Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chasing Down Love

I’m having trouble deciphering whether a woman is generally interested in me, it she’s being nice. First date seemed to go well, and throughout the next week we exchanged fun and somewhat flirty (more on my end) texts. When I asked her out for a second time she said she should be available. The day of the date, she asked for a raincheck, that she couldn’t make it out because she was tired and she was going on vacation. Since she didn’t follow that up with any indication that she wanted to get together when she got back, I just wrote her off as not that interested in me, and moved on. But she continued to text me (unsolicited) everyday she was on vacation. I would think if she definitely wasn’t interested, she wouldn’t text me while she was on vacation. So I’m wondering: should I bother asking her out again? Are women still in that ‘the man must make EVERY move mode’ or am I overthinking?

The above is a letter from a reader of the blog And that's why you're single. It's something I, too, have experienced. Perhaps other readers out there have also been through this.

In February and March, I had three dates with a woman who's company I enjoyed, and with whom I felt a decent amount of attraction. We shared a lot of common interests, had similar attitudes about values, and generally seemed to live our lives in a similar way. The conversations we had flowed well, and things seemed to be moving in a positive direction. And then she pulled the "I'm really busy" card. Which she was. But which I also figured was a sign that she wasn't interested. However, I then would receive e-mails from her asking me how I was, what I was up to, and saying she was hoping to get her classwork and some other things finished in a week or two, and then we could get together again. The first two times, I responded back with some details about how I was, and asking her to let me know when she has some time, so we could schedule another date. Then, a week went by, and then another one, before I got a short message that sounded exactly like the previous ones. At this point, I'm thinking "she's not really interested. She's probably just hoping to keep me around as a hang out option." So, I just let it go without response.

Here is the first paragraph of blogger Moxie's response to the letter writer above:

She’s waiting for you to ask her out. I’ve mentioned this before, but I think there are a lot of people out there – men and women – who do something similar. They go out with someone once or twice, then cancel the second or third date. Then they sit back and wait for the other person to follow up with them and ask them out. Often times, but not always, it’s a test. They want to see how interested the other person really is. They cancel plans, truly believing their ill or sleepy or busy but actually could go meet the person. They’re waiting for the other person to chase them to some degree.

I have to say the whole "chasing thing" rather ticks me off. I'm not into games, and I'm not going to play the mind-reader either. In fact, when I get the vibe from a woman that she wants me to chase, I'm much more likely to walk away than anything else.

The way I see it, there's a difference between making an effort to demonstrate your interest and chasing. Chasing is always a one way street. One person is expected to prove something to the other person before anything will go further. Which is very different from a mutual effort where both parties do something, say something, or otherwise express something that shows an interest in the other.

Although Moxie writes that both men and women do this, I feel it's more common amongst women because of the old socialization we're all muddling through around gender roles. There's still a sense that it's sexy for a man to keep calling, keep writing, keep pressing for dates, all the while tossing sweet comments in the woman's directions. It's tied in with the whole financial set of expectations around men paying for dates to express their interest and level of potential commitment.

However, some of this is changing, and for men, employing THE CHASE is a mixed bag tactic. When I was younger, I employed a level of chasing towards a few women I was interested in. And honestly, it was mostly a flop. In fact, one got downright irritated at the extra attention I was offering, and basically stopped talking to me. It's really difficult to not look like a stalker in such cases, if someone either isn't sure they are interested in you, or doesn't like to be pressured.

And that gets to another point: I don't like to be pressured, and I don't like it when someone seems to be trying to sell me something. And that's what chasing feels like. You're upping the attention towards someone to sell them YOU as a partner.

Once I realized that, I simply stopped. No more chasing. If I show some interest, and put in my share of effort and there's no response from the woman in question, I move on. End of story. If someone is naturally shy, I might put a little more time and effort in, but at some point, there has to be some kind of positive response. And frankly, if someone wants to run me through a bunch of hoops, she's probably not right for me anyway.

That's my take. What about you?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

First Contact in Online Dating

I was asked recently to address the topic of initiating contact on online dating profiles. It's one of those issues that can bring up some baggage, although I think at the end of the day, you just have to decide what to do and then do it. In other words, it's something where it's easy to over think and outsmart yourself.

