Why Do We Repeat Emotional Mistakes?

Part of human intelligence is learning from mistakes. Emotional pain is much more complicated than physical pain that you learn from and never repeat.

Part of human intelligence is learning from mistakes. The common example is when a child touches a hot stove for the first time. That child knows never to touch that stove again because of the physical pain it caused.

But why do we repeat so many mistakes when it comes to emotion?

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We learn at work when we make mistakes. We learn from horrible nondating experiences in life:

One time I went to a concert when I was 15, thinking I had to get there as soon as the doors opened. But when a long-haired hooligan named Vinnie Moore opened for them with the phrase: "This one's called Cinnabon," before making my ears bleed with hellish guitar licks. I learned, at that point, never to attend the opening act portion of a concert.

I've learned to avoid saying stupid things to girls: Once you've complimented a girl on how great her outfit looks, don't try to double-compliment her by saying it looks like she got a great deal at Target too (only other girls can get away with that).

Emotional mistakes? Seems like we are gluttons for punishment. Here are some common emotional mistakes that we make, and repeat:

Taking them back

You broke up with him, but — even if he was a total jerk — there is still a little soft spot in your heart. You remember the good times, and — hey — it's not THAT fun being single. Often, we end up taking back people who have hurt us in the past or who just didn't work out. Not sure how often this works out, but doesn't it seem like we would be able to say "no"?

Believing this time is "the one"

I'm so guilty of this one — I get a number, I meet a girl, I feel like there is some kind of magical cloud hanging over me. I'm still single, so obviously I have been way off with these predictions. I mistakenly believe I've met "the one" about two times a year. You'd think that I'd learn not to get so ahead of myself at "hello."

Getting lied to repeatedly

Isn't it terrible when someone stays in a relationship while they are being lied to? It seems like everyone on the outside knows what's going on, but that person in the relationship believes everything to the point of blindness. In a perfect world, we'd learn from one lie, but often we think that lies are isolated incidents when in fact we could be getting lied to repeatedly.

Staying with the bastard (a.k.a. "I can change him/her")

Why do we stay with people when they are jerks, and why do we keep thinking we can change people? It's much better to be alone than to be dating a jerk. Why can't we subscribe to that common sense?

Mistaking physical intimacy for emotional intimacy

When we are in the heat of the moment, emotional closeness gets all intertwined with physical closeness. Sometimes we feel that if we get close physically, it will eventually lead to a close emotional connection. I can say I have never gotten into anything special that was sparked by a physical connection and, believe me, I've tried. The deeper relationships grow out of a gradual emotional connection. Nevertheless, sometimes we think if we have sex, then something might come of it.

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Emotional pain is much more complicated than physical pain or a mistake at work that you learn from and never repeat. This is why vets from wars may lose a leg, but they are haunted more by the emotional residue of their experience. I guess Pat Benatar was right when she sang "Love Is a Battlefield," but it's a shame that we must go through pain and make multiple mistakes to get to where we want to be in the dating world.

Humans naturally want to trust and love. We want to believe that the good in everyone will prevail, and it's devastating to come to grips with the fact that you may have misjudged someone. This is why we are prone to repeat emotional mistakes.

We are left to choose between withdrawing from dating, or going through the mistakes until you find the one, because it's almost impossible to know for sure that something will not be an emotional mistake until after it's too late.

What kinds of mistakes have you repeated in your dating life, and have you figured out a way to finally learn from them so you don't repeat them?