Wendy’s love life was so calamitous she had a nervous breakdown. Now, she’s trained as a therapist and written a book to help women avoid the same pitfalls — and find Mr Right
- Dating Sunday on January 2 is often the busiest day for dating apps like Tinder
- Wendy Middlehurst, from Newton Aycliffe, shares advice for finding Mr Right
- Therapeutic counsellor, 39, says right frame of mind is needed to avoid errors
Having spent 15 years being cheated on, lied to and ghosted by unsuitable men, it’s fair to say Wendy Middlehurst knows what it is like to be unlucky in love.
Worst dates include the man who took her to watch his beloved Mercedes being valeted, another who only ever took her to loud gigs so he couldn’t hear her talk, and the tree surgeon who insisted on showing her photos of 500 tree species.
‘I became the standing joke at work,’ says Wendy, now 39. ‘I was a police welfare officer and every day they’d tease: “Which loser has Wendy picked up on the internet this week?” I laughed along but deep down it was soul-destroying.
Wendy Middlehurst, 39, (pictured) from Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, shared advice for finding Mr Right
‘Only when I hit rock bottom was I forced to rebuild my life and confidence. Only then did I find a man who loved and respected me.’
Such was her transformation that mother-of-three Wendy is now in a happy relationship, has retrained as a therapeutic counsellor and has published a book to help women avoid dating disasters.
Wendy’s advice couldn’t be more timely as we approach Dating Sunday on January 2. The first Sabbath of the New Year is often the busiest day for dating apps such as Tinder, Match.com and Hinge. In 2019, Tinder reported 44 million matches in 24 hours.
But Wendy warns against desperation dating, saying that you need to be in the right frame of mind to avoid making the same errors again and again.
‘Step away from the wine and chocolate, log off the dating apps, stop stalking your ex’s social media and take useful action,’ she advises.
Wendy, from Newton Aycliffe, County Durham, explains: ‘I repeatedly fell into the same traps with toxic men. I gave them chance after chance. My fear of being single was so strong, I’d rather have dated a loser than be on my own.’
Wendy was 18 and working in an optician’s when her cycle of Mr Wrongs began. She fell into a year-long relationship that became abusive.
Wendy said it took years to learn how to be in a healthy relationship and not self-sabotage by accepting bad behaviour (file image)
‘At first I misread his controlling behaviour as attentiveness,’ she says. ‘But it got so bad that he threatened to kill me and cut the brakes on my car. That’s what it took for me to know it was over.’
Next was a man who was often unfaithful: ‘I kept forgiving him until he finished with me after a year. An entry in his diary even read, “Must stop cheating on Wendy”.
After that she spent ten years in a relationship that she now realises ruined her self-confidence. Following a nervous breakdown, she started therapy to build herself back up before dating again. But the string of unsuitable men only continued.
Beware these five dating red flags
1 If he starts talking about sex on day one, this shows his primary interest. If you’re after something more, move on.
2 Intermittent contact is another no-no. At worst he’s married — one study found up to 18 per cent of dating app users were married. At best he’s not ready for a proper relationship. Ongoing inconsistency will drain the life out of you — not to mention, ignite suspicion.
3 Beware the man on a dating app who wants to add you to Snapchat or other picture-based social-media platforms immediately. Virtual flashing is rife.
4 Leading the conversation straight to your vulnerabilities/past painful relationships means he’s either stuck in his own pain and hurt — in which case you’re not there to be a therapist — or he’s a possible abuser in the making who will use the information. Save conversations like this for much later in the relationship.
5 On a dating app, asking for your number or address too soon is another warning sign. Safety first, always.
‘One lied that he was moving house rather than admitting he was seeing someone else,’ she says. ‘There were one-night stands that made me feel worthless and I wasted time dating men I didn’t fancy.’
The turning point came, aged 30, in 2012. Inspired by the therapy she’d had post-breakdown, she began a counselling diploma.
‘It helped me to see the reasons I would get attached to bad men so quickly — as well as understand my fury when things ended.
‘I began to realise my anger stemmed from how I felt towards my dad for leaving when I was eight. I never knew why he left.
‘That father-daughter relationship is so integral to future relationships. I had internalised that I must be unlovable if my own father could leave me.
‘Slowly I set about rebuilding my self-esteem. It took years, but I had to learn how to be in a healthy relationship and not self-sabotage by accepting bad behaviour.
‘Eventually I could spot the warning signs and I’d break things off after three bad dates instead of three bad years. I decided I wanted to be wowed with five romantic dates before going home with a man.’
In 2015 Wendy met her current partner, Peter Irvine, 37, an engineering manager, on a dating site. Unlike the others, he pulled out the stops to wow her.
‘Our first date was A Christmas Carol at the theatre, and on the fifth he took me stargazing at the Kielder Observatory in Northumberland.
‘I love astronomy and it was so personal and special. Seeing him trying hard to make me happy made me want to try harder, too.’
