Somehow it seems that many beautiful, intelligent, sweet women are attracting, and attracted to, Peter Pans, bad boys, men who are unwilling to commit, and destructive relationships in general. They are unhappy, but don't know any better, and don't understand how these vicious patterns ruin their lives.
I think it's very important - in case you haven't done this already - to know what you want from a relationship, and which qualities are especially important to you in your future partner. It's amazing how many people enter a relationship without a deeper thought than, "whoa, that's a really cute guy/girl, let's start hanging out and see how it goes". See what I mean? I don't think you should sit down and make a long list of demands, becoming picky and narrowing your choices. I mean compatibility in very basic things, such as for example willingness to commit and compromise, kindness, patience, maturity, and also long-term goals such as marriage and children.
That's actually how we religious Jews work things out. We focus on important, basic personal qualities, and other crucial things such as level of religious observance, and go along with them. We discuss it from the beginning, often on the first date - which is almost never a movie, because then you don't have freedom to talk and really get to know each other. The direction of the relationship is determined without too much dillydallying; if major issues arise and it's clearly a no-go, it just breaks off. It really doesn't have to take ages. We also pay attention to subtle hints which may indicate an unstable or abusive personality.
When I think about my relationship with my ex-boyfriend, from before I became observant, I see that the mistakes I made could have been prevented simply by following what I mentioned earlier. I didn't think about the direction the relationship was taking - I simply got involved with him without thinking too much. We didn't talk about long-term goals, focusing on fun. I ignored his tendency to always do things his way, his short temper, his inability to compromise, his disregard of my needs. Is it any wonder I woke up one day and realized I'm aimlessly dating an emotionally - and physically - abusive Peter Pan?
Another thing about Jewish dating is that we don't touch. At all. Until marriage. This includes kissing, hugging, and even holding hands. Also, we don't remain alone together until marriage. I know this might sound extremely weird to you, but if you think about it, I'm sure you'll find at least some sense in it. Touching is very powerful. Sex is very powerful. It creates - especially for women, but for men as well, I think - a strong connection which is very difficult to break. Sexual attraction and lust can become a factor that makes you stay with the wrong person.
That's another example of what happened with me and my ex-boyfriend. By having sex with him, I became very emotionally connected and dependent on him. I felt I gave him such a big part of myself I didn't know how to break up without destroying that part of self. If only I withheld sexual relations until the point when he first hit me, breaking up wouldn't have been so painful, and maybe I could have done it sooner.
When I finally broke up with him, I was in such pain I didn't know if I'm ever going to get married, or have a relationship again. What helped me a lot was deciding I don't want to suffer. I wanted a good, healthy relationship. This might sound very trivial - after all, who wants to be miserable? But my past attitude said just the opposite. I was stuck in a horrible relationship, and didn't realize I deserve any better.
Several times during that period, I had opportunities to start something new, with someone who appreciated me and wanted to make me happy. I then had a twisted line of thinking - "this man cares about me, but I'm so unworthy, so if he treats me right and appreciates me so much, he probably can't get anything better and this means he's a real loser". Mad, huh? But this, I think, is also part of the reason why women with low self-esteem are stuck in bad relationships, and deny the good guys who have real potential to give them a decent life and make them happy.