The reality is that the majority, maybe vast majority of first contacts online come from men, the one exception being amongst women seeking women. Since my experience has been with contacting women online, I can speak more clearly to that, and will frame this post from that perspective.

For every twenty women I have sent first e-mails to on online dating sites, maybe one has sent me a first e-mail. Other men I have talked to about their online dating experiences have reported similar experiences. And while I know of women who send a lot of first e-mails out, it seems much more common that women are dealing with mailboxes full of responses.

Now, that doesn't mean they are having more success than men necessarily. In fact, not only are there plenty of socially clueless men who send overly flirtatious or downright sexual notes to women online, but there are also an increasing number of con artists out there, fishing for women to reel in with charming letters until they have enough familiarity developed to ask for significant amounts of money from. So, that full e-mail box isn't always what it's cracked up to be.

(As an aside, for anyone doing online dating, it's important to be wary of those who seem unwilling to meet, or who are increasingly upping the praise towards you before you even meet each other. Maybe three or four years ago, when I was on the old Yahoo Personals, I had two women who eventually asked me for money, after several e-mail exchanges. Which led me to the decision to only exchange e-mails back and forth for a short period of time before asking someone out on a date.)

When it comes who should initiate contact in online dating, or any dating situation really, I don't believe in gender restrictions. It really shouldn't matter anymore whether a man or a woman is making the first move.

However, I guess it still does to a lot of people, so it's worth noting that. For women who decide to make first contact, this means that it's possible that the man you contact will consider you aggressive or out of line, and might dismiss you without a second look. And for men who don't want to always make first contact, it might mean you're sitting around without a date much of the time.

Personally, I think men who dismiss women who send them an e-mail first just for sending the e-mail first are flat out wrongheaded. And knowing how old gender roles are lingering on, I understand why many woman are hesitant to break some of the simple stuff like the old first contact rule.

So, my choices are this issue have been the following:

1. I tend to send the first e-mail, regardless of my desire for a more equal playing field.

2. Whenever a woman does e-mail me first, I always try and send a real response, knowing that she took the risk. Even if I'm not interested in having a conversation or going on a date with her, I think it's important to acknowledge those e-mails.

How about you? What do you think about the old "first contact rule"? What has your experience been?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Formal Dating Blows

Sometimes anyway. I was just thinking about how, for example, my sister has rarely if ever gone on a formal date. That her relationships have come from meeting someone in her friendship circle, or within the context of some activity she's involved with, or through some other informal means.

This has happened to me as well. But I have also been on numerous dates with either strangers, or near strangers, where there was something formal set up. And where we deliberately got together to "see" if we had any connection and attraction between each other. Which often the answer has been "No." or "Not really."

I don't think one way is better than another really. However, if pressed, I would say I prefer just meeting someone, and having things develop as they will. Just seems more natural that way, and less likely to be forced.

Of course, that preference doesn't stop me from continuing to do the more "formal" thing.

It's just something I got to thinking about again, having spent the day with my family yesterday.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

"Love Happens When You Least Expect It"

On his latest post, Evan Marc Katz takes on the old cliche "Love happens when you least expect it." In my view, there is a bit of truth in this statement, but it's also really deceptive.

Evan points out that for many single folks, they've built a life that basically maintains that singleness. There's often little or no room for meeting someone new in the life of a single person. I can't tell you how many online dating profiles I have read that start with the lines "I'm a super busy woman. I work two jobs, go to the gym everyday, have a house to take care of, etc." Who wants to try and squeeze a into that? Evan goes on to say:

If you only go on a handful of dates a year, you’re not giving yourself much of an opportunity to find love. That’s not fair to you, and it’s unlikely to be successful in the long run.

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” – Ben Franklin.

It’s rare that love just appears when you aren’t expecting it. It’s not just women who believe this either; men fall for this story as well. I have had numerous people tell me those words “It’ll happen when you least expect it.” The problem is that it’s really easy to take that as meaning “I don’t need to do anything about dating anymore.” Which isn’t true.

My experience has been that a combination of putting in some effort on the dating front, and letting go of expectations, has led me into relationships.

When I’m too hung up on “finding the perfect someone,” nothing happens. I might go on a lot of dates, but they go nowhere. And I spend entirely too much time thinking about what date X said, searching profiles, or generally being distracted by anyone who might possibly be "relationship material."

