave recklessly when they're feeling desperate or trying to comfort themselves, but unlike adults, teens often can't foresee the repercussions their reckless behavior will bring — primarily because they haven't had those life experiences yet. It's helpful to remind yourself exactly how those repercussions (like hangovers, or waking up in the morning next to some stranger) will feel afterward. Think dating decisions through carefully before you act — or you could risk putting yourself in harm's way or ruining a potential relationship.

Typical teen dating mistake #2: Ignoring your everyday responsibilities
Remember when your parents had to ask you to take out the trash 10 times whenever your mind was focused on your latest crush? If your mail hasn't been collected in days or your dogs haven't been walked in a week, it's clear you're shelving important obligations in favor of obsessing about your new dating life. The goal this time around is to date without forgetting important tasks. "It's not easy when you meet someone and you're all excited and want this person to like you — it brings about that adolescent state," says Beverly Hills psychotherapist Barbara Neitlich, LCSW. Learn how to strike a balance between a giddily fantasizing about your new love interest and keeping up with your usual work and home obligations. See friends, exercise, and above all, make time for a well-rounded life.

Typical teen dating mistake #3: Impulsivity
"Adolescents are all about impulsivity," says Neitlich. The combination of teenaged hormones and an underdeveloped brain is a recipe for saying "yes" to risky sexual situations or choosing the wrong person to date. Spending too much money on wining and dining dates, running off for the weekend on a moment's notice, or buying large gifts you can't afford won't work long-term as an adult, either. Part of maturing and growing up is learning how to develop relationship patience, but it's not easy in a fast-paced society like ours. "The older we get, the more we may feel like our time is running out to find The One or to get back in the game. So when we think we've found Mr. or Ms. Right, we become desperate to hold onto that person and rationalize why spending unlimited amounts of money to seal the deal is a great idea," explains Lieberman. So take a moment to step back and think those impulse decisions through before acting on them: Do I really need to plop 2K on my credit card for a weekend getaway with her/To pay for his new plasma TV? Probably not!

Typical teen dating mistake #4: Becoming love-struck with anxiety
Remember when you couldn't think your way out of chemistry class for all that doodling of your intended's name in the margins of your notebook? Daydreaming non-stop about your current
As adults, it feels so good that something exciting is happening in your life.
love interest, neglecting everyone else and becoming jealous when the two of you aren't together smacks of the same distracted obsession you felt as a teen. It didn't work in high school, and won't look flattering to anyone now. "People of all ages want to feel the excitement and exhilaration of love in bloom, so we allow ourselves to check out of reality in order to indulge our obsession with a new love interest," says Lieberman. Plus, the older we get, the more fearful we may become of losing those emotions, mostly because we've suffered more heartache and don't want to go through that painful experience again. "If you can't do anything but wait for a text from the person, then you're looking at anxiety," says Neitlich. "You're really looking at the fact that you are so anxious about whether or not this is going to come to fruition that you can't even focus. Step back and find some healthy distractions: go to a movie, meet friends for coffee, take a class — but snap out of it."

Typical teen dating mistake #5: Wearing blinders to the risks involved
As a teen, you probably didn't recognize the bad boy (or the girl who was using you to boost her own popularity) because puppy love seemed like the real thing to you — it was like you had blinders on. That's normal teen behavior, and it's due to a lack of judgment. As adults, it feels so good that something exciting is happening in your life; you think that you're finally dating the right person, or maybe you've found true love after a long, fruitless search. "It's almost too sweet to let go of, and so by putting the blinders on, we kind of get to cherish that sweetness for a little while," says Neitlich. Researchers at McGill University in Montreal filmed in-love couples and then asked two groups of study participants — one compromised of people who said they were currently in love and another group of men and women who said they weren't in love with anyone — to watch these films and then assess whether they thought the couples they'd viewed were smitten. It seems that the single participants were twice as good at spotting the lovebirds on film as those who were happily coupled up. The study results, which were published in the Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, found that love is blind and weakens your judgment. But once the relationship gets going, you want to make sure those blinders come off and you see that person for who he or she really is so you can make an objective decision about your future together. Certain things — i.e., he cheated on you in the first month, she keeps asking for money, not having many friends or a poor relationship with his/her family — are all red flags that you can't ignore, so slip off the blinders!

Adults need to take advantage of the wisdom they've learned through their own experiences. We would all like to believe that fairy tales can come true; after all, who wouldn't hope that there's a prince or princess for each of us to fall in love with? That might be the case, but you must date smartly this time if you want to find The One… in other words, like an adult.

Jennifer Nelson is a Florida-based freelance writer whose work appears in Self, O - The Oprah Magazine, Redbook, Family Circle, Women's Health and many others. She also regularly writes about health, lifestyle and relationships for Parade, Glamour, and WebMD.
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