Saturday, December 31, 2011

Is Your Resolution to Find Love in the New Year?

The second half of this post is similar to the one I offered on my other blog. However, I think it's important to share here as well.

Many single folks make New Year's resolutions related to romantic relationships, and then ramp up the search for that special someone. If you are considering doing something like that, please read my blogger friend Maia's post first. She offers a more in depth approach to planting seeds for the new year, one that I have used myself.

As many of you probably know, "resolutions" almost always failure. Have you ever asked yourself why that goal to lose 10 lbs or to choose a more healthy partner falls flat time and again?

Let's face it. The vast majority of our resolutions aren't coming from a deep enough place to succeed. Many of them are simply born out of desperation to change something in your life you do not like. While others are built on hope and wishful thinking, neither of which do anything to bring something into reality.

With that said, Here is the list of specific intentions that I have come up with so far for 2012. The list was prompted a bit early this year by a friend's Facebook call for folks to share with each other. Everything on the list above has come up repeatedly for me over the past several weeks, and some of them are carry overs from the list I made last year.

1) Develop creative, transformative work that support me financially, emotionally, and spiritually.

2) Cultivate gratitude daily.

3) Finish one of the book projects I have in mind.

4.) Be fully open to new relationships in their many forms.

5). Take more intelligent risks.

Note that these aren't off the cuff ideas, nor are they quick-fix goals that I hope will make me feel better.

Notice that only one of the five is something with a concrete end point. That's about the right ratio. 1 in 5. There's nothing wrong with having something really specific in your list, but if it's not grounded by deeper intentions, odds are it won't mean much to you even if it happens.

One of the yoga teachers in my teacher training program reminded me, during a yoga nidra session yesterday, that we can all go deeper. To look beneath for something that encompasses all the rest of your intentions. And so, as I settled in to the nidra practice, this arose:

I trust that the universe is providing what I need.

There's not much else I feel compelled to say. May you have an excellent new year, and may your greatest intentions come to fruition.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Searching for Your Soulmate?

That's a road filled with landmines my friends. As is the notion that when you meet the right someone, you'll "just know."

Most of us don’t actually know how to read our gut feelings very well. We think we know what's going on, and whether someone is right for us or not, but so often, the guesses turn out wrong. Or fairly off anyway.

Why is this? Because our true experience tends to be obscured by a whole lot of artificial rules, culturally-sanctioned stories, and even silly fairy tales. You meet someone, go on a date or two, and then move on because he or she didn't blow you out of the water with hot sexiness. Or you meet someone who becomes a friend and a great relationship develops, but because you read in some dating book not to date friends, you remain single. Or you've been in a relationship for a few months, can't figure out if you love the other person or not, and so you bail. The variations are endless, but all of it comes down to a failure to access, and then listen to, your deepest wisdom.

If you're like me, you probably enjoy reading a bit of dating advice, and also other folks stories about their dating experiences. However, there's a danger to this kind of activity. Specifically, that the words and ideas of others can overtake your own if you're not careful.

Regular readers might notice that a lot of the advice I offer on this blog points back to reflecting on your experiences, cutting through internal dialogues, and paying attention to what's actually happening in your relationships. One of the main reasons for this is that I don't want MY ideas to control YOUR process. Instead, I'd like what I have to say to assist the unfolding wisdom you already have hanging around in your core.

I truly believe that we each can access a knowing about whether someone is right for us or not. However, that knowing isn’t going to happen overnight. You need to spend a significant time with someone. And you also need to repeatedly question all those stories about how it’s “supposed to be” until you see what actually is.

At the end of the day, so much of what constitutes a successful, conscious relationship depends upon each of the participants willingness to grow together. To shed yesterday's half-truths and awaken to today's callings.

So, as the new year comes upon us, set an intention to begin with yourself. To reflect upon where you have been,and what you have learned from the past. And to let go of whatever seems to be blocking your way to having true and deep connections, romantic or otherwise, filling your life.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Learn the Person You Are With

This is the kind of simplistic gender narratives that drive me nuts. Well, not really, but still, why do people continue to believe in such easy explanations?

Women’s brains are wired for detail. Men, on the other hand, have brains that are wired for the big picture – they like to scan.

Take these example:

How was your day? Typically, men will answer it was OK; women will go into paragraphs of explanation
They had a baby. What was it? Men will reply it was a baby; women want the details – the sex, the weight, method of delivery etc
Women usually don’t give an abridged version of events; they relive it in detail (if it was good enough the first time to go through, it is good enough to relive in detail)

Bottom line: men want the bottom line not the details. Perhaps they even operate on a need to know basis. If it doesn’t affect them they probably don’t need to know.

So, in order words, men are basically self-focused creatures, while women are other-focused creatures.

I would argue that even in times when gender conditioning has been at it's most fierce, you could find plenty of within group variation, despite the social pressure to conform to acting certain ways. Furthermore, the idea that we are "wired" in such and such a way across gender is an excellent way of minimizing and denying socialization patterns. Like several thousand years of patriarchal norms that continue to place men above women, and in the process, also undermine the personhood of folks across the GLBTQ spectrum.

Now, that was a heady paragraph, wasn't it? And you're probably asking, "What does this have to do with my relationship or how I date?

An excellent question.

First off, I'm not one who tends to give heavy handed advice, but please, please don't believe these kinds of simple stories about people. They only contain a grain of truth, and they won't really help you interact better with your dates or partners.

Secondly, if you are someone who desires to be liberated from the old gender norms, this is exactly the kind of thinking to jettison.

And finally, remember this: we date and fall in love with individuals, not generalizations. So, while knowing something about gender norms might be helpful in some senses, in the end, the only way to develop a healthy, conscious relationship is to learn the person you are with.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Where is the Love?

Love. Many of us love to be in love, and yet how often do we actually love each other well?

What's interesting to me is how humans struggle to exude love on the macro-level - loving all of creation as a manifestation of the divine - and also struggle to be accurate with our labeling when it comes to the specific people, places, and things in our lives.

Consider anything you might be addicted to. Like cigarettes. I have heard many people say they love cigarettes, but actually, when it comes down to it, they don't love cigarettes at all. In fact, some smokers downright hate cigarettes, but that warm embrace when the chips are down feeling that comes with smoking feels like a kind of love. Even though it really isn't. And the same thing is often true of our intimate relationships.

I can recall multiple times in the past when I claimed to love someone in a romantic sense when it really was lust. Or I was making the claim to keep the other person around until I figured out if I truly did feel love or not. Driven by fears of being alone, I would say those three words "I love you," and in the process override the uncertainty that comes with any new, or newer relationship. It's been done to me as well by a few women in my past. In fact, I can distinctly remember one former girlfriend's comment that she thought she loved me, which was followed less than a week later by a call for us to break up.

Love is beautiful and amazing and lifegiving, but it's not always easy to express, and it's almost guaranteed to bring up our most intimate fears and anxieties in the process. Because to love someone completely means to be fully vulnerable to the entire universe.

One of our biggest problems in actually finding love, and embodying love - whether with a beloved partner or for the whole of the universe - is that we're usually coming at it all from the outside in. Thinking that someone, some thing, some experience will bring it to us, failing to recognize that we are it. That we all contain love within, if only we'd stop and listen to ourselves more closely.

Whatever love actually is, in the end, it has to be experienced from the inside out. It's only through tapping into what is really your inherent nature, that you can discover that which is the stuff of intimate relationships with others.

May you have much love during the holidays this year. And may you all spend some time reflecting upon the ways in which you've mistaken something else for love in your relationships.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sex Talks

We had one of those lightning bolt connections - the kind of chemistry people always say they want, but which often ends up burning one or both people involved. As we made out one night, I kept thinking to myself, "Wow. This is awesome. I love spending time with this woman. She's smart and funny and sexy and blah, blah, blah." Then it hits me. Or rather she does. With a single sentence that changes everything. Pulling back a little bit, she looks me straight in the eyes, and says "I want to have a threesome with you and "so and so."