And when I’m too swamped in “it’ll never happen” thoughts, nothing happens. I don't try at all, even when women might be showing interest. I get hyper focused on work, or other details in my life - anything to push off thoughts about my past dating experiences, and how things didn't work out.

Neither of those place is conducive to starting a healthy relationship. Nor are they signs of being a well adjusted single person who is happy with the life they have.

The thing with these “it just happened one day” stories is that they rarely contain the back story. What the people involved went through before stumbling into the person they fell in love with and/or married. Odds are that the majority of people involved in these narratives did their share of searching, breaking out of routines, reflecting on their lives, and whatnot before finally meeting that person.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Food and Dating

Being a long time vegetarian, I have often had to have some interesting conversations with women I am dating. Usually, it begins with "when did you stop eating meat?" and goes from there, digging into my reasons why, and what my beliefs are around meat eating in general.

As such, I found the issues brought up in the comments section of this post pretty interesting. Honestly, even as a vegetarian, I kind of wonder what it would be like to date someone who is a vegan. The vegans I have known were pretty intense, and seemed to struggle with relating to those who didn't share the bulk of their views. I don't at all imagine that they represent everyone who is vegan, but that's been my experience.

It's also been the case that I have known meat eaters who can't possibly, for whatever reason, imagine dating someone who doesn't eat meat. I have relatives who, when I first went vegetarian, swerved between defensiveness and feeling guilt-ridden about their meat eating. Some even made fun of my decisions. And to this day, I occasionally receive comments about "my weight," which are clearly tied to my dietary preferences. Point being that when it comes to dating, food can matter.

I have mostly dated women who ate meat, usually not as a main part of their diet, but still. And actually, it really hasn't been a major issue in my experience. What's more been an issue is the overall approach to food. For example, I have had a few girlfriends who ate mostly quickly prepared, processed food. They didn't really know how to cook, and didn't care to take the time to explore cooking.

Now, it doesn't much matter to me who is the better cook in the couple. What matters to me is a general sense that what you eat matters. Because it reflects a piece of your larger attitude towards health and wellness. In both cases, the women I dated who didn't cook and ate a lot of processed food were more unhealthy in general. They struggled with mood swings, sugar cravings, and got sick more often than I did.

The point there being that if things are too out of balance in one area of a person's life, it can impact everything else, including your relationship. Sometimes, I would find myself listening to some emotionally charged story, or being on the other end of an emotionally-charged comment that might have been as much a result of having eaten poorly as anything else. I know that's been true of myself. That when I eat more unhealthy food, or eat too much of one kind of food, that my reactions to things in life are more charged and messy.

So, what are your experiences with food and dating? Does it matter to you what your partner eats? Do you actively seek someone with similar eating patterns or not?

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Arbitrary Dating Requirements

One of the things that I think has happened in response to the upheaval in traditional dating models is the rise of reliance on arbitrary requirements in potential dates and/or partners. I say arbitrary because unlike real "deal breakers," which are all about deeper level compatibility, these are "requirements" that focus too much on the superficial.

A recent letter writer to the blog "And that's why you're single" wrote the following:

A little history about myself – besides my obvious height – I’m not ugly and have had relationships with good looking women, including a marriage (now over). I’m overall a good guy but not a pushover. I’m not desperate and I can get dates. But I’ve been noticing the height disadvantage lately and these are the questions on my mind. It’s always been harder for me to get a girl in social gatherings due to the height. But in a more personal setting with fewer people around, it’s much easier. It is, however, frustrating for me, because at times I bump into someone I’d like to get to know better, at a social place, but there’s little to no interest because of other “options” in the room, and without an exchange we never see each other again. What can a guy do?

The guy is 5'7" - not exactly uber short. And while there probably are other issues going on here, I do think this guy is experiencing some level of reject solely due to his lack of tallness. Which is pretty silly if you ask me.

I have run into some even more ridiculous versions of this myself. A woman once told me she only dated men 6 feet and taller. (I'm 5'11"). Another once responded to an e-mail by saying "You sound wonderful. We have a lot in common and I like what you wrote about yourself. I am looking for a man who is 28 years old. He must be 28. And so, since you're not, I can't go on a date with you." I was 32 at the time. I thought maybe it was just a blow off, so I wrote back and pushed a bit on the whole age thing. She wrote even more about how she really liked what I wrote about myself and what I was looking for, and felt so bad that I wasn't the "right age."

