Someone asked me the other day what it is that inspires me to talk about relationships all the time and I said, without hesitation, that it is because I am really bad at dating. No, seriously. I might be the worst person I know.

And while I make all the worst mistakes a person can make when it comes to dating, I’ve also gleaned a lot of useful wisdom from learning the “hard way” and I’m happy to share my musings here. Lucky you.

That said, here they are. The ten biggest mistakes I’ve made in dating. I’ve learned a lot from them and thought maybe you could too.

1. I’ve had tunnel vision

I used to keep a long (mental) list of qualities I was looking for in a man and dismissed anyone who didn’t fit the bill. Or, I would have a single person in mind that I wanted to date, and wasn’t willing to pay attention to anyone but him. I don’t think it’s bad to be picky but I think that the mental lists we keep are often limiting; and that waiting around for any one person can be a really quick way to stunt our own progress and personal growth.

2. I’ve not been honest about myself from the beginning

I’ve been dishonest (or just silent) about who I was or what I wanted or needed or was expecting from a relationship because I worried that if I were really honest, it would cause the relationship to end. What I found was that being dishonest about myself to keep a relationship felt worse than actually losing it, and being in a relationship as someone who I was not felt worse than not being in a relationship at all.

3. I’ve made dating all about finding “The One”

This might not be the most popular thing I say to my readership, but I don’t think dating is all about marriage. Yes, I’ve read I Kissed Dating Goodbye and When God Writes Your Love Story, but after actually surviving ten years in the dating world, I have to say that I don’t even believe in The One. When I made dating all about finding the man I was going to marry I put way too much pressure on myself and the men that I was dating, and in the process missed out on a ton of really wonderful opportunities for growth and learning and (heaven forbid) fun.

4. I’ve stayed in bad relationships too long

I would like to say that it was loyalty or long-suffering or devotion or that there was at least some good quality in there somewhere – but mostly I think it was just plain fear of the unknown. More than once I knew a relationship wasn’t right but stayed because I didn’t want to experience hurt and/or because I didn’t want to cause hurt to someone I loved. What I found was that, in the end, staying in a relationship that wasn’t right never made the leaving less painful. In fact, delaying the leaving made the inevitable pain even worse.

5. I’ve trusted before it was time

I move fast at everything. I don’t know why I would expect it to be any different in my dating life. But while my efficiency and ambition work to my favor in almost every other area of my existence, they have never been my allies when it comes to relationships. Trusting people is good. I want to be the kind of woman who can trust. But I’ve learned to hold onto my trust until I’m sure a man is worthy of it. Time reveals character. If I can be patient, time is on my side.

6. I’ve not required clarity from the beginning (and always).

I’ve been in dating relationships where we never clearly articulated our feelings in the beginning, and the result was a relationship where the lines of communication were never open. I’m not saying you should have a “DTR” before you even order appetizers, but I do think it’s important to talk openly – even about the difficult stuff – from the beginning. While it may make me (or my date) a little uncomfortable to talk about expectations or feelings or intentions in the beginning, I’ve learned that the way I communicate in the beginning of a relationship sets a precedent for how I communicate in that relationship later.

7. I’ve ignored my instincts

I’ll be the first to admit that my instincts aren’t always right. But I’ve learned that even when my instincts don’t tell me the right thing about a person or situation, they do tell me something useful, usually something about me ( fears, insecurities, etc). And the truth is that sometimes listening to my intuition does give me valuable information about another person. That the voice inside of me is screaming for a reason. I just have to figure out what the reason is.

8. I’ve paid too much attention to words and not enough to actions.

Words are easy. Talk is cheap. If I can be won with words than I will be won too easily. Not that I never trust what a man says anymore, but I look for ways that his words are supported by actions. If a man says one thing, and does another, I take note. If he says he’ll call at a certain time, and he does, I’m impressed. I watch for how honest he is with people other than me – his sister, his mom, his friends. If he acts with integrity in other areas of his life, I can be pretty sure that he will act with integrity with me as well.

9. I’ve wasted time complaining about how there are no good men out there.

I go to a church where you can hardly throw a Skittle without hitting a handsome, intelligent, well-meaning man in the head. And, while I wasted time whining about how I couldn’t meet a man worth the time it took to grab a cup of coffee, tons of really great men were snatched up by women who weren’t so wrapped up in their own negativity. Our external realities are often a reflection of our internal worlds. So now if I catch myself complaining about the lack of worthy prospects out there I ask myself – what’s going on inside of me.

10. I’ve made the wrong conclusions about red flags

First I had a problem dating men with tons of red flags, so I made a vow to stop doing that. Then I found my new problem was that I wasn’t dating anyone at all, and someone pointed out to me that that’s because we all have red flags. That advice really stuck with me. I’ve learned that the trick isn’t finding a person with no red flags but finding someone who is aware of their own shortcomings and failures, willing to talk about them openly and honestly, and ready to do the hard work it takes to turn them into areas of growth.