Break Up With Nelly

You Can Date Better
7 min readAug 2, 2023

These days, Nelly is usually hurting you… and your future love life. According to positive psychology, your modern dating brain desperately needs you to be friends with Polly.

Photo by Mo on Unsplash

Our brains are built to protect us. We scan for danger, we remember what hurt us, and we try to avoid pain in the future. Think of this as your friend, Negative Nelly.

Nelly will point out your, and everyone else’s, mistakes. Nelly will give you every reason to avoid something and point out all the flaws. Nelly will be in the back of your mind at all times, reminding you of that one time. Be careful. The world might hurt you. Don’t trust things. Protect yourself. Guard from danger. Stay alive.

Nelly is pretty hard wired, and even though our surroundings and lifestyles have changed quite a bit since our brains developed (yay, not being eaten by wild animals all the time!), we still have a tendency to listen to Nelly a lot more than we should.

I see daters that are tight with their Nellys. They seem to have a secret handshake with a wink and passcode every time someone even thinks about liking them. Let’s take ’em down! They pick apart every prospect as if they are avoiding imminent danger. A casual coffee?! No, that was escaping certain emotional death! Reject them immediately! Well done!

It’s almost like they can’t hear the voice of their brain’s other friend, Positive Polly, at all.

Polly is your cheerleader. Polly loves to tell you nice things about yourself and others. Because of Polly, you are able to hold space and grace for yourself and others, you can practice patience and empathy, and even sleep better and have better health.

Polly helps you give others the benefit of the doubt and see the best in any situation. Sure, Polly can be a little annoying sometimes, but really — what’s the harm? Ask Nelly, I guess.

In today’s dating world, we need to turn up the volume on our friend Polly. There is good reason for this.

Positive psychology has found that our thoughts become our reality. If we’re filling our minds with negativity all the time, we will tend to see everything as a negative experience and expect it, but by increasing the positive thoughts and chemicals in our brain, we can actually change our experience of the world over time and form new neural pathways. It’s not easy if you’re besties with Nelly, but it’s totally possible.

Here are two brain problems that Polly can help us with in dating.

Problem 1: We are risk averse

Humans like to steer clear of situations that will end in some sort of loss. We will want to avoid anything with uncertainty or potential for harm.

With dating, the uncertainty in the beginning is very high for people we’re meeting online or don’t know very well. We risk our physical safety to some degree, our emotional well-being, our time, our money, and our personal information.

Especially with online dating, our Nelly starts off with a person’s profile on an app and goes into overdrive, scanning every part of the potential date for risk. They’ll pull from your past experiences and everything you’ve learned or heard about as to why this date won’t work. Will this person hurt or disappoint me? Is this person like my ex? Is this person smart enough/good looking enough/successful enough from what I can see?

Then, on dates we might look for all the “red flags” — many of which are subjective and… based on one experience with someone. Nelly is ready to pass on just about everyone. It’s your job to tell Nelly to slow their roll.

While I think it’s true there is uncertainty with how two people will get along, I also think with the right safety precautions, the other first date risks can be mitigated.

Positive Psychology Solution

First off — dating has a goal. You date so you can eventually meet someone you really connect with. Every date you go on gets you closer to that goal. Let Polly remind you of the gains from meeting new people, even if they aren’t everything you dreamed a partner would look like, make a profile like, or act like on a first date.

It might be wise to have a think about benefits, no matter the outcome. Why is dating helpful to you in life? In love? In friendships? In social skills? In networking?

What can you do to increase your positive emotions before looking at profiles or before a date? Get in the right head space! Get those positive chemicals flowin’. Reading, watching or listening to something inspiring about love, or getting motivated by a close friend, could alter your thinking a bit and prep you better for the uncertainty. Get a dating coach or see your therapist. Whatever works for you and keeps you accountable!

Mitigate the risks by being a smart dater and then pat yourself on the back for doing so. Do a video call before an in-person date to avoid money, time or transportation loss and to verify their personality and commitment a bit. Let others know where you’re going and to expect a check-in. Never share your home address before knowing someone, or social media handles before you’re ready for them to see that part of your life. Give yourself a time limit and make a date more casual if you want a faster escape plan should things go sideways.

You have so much control over your safety and emotional well-being on the first few dates. Try and stay in the positive atmosphere of nice, casual fun and let Polly’s voice remind you of the awesome potential each meeting has to get you closer to finding what you want. You can’t win the game if you’re not playing, after all.

Problem 2: We weigh our losses heavier than our gains

Thanks, Nelly. Sheesh! This is why we can’t have nice dating things!

Let’s say you go on five dates. Four of them are fine, good, whatever, maybe one was great even. Then you go on a bad one. Uh oh.

Nelly will not let you forget about that bad one. It stings, and it prevents you from wanting to date ever again. The tendency is to dwell on that bad experience and figure out how and why it happened. You don’t want to have it again. That might lead you to associate a lot more details than necessary to that bad experience.

Maybe they were rude, but they were also not as educated as you, slightly shorter than you’d like, and didn’t text you back immediately after the date. Nelly wants you to associate all those things with warning signs. The next date you go on, if they don’t match your education, beware.

Now all dates seem like they will probably be bad dates, because of that one time. What’s a single person in this world supposed to do here!?

Positive Psychology Solution

Polly might have a different perspective. The thing that made it bad was really this person being rude. Is everyone in the world rude? No, obviously not. Are some people rude? Yep, and you just met one. But you never have to seem them again. Score!

It also has nothing to do with their education, their height, or their texting timeframe. Polly might also remind you that this is a good learning experience for how you could handle a rude date in the future if it happens again. Because Polly will definitely tell you to get out there again. Remember all those good dates?!

No, you won’t remember them as well. Because your brain is built to feel that loss more than the wins. Agh!

The way to combat this is to make sure you don’t dwell on the negative with Nelly for too long. It’s okay to have a good, long think about what happened but once you’ve processed the real problem, you have to pull yourself out of getting stuck there and stick with positive Polly.

Fill your brain with memories of the good and great dates, and remind it of how nice those were. Remind it of how thankful you might be for having met those folks. Celebrate the wins when they happen. That one date was so interesting and cool, even if it wasn’t a romantic match! Let’s try and find another one of those.

It’s not easy, but if you have some solid friends or family in your life that are more like Polly, lean on them for support when you feel Nelly is nagging you. Try writing down your Nelly thoughts so they can live on the page instead of your brain. You might want to write down the situation from both perspectives, or lean into a technique called reframing.

Try pumping up positive endorphins with exercise, a massage, some stretching, meditation, a dip in a hot tub or a relaxing glass of wine if that’s your thing.

Practice some self-care and get back out there. Nelly can calm down a sec until some real danger presents itself.

All dates will not be good dates and most people will not be right for you romantically. However, you can choose to see yourself as a dating hero, moving through each date like an adventure that gets you closer to your goal, one date at a time. Everyone’s timeline is different, but you have the power to choose how you feel about your experience, and it will make your brain so much happier.

Change the way you date. Get a coach. Get dating.

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You Can Date Better

Writing/content curation by Carrie Prince, founder & boss lady behind YouCanDateBetter.com — coaching & consulting for the current online dating landscape.