Besides these extreme examples, there have been women who didn't like my taste in music, or didn't like that I didn't own a TV or cell phone, or who didn't like my long hair (when I had long hair).

This phenomena isn't restricted to women either. Men are probably just as guilty. How many dudes are only willing to go out with blondes? Or thin, petite women that border on looking like teenagers? Or only women who are dolled up all the time with fancy dresses and makeup?

I'm sure there are plenty of other superficial things men reject women with - women who they might otherwise be really compatible with.

And that's the main point. Sometimes, these superficial things are used as explanations for rejecting someone that isn't really a good match. They are considered an easier let down than telling someone the truth about the situation.

However, it's also the case that plenty of folks are actually using these kinds of markers to make critical decisions about people they are choosing to bring or not bring into their lives. I think this is really foolish. And so I offer the following question for everyone to ponder. "Is this important over the long run?"

It's worth asking this about any requirement you might have around dating. When I was younger, I wouldn't date women with children. Then I hit a point where I was attracting women who had children, and suddenly realized that I was getting a little older, my dates were mostly getting a little older, and so having that kind of requirement didn't make sense anymore. Furthermore, I realized that I liked spending time with the kids - within the two relationships I have had where kids were involved, they added to the relationship, which at first was something of a surprise.

So, "Is this important over the long run?" is an opportunity to expand yourself, as well as your understanding of what, and with whom, makes a great relationship.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Men Paying For Dates

This letter, posted over at Evan Katz's blog, sparked a huge debate about dating and money. The few men, including myself, all questioned the repeated theme amongst most of the women commenting, that men should do the heavy financial lifting while dating. Now, there is clearly some background differences at play in the discussion. Regional differences, for example. The women who have dated and/or live in the Southern U.S. are quite firm in the story that most of the men they date insist on paying for everything, not just in the beginning, but apparently for the whole relationship. It's also the case that some of these women are used to dating men who make a lot of money, and seem surprised when others question the old "men pay" standard, given that most women are working these days.

First, here's most of the letter in question:

Hello Evan. I recently started dating a girl. I really enjoy her company and she enjoys mine. We get along fine, we’re really into each other and we share many commonalities. There’s only one issue – money! I have absolutely no problems taking her out on dates and footing the bill 100% but we’ve been on about 5 dates and we’ve hung out with mutual friends on numerous occasions, but she never even offers to pay – not even a disingenuous offer. I understand that if we are happy, then money is a small price to pay, but I barely finished college and only make $40,000 a year. I cannot afford to spend $200 every weekend. I mean, even when we’re not on dates, she expects me to pay. I don’t know how she got this old fashioned mindset, but it’s really starting to bug me. Personally, I work just as hard as she does for my money and I don’t find it fair but at the same time, I find it too early in the relationship to bring it up. I just don’t want her getting the idea that I’m ok with it or that she can take advantage.

I don’t even expect her to pay half. If we go out to dinner, I’ll pay for the date and the dinner, but the least she could do is pay for our ice cream or maybe buy me a single drink? I want to have that feeling, like if we’re at a bar and my girl comes up to me and asks me what I want. It’s like she has my back. It’s not about the cash- it’s more about being appreciated and not taken advantage of. I do not know how to approach the situation.

Now, early on, the comments were mixed. Some of the women spoke of splitting the costs with boyfriends, or even offering to pay on first or second dates. However, as the comments kept rolling in, the message became loud and clear that the majority of women, on this particular blog anyway, think men should not only pay, but that any sort of questioning of that fact is simply resentment and a sign of cheapness.

I honestly don't get it.

And I have rarely experienced this in my own dating life. Which made me wonder if this was primarily a class-based and/or regionally-based issue. In other words, is being more successful financially, or being used to having a certain level of material wealth in their lives, driving what I see as a sense of entitlement in these comments? And/or is it the strength of the cultural norms in the South, or the expensive cost of living in cities like New York (where a fair number of commenters are also from), behind some of this talk?

Consider these examples.

Katarina writes:

I would prefer letting him pay for every date and I give back in different ways (there are so many creative ways to pay back what he spends on you, and it can include or exclude money or paying for something). You see, he will feel manly and like a sufficient provider and you will feel cherished and in a feedback loop it increases passion in relationship because the two of you are so polarized (feminine vs. masculine).

