Several years ago Saturday Night Live (SNL) had a sketch called “Debbie Downer.” Even in Disney World, the happiest place on earth, Debbie would remind everyone about her relative with cancer, global warming or death. If you’re in the mood for a good laugh, google “Debbie Downer, SNL” and you’ll see what I am talking about.

The Debbie Downer character is highly exaggerated and most pessimists are more difficult to spot. You know you are around a pessimist when you feel the air let out of your tires so to speak. A good pessimist knows how to take a joyous, exciting event and turn it into doomsday. Some of us have pessimists or outright saboteurs in our own lives that make the already complex world of dating and relationships that much more puzzling.

Take Jared* (name and story have been changed to protect anonymity), a man in his early thirties desperate to get married. When I met Jared he shared with me that his exclusive goal in working with me was to get married. Jared is a big law attorney, on track to make partner. He is attractive and his personality is warm and engaging. I was puzzled. I reflected to him my confusion and said “You are the complete package. An attractive, successful man who wants to settle down with one woman. Why do you think that hasn’t happened for you?” He was as at a loss. Initially we explored his dating skills, topics of conversation, how he dresses, the impression he makes on women etc. If Jared was being honest with me and himself, he was doing everything just right.

It was only when he allowed us to dig a bit deeper that we touched upon something of substance. You see, Jared had no problem getting to the third or fourth date with women. As a matter of fact, he shared that there were two or three women over the years who he could have imagined marrying. What, I asked him in his mind’s eye changed on the third or fourth date? Well, between the third and fourth date is when he would sit down with his mother and talk to her about a particular woman he was seeing. Jared said that his mother would bring up red flags that Jared would never have noticed on his own, and he had been grateful for this. I asked him what kind of red flags his mother spotted that he could not spot on his own. Jared’s mother quietly put the kibosh on vegetarians, girls who ordered dessert, anyone over a size 6. In addition to eating habits and appearance his mother nixed professional career oriented woman citing they would not be home for Jared’s future children; doctors and lawyers were a big “no-no!”

His mother didn’t yell and scream or make a fuss. She had a subtle way of making her point and convincing Jared that her thoughts and feelings on the matter were the ultimate truth. (I joked that Jared must get his lawyerly skills from dear old mom). After their heart to hearts, Jared would call off his latest relationship. After a few weeks, Jared had an epiphany. He said “Oh my G-d, am I a mama’s boy?” He realized that his mother was unintentionally sabotaging his relationships. After all, he didn’t have a problem with vegetarians or doctors! It was hard for Jared to break the cycle but he did!

If you have a pessimist/saboteur in your life, how do you handle it? What should you do? The first key is awareness. With a pencil and paper, write down the patterns you notice about your behavior on dates and in relationships. Who is involved in the process? As with Jared, he detected his mother’s role in the matter after the 3rd date. For you, it may be a sister on the first date, or a cousin when you’re engaged. Once you have your awareness down pat, the second step is developing a game plan. What are you willing to change about yourself or your behaviors in order to put a stop to the influence of the pessimist/saboteur? The third step is putting the game plan into action.

Jared stopped talking to his mother after third dates. While working with me he explored his need for his mother’s approval and examined his insecurities in making decisions on his own. We all want assurances from the people we love and admire. This is part of being human and it is perfectly OK and natural. When we keep going back to those who only offer us negative input we must take inventory and examine why we keep seeking out this person’s advice. Even when we don’t seek it out, and those negative influencers invite themselves into our lives, then it is up to us to recognize them for what they are and figure out how to secure our own personal boundaries.

Jennifer Mann, Navidater