You might be thinking, "Oh, come on. Guys love that kind of thing." But that's really just a stereotype about men. It's never really been a fantasy of mine. The idea of multiples partners, whether as a one time thing or over the long term, mostly conjures up messy, dramatic images for me. The kind that make many movies box office hits. It seems hard enough to be with one person, truly be with him or her, giving your all, let alone more than one. So, when those words came out of her mouth, I was stunned out of my dreaming about where "we" might be going together.

The fortunate thing for both of us is that we ended up having an in depth talk about our sexual interests. Something people often fail to do, and then wonder why they're so miserable down the road. And we found out that we had a lot of differences, including the fact that she really wasn't into monogamy. Which was basically a relationship killer for me.

I'll be honest. I still find having these kinds of sex talks a little unnerving. And I'm not a constant follower of my own advice either. The situation in the story above was tailor made for such a discussion, but I doubt I would have had the same discussion so early on if she hadn't brought up the threesome issue.

Some people argue that the best time to share your sexual interests is before you become intimate with each other. I've done this a few times before, but am not sure it's the best way, or only way to go.

What are your thoughts about talking about sex with someone you're dating? Are you direct? What about timing? Or are you one of those people who never talks directly about it?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rejected for Her Communication Skills

I felt a twinge of recognition from both sides of the fence when I read this:

when we met for coffee and he did the Let’s-Just-Be-Friends thing, was that he said it was because of how I communicated. He said: “You know, I really like talking to you, and I liked having sex with you, but I feel like you have really high standards for relationship communication and I’m not sure I can meet those standards. Can we keep hanging out, but just be friends?”

On the bright side, he did his best to convince me that he really does want to be friends, so that made me feel good. As usual, though, the rejection still stung. I did my best not to take it personally, but that’s always difficult. I tried to keep in mind that people are different, but sometimes that’s difficult too. For me, the take-home message seemed to be: “Hey Clarisse, quit trying to actually talk openly about your relationships! You’re unnerving even the guys who you have everything in common with.” I mean … Jesus Christ, if I can’t seduce artsy feminist guys, then who the hell can I seduce?

When I was younger, I definitely was like the guy is this narrative. I didn't know how to communication my ideas about relationships, intimacy, feelings, or anything of the like with the person I was with. I tended to get locked up in fears of rejection, as well as confusion over just what it was that I needed and wanted at any given time.

In more recent years, I have found myself more on Clarisse's side of the coin, doing my best to put myself out there, to aim for as much honesty, clarity, and openness as possible. Sometimes, people love this. Other times, I maybe come off as too passionate, too articulate, or simply too well put together to keep up with (gotta laugh hard at that last one).

One thing I wonder about Clarisse's comments above is how well she is responding to her reading of her date's verbal and non-verbal communication.

This can be really subtle, and sometimes you guess wrong. If you read the rest of Clarisse's post, you'll see that she had a sense something was "off." So, she was reading the situation well.

But what I wonder is whether she continued full force with her openness, directness, etc. as she was reading the guy's discomfort, or if she shifted what she was doing, even if just a little bit?

I have been in fair number of situations in recent years with women who were at the end of, or just out of long term relationships. And my general experience has been that inevitably, I have needed to step back and/or let go completely.

In fact, in one case, I wasn't even interested in a romantic relationship with the woman in question, but somehow, friendship was a bit too much at that point for her. Since I haven't seen her in a few years, I don't know if that's just how she is, or if something was specifically off between us.

And yet, this kind of dance can happen in any relationship - especially at the beginning when you're just getting to know each other.

Furthermore, I think what Clarisse experienced in terms of the "high standards" comment is something that anyone with more developed communication skills can run into. Because people sometimes feel intimidated. Unworthy. Unable to keep up.

The joke of it all is that those of us who have spent a lot of time and effort trying to be better communicators sometimes feel a similar sense of unworthiness, or unlovableness - precisely because we see how those skills can scare people, or turn them away somehow. And there's also the elevated expectations that can come - the "You know how to talk about this stuff, why can't you do it today!" kind of stuff - that sometimes occurs once someone gets to know you more.

Anyway, it's really easy to become like a cat chasing its tail about all of this. Sometimes, things just don't work out, and you'll never know why.

So, you can put some effort into trying to read and respond better to the person you are with. But at the end of the day, you have to be able to let go of the results, and not beat yourself up if things don't go the way you'd hope they would.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Is it Just a Compliment or Something More?

I received the following message the other day from a woman on OKCupid.

Hi! I like your thoughtful profile. Best of luck to you on OKC!

Sounds like a thanks, but no thanks message, doesn't it? Well, here's the thing: I have never contacted her, nor even added her to my favorites list. So, what gives?

It could be that she's simply offering a compliment, but how often do people do that on online dating sites?

It could be that she's too shy to directly ask a question about what I wrote, or express any more direct interest, but then why did she add the last line?

Honestly, I'm not sitting around puzzling over this. In fact, I have barely paid attention to my profile over the past month, basically because I have been doing other things with my time.

Yet, it's these kind of ambiguous e-mails that I tend to spark my curiosity about what it is that people are doing on online dating sites.

In the particular case above, the rest of this woman's profile demonstrates a clear confidence in speaking about herself, to the point where it seems like it wouldn't be a big step to start a simple conversation with someone she might have some interest in. So, I am left to wonder if she's just offering a compliment, which was nice to receive, but left me wondering how best to respond.

Do any of you offer others online compliments about their profiles without having any other intention, such as hoping they'll start a conversation with you? What do you make of the e-mail I received above?

Again, I'm not tied up in knots over what the intention was behind the e-mail above, but I am curious.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Disappearing Dates

Something I have always found challenging to work with is disappearance. When a relationship ends, the person you have been intimate with for however long often is gone from your life. Sometimes, never to return. Now, that is hard enough when you have a clear ending, when you've broken up and said something resembling a good bye. But it's even more difficult when you don't get that sense of closure, when someone just up and leaves one day, or stops returning your calls and messages.

Having had a fair amount of experience with online dating, I have also seen a lot of women come and go in a very quick fashion, vanishing without a trace. To some degree, this comes with the territory - I mean, we're all strangers in the online dating world, with nothing really that ties us together other than the internet. So, I have gotten a lot of practice with letting go. Letting go of expectations especially, but also letting go of not knowing whether I will ever meet someone, or if I do meet them, if I will ever see them again.

I've learned that a lot of women, after a first date, will say they'd like to go out with you again, regardless of their actual interest. I can imagine men do this too, but perhaps more women end up doing it for various reasons. Not wanting to hurt the guy. Not wanting to deal with a guy who gets pushy and demanding in the face of rejection. Not wanting to completely close the door on another date. Those are a few of the ideas I have seen people offer for why they lie about their level of enthusiasm for another date.

Now, in my experience, a certain percentage of the women I have gone out on dates with have e-mailed or called me afterwards and said that they actually weren't interested in seeing me again. I can say that I'd rather someone just get it over with in person, but at least they bothered to tell me. Others, though, after having said they'd love to go out again, just don't respond to follow up e-mails or calls, and simply vanish. And yet, they aren't quite gone. You sign into the online dating site and there they are, looking at other profiles.

And so it goes. Sometimes you get a clear ending and sometimes you don't. In my view, it's probably best not to put too much stock into disappearances.

Odds are it really isn't about you, unless your actions repeatedly seem to drive your dates away.

In which case, I'd suggest reading blogs like this one a lot closer.

Or go and get yourself a dog.

They're loyal, and they don't care if you blather and drool incessantly.

Just don't expect them to share your love of Albert Camus and motorcycles.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

External Validation and Its Discontents

One of the big lessons about relationships in general, romantic or otherwise, is recognizing that it only goes well when you are able to be you, without the need for external validation. This sounds pretty basic, and yet if you pay attention to your interactions with others for any extended period of time, you'll probably notice yourself saying or doing various things, primarily out of a hope that the other person will maintain their "good image" of you.