Monica, about twenty comments later says this:

equality does not mean symmetry. if they get married, when she is cooking or washing his clothes, she will not tell him, i made my dish and yours, now you must make the dessert. she will not say when she is washing his clothes, i washed the shirts, why don’t you wash the pants? when she has his baby she will not say, i am delivering the baby all by myself, you are so mean and ungrateful! the least he can do is pay the bill. without complaining.

This one from Leslie is rather choice in my view:

This topic has always bothered me. I’m a woman. When I say I want to be treated equally, I mean I want to be treated with equal respect, not “treated like a man.” I’m not going kill half the spiders, I’m not going to change half the tires, and I’m not going to pay for half the dates. If he wants me to pay or to offer, it turns me off completely. Not because I’m cheap or want to take advantage of him, but because it makes me feel devalued…like I’m just another person-a guy, a platonic friend, a random acquaintance-not a woman he desires and wants to take care of. And yes, I want to be taken care of. Not because I’m weak and can’t take care of myself but because, again, I feel desired when a man takes care of me. If he’s counting his money, it shows me he doesn’t think I’m worth everything he’s got, that nothing is too much to give up for me, and that’s how a woman wants to feel. It’s not about money, it’s about the dynamic between a man and woman. And “classic” does not mean “outdated.”

And this one from Selena is even better:

The guy who pays without allowing a moment of uncomfortableness is the one who’s most interested in most cases. The guy who wants to split (for equality) usually turns out to be Mr. Casual that hopes to be “entertained” at your house with your food and beverages.

Paying is what separates the men from the boys – at every income level.

As a man who has never had a lot of money, I've always found myself confused as to what to do with the whole "men should pay" narrative. My general answer has been to have the first date be a coffee or drink date. Or going for a walk. Or something else free or very low cost. But then you go out again, maybe for dinner, a movie, or whatnot, and the questions comes in my mind - what to do?

I readily admit that up until maybe four or five years ago, I would probably fall into the category of being "too frugal" or even "cheap" at times. It's been a process to move from that kind of place, to one of being more generous with my money, but also still careful enough to maintain a budget. So, some of my own quandary is driven by internal questions about lack and abundance.

However, over the past three and half years, I have been on numerous first dates, and plenty of second and third dates. And in there, I have paid for a fair amount of dinners, but have also had women pay either their share or even a few cover the whole bill. So, my experience is totally mixed. I can imagine this is fairly commonplace amongst men and women my age and younger.

But I still find myself influenced by, and/or resistant to that old narrative that men should be paying for dates because that's a major way to "show interest."

One of the comments I made over at Evan's blog was this:

I just find it so interesting how many women here seem to link level of care and interest with the frequency of times a man is willing to foot the bill. With all the other signs and signals a man could be giving within a relationship, somehow it seems to continually come back to spending habits of the man. Hmmm…
Perhaps this is what comes from living in a capitalist culture where money and stuff trumps most everything else.

I guess I just wonder how common this linking is between a man's spending and the perceived level of interest and care experienced by women. Perhaps it has negatively impacted my relationships in the past, and I didn't know it.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Withholding the Truth While Dating

The blog "And that's why you're single" is fast becoming a favorite of mine. The author, Moxie, frequently takes up reader's letters, dissecting them and then offering advice or asking questions about what the letter writer wrote. On today's post, she takes up a letter from a woman who writes in about why people aren't honest about what they want when they first start dating. It's a question I have asked myself many times.

The letter writer writes:

I wish someone would help me understand why people feel the need to lie about what they want as far as relationships.

MEN,If you just want sex…say thats all you want and make it crystal clear. LADIES,If you want an exclusive committed relationship that will lead to marriage and children say that and make it crystal clear. Why not make your wants, needs and desires known from the beginning so that neither party is wasting their time, money, and energy?

It makes no sense to me whatsoever.

First off, even for those who are quite confident, it's not always easy to lay out exactly what you want to another in the beginning. You don't know, for example, if doing so will be taken as coming on too strong or not. You might not be sure if the other person is wanting something totally different. And generally, in the beginning, most of us don't want to do anything that will increase the likelihood of being rejected.

