After six years of dating and still living in the land of singledom, I’ve had cause to question everything about who and also how I date. And I’ve realised something quite alarming; I’ve been a bit of a chameleon dater.

“What the hell is a chameleon dater?” I hear you ask. Well, it’s where every person I dated got a slightly different version of me. I morphed into more of what they wanted in a person, and less of who I actually was. Basically, I’d just be anything I think they wanted me to be. It hasn’t been intentional. In fact, I literally had no idea I was doing it until last year. And it wasn’t something I just did from the very beginning of my ‘dating after divorce’ journey. It just somehow became a sort of default setting after years of dating disappointments. A kind of subconscious strategy to acquire and maintain a relationship.

But being a chameleon dater didn’t help me find the right person. It actually lead me to wasting a lot of time with the wrong people. So this is a little therapeutic self-psychoanalysis for me, and maybe you’ll resonate. Or you know, just enjoy it for the LOLs.

Becoming a Chameleon Dater

Six years ago, after my divorce and when I rejoined the dating community, I chose options that worked for me. I was entirely myself. Firm and clear with my wants and needs. I started on the right tracks; just being myself. But after a while of dating mishaps and fails, I think I gradually became a little less enthused with being totally moi.

Dating is effing hard. Finding someone great is quite literally like coming across a needle in a haystack. So I think I tried to better my odds quite unknowingly. Because if being myself wasn’t the answer, maybe being more of what I thought people wanted was the key?

Diluting the type of relationship I was looking for

At first what I’d wanted and needed from dating was casual after my divorce; non-committing, drama free, easy. But then my requirements changed. I wanted long-term commitment, stable, that forever team mate. But a lot of men wanted casual – or I at least thought they did. So instead of being clear about what I was looking for, I diluted it. I continued saying I was after casual, even when I wasn’t.

But to even get on a first date, or meet a guy, that was the way to go, surely? I’d just scare them off if I was plain honest about the fact that I was sooo over semi-casual and ready for long-lasting? And that’s how it started. My first step to being a chameleon dater; accepting situationships in the hopes that something more would grow from it. But fun learned fact, a man expressing that he only wants casual, very rarely ever turns into anything but this.

Dating Rejections and Fails

So I just wasted time with people who were to be fair, clear from the outset that casual is all they had on offer. And years of dating and being in these short term relationships, means a tradition of rejection lead me to chameleon date to an even greater level. I tip-toed even more around my wants and needs. And I didn’t see that my issue was not being clear from the outset. I thought I needed to chameleon it up a bit more!

Every fail was another reason why a perfection personified version of me needed to be better and more enticing to find ‘The One’. And I only really recognized this recently with reflection. Looking back, I can see how I got to being a chameleon dater, how I ended up there and how it was just totally the wrong mindset to be in. But hindsight is a fucking wonderful thing, and doesn’t help a damn bit when you’re in the moment.

Becoming the Perfect Dater

So I became the perfect person to date in a lot of other ways;

  • Only want casual? Yeah totally, me too.
  • Continuously happy 24/7. Who me? No, I never have an off day. I’m all about those positive vibes baby!
  • Only fancy meeting up once a month? No problem, I’m your Gal.
  • You’re into campervanning and want to spend your life on the road? Great, I’ve never really liked living in a house anyway.
  • Showing me red flag upon red flag? Ah, I’ll just ignore them.
  • Hard core Tory voter? I mean, I’ve only been left wing like MY ENTIRE LIFE, it feels like the right time to change.
  • Etc. Etc.

Now I have to say, the complication here is that a lot of these traits are me; I do actually try to be positive, like to try new things, up for spontaneous adventures. I’m quite whimsical and like the idea of switching up life on a regular basis. I am a “Yes!” person generally, whether it be for something a friend suggests, or someone I’m dating. But the trouble is, my easy going ways allowed a lot of things I wasn’t happy about and also, I only showed this side of me.

I was always going by how the other person liked to operate

The part I thought they’d get on board with, and I down played the rest. The fact that often I’m pretty reserved, quiet and generally a little anti-social. I’m an internal worrier. I have a very very boring side to me; one that enjoys gardening and curling up on the sofa with the dogs and a film. And importantly, I just wasn’t aligning with my own wants for a relationship, I was always going by how the other person liked to operate, not how I wanted the relationship to be.

What The Actual F

And all of it wasn’t maintainable. How could any relationship have any longevity or survive in that environment? I wouldn’t ever be able to keep up the act forever, at some point, they were going to see the real me, and I should have realised that it was better to do that from the start than waste a fuck load of time and energy getting months or a year down the road only to realise that they couldn’t handle all of me. Queue dating disappointment and rejections again.

But secondly – and in fact, even more importantly than numero one – Is because whilst I was doing my damn best to work around their wants, needs, likes, dislikes, I had just entirely forgotten how important I am. I’d literally sidelined me. WTF! I was trying to be the perfect version of what everyone else wanted, and I wasn’t spending nearly enough time (or any in fact) figuring out whether they were the perfect person for me.

