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How to Stop Dating People Who Are Wrong for You

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Focus on the long term. Don’t try to replace your ex. Plus three more cures for unhealthy romantic habits.

How to Build a Lifeis a weekly column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness. Click here to listen to his podcast series on all things happiness, How to Build a Happy Life.

Single people often lament that finding someone to date is hard. According to data from the Pew Research Center, 75 percent of daters say so. And when they fail to find the right person, too many people end up dating the wrong one. Some complain that they are suffering “Groundhog Day Syndrome” in dating: following the same failed pattern, over and over, because the people they are attracted to are not good mates—prospects who, for example, are already in a relationship, have unmanaged addictions, or are abusive.

The problem of being attracted to the wrong person is a staple of art and literature. Take Gatsby and Daisy, or Siegmund and Sieglinde in Richard Wagner’s opera Die Walküre. (In the latter, the heroine falls in love with her twin brother, who also happens to be a mortal enemy of her husband’s family—no one surpasses Wagner in twistedness.) In real life, dating the wrong person is rarely this dramatic, even if you do it over and over again. But it can make dating a tedious and frustrating series of failed romances.

Read: The common dating strategy that’s totally wrong

To move on from Groundhog Day once and for all, you need to make a commitment to date the right people for the right reasons. This might mean staying single for longer, looking past some cosmetic imperfections, or seeing a movie or two with someone you might once have dismissed. But in the long run, it’s sure to give you a lot less heartache.

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A long list of traits that can make someone a bad match could be arrayed from A (anger-management problems) to Z (zero interest in your feelings). Perhaps the most obvious, though, is already being in a relationship. Social scientists believe that a........

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