I like Moxie's straight forward response to the letter writer:

You’re imploring that people act like adults. But to be honest I think you’re the one with an immature view of how people work. I don’t disagree that men could have some success by being honest about just wanting sex. There are women out there who can handle that and who won’t internalize or personalize it. But how do you expect a man to be able to discern between the woman who won’t get offended and the woman who will? How is he supposed to learn this after 1 or 2 dates? And why is it all up to the man to come clean and state his intentions clearly?Have women lost their ability to read situations and stopped trusting their guts?

Let's be honest. There's often another issue going on behind all of this. People don't know what they want. Or what they want changes as things go along, and so in declaring one thing forcefully in the beginning, you can easily be setting up a road block if something in the relationship changes.

Now, I don't think this means we should be wishy-washy or disingenuous. I tend to express my desire for a long term relationship right at the beginning of dating someone, so that anyone hoping for something casual can move on to someone else. And I also tend to speak about some of the qualities, values, and interests that I find attractive right away as well. However, one thing I have learned over the years is to let go of the "dream girl" narrative, and to be more open to meeting and being with someone who might be fairly different from the images and ideas in my mind.

The thing is that part of "being honest" is remaining truthful to the circumstances at hand. When you don't know another person, or when you are just getting to know someone, you have to consider timing. Spilling your deepest, darkest fears or secrets on a first date might be telling the truth, but it's also often experienced as something else by the other person. I once went on a date where the woman went on and on about the sexual abuse she'd experienced as a teenager, and how that impacted every relationship she had been in as an adult. This was coupled with, later on in the date, some graphic talk about sexual interests - which mostly made me feel uncomfortable and wondering how much of a mess any relationship with her might end up being. In both cases, she told the truth. But because of the fact that we were still basically strangers, that truth didn't really function with integrity.

So, I think it's always a balancing act, which is why I can sympathize with the letter writer's frustration, but feel - like Moxie - that her viewpoint is too simplistic.

How do you work with these issues while dating? What has your experience been with others?

Friday, June 10, 2011

Where are the Fireworks?

I found a write up of a dating experience this morning that sounds all too familiar.

We shared a wonderful evening, never dull and very comfortable. Even the moments of silence weren’t awkward. We ended the evening with a cocktail and as we were saying our goodbyes, he leaned in for the good night kiss. He delivered a perfect little kiss on the lips; the perfect end to a perfect evening. An evening that should have left me weak in the knees and with butterflies fluttering; however, I felt nothing. No sweaty palms, no dry mouth, nothing. I drove home wondering what was wrong with me. Why didn’t my boat float? Where were the fireworks? The fireworks and butterflies are my favorite part of the dating pastime.

Am I broken? Do I need to seek professional help? Is there a pill for this? If so, sign me up because there must be something wrong with me to feel, well, nothing. I carried on in denial for several more dates. I figured that if I just “will” it hard enough, the butterflies would migrate into my soul. The fireworks would appear. Yet, after each perfect date with this wonderful man it became clearer that the migration would never happen. No matter how much I wanted to burn with desire, I never felt so much as a spark. After the fifth date, I called it off. He told me and I could see very clearly, that the spark was there for him. I didn’t want to be a tease or waste his time. I would love to have continued to go out with him as a friend, but that was not what he was looking for, nor is it what he wanted from me.

What is it with the "fireworks" anyway? Scroll through a thousand online dating posts, ask a couple dozen friends, go on a dozen dates, and you'll find that most of us are, either consciously or unconsciously, looking for fireworks. Hot chemistry. That mad attraction that we can't soak enough of up.

And when we meet someone that doesn't, for whatever reason, elicit it from us, many of us will move on. Fast. Even if the person otherwise might be a great partner.

So, what gives?

In my own experience, the relationships that started with hot, passionate chemistry died a quick death. The fire brought us together, but once it cooled a bit, we really weren't a good match for each other. Some psychologists argue that such passionate, fire-filled beginnings often are coming from matching wounds from the past. That the coming together isn't about love and longevity, but more about co-habiting dysfunctions hoping to heal each other. Most of the spiritual teachings I study also caution against believing the stories we have around desire, precisely because they are designed to get us to go out and pursue whatever it is that is desired.

Related to this is another set of issues. We want it All to happen Now. We don't want to "waste time," and find out later that someone "wasn't right." But how can you know, if you don't actually take some time to get to know someone? An hour and a half over coffee or dinner isn't enough to get to know anyone, but you'd be hard pressed to find a roomful of singles who don't believe that these days. Furthermore, in addition to being impatient, many of us fail to register more subtle passions for another because we're too busy looking for, or "trying to will," something that will burn a city block down when/if it comes.

