Falling in love makes otherwise smart and self-respecting people feel, and act, ridiculous. This is a fact. Whether it’s finding pathetic excuses to call again when he doesn’t call back right away, or scheming to run into her outside her office “by accident,” I don’t know anyone hasn’t, at least once, gone a bit bonkers for new love.
It’s not as if you don’t at least suspect, when it’s happening, that you’re being an idiot. But that doesn’t help you, because you tackle your idiocy from the wrong end – you try, by sheer force of will, to purge yourself of your idiotic impulses. This never, ever works. Which is why, despite swearing to yourself and your friends that you are going to play it cool this time, you’ll still end up sneaking off to the bathroom to check your messages again, for the twentieth time that day. You need a better approach.
The fact of the matter is, you can’t make yourself stop wanting to do dumb things when you have fallen hard for someone, any more than you can make yourself stop wanting cheesecake, or a cigarette, or a martini, or anything else that tempts you. Take a moment to let that sink in, because it’s really important. I’ll wait.
Now, the good news is that you can stop actually doing the things that make you look and feel like an idiot, despite the fact that you really want to do them, if you use the right strategy. You can stop the compulsive voicemail and email-checking, the constant texting, and the Facebook stalking. You can stop yourself from Googling his name (again). You can shut out all those premature thoughts of what your wedding will be like, and what you’ll name your children. And when you’re wondering on your second date if she has fallen in love with you yet, you can stop yourself from actually asking her.
The solution begins with embracing the idea that dating is like dieting. Nobody loses weight by deciding that they just won’t want calorie-rich food anymore. You can’t talk yourself out of wanting french fries. And if you’re counting on the sheer force will to see you through when you feel tempted, you’re going to end up eating a lot of french fries.
The next step is to do some if-then planning. Over a hundred scientific studies – on everything from diet and exercise to curbing spending and quitting smoking – have shown that deciding in advance how you will handle your impulses (e.g., “If I am hungry and want a snack, then I will choose a healthy option like fruit or veggies,” “If I want to smoke, then I’ll step outside and take a deep breath,”) will double or triple your chances for success.
The key to a successful plan involves deciding what you will do instead. So when you are taken by the desire to try to track him down on Facebook or Foursquare, or to leave the “not sure if you got my last message” message on her answering machine, what more productive, non-creepy behavior will you replace it with? My mother once giving me some excellent advice about a boyfriend I was obsessing over. “If you feel like calling him,” she said, “then call me.” You don’t have to call your mother when love messes with your head, but having some sort of plan in place is essential.
If-then plans are simple, easy to create, and extraordinarily effective when it comes to resisting temptation, edible or otherwise. Just taking a moment to decide, in advance, how you will handle your less attractive impulses could mean the difference between finding Mr. Right, and seriously freaking him out.