And, she adds, the success of the relationship wasn’t all down to Peter. ‘The key was me believing I was worth the effort. I took time to break the patterns of people-pleasing and self-sacrifice. I was determined not to be hurt again.
‘When I shared this with clients, they said I should write a book to pass on my advice. So I did.’
Here, Wendy reveals how you can make 2022 the year you find Mr Right — and stop being fooled by Mr Wrong for ever . . .
REBOOT YOUR SELF-ESTEEM
Wendy advises women to make happiness and health a priority before focusing on dating, while reminding them self-acceptance isn’t dependent on relationship status (file image)
When self-esteem is high, whether you are dating or not doesn’t matter as your self-acceptance isn’t dependent on your relationship status. I tell women to make happiness and health a priority before focusing on dating.
Being alone is far better than settling for Mr Wrong. One client was so anxious and depressed after years of toxic relationships that she wasn’t able to perform simple daily tasks. She was also highly critical of herself.
Never mind the men, she had a toxic relationship with herself; she blamed herself for everything. This was fuelling her anxiety. She felt a man would ‘fix’ her. But, of course, those she found did the opposite.
Over several months we worked on creating healthy boundaries and setting standards for who she would have in her life.
By the end, she was happy day-to-day and due to move in with a new boyfriend.
RELEASE THE ‘LIFE JACKET’
Wendy said if you get into a relationship when already drowning emotionally, you’ll see the new man as a life jacket (file image)
When you’re drowning and someone throws you a life jacket, you don’t stop to inspect it, you just grab it and hope for the best.
That’s why if you get into a relationship when already drowning emotionally — perhaps due to bereavement or previous heartbreak — you’ll see the new man as a life jacket. Sometimes that dependency can hit your self-esteem further.
One client wanted to quit a relationship but didn’t think she could cope alone. Her partner had ‘saved’ her when she was bereaved.
I helped her to see that, now she was back on her feet, it was OK to let go of the life jacket. She wasn’t indebted, and had no reason to feel guilty.
ANSWER YOUR OWN QUESTIONS
Wendy recommends writing down all the questions you’re torturing yourself with and answering them as best you can (file image)
I know only too well that asking the painful questions, ‘What did I do wrong?’ and ‘What could I have done differently?’ can be sheer torture.
But you’re not alone in doing this — your brain is just trying to make sense of what’s happened, so let it do that.
Write down all the questions you’re torturing yourself with and answer them as best you can.
But know this. If someone cheated, it’s not about you. It’s about them. Cheating is a choice. It’s a decision someone makes to consciously hurt their partner.
Not all people are bad. All relationships won’t end in this way.
REWRITE THE FUTURE WITH A JOURNAL
Wendy claims keeping a ‘love journal’ helped to transform her life, while putting herself at the top of the priority list (file image)
Keeping a ‘love journal’ helped transform my life, and it can help you, too. Imagine your future self as the woman who repaired her self-esteem, put herself at the top of the priority list and only allows quality relationships.
Write daily diary entries as if you’re already that woman. It’s called ‘writing your reality’ and helps you focus on what you want.
You might want to include statements such as ‘What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I find love?’ Or ‘If I wasn’t this fat and ugly they wouldn’t treat me this way…’
Here’s what you should write instead: ‘Thank God I spent time on myself, making my happiness a priority, as I love my life now. I feel confident, focused and strong. I know what I want and don’t want. I can spot a loser a mile off and they have no place in my life.’
Do you feel the different energy? When I first started writing like this each day, I was nowhere near that second entry, but I got there.
CREATE AN HONEST SCRIPT FOR DATES
In my work with clients, we create scripts to help with difficult dating scenarios — like how to turn down a second date or how to ask for what you really want.
Wendy said it’s vital that women know their non-negotiables and communicate them early on (file image)
It might sound easy, but I found it hard to reject someone if they wanted to see me again, even when I hadn’t enjoyed the first date.
Be honest. Don’t lead someone on and give them false hope. It’s kinder than going through with a pity date. Don’t apologise — you don’t have to say sorry for your feelings! Keep it short. Something like: ‘Thank you so much for asking. You seemed really nice but I didn’t feel that there was any chemistry between us.’
SET SPECIFIC HIGH STANDARDS IN STONE
I tell clients to be really specific about what they want from a partner.
Will a first date at Costa cut it or do you want to be wined and dined? What non-negotiables do you have? Would you want them to text you all day, or catch up in person at the end of the day?
It’s vital that women know their non-negotiables and communicate them early on.
In a healthy relationship all of us should be constantly evaluating our happiness — and that of our partner.
There are no magic wands, but if you set high standards, you’re more likely to attain them.
- Find Wendy at facebook.com/wendymiddlehurstcounsellor.
How To Stop Dating D***heads by Wendy Middlehurst is available on Amazon.
Michelle Morgan Davies
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