Now, the woman above seems to have given it a shot. She went on several dates. She questioned herself. She recognized the many great qualities this guy had. I probably would have considered breaking it off myself, worried that I might end up leading the other on.

At the same time, because she was pushing so hard for the fire, I wonder if she might have missed the slowly building hot coals beneath the surface.

And this also points to the ways in which relationships have become, for many of us, so compartmentalized and narrative-bound that we fail to experience the myriad of depths available.

Perhaps you spend a time with someone where a level of passion never develops, but which is filled with wonderful memories none the less. Or perhaps you go for the hot, sexy romance, but stay awake to the fact that it's likely to fizzle out at some point. Or perhaps something else happens all together.

Fireworks are totally fun and exciting. But even the best displays end fairly quickly. Sure, they can, and do return, which is wonderful. However, no lasting relationship can really be built upon heat alone.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Waiting Too Long, and Leaping Too Fast: How Scarcity Can Drive Your Relationships

Patience is often considered a "virtue." And in many cases, it is exactly what is called for, and that includes relationships. How often have you done something within the context of a relationship, out of a desire to blunt some anxiety, anger, frustration, fear, confusion, or to simply get an answer or confirmation about something from your partner? People do it all the time, and it's our impatience with the uncertainty of life that drives much of this behavior.

However, sometimes we mistake being patient with a form of waiting built on hopes that are, in the end not realistic or healthy.

Have you ever waited for someone you wanted to be with who, for whatever reason, couldn't really be with you at that time?

I certainly have. More times than I wish to admit. Waited for the woman who was trying to get out of her current "bad" relationship. Waited for the woman who liked me, but "wasn't sure" she wanted more. Waited for the woman who "loved spending time with me," but was too busy to call or write more than once every two or three weeks, when a moment of passing fancy occurred.

In the end, all of these women exited my life. Up until a few years ago, it was always I that was left waiting, until the realization occurred that she wasn't going to come back (in any favorable way at least). It's only been recently that I have learned how to break through that habit of waiting and hoping, actually choose to recognize unhealthy situations, and then walk away on my own.

Consider this, from a post on the blog Baggage Reclaim:

Waiting around says “I don’t consider myself a valuable, worthwhile enough person to go and live my life without this person who doesn’t actually want me or the relationship I want with them. I’d rather fanny away my life and time that I don’t value hoping they’ll see the light because I don’t believe I can do better plus I’d rather avoid feeling ‘full’ rejection at any costs”.

Waiting around says “I have nothing better to do with my time”.

Waiting says “You’re free to reject me and come and go whenever they you like”.

Waiting says “I’m an option for you whenever you feel like it”.

That fear that so and so might be my "last opportunity" or "best opportunity" for a great love relationship was something that gripped me for years. Even though I'm fairly young (35), fairly good looking, and in possession of other attractive traits - somehow, I was still convinced I might screw up the "only chance." The fierceness of scarcity, which dominates our entire economic system, also bleeds into nearly every aspect of our social lives. If you don't act now, you might not get it. is one mantra. You better hold on to whatever you have for dear life. being the other. Coupled together, they twist us all around, squeezing the life out of our intelligence and warping our emotional responses.

When I look at it, two two phrases sum up the dominate themes of my relationship history.

I have held on for dear life to relationships that were already dead or were never really alive to begin with.

And I have also "acted now" by rushing into things, or by rejecting women who didn't quickly "seem to be the right one."

Think about it. If your worried you might "loose out" on one of the "few opportunities" if you move on too quickly, you'll hang onto some shred of that connection for as long as possible.

And if you're hooked into the scarcity model from the other side, you're gonna rush to reject anyone who might end up blocking you from those "few opportunities." It's like going clothes shopping, where you grab half a dozen shirts, try them on, and then dump all of them because there are another two dozen more out there that just might "fit better."

I'm being hard on myself here in some respects. I don't always act out of these patterns, and I have had plenty of healthy experiences with women I have dated.

