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Internships rock. They are a great way to test out a type of work without the commitment of a job. That is what dating should be…a great way to check out a person and a relationship, to see if it is a good fit, without the commitment of partnership.

The problem with dating is most folks aren’t patient enough to date with an open and curious mind long enough to see if they really want “the job”. A month in they are ready to ditch the “internship” and sign a binding contract. Then suddenly the new car smell is gone and there is new information about the job that starts to surface, but it is too late to make an easy exit.

Here are the don’ts of dating if you want to try treat it like an internship.

1) Don’t buy into first impressions.

First impressions are just that; the first take on a situation/person/job. There are lots of things that influence what we notice in the beginning. Everyone is on their best behavior, and we have our hopes and dreams in front of our eyes taking note of everything that fits well in the picture we are trying to build.

There is nothing wrong with that. Some of the info we gather in the beginning is accurate, and will continue to be true through-out our internship or dating experience: we might always like our desk, always love his laugh, always dig her hair, but of course it is just as likely that they will switch our desk, that his laugh will get on our last nerve, and that she will never wash her hair.

Even if the desk, and laugh, and hair, all remain great aspects of our dating/internship, those are just a teeny tiny percentage of the aspects of this person/relationship/internship. The whole point of an internship is that you have time to get to know lots of aspects of the job long before you have to commit to it. You don’t have to decide on the first day, or the first week, or even a few months in. You get to see what aspects eventually bore you (having to reassure your sweetie that you are attracted to them), or some duty that only surfaces the third month of your internship that you absolutely hate (an expectation of nightly phone calls), or some task that you suck at (handling the way they express hurt like through silence), or some key team members (friends/family) you meet that you feel you just can’t work with.

First impressions provide minimal useful information. Don’t take them too seriously.

2) Don’t stop collecting information.

Keep an open and curious mind. Let’s say the internship seems really creative and challenging in the beginning (he seems sweet, she seems sassy), but a few months in, the work feels stale (he seems uncaring, she seems dull). Sometimes folks are so committed to their initial sense of the internship/person/relationship, that they start to insist that initial sense was the real truth, and you just have to get back to the beginning. Instead imagine that now you just have more information. That the job can be creative and challenging, but isn’t always, so you want to start to assess how often it is what you like, and how often it isn’t. While it is likely true that he was sweet and she was sassy, it doesn’t mean they changed, but just that you are learning what they are like over longer periods of time, and it is worth noting the ration of sweet to uncaring, sassy to dull, instead of staying fixated on how it seemed in the beginning.

The thing that we can never know at the start of an internship, or relationship, is what it is going to feel like when the going gets tough. For instance, how is our boss (sweetie) going to treat us when we have to take off days for work for our sister’s graduation (are feeling under the weather, had a bad day at work)? What about when the job is flooded with work and everyone is under a lot of pressure (when we are in a fight with our sweetie)? How about when we mess up on a big project (hurt our sweetie’s feelings)? In my own dating life, I can’t imagine entering a committed partnership until I see how the person I am dating is going to treat me when they absolutely hate me. Because that is what happens a couple years into a relationship. A couples fight can take them into the depths of despair, rage and hopelessness, and it is impossible to know how someone will behave in that state until you are standing in it with them.

3) Don’t just accept things the way they are.

From the very beginning of your internship (relationship) you can make requests for things to be somewhat different. You can ask to move your desk (not be called a particular pet name that irks you), see if you can re-arrange your hours to suit you (negotiate texting/calling/dating expectations), see if you can take on a particular task and delegate a less desirable task (request a change in your sweetie’s behavior). You may not get those modifications, but it is appropriate, from the beginning, to try to craft the internship/relationship into one you will like. Be verbal, offer feedback, attend to feedback you receive; see if you can craft together a job/relationship that will work for you.

4) Don’t compulsively dig deep to fix things unless there are things you really really love about this internship.

Surely you should put some effort in to seeing if this internship can work for you, but it is ok if it doesn’t. It might just not be the right fit. And that is the goal of an internship/dating; to see if it is a good fit. You might have thought you were going to like it, and as you learned more about it, it just doesn’t meet enough of your needs. You don’t need to bend over backwards to fix it. It isn’t a job/partnership yet. You aren’t stuck there. You haven’t made some big commitment. The commitment of the internship is to work while you are in it, and in return you get to see if it is a good fit for you.

In my experience, as soon as folks start dating and experiencing conflict they start treating that conflict as a relational problem that must be worked through. It does need to be worked through if you want to be in a serious relationship with each other, but make sure you want that before rolling your sleeves up and becoming consumed with fixing what might just be a bad fit.

5) Don’t take the job just because they offer it.

It is easy for internships to just turn into jobs, the same way dating can mindlessly fall into partnership. Dating is a chance to see if that person is the person you are going to pick to commit your romantic, relational life to. Just because you dated them doesn’t mean you have to enter that commitment. Take advantage of the exploratory, temporary nature of dating. Commit when you have enough of the information that you need, and enough of that information is favorable. Don’t commit just because you happen to be dating someone.

The folks at your internship (your sweetie) might be really upset, angry, disappointed and confused that you don’t want the job (to enter a committed relationship). It will likely be very difficult to tell them. But what is the alternative? To offer over your life to a committed relationship that is not what you want?

No matter who we are in a relationship with, there are going to be some serious struggles and strife, places of great conflict and great disappointment. It is the nature of relationships and can’t be avoided. The goal isn’t to seek a “perfect” partner, or a “perfect” match. But this shouldn’t stop us from looking for someone who gets us and who we feel we get, a partner who satisfies some of the core things we want in a partner, and who we can fight with in a way that moves us and the relationship forward.

Bottom line, take your time. See who the person is… on good days and bad, on vacation and after a long day at work, when you are in a rush to leave the house, and when they just received great news, when one of you is sick, and when both of you are.

See who the person is when they are no longer trying to impress you, and when some days you get on their last nerve, and in a middle of a fight when you are both thinking about throwing in the towel. It is an internship after all, designed to help you see if it is the job for you.



Smith is an analytically oriented psychotherapist with 25 years in practice. She is additionally the Founder/Director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which specializes in matching clients with seasoned clinicians in the Greater Philadelphia Area.

If you are interested in therapy and live in Philadelphia or the Greater Philadelphia Area, please let Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice match you with a skilled, experienced psychotherapist based on your needs and issues as well as your and own therapists’ personalities and styles. All of our therapists are available for telehealth conferencing by phone or video in response to our current need for social distancing.

Author Karen L. Smith MSS LCSW Karen is the founder and director of Full Living: A Psychotherapy Practice, which provides thoughtful matches for clients seeking therapists in the Philadelphia Area. She provides analytically oriented psychotherapy, and offers education for other therapists seeking to deepen and enriching their work with object relation concepts.

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