Dating in my 30s

And I think they sensed this too. Because being a chameleon dater was needy and desperate in a lot of ways, and I am neither of those things in general (No, seriously). I’d just become them throughout my disheartening journey of dating in my 30s. And I really cannot stress that enough. I was not a chameleon dater when I first got divorced and took to the online dating scene. Absolutely not.

It grew from the pressure, disappointment and general chaotic exasperation of dating in my 30s whilst genuinely wanting to eventually find someone I could see a long-term relationship with. And so even the strongest women can struggle with feelings of inadequacy, especially once they’ve spent any lengthy period of time in the ruinous environment that is the online dating world.

Does everyone Chameleon Date … Just a little?

My mum was the one to point out that I’d become a chameleon dater. And her words have never hit home harder because she’d nailed it. I morphed into whatever the other person was looking for. My traits, actions, likes, enjoyments, all stemmed from who I was dating at that moment. I’d sort of lose myself in them. And when I look back, it’s just disappointing on multiple levels.

She also pointed out that we all do it to an extent, we all begin a relationship showing the best versions of ourselves. That’s natural. But it becomes quite self-destructive to never ever show anything but what we think is perfection personified. And I just wonder whether I’m the only one who has fallen into this chameleon dater trap? Am I the only person who got so exasperated being myself and getting all this rejection and having one after the other of frustrating dating experiences, that I went down this route of adjusting who I was and resorting to extreme measures in order to sort of facilitate a relationship developing?

It doesn’t just concern what you do show, it’s also in what you don’t

And there is the other side of chameleon dating. It’s also about not saying what deep down, actually needs to be said. There’s a fear to, “I actually don’t like this about you.” Or, “this doesn’t fill me with happiness.” “This is something we need to work on.” It’s like an un-honesty / avoidance of truth with yourself, maybe because it might lead to the end of the situation. A situation that in reality, isn’t perfect, and is even less so when there’s a lack of communication.

It’s a different kind of chameleonism. Because it’s more about masking the other person’s traits or actions than our own, but it’s still a feature of chameleon dating. Because underneath it all, chameleon dating boils down to a desire to maintain a relationship at any cost – even if that’s at the detriment of our own happiness or in being able to truly express who we are – because we do not want the relationship to end, even if in reality, it’s one that absolutely should.

Aunty Amy’s Learnings

So what have I learned from this whole experience?

  • If you’re looking for long term, don’t play it down as just dating casually, it attracts the wrong fish in the first place.
  • Being open and honest may scare some potential love interests off. Let those ones flee. Because they weren’t the right one for you and you’ve just saved yourself a lot of wasted time and effort.
  • Changing yourself in big ways to fit in with someone else isn’t a solution. I know, this one is tricky right? Because dating with a few more years under the belt means we understand there will be compromise. But there is a difference between compromise that is happening both ways – with both people making adjustments – to one way compromise. And there’s 100% a difference between compromise and entirely changing who you are in order to please another.
  • Communication should be a foundation of any relationship. If you can’t talk to your partner, if there are things that you are unhappy with, or believe need work, then you should be able to communicate these feelings and work together on a solution. If communication is extremely difficult or impossible, maybe this relationship isn’t the one.
  • Any deviation away from real life you isn’t maintainable. So it’s better to just be honest about the life you lead and who you are. Just be you. It saves you a lot of time in the long run if they can’t get on board with that.
  • Always prioritize yourself. Above and foremost you’re dating for you, not them. Concentrate more on what you are looking for, what you need, whether the dating is working for you. Think less about whether they want you, and more about whether you want them.  
  • If all else fails, taking a time out from dating is better than continuing a dating cycle that isn’t working – especially if you’re showing chameleon tendencies like I was. I’ve spent the past eight months dating myself, and it’s seriously the most quality kind of dating I’ve ever done.

If you’re resonating with my chameleon dater tendencies, I can honestly say hand on heart, take a big old time out

Date yourself. Go get comfortable with you. Step away from the online dating apps. Because quite literally removing dating completely was the key to resetting myself.

I won’t ever fall into the chameleon dater trap again, because I’ve taken time to really understand what I want and need for myself and from dating. And I’m so self-focused and assured in who I am and what I want again now, that I won’t tolerate myself forgetting that again. And when you figure it out – when you get comfortable being yourself and being with yourself, rejection feels inevitable, acceptable and in a way, absolutely welcome. Because if they aren’t on board with all of me, I’m happy to let that fish swim away or chuck the catch back into the sea myself. 

Occasionally guilty of being a chameleon dater?! I’d love to know. Share your comments, random thoughts, vented frustrations or wisdom inspired life advice below.

By Amy Roullier
By Amy Roullier

Amy is the Founder and Editor of The Authentic Optimist. She talks all things life. From the highs to the lows, to all those messy bits in-between. She is a writer, rambler, lover of carbs (her true soulmate) and she is especially passionate about dispelling myths about women in their 30s. Amy lives in Lincolnshire with her two greyhounds.