However, it's difficult to ignore how much of an impact the constellations of scarcity have had on my dating and relationship history. And I know I'm not alone.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

That Four Letter Word - Love

Ah, love. The "something" most of us say we are looking for. The centerpiece of our most intimate relationships we say. That which makes the whole world go round. We say.

I remember the day I was going to say "I love you" to a girl for the first time. I was 16. We'd been dating for about a month a half. This feeling had been growing all that time, something I'd never really felt before, but believed must be it - must be love.

There's something about the word itself - love. So small. Just four little letters. It's so easy to say. To let loose from the lips. Like a little box we try and put around a huge set of experiences.

On a set of steps, on the edge of a hill overlooking part of the city, my girlfriend and I sat, exchanging pleasantries as we each held onto a secret we were about to release into the world. The leaves were fading as the autumn was now full on, and passing it's flourish of colors. The light wind blew a few of them about down below us, as the sun started to set in the late afternoon sky.

For me, it felt as if the world were about to explode - you have to love the teenage drama of it all.

Should I do it? I kept thinking. What's the right way to do it? I kept saying to myself, the perfectionist merged with naivety.

This dance seemed to go on forever. In actuality, it was probably less than an hour and a half that we sat there together, waiting - apparently - for the right moment to say what we needed to.

Then, suddenly, the end of the dance came. And it was as if the entire world changed to a shade of gray right before my eyes.

She turned to me and said something to the effect of "I really like you, but I think we should break up."

I blinked, the sound of my heartbeat merging with the swirl of brown leaves all around us.

From the blog Dating Thoughts comes the following, from a recent post on love:

In Greek there are 4 different words for love: éros, philia, storge, and agápe. Eros is the love we all know in the world of romance to mean intimate, or passionate love. Philia refers to friendship among family and friends. Storge is affection such as felt by parents for their children. And agape is unconditional love coming from compassion and understanding. These are rough translations, because in Greek, all four of these words are used to describe truly romantic marriage.

In English, love has been reduced to a buzzword. We say “I love you” even without romance. Even natives of other languages say “I love you” in English more than in their first language. This is ridiculous.

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

I know there have been times in the past where I was quick to label something love out of a fear that, if I didn't offer another that label, the whole thing might disappear. This wasn't true of the moment I described above. I don't know if what I felt was love exactly, but the motive behind my desire to say "I love you" was loving. However, I can remember another relationship, during my college days, where saying those words was mostly about keeping things going, maintaining a connection with a woman I liked, but really never loved in that deep, intimate way.

And when you think about it, this mislabeling happens far beyond our most intimate relationships. 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 cigarettes at all. In fact, some folks downright hate cigarettes, but the feeling that comes with smoking them feels like a kind of love, like a warm embrace when all the chips are down, and things seem hopeless.

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.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

More on Age Differences in Relationships

Yesterday's post began with a discussion on age differences in relationships, but quickly spun off in another direction, due to the particular experience I was writing about, and also some recent revelations that included said experience. As a result, I think what I had was two separate posts blurred into one.

Irina, of the blog Appropriate Response, left the following comment:

Age difference will color our perception of life just as the behaviour patterns we have developed while growing up with our families will. Knowing this and approaching it from that end, brings us one step closer to "making it work". Do we ever get a relationship in which everything is "fine" form the start: no baggage, no preconceptions, no this or that? I don't think so, not any more.

I am 40 and my beloved is 24. When we met, I did not even think of the age difference. Fears and insecurities came later, when I started analyzing. But I am at the point in my life where I think LIFE WORKS, and that's what matter. We would have challenges in any case, I am sure of that, age difference or not. I know this much of myself to know this. :-)

A few years ago, I dated a woman who was about 5 1/2 years older than me. What's 5 1/2 years you're probably saying? Nothing, if you ask me. I barely blinked at it. However, for her, for some reason, it always was an issue. In the beginning, she repeatedly made comments about how "this might not work" and then, after it seemed to start "working," she'd say things like "I'm glad you kept at this, despite the age difference." The fears and analyzing that Irina describes above were always there for the woman I dated, although as both Irina and another commenter go on to say, blaming age is usually an excuse for not wanting to look at other problems.

Not long after she broke up with me, I found out she had "fallen in love" with an old friend, and not long after that, she was pregnant and getting married. My guess is that their connection had been intensifying for a long time and that, for whatever reasons, she had felt conflicted enough about it to keep dating other people, including me. She also