Ready to know more about San Diego?


Unhinged, A Dating Series: Dating After an Unhealthy Relationship

How do we stop accepting the love we think we deserve and start letting ourselves be cared for?
Unhinged, a dating series: Nicolle Monico

I almost ruined it. Nearly gave into the voices in my head. 

When Caleb (not his real name) walked into my house, I suddenly felt the urge to pull away. It had been a week since our first date, and we had plans for pizza and a movie on a cold Thursday evening. 

I could feel his excitement. Sweet, golden retriever–like energy emanated from every word he spoke. I was still working when he came up behind me, put my face in his hands, and kissed me. There was a familiarity behind his gesture, as if we had been seeing each other a long time. This is too much, I thought. 

Since our first date, he’d never missed a day of texting and letting me know he was thinking about me. He was patient when plans had to change last minute. We already had another date set up for two days later. 

He liked me. It freaked me out.

If your dating history has been anything like mine, you may understand this. I didn’t have to work for his affection. He wasn’t playing any games. My instincts were shouting at me to run away. You’re supposed to be insecure and question everything, and he’s supposed to make you chase him. Right?

Since I started writing this column, my love life has been a weekly topic of conversation around the water cooler. But when I told my coworkers about the date the next morning, they could sense my hesitation—and the chat turned into an impromptu therapy session. 

“What happens if you just let a guy like you? If you let him treat you well?” they asked. “It’s not a flaw that he sees you as a catch.” 

Ugh, I thought. What do they know?

In the time since, I’ve caught myself looking for Caleb’s dark side, waiting for him to do something wrong. I’ve experienced moments of panic when something triggers an old wound. When he spent hours out with his friends and didn’t answer his phone—something one of my exes would do while off flirting with other women—I thought he’d proven my fears right.

And then, Caleb would show up for me. 

He’d call after a night out and gush over how much he talked about me to his friends. He’d graciously work through my anxious thoughts when I began to shut down. He asked questions. Found the real root of the issue and reassured me that my needs weren’t unreasonable. 

Dating a good man after being in an unhealthy relationship is harder than I expected. I’ve learned that there is only so much work you can do as a single person to heal past traumas that stem from a partner. It takes finally being intimate with someone new to begin to work on the hidden parts of yourself that only a relationship can trigger.

I’ve wanted to walk away a few times already—not because of anything he was doing, but because I wasn’t getting the familiar adrenaline rush of high emotions followed by low feelings of insecurity. My girl Reneé Rapp says it best: “I choose the devil I know over the heaven I don’t.” The unknown can be scary as hell.

There’s also a part of me that has always believed that I was destined to be alone. An inner monologue telling me that relationships will never work out because I’m just too hard to love. When that’s your baseline, a partner not being the one is just par for the course. Better to self-sabotage than fall in love and risk a breakup later on.

I share this because I want to be like my coworkers for those of you who are struggling with a new relationship after a difficult one. Let me be the voice in your head that tells you to stick it out, at least for a bit. Listen to your gut, but also call yourself out when you’re creating issues or red flags that don’t exist.

There are only two ways a relationship can go. You either end up together, or you don’t. But, man, is life a lot sweeter when you let yourself experience the world. As I’ve said before, I don’t regret any of my past boyfriends. They’ve helped shape me and show me the areas of my life that could use some tough love.

Once I got past my self-doubt and learned habits, I began to really enjoy dating Caleb. I will say, he’s not perfect. We have stuff to figure out. He’s been single for most of his life, so he’s having to work on what compromise and sacrifice look like in a partnership. But as we navigate it, I’ll be here laying it all out for you and hoping to be as honest as possible.

The column will still exist as we continue to date (Carrie didn’t give up hers when she was in a relationship). You’ll still get interviews with locals, commentary from experts in the field, guest columnists, and sprinklings of my own love life. See you next week.

If you’re new to Unhinged, catch up on all the dating chats you’ve missed here and follow along at @monicles and @sandiegomag on Instagram to know when a new article drops each week.

Sign-up now for the Unhinged newsletter for exclusive content, Q&As with Nicolle, and subscriber-only meet-ups!

Unhinged Newsletter Sign-Up

By clicking Subscribe you're confirming that you agree with our Terms and Conditions

By Nicolle Monico

Nicolle Monico is an award-winning writer and the managing digital editor for San Diego Magazine with more than 15 years of experience in media including Outside Run, JustLuxe and The San Francisco Chronicle.

Share this post

Contact Us

1230 Columbia Street, Suite 800,

San Diego, CA