I enjoyed this post from twenty-something blogger Cali Bradshaw. She writes:

Anyone who tells you that they have never used an interaction with the opposite sex to validate themselves, is lying. Whether or not validation was the only motivation for talking/hooking up with someone, everyone at one point or another has felt better about their life because of attention from a guy or girl. It’s natural.

I, for one, am no stranger to looking to guys for validation. In fact, there was a point in my life where I was so caught up in needing guys, that I really lost who I was. Back when I was 18/19 I was insecure about everything – my looks, my intelligence, my personality. I didn’t know who I was, and I used guys’ level of interest to define me. If a guy wanted to take me home and make out with me, then I must be pretty, funny, and smart, right?

My experiences with this have been a little different, but still amount to the same thing. When I was younger, I often lapped up any extra attention women gave me. During college and even for a good long while afterward, if a woman showed romantic interest, I'd entertain the idea of dating her, even if I really wasn't interested. In fact, my first long term relationship was built on that model. She kept showing interest. I kept considering the idea, but also not feeling enough to go forward. And then, one day, there we were together and alone, and the attention I was receiving outweighed everything else.

In some respects, I was just a young guy without a lot of experience. Discerning the difference between a friendship connection and a romantic interest wasn't a skill I had much of yet.

However, it was also the case that I rarely had the guts to pursue women I was actually interested in, had been rejected by the few I had pursued, and so was generally swamped in feeling inadequate. All of that lead to situations where women like this ex-girlfriend would enter, display an interest, and something inside of me would stir. Today, I can see that what stirred was that inadequacy, that loneliness, and the hope attached to it that so and so might be "the one," if I just give her a chance.

In more recent years, I have dropped off that whole "the one" narrative, believing that there are multiple people in this world that could be potentially great partners, so worrying about missing out on "the one" isn't much of a concern anymore. And that's a hell of a relief. Because it allows you to let people pass out of your life who might be interested, but whom aren't really good matches for you.

I'd like to say that I'm completely over the who external validation bit, but that wouldn't be honest. It still gets me sometimes, when I'm feeling down or have gone a long time without having a relationship. The repeated flops of online dating sometimes have led me down that path of reconsidering anyone who shows some interest, even despite my best judgement. This winter, I went on two dates with a woman who I had some things in common with, but whom I'm found rather combative and self-centered.

The first date should have been enough. I felt exhausted after talking with her for a few hours, and although there were some things I liked about her, I couldn't imagine us actually being together. And yet, it was January. I was still feeling down about the events that led to my last relationship falling apart. And so, someone who, at any other time I would have just said "thank you and have a nice life" to after the first date became a person of interest.

We went on the second date. Had nice dinner at a Thai restaurant and then she invited me back to her place. Had it been warmer out, I would have suggested a walk or something outside. I wasn't ready for anything more than that. But I went anyway. And it was, like the rest of the time we had spent together, a decidedly mixed experience. She complained about a situation with her neighbor for a good half an hour, maybe even longer. We made out for awhile, but it felt awkward and forced. And we stayed up really late talking, but there were plenty of times during the conversation where it felt like we were talking across each other, or at each, but not really with each other.

Over the next week and a half, we sent a few e-mails back and forth, and I considered whether I wanted to see her again. Fortunately, I was participating in a meditation retreat at my zen center, and the jolt of just being there with my thoughts and feelings for several hours a day quickly made me realize that pursuing this connection was a mistake. I didn't like her for her, I liked her because she liked me. And that was no grounds for entering a relationship.

So, you might say I'm a lot quicker to catch on to this old pattern. And as such, tend to be much more willing to remain single, and enjoy being so, than to leap into something with someone just because she's interested.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Are You Depressed Because You Can't Find Love?

Depression seems to be a hot topic on dating and relationship blogs right now. No doubt the coming winter and the lack of light in the Northern Hemisphere, where all the blogs I currently follow are from, plays a roll in this. Having had my share of minor depression, especially of the seasonal variety, I know all too well how easy it can be to get down about being alone. Even when you have an otherwise good life.

The first thing to realize is that being without a partner is not a character defect. Single folks in many societies have long been demonized for various reasons, but the fact is that there's absolutely nothing wrong with being single. In fact, I'd argue that sometimes our lives paths are such that it's absolutely right to be single for awhile.

For those of you struggling with being ok by yourself, perhaps this simple meditation practice will help.

Take a comfortable seat and close your eyes. Let your awareness move to your heart center, and feel whatever it is that is present. It might be a specific feeling, like happiness or sadness. Or maybe it's some less defined energy - a flow or a tension. Occasionally, I seem to feel nothing at all when I do this, and that's fine as well. Whatever is there, just let it be.

After a few minutes, begin to slowly say the following phrases to yourself. You can say them silently or out loud. Either way is fine.

May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I love and be loved.
May I be free from suffering.

You can repeat these as often as you want. Or just say each once and then sit quietly for 5-10 minutes before moving on with your day. Sometimes, I'll do a little journaling if something specific that seems important came up during this process. Like a distinct memory that I want to reflect upon more.

One important thing about practices like this is to just do them, and not fixate on any particular outcome or goal.

I recall one particularly difficult period, following a break up, where I did this meditation amongst other practices nearly every days for months. I doubt that this practice alone allowed me to heal and move on, but it likely helped, and regardless, it gave me something tangible to do in the face of depression and sadness.

Your thoughts? What have you done when you have felt depressed about being single?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hurt Vs. Harm in Relationships

Baggage Reclaim is a really cool relationship website run out of the UK. Natalie, the author, offers frequently blog posts that are thoughtful, well written, and often challenge readers to consider ways in which they are dysfunctional about dating and relationships.

In an old post of hers I found, she considers six words that are both overused and misused in the context of relationships. I want to consider one of those words, hurt, in a little more detail. Natalie writes:

It’s important to understand our feelings and own and validate them but sometimes we get the descriptions mixed up. Eg. “I’m hurt that you didn’t take out the bins/trash.’ or I’m hurt you said X’ or ‘I’m hurt that you did Y to me’.

Meaning: Hurt is about experiencing mental pain or distress.

It’s important to distinguish between someone not doing what you want, someone not doing something in the way that you would like, and someone doing something that directly relates to causing emotional distress. Expand your range of feelings beyond hurt because it shouldn’t be the automatic descriptor for everything that other people do that you don’t like.

Acknowledging a variety of feelings appropriate to each situation combined with having levels of what actually constitutes hurt, will make for more meaningful dialogue. If the word we reach for is always ‘hurt’ we communicate to partners that every slight, no matter the size will cause us emotional distress – that’s a lot for someone to deal with.

I think this is good. I also have a slightly different take to add to it.

To me, when it comes to the whole “hurt” issue in relationships, it’s helpful to consider the difference between hurt and “harm.”

I may feel hurt that my partner doesn’t agree with me about something, for example, maybe she doesn't like my favorite writer or musician.

I also might feel hurt if she arrives 20 minutes late for a date, or if she points out that I'm not being totally truthful about something.

But none of these examples should have any long term effect. They aren't red flags, or issues that should make or break relationships.

On the other hand, if my partner lies to me about her intentions for the relationship for example, whatever I feel when I find out I might label as "hurt," but actually the behavior in question could be labeled harmful because it undermines the very trust needed for a healthy relationship.

I remember towards the end of my first long term relationship getting angry at my former partner because she wanted to always hang out with her friends when I was over. It didn't help that I really didn't like her friends, and they didn't like me, but that's another story. Anyway, I was young (age 24 I think) and reactive back then, and instead of telling her why I was upset, I chose to not call her - for nearly three weeks. I think internally somewhere I knew this was harmful to the relationship, and I also was kind of in a backwards way trying to end it. But when we did finally talk, we had an argument about politics and both talked about feeling hurt that we each didn't see the validity of the others' point.

The point in bringing up this story is that it contains the two levels. We fixated on the immediate feelings around disagreeing about some political issue - which falls in the hurt category - but were really acting out of the harm coming from my refusal to call for so long, which had been tied to her increasing refusal to spend time with me alone.

