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  • Writer's pictureDr. Karin Anderson Abrell

Lessons Learned from 27 Years of Dating: #1 Stepping Forward is not Stepping Up

Stepping forward looks like stepping up. It feels like stepping up. But they're very different.

That's right. You read it correctly. I dated for 27 years—starting with the lifeguard at camp when I was 15 (which, looking back was rather scandalous ... he was 19 and on staff!) until I married the love of my life at 42. Add 'em up. That's 27 years. So I definitely know a thing or two about the dating scene.

Over coffee with a friend, I mentioned the idea for this series. She was like, "27 years? That's longer than most marriages!" Yep, she nailed it. My relationship with dating went the distance.

So now I'm dishing—sharing wisdom gleaned over hundreds (thousands?) of dates and copious heartache and angst.

Buckle up. It's a bumpy ride and I'm starting with a live one.

Lesson #1: Stepping Forward Is Not Stepping Up

Here’s the scenario. I meet Dylan a few months after calling off my wedding (yeah, I know—I'll get to that one in another article). We date for two years and then Dylan breaks up with me right before he moves to New York.

C'est la vie, right? Except we'd had a plan. He'd get settled out there. I'd finish up the school year (I was a professor at the time), find an apartment near his, and then join him out East.

But all of a sudden, I'm uninvited.

Of course, he wants to remain friends. Of course, he's still calling and texting. And of course, I go along with it because, to my mind, he's just overwhelmed and confused and any day now, he'll come to his senses and beg me back. I'm sure of it.

Dylan heads to New York and we stay in touch. When we see each other we slip into boyfriend/girlfriend mode because, to my mind, he's still in love with me. And somehow I figure that's what guys do when they're in love—they break up with you and move away, right?

Over the years (you heard me, years—it drags on for 4), I make intermittent efforts to cut off all ties with him to free myself up for a real relationship. But every time I pull away, Dylan steps forward with increased texts, calls, and talk of "us."

And here's my tragic mistake. I interpret Dylan's stepping forward as stepping up because, to my mind, that's what I want it to be.

But hear me loud and clear. No, no, a thousand times no! Stepping forward is not stepping up! It may look like stepping up. It may feel like stepping up. But it's not.

Stepping forward says:

I'm not ready to let you go, but I’m not ready to commit.

I still need your encouragement and support.

I'm feeling insecure—you're my emotional "fix."

No one understands me like you do.

I miss you.

Dylan's stepping forward made me feel so special and so connected. And for some screwed up reason, I still wanted closeness from a man who'd kicked me to the curb.

While stepping forward worked for him—he got a shot in the arm during a precarious transition—all it did for me was keep me locked in a slowly dying relationship.

Skip ahead a few years. I meet Dan and finally learn the difference between stepping forward and stepping up.

Stepping up says:

I've got to commit! I'm not taking the risk that someone else might scoop you up!

Let me encourage and support you.

You'll always feel secure with me because I'm sure about us.

Our intimacy entails a unique understanding of each other.

"Marry me and make me the happiest man in the world!"

Now to my mind, that's what guys do when they're in love!

27 Years of Dating: Lesson #1: Save yourself some heartache—if he's only stepping forward, tell him to "Step off!" Then find yourself someone who will step up!

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