What I see is that many of us, myself included, struggle to pay attention clearly enough to understand whether something is hurtful or harmful. And unfortunately, because of that struggling, we often get hung up on the little things that are fleeting, while simultaneously missing the major red flags that actually need to be confronted, or which mean it’s time to move on.

In the relationship I brought up, it later became clear to me that both of us were making decisions to deliberately avoid spending time together alone, and face our challenges together. We also blamed each other for how we felt, and at the same time, fixated on more trivial things, claiming that a difference over something like wanting to watch TV or not was ruining our relationship. Pretty silly, but also pretty common, isn't it?

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I have created a central portal for the blogs I maintain. You can read the welcome message there, and learn more about my current and future writing intentions.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dating Industrial Complex

I have long loved the blog Racialicious for it's smart, savvy cultural commentary and criticism. Awhile back, I highlighted a series of posts they did on dating and race, and today, I'd like to bring your attention to the following post over there by Andrea (AJ) Plaid. Specifically, let's consider these two paragraphs:

I’m hoping that Samhita Mukhopadhyay’s book, Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life becomes a best-seller. Because she not only takes inventory of all those dating-advice books cluttering bookshelves and e-reader lists, she also takes that rarest of inventory: an anti-racist feminist inventory of the whole dating industrial complex.

Mukhopadhyay reminds the reader throughout her book that these books consistently erase those who are not cisgender and heterosexual and able-bodied and middle-class. She also says that the dating industrial complex is also rather unkind to cisgender men–all of this because they’re trafficking in narrow stereotypes based on gender binaries. And if we believe in some sort of feminism? Well, Mukhopadhyay analyzes, these books try to make that belief the reason why we’re not getting laid, let alone married. We, to paraphrase DuBois, are the 21st century problem to be solved because, so says this literature, we dare to exist–sometimes caring about being in relationships and sometimes not.

This really expands on the conversation I brought up in yesterday's post. Perhaps phrases like "dating industrial complex" give you a headache, but I have to say it's pretty spot on. So much of the dating and relationship advice out there is driven by white, heterosexual middle class norms and biases. Furthermore, it's hard not to notice how everything from life long spouses to one night stand partners have become packaged commodities that we "must have" at all times.

While part of me is grateful that options have expanded through methods like online dating, I'm unable to ignore the rest of the baggage that has come with those expanded options. This blog is littered with posts addressing some of those issues. The shopping mentality many folks have. The short attention spans. The transactional expectations. However, I'm still figuring out how best to integrate some of the issues mentioned in Andrea's post. In part because I, too, have swallowed some of the dominant stories we collectively have around dating and relationships.

In the end, plenty of people live perfectly good enough relationships without delving into any of these issues. And others are quite happy living on their own, uninterested in things like the patterns of modern dating.

I'm not really speaking to those people directly. Who I am speaking to are those of you out there who wish to experience relationships consciously. Those of you who aim to love and grow with another. Those of you who see an intimate relationship as a vehicle for living a more fully alive, authentic life.

So, if that's you, it's worth considering how some of what Andrea and Samhita are writing about might be impacting your life.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Battle of the Sexes

Nearly twenty years ago, John Gray's Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus arrived in bookstores and promptly left in shopper's bags by the droves. While it by no means started what might be called the "battle of the sexes," it typifies that approach to relationships.

This is the basic narrative. Men and women are totally different. Here's how they are. And for the heterosexual folks out there, here's how you might solve the problems you are having.

Some people argue it's all about biology. Others argue it's all about culture and societal norms.

What they almost all tend to do, though, is minimize or deny individual differences.

If you want to be a conscious dater, and live a conscious, awake relationship, it's really important to steer clear of the noise. And much of the battle of the sexes is just that: noise.

I'm all for studying how cultural gender norms impact individuals. Or how biological differences might lead men and women to act differently.

However, none of that can make up for paying attention to, and deeply learning about, the person you are with.

In other words, addressing any problems you are having, whether on a first date, or ten years into a marriage, requires sticking to your current context.

Where are you coming from? Where is the other person coming from? What now?

It's easy to let external noise dictate your life. Don't go there.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Don't Doom A Potential Relationship Unnecessarily

In the discussion that followed yesterday's post, Goldie asked the following questions:

how does it work after several dates if you believe in "not broadcasting your uncertainty"? What do you do to prevent it from looking to the other side as "everything was well, then out of the blue he says there's never been any connection"?

These are not easy questions to answer, but I'm all for asking difficult questions, so thank you for that.

Here are a few thoughts. I think we are always broadcasting to some degree - much of it being non-verbal in nature.

One of the reasons I'm often writing about developing your attention skills on this blog is precisely to pick up more of that non-verbal stuff. Because odds are, if you see more of what the other person is actually doing in your presence, then the less likely someone's decision to end the relationship will appear out of the blue. Still, you can miss it. I have in the past. Others have missed my checking out and backing away as well. There's always a chance you'll be totally stunned by someone you're dating one day.

As far as the not broadcasting I spoke about in the last post, it's more about speaking in a manner that crystallizes a situation.

Maybe I'm feeling unclear about what's happening. I like the person I'm with well enough, but am not sure if we are good relationship material. And so, my body language is erratic. Sometimes, I'm open, leaning in, making direct eye contact, touching her arms perhaps. Other times, I have my arms folded, am leaning back, avoiding eye contact, etc. It might also be the case that I'm not as enthusiastic as I might be during conversations or activities, that there's enough holding back that someone who is paying attention might notice it and wonder.

The thing is, some of this kind of behavior can be chalked up to not knowing each other. And if you have any natural shyness or introversion, some of it might just be how you normally operate when any relationship, romantic or otherwise, is new.

We tend to underestimate the power that labels can have upon us. Once you place a definitive label on whatever is happening, it can be difficult to change it. In other words, if I say "I don't feel an emotional connection with you" today, even if something happens to change that feeling tomorrow or a month from now, the other person will probably remember what I said today - and have a hard time fully letting it go.

It's kind of like when people get a diagnosis from a doctor. Even if the doctor comes back later and says they made a mistake, the original diagnosis is often difficult to let go of. The body starts to heal, but the mind might still be worrying about the possibility that illness X could be present long afterwards. Which makes it more difficult to heal and become healthy again.

So, I guess I'm trying to advocate for less rushing to make definite statements that doom a relationship. And to figure out ways to be more comfortable with uncertainty.

But Goldie's questions point to the other side of the coin - which is figuring out ways to maintain honesty with each other. Which is important to me as well.

If the person you are dating asks you what you think about things, one way to deal with uncertainty is to say something like "I'm not sure what's happening between us yet, but I want to spend more time with you." Some people might be ok with this kind of thing, while others might take it as a weak form of rejection.

Another way could be to say you don't want to rush into labeling what's happening. The tricky part with something like this is that it runs dangerous close to the kind of talk players and non-committers use to keep people around.

Overall, I think that any communication expressing uncertainty in the early stages of dating someone should be peppered with some comments about the person's positive traits. You might say "I don't know what's happening yet, but I really like that you are smart and kind, and want to spend more time with you."

Those are my thoughts today. What are yours?

*Image - Michelangelo's "Last Judgment"

*Update. I am now on Twitter. If you want to follow me, click the Twitter follow link on the sidebar.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dating Uncertainty

Over at Moxie's blog is a discussion of one-liners people use to either lie about their lack of interest or to maintain something casual without commitment. In the comments section, one of our regular readers here, Goldie, said the following:

Can I ask a newbie question? Is “I didn’t feel an emotional connection” the same thing as the above mentioned “I just don’t think we clicked romantically”? It’s not just me that didn’t get it – every one of my married girlfriends that I’ve shown this to had the same reaction, “WTH is this supposed to mean?” Is that another variation on “I didn’t find you attractive?”

Gosh, I just tell people “I don’t think we’ll work out as a couple” or “I don’t think we’re a good enough match”. And then I really do remain friends. Old school?

So, I highlighted this because I have often used a variant of the first like - "I didn't feel enough of a connection" - in e-mails after first dates. And I think I have also used some variant of the "didn't click romantically" line as well. Both of these phrases seem fairly clear to me, but I suppose how you write or say the rest of the response probably makes some difference.

Goldie later mentions that her question stemmed from a situation where a guy told her one of those lines and then proceeded to ask her out the next day. Then, after they saw each other again, the guy repeated the line, suggesting he wasn't interested. Sounds confusing doesn't it?

Although there could be slimy motives behind all of this, I'm guessing that this guy simply failed to handle his uncertainty well. Instead of spending the time to go on a few dates, and assess the potential, this guy chose instead to constantly broadcast his swings in interest. This is a direct path to headaches, nausea, and ultimately, remaining alone. And it's completely unnecessary.

It's actually been quite rare that I have felt a strong enough spark on a first date with someone that I didn't leave the date with some doubts or uncertainty. In our speed obsessed, instant gratification culture, these doubts and uncertainties are usually taken as direct evidence that it's time to move on. However, the way I see it, having some uncertainty is fairly normal and there are plenty of happy couples out there whose first few dates didn't break the hot and sexy bank.

The thing is that if you're dating to find someone for the long haul, it's really important to develop some patience, and to learn to withhold certain cards until you've spent more time with someone.

Perhaps Goldie's guy was always going to have mixed feelings about her. That happens. But if this was the case, he could have handled the whole thing better.

Specifically, he could have sat on the uncertainty for 2-3 dates, and then made a decision about whether to continue dating her or not.

Here's how it can be acted out.

If he decides to stop seeing her, he can use the same kind of phrase to end it, but maybe add something about not wanting to go out again. I tend to think that it's so much better to end time with someone with clarity, rather than leaving a door open with confusing messages. Which is why I think it's worth taking more time if you don't know, so you aren't sitting around weeks later thinking "What if?"

Now, if some uncertainty still remains, but Goldie's guy decides to keep dating her anyway, it's probably best to keep sitting on that uncertainty instead of broadcasting it. I say this figuring that the scales that case are tipped enough in her favor that he actually wants to see if they have a future together.

Perhaps this sounds like lying, but the reality often is that until you've spent significant time with someone, it's hard not to have some uncertainty, questions, or doubts about the relationship's long term potential. In fact, I'd argue that if you don't have a little bit of uncertainty for awhile, you're probably living in a fantasy land.

And yet, if the relationship develops, those initial uncertainties, questions, and doubts tend to go away. Because much of it had to do with not knowing how someone would react under difficult circumstances, or whether some behavior or another was an anomaly or a problematic pattern.

Note that I'm speaking here to beginnings. Which is different from having doubts and uncertainties about a relationship several months, or years into it.

What do you think? Does this ring true to you? Or do you disagree with something I said here?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


Here's a post on a subject I tend to flunk unless I just let it happen naturally.

Patty Contenta knows a thing or two about flirting. In fact, she is probably the Queen of Flirting and even if you think you are an expert when it comes to men and flirting with them, you may just learn something new from Patty.

After you listen to Patty talking about flirting it makes you realize how positive and life affirming it really can be. If you think flirting is about luring and entrapment. Forget it. The way Patty deals with flirting it is just another tool a for being noticed. Nothing sleazy. Gentle flirting, as opposed to overt flaunting is a good thing.

So, I can imagine that this kind of approach of cultivating flirting skills, and then learning when to employ them, works for some folks. I like the positive, life affirming focus presented here as well.

But this just isn't what works for me. If I like someone, the demonstration of that just has to happen on it's own time. Place a limited time frame around me and I'm screwed. Which tends to mean that women who have wanted the deal sealed on a first date usually disappears from my life.

Overall, I need to get to know someone a little bit before I'm naturally touching, being playful, and/or doing light teasing.

Even if there is attraction really early on, I still tend to take my time. Although I sometimes would do well to move a bit faster, I think moving slower is a good approach for anyone looking for a long term, committed relationship. Why?

1. You'll have a better sense of your date's boundaries if you move slower.

2. Any joking or teasing you do would be less risky because you know more about your date. (A poorly timed joke or light tease on the wrong subject can sometimes kill a first or second date.)

3. With more trust developed, it's simply easier to be elevate the level of intimacy.

What I just wrote might seem logical, but probably flies in the face of much of the advice being given out there. There's so much emphasis these days on moving quickly, and learning skills and approaches designed to make you quickly and easily stand out from the crowd. Which to me just plays into the high pressured, consumer-like atmosphere of modern dating, something I'm trying - in my own little ways - to counteract.

How's flirting work for you? And what do you struggle with?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Do You Underestimate or Overestimate Yourself?

Having had my share of "self-esteem" issues over the years, I can distinctly recall periods of my life when I simply didn't believe I had much to offer someone. Or that whatever I did have to offer wasn't "good enough." Dating dry spells have tended to bring this kind of thing enforce, a few times to the point where I found myself choosing to date someone who was a poor match, simply because she showed some interest. While I can honestly say that I don't sink into long periods of being controlled by these kind of thoughts today, they still do occur from time to time. However, I have learned to cut them off much quicker by simply not believing the "I'm not good enough or worthy" storyline.

On the other hand, I can recall at least as few times while in a relationship where I over-estimated my effort, and/or my contribution to the relationship upkeep. Where I thought, for example, that I truly was doing my best to listen, take care, be honest, etc, and yet after some reflection, recognized how much I was avoiding or withholding. Furthermore, in a few cases, I can recall times when I thought I was able to handle the challenges we faced as a couple, when the reality was that I didn't have the energy and/or insight to do so at that particular time.

I bring these examples from my own life up because I believe that each of us has elements of both underestimating and overestimating within us. One pattern might be dominant, but the other is often somewhere in there, lurking in the shadows. Over-confident player types sometimes underestimate their natural attractiveness, while people with a serious lack of self-esteem sometimes overestimate things like their intelligence, thinking they're smarter than most everyone else.

It's important to consider how these two poles might be playing out in your life, whether you are currently single or in a relationship. The first step being figuring out what pattern is dominant, and/or whether or not it's controlling how you relate to others.

So, what about you? Which side do you tend to fall on? Can you see the opposite extreme influencing you as well in any form?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Demonizing Your Dates

Say you're on a date with someone you either aren't attracted to, or are feeling mixed about. Perhaps the conversation is stunted, or the other person's manners are kind of off. Maybe you actually get along fairly well, but you can't see yourself being physically intimate with your date.

So, the date is starting to wind down and then it happens. He or she reaches for your hand. Or slides in for a kiss.

Sometimes, you're open to something like a kiss, but the other person's approach is sloppy, nervous, or forced.

Regardless, you experience some discomfort, and maybe the date ends on less than perfect note.

In most cases, these kinds of incidents could be chalked up to awkward moments. Either you choose to give the person another chance, or you decide to move on.

But how many of you, instead, go around telling your friends, co-workers, and others that you "went on a horrible date with this douchebag last night"? In other words, how often do you choose to slam someone's character instead of just saying "it didn't work out" and let it go?

Too often, we take things that are either miscommunications, or signs of poor compatibility and turn them into character assessments. Both women and men do it, and I'm convinced that it's a way to blame others, and keep yourself from facing any negative issues you might be bringing to the table.

Specifically, with this whole physical boundaries and touching kissing thing, it’s really easy to make mistakes because everyone has a different level of comfort. You can do you best to watch for all the signs, but the reality is still – if you’re on a first or second date – you don’t know the person. Your reading of your date isn’t based on knowing them, it’s based on a composite of past experiences. In other words, it’s basically an educated guess, which is a lot better than nothing, but still leaves plenty of room for error.

Everyone has the right to reject a date, and/or to say that something a date did doesn’t sit right with them. But it’s really unnecessary to go around assassinating the character of someone you just weren’t attracted to, or whose actions were in some manner unappealing to you, or even made you feel a bit uncomfortable.

It's seems to me that if you're going on dates, you should be ready for a bit of discomfort. Even when you meet someone you think might be the love of your life, it's often somewhat scary. Or nervous-making anyway.

Try to remember that, and save the dramatic stories for situations where it's truly warranted.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What do You Hate About Modern Dating?

I'll be honest. I'm not much of a hater. Hate is entirely too strong of a word to describe what is usually either an annoyance or simple dislike. In addition, as I have gotten a bit older, I'm less charmed by the idea of bitching and moaning as a past-time. Or even as a warped mechanism of bonding with others. In other words, if I'm being critical, or offering judgments, I try to have a good reason for doing so.

With that said, here's a short list of dating dislikes and/or annoyances:

1. The shopping mentality so many people seem to have. Treating people like items in a catalog rather than as living, breathing human beings.

2. The obsession with "instant, mama said knock you out chemistry." Seriously, if your aim is to be struck by lightning, go stand on a rooftop during a rainstorm with a pitchfork in your hand.

3. All the pressure some folks place on first dates. I used to be one of those folks, trying to "act perfect" and spending the entire time obsessing about every last similarity and difference.

4. How casually some people treat sex and even emotional intimacy these days. Look, I'm all for liberation from the repressed sexual norms of the past, but there has to be honesty, care, and respect as well.

Now, let's look a little closer at what might be being these four annoyances/dislikes. The first one actually says a lot about the rest for me. I do my best to place basic human connection and compassion above most other things, feeling that we have better, more healthier communities when people care about each other. Or at least make the effort to. I also don't think dating should be approached in a transactional sense, where it's all about getting something for yourself. These are pretty core values for me, and so when something is going on that runs against them, I tend to notice.

As far as point two goes, isn't there a hell of a lot more to a strong, healthy relationship than physical attraction? And doesn't it make more sense to place "chemistry" in it's proper place as one of many factors to consider?

Honestly, when I think about number three, it's related to number one in a certain way. On the one hand, you have the salesperson approach of doing everything in your power to sell yourself as desirable to someone else. And on the other hand, there's the "on the clock" mentality that suggests your time is "too valuable to waste," and that someone best "prove some worthiness" in an hour or two, or else you're gonna move on. Whatever happened to enjoying someone's company for an evening? Or basic curiosity about another? I've been on many dates where I didn't have an interest in romance, but still learned a lot about the other person. Sometimes, I have even learned about some cool book, website, or event that I didn't know about before. I've even made a few career-related connections while on dates. You know never what can happen, and at the very least, you've learned a bit about another person's world.

The last one really ties into the rest in terms of, as I wrote above, the value I place on honesty, caring, and basic respect for each other. If you are dating, sleeping with, and pouring out pieces of your heart to multiple people - and they know nothing about that - it's kind of cruel. If any of those folks are like me, they're probably thinking they are the only one, or at the very least they are moving into more special territory. There's nothing more deflating than finding out a few months into dating someone that she/he is also having sex with, and otherwise being intimate with, others you knew nothing about.

So, that's my story. How about you? What do you dislike or find annoying about modern dating? And why?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"I Want a Naturally Unfolding Relationship"

Over at And That's Why Your Single, I found the following comment by a woman named Stacy compelling:

,online dating is full of people like the OP who are looking for a relationship, but the problem is, because the relationship is the goal in itself, they try to push the person they meet into that goal, rather than seeing how things naturally play out (as more likely happens in real life). For instance, I have gone out with several guys now who act in accordance with a certain rule, date 3, they say they are not seeing someone else, date 5 ask you to take down your online dating profile, a month of dating and the “i love you” comes. They seem to be on some timeline to get married and the other person fits their criteria- but that is suffocating to the other person who eventually bails (even though s/he may have stuck around longer if there was less pressure and demands).

I have to say that I have been somewhat guilty of this kind of thinking over the years. In fact, I can think of a few women that I went on a couple of dates with and then chose to not see anymore because I didn't get a good sense that they wanted a long term, committed relationship. On the flip side, I have also bailed on a few situations where it seemed like the woman I was dating wanted marriage and children posthaste, never mind we barely knew each other yet.

However, as I sat with Stacy's comment a little longer, I started wondering about this whole "meeting and getting to know someone naturally" story. Specifically, I wonder how often something like that happened historically, and whether we simply don't have a lot of cumulative, collective experience with just meeting people, falling in love, and becoming a committed couple in a seemingly natural, on it's own pace manner.

Now, I'm talking the long view here. Centuries of collective experience at least. (Records get muddy if you go back beyond several hundred years in the past). But the idea of meeting someone, and having a relationship unfold naturally - as two free, fairly equal, consenting adults - is really pretty new, don't you think? It's only been in the past few generations that the majority of American women could act as relative equals in a partnership. The ability to easily travel beyond one's immediate locale is something that didn't exist 150 years ago, which sounds like a long time ago, but actually is a blip of time in human history. Arranged marriages were fairly common in the early days of the United States, and continue to exist amongst certain segments of the population.

So, while I sympathize with Stacy's position, and think it's wise to remove as many artificial barriers from the dating process as possible, I think some of what we're seeing in online dating culture, and dating culture in general, is an attempt to apply pieces of old formalities to new venues. Mostly, because people don't know what else to do.

It's a strange mixture of the liberated and completely not liberated when you think about it a bit closer. People who seemingly have all the freedom to choose in the world instead choose to create artificial time lines, arbitrary hoops to jump through, and long lists of "requirements" that a potential partner "must" possess to be considered worthy of consideration. A guy who isn't "strongly masculine," absurdly handsome looking, and/or isn't making a good salary is dismissed as not being "enough of a man." A woman with "strong opinions," who doesn't fit the "standards of beauty," and/or isn't "feminine enough" is dismissed as not being "womanly." For all the loosening of old gender roles that have happened in the past 50 years, there's still a hell of a lot of clinging to how it supposedly used to be. Amongst heterosexual folks, it's not difficult, for example, to find fiercely feminist women who openly desire men to "take charge in the relationship," to demonstrate chivalry, and to be the bigger financial bread winner. And it's also not terribly hard to find forward thinking men who want women that aren't going to be an intellectual challenge, and who will take care of most of the "domestic chores," sometimes to the point of coddling like a mother might.

Perhaps the practice of requiring a dowry from a bride's family has simply been spread out in terms of its content, and then applied to both parties involved. Questions like "What would you contribute to a potential partnership?" seem innocent enough, but they easily have a dark side attached to them if driven by long lists of wants and requirements that may or may not be possible.

On a practical sense, what good is any of this?

Well, if you are active in the dating world right now, here are a few ideas.

1. Expect that many people will have artificial time tables and other internal agendas that might be driving their behavior.

2. Be willing to give people more of a chance if you have a decent connection developing, but are running into conflict because of differing agendas.

3. Take some time to look at your own views, and consider that some or maybe much of what you've decided is "essential" in a partner might actually not be.

4. If you're dating someone who is really fixated on a certain set of specifics or a timetable, don't expect major changes in the short term. In other words, don't build a relationship on hopes that someone will dramatically change in the future.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Perfect Partner Narratives

My mother and I frequently talk about relationships and the "wonderful" world of modern dating. Those conversations sometimes influence entire posts I write here, as you'll see when you read the following from the latest on my mother's blog:

I have been single for a long time. Most of the people who are in my life now have never know me to be with someone. People rarely ask me if I am in or out of a relationship, which seems strange to me.

I often tell people that I would rather be alone than with the wrong person. I felt good about not settling, for not being needy and for not being in a relationship for the sake of relationship.

I spent years becoming the person I wanted to attract. Have done a lot of soul searching and clearing of thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that got in the way of being a great partner. I did this because I was attracting all of the wrong men and wanted that to change. I knew that the men I was attracting were reflecting something in me and I didn’t like what I was seeing.

In the beginning this meant being with and embracing my anxiety about being alone. It meant loving who I was even though I had “issues”.

I would love to be in a relationship with someone who was my equal. I have read an embarrassing amount of books on the subject of relationship, and as a therapist I did couples counseling for years. I have become an expert on how it is done and how to be a good partner.

Over time I have come to like my own company and found it easier to be alone and not have to be accountable or compromise. I could wake up in the morning and do what I wanted until I went to sleep and there was no one to tell me other wise. Do you pick up the defiant tone in that sentence?! Now it has become routine. It is how people know me. I am single.

This morning, I have been thinking that for those of us who make great effort at developing self-awareness, and who really flush out what is it we want in an intimate relationship, there might be a different set of blocks on the road of romance. Or perhaps it's similar beliefs being attached to different things.

Consider the idea of the "perfect" partner. A lot folks, when asked about their ideal mate, have a list of particular physical characteristics, set of basic qualities like having a sense of humor or being intelligent, and perhaps something about the person's career or level of income. In addition, many people will have another list (either revealed or in the back of their mind) of similar kinds of deal-breakers. The "I don't want no liars, cheaters, drug users, players, living in mama's basement and smoking pot" type lists.

Now, while I can sympathize with some of these desires, and the struggles that arise from being too attached to those "perfection lists," my experience doesn't really fit much of that. For one, none of that kind of stuff really hooks me. I'm not one of those guys obsessed with Barbie Doll looks, or needing a woman who acts in particularly "feminine" ways, whatever that means. The women I have dated over the year have been diverse in many different ways. In other words, I haven't really had a "type" in the way that term tends to be used in dating circles.

In addition, while I also don't want to date liars, cheaters, drug users, etc., those kinds of lists are mostly baseline filters to me. If someone checks drug user on their online profile, for example, I simply move on. I'm not the kind of person to date someone for months on end who has trouble telling the truth, or who is invested in other patterns of deception. In other words, I don't let "good chemistry" or "lots of commonalities" override red flags in a relationship.

And yet, I do have a perfection narrative that sometimes trips me up. It's just that it's focused on different things. Like good attention skills. Self-awareness. Kindness and compassion. A willingness to buck social/cultural norms when your life is calling you to do so. Passionate about social and environmental justice. Those kinds of things.

Just as the person who really wants a financially "successful" partner can make the mistake of rejecting a great date who isn't quite making it, I have made the mistake of focusing too much on actual or perceived lack of compassion or self-awareness. While the substance is totally different, there are a pair of similarities here.

1. A rush to judgment usually based on a very limited sample of facts. (One or two dates.)

2. A zeroing in on a single area of a person's life, and failing to take in the whole person.

Now, I will say that someone who strongly demonstrates lack of compassion on a date probably won't be attractive to me in numerous other ways. What I'm speaking about here is more about isolated incidents that are extrapolated into totalizing views of a person. You know, like a woman who says something that sounds cruel about a co-worker, and you think "geez, she's a bitch."

Overall, when it comes to lists or images of a perfect partner, I believe people fail to use them as guidelines, instead treating them as absolute, fixed rules. In addition, a lot of us make the mistake of thinking what we want is the same as what we need. Or that what we want in our lives will always be the same.

Many of the qualities I mentioned desiring in a partner today would not have been on my list 10 years ago. I can imagine the same is true for many of you reading out there.

So, what do you think about all of this? How have "perfect partner" lists tripped you up in the past, and/or how do you keep them from tripping you up now?

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dating and Seasonal Changes

I don't know about you, but as the autumn slides towards winter, and everything outside turns cold and dark, being single tugs at me more. More wanting comes up. More loneliness.

At the same time, I often experience a general rise in dating apathy about it all this time of year. When I am single at this time of year, that is. Certainly, all the fuss and ramped up holiday energy doesn't help, but there's something about the shift towards winter that almost causes me to turn away from dating, as if it's akin to swimming or some other warm weather activity.

Most of us living in industrial and post-industrial countries have become divorced from the planet, from the environment around us. So much so that we frequently miss the ways in which a change in seasons, for example, changes how we feel, think, and act. Furthermore, instead of making preemptive changes to live more in accord with the seasons, many of us simply continue to push onward in the same old ways, acting as if the frigid cold or extreme heat around us isn't also running through us. Which is it. Even if you choose to spend most of your time indoors, in heated and air conditioned spaces.

Some of you might be thinking, "What is this guy talking about?" When the holidays roll around, I want to date all the time. Being single around the holidays is the worst!" Well, I hear you. Others might be thinking, "I'm too busy with family and friends during the holidays to care at all about dating." To which I would say, sure, I get that too.

It's not so much the particular pattern as it is the fact that there is a definite shift that occurs.

The first thing to ask yourself is whether you recognize a shift during this time of year around dating and romance. I would actually say that this is true regardless of whether you are in a relationship or not. Most of us have internal and external shifts around the holidays, but how many of us actually recognize those shifts, instead of simply reacting until we're frustrated, depressed, or exhausted?

Once you develop an awareness of what your habitual patterns and shifts are around the holidays, you can move to the next level - which is assessing whether what you do and how you think is healthy or not.

In my own life, I have learned that some of the dating apathy that seems to always arise at this time of year is really just a call to turn inward, to be more reflective about my life. This doesn't seem to matter whether I'm single or with someone - the cold, darkness, and snow calls me to turn inward.

I also know that another piece of this apathy is tied to believing the sad sack stories that sometimes run in my head about not being "good enough," or "worthy" of a relationship. The tricky thing about turning inward is that you see it all - the positive thoughts and emotions, and the negative. And because it's cold outside, and I tend to be stuck in a tiny apartment by myself more often on long winter days and nights, the negative likes to come and visit you might say.

Perhaps you have the opposite response. Maybe you are one of those people who attend every holiday gathering, and are involved in all sorts of activities during this time of year. Do you find yourself looking for love at all those gatherings? Are you filling your schedule in part to avoid loneliness?

There's nothing wrong with being more busy during holidays. I'm just suggesting that you consider whether your love life, or lack there of, is driving how your living in an unhealthy manner. Since I'm more the contemplative type during this time of year, I have to watch that I don't isolate myself, and essentially fall into seasonal depression. In fact, for someone like me, it's actually helpful to sometimes push myself to go on a date or two during this time of year, just to break up the pattern. For someone who is excessively active and constantly on the prowl for love during the holidays, it might be smart to deliberately schedule some alone time, and spend that alone time doing something other than thinking about dating and relationships.

What do you all think? Does any of this resonate with you?

*Photo is of a classic Minnesota blizzard from last December.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Talking about Past Relationships

Among several other topics discussed in this thread over at the Love Shack dating forum is the issue of talking about past relationships with someone you are dating. This is an area of relationships that has few clear "rules," and has the potential to either seriously harm or seriously benefit the current situation, depending upon how things are handled.

Couples that are able to speak about their past primarily in terms of lessons learned or issues still being worked on tend to be strengthened. If you had a string of past relationships where too many things were left unspoken, speaking about that with your current partner might help lead to more honesty and openness. If you have a history of fearing your partner will vanish one day, sharing that at the right time in your current relationship might help your partner understand you better, and perhaps be able to support you to let go of some of that fear.

Obviously, the amount of this kind of information and the level of detail should depend upon the strength of your connection with each other. If you've gone on a lot of first dates like I have, you have probably experienced one or more of those first dates from hell, where a relative stranger goes on and on about their various exes, offering sometimes excruciating insights about both their former partners and also themselves. Needless to say, this kind of disclosure isn't a good idea.

Beyond a situation like that, though, I think there are an awful lot of shades of gray to be had. How to handle situations that you might feel embarrassed or ashamed about for example? Or what about the number of sexual partners you've had in the past?

This comment from a woman on the forum struck me as interesting.

He and I did not feel ANY need to discuss our prior sexual relationships, and we never have. There was no reason that was pertinent to our own relationship. There was no inherent threat there. Neither one of us really cared about it. I started to "confess" some stuff to him once that I though he could take issue with. He listened to me for a few moments and then said something like, "you know what? That really doesn't matter to me. For some reason, you are such a clean slate for me." We didn't talk about it again. I doubt we ever will.

We did, however, talk about our former marriages. We were both divorced once. There were things from each one of our prior marriages that we learned, mistakes we'd made and that we each were accountable for, as well as behavior in our former spouses that we knew we didn't want to experience again. So, talking about some of that really did have pertinence to our own relationship.

One of the things that I was struck by is that although I tend to be a person who values honesty and putting as much as possible on the table with a partner, something about the approach this couple took made sense. Certainly, the focus on lessons learned fit into how I approach things. But even the lack of a need to confess about the past, sensing that perhaps that one night stand you had at 25 which didn't result in pregnancy or getting an STD really isn't that relevant.

I have noticed in recent years that I tend to focus on patterns that have occurred in my past relationships. Some of which stretch across much of my dating history. Speaking about mistakes is usually done in that context, again focused either on lessons learned, or with more intimate, long term partners, on issues where I probably still need to grow. Given this kind of approach, most of the short term relationships and connections either become minor footnotes - like they should be - or simply never come up.

Now, one thing I will say is that I still sometimes struggle to balance the need to share with the need for good timing, and a strong enough connection with someone for that sharing. Occasionally, I have found myself blurting something out about my past which fit the context of the conversation, but that, when I stopped and thought about it, really wasn't the best decision. So, if you are single or have the opportunity to reflect on what you want to share with a current or potential partner, it's a good idea to think about what's important and what isn't, as well as how deep into details you want to go, given the level of connection.

So, those are a few thoughts about sharing past relationships. What are your thoughts and ideas?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dating Multilple People at the Same Time: Some Notes

After engaging in several discussions, both online and off, I have come to a more nuanced position on the whole "dating multiple people at the same time" issue. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that what I have been doing in my own life became clearer, and I realized I was presenting too simplistic of a picture in comments I was making on other blogs.

So, here's what I think: you need a different approach based upon how strongly you are interested in someone you're dating.

This may seem obvious to readers, but I'm realizing that many folks seem to employ the same strategy regardless of what's happening. If they're scared of falling in love too quickly and getting "burned," they always keep their options open. Others, who maybe are more like me, tend to pull most or all of their energy into a single person, even if they feel lukewarm about the dates with that person.

So, what I want to advocate for is inline with what I have already spoken a lot about on this blog: learning to pay closer attention, and make decisions based on what you are actually experiencing.

Here are a few examples from my own dating life to help illustrate. I went on 4 dates with a woman last winter I would call "nice" and "interesting." The time we spent together was comfortable, and we seemed to get along fairly well. But other things were lacking. Four dates and almost zero touching. Our conversations were more intellectual and less heart-based. And every time a date would end, it wasn't really clear if we'd even see each other again. Overall, I really wasn’t sure what to think. And I don’t think she was either. You could say the whole thing was "lukewarm."

In situations where you feel lukewarm like this, it makes sense to keep the door open for awhile. While I didn’t go on dates with anyone else during that month I was dating the woman in the story above, if someone interesting had shown up, I probably would have considered doing so. And certainly, if I had been talking to someone else during that time already, I would have continued to do so.

On the other hand, there was the woman I dated for about 7 weeks this spring. From the beginning, I really liked her who approach to relationships. We actually talked about what we wanted in detail on our first date, and continued to do so throughout the whole time we spent together. She really had her shit together, and had reflected a lot on what it meant to be a healthy person partnering with another healthy person. We also had fun together, and got along well. Although I wasn't sure about the level of attraction between us, I definitely felt more than lukewarm about her. So, I decided to hide my online profiles and focus on dating her following the third date.

Even though, in the end, neither of us felt there was enough between us to build a long term relationship on, it was totally worth it to have focused on being with her alone and not worrying about "other possibilities." I really got to know her as a person, as opposed to solely "a potential partner," something I think happens frequently when people are juggling multiple options for weeks and months on end. You're too busy looking for what you want or don't want, and end up missing the person in front of you.

Overall, if you feel a good connection with someone, and start to wonder if they might be a good long term partner, it just makes sense to me to put your focus on being with them, fully and completely. How else can you really get to know someone?

Some people argue that most of the time, things don't work out. Which is true. Most of the time, things don't work out.

However, I disagree with the idea that you better "always keep your options open" because things might not work out. It just feels like a set up for failure. A constant hedging of bets.

And if you are someone who is worried about falling in love too soon, and getting "burned" after a few months, you might want to take a look at yourself. Do you have healthy personal boundaries? Are you in love with the idea or feeling of being in love? Are you afraid of being lonely?

You know, if you need to keep the option door open because that’s how you can keep yourself from overly focusing and attaching to someone too early, then I guess that’s what you need to do. But it seems to me wiser to learn how to date someone, and at the same time, not get too hooked early on by good feelings. In other words, I’m saying develop the inner skills to slow down and create appropriate boundaries, instead of constantly jockeying options to keep from getting sucked in prematurely.

The more you take responsibility for your decisions and emotional responses, the more likely you'll attract someone else who does the same.

What do you think about all of this?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Marriage and Fidelity: Debunking the Mythological Past

The same guy I've been debating from the last two posts raised the following question in his current response to me:

"If people in the past never married for love but right now people are currently marrying for love, how would you explain the escalating divorce and infidelity rates?"

First off, I never said people "never married for love" in the past, but that's how this guy read me apparently. Moving on, let's consider the second half of the question a little more closely, because I do think a lot of people believe that there's much more cheating going on today than in the past. And there is no small amount of "alarm" about divorce rates.

Simply put: a lot of folks are pretty ignorant about history. Just look at the records of the more powerful from the past. In terms of the U.S, many of our early Presidents and/or Congressional leaders cheated on their wives, some multiple times. And infidelity amongst men was socially sanctioned and even encouraged in some circles. Furthermore, although it was potentially much more dangerous for women to cheat, some still did, even those in prominent places.

Here are some rather dramatic examples that resulted in major political scandals:

In 1796, Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton (the guy currently pictured on the $10 bill) had an affair with Maria Reynolds while both were married to other people.

There has been ongoing revelations about President Thomas Jefferson's parentage of multiple children with his slave Sally Hemmings.

In 1831, Robert Potter, a Congressman from North Carolina, resigned from Congress after castrating two men he believed were having an affair with his wife.

During the same year, the husband of Margaret "Peggy" O'Neale, later Margaret O'Neill Eaton, was alleged to have been driven to suicide because of her affair with Andrew Jackson's Secretary of War, John Henry Eaton.

In 1859, Daniel Sickles (D-NY) shot and killed the district attorney of the District of Columbia[325] Philip Barton Key II, son of Francis Scott Key, whom Sickles had discovered was having an affair with Sickles's young wife, Teresa.

An additional note about this case was that Sickles was tried and acquitted in the first use of the temporary insanity plea.

Well known early 20th Century President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a long standing affair with his wife Eleanor's secretary Lucy Mercer, which led to Eleanor offering a divorce, and Lucy (a Catholic) declining to marry FDR.

Those are just a few of the more salacious examples from the record. There are plenty of "garden variety" affairs to be found as well, if people just stop and read their history a little closer.

None of this, of course, suggests that no one married for love, or stayed committed for a lifetime. Many couples did, but my point is that the levels of infidelity have not skyrocketed in the ways right wing social conservatives are fond of suggesting.

As for the rising divorce rates, again, consider the fact that less than two generations ago, women were rarely in a financial or even legal position to file for divorce. In fact, throughout the 19th century, if a woman wanted to file for divorce, she would loose both the custody of her children and rights to any property she had. Furthermore, depending on one’s religious affiliation, divorce was, regardless of gender, not really a possibility. Thus, many people stayed married out a sense of duty to their religious beliefs.

Although some of this information might puncture holes in a nostalgia for a "romance like those of the good ole days," I actually find it oddly comforting, because it shows that relationships have always had their complications. The problems of today might be different than those of yesterday, but I don't think we've gone on a terribly slide downward when it comes to love and commitment.

*Photo: FDR with girlfriend Lucy Mercer and cousin-wife Eleanor, in 1929. (Franklin D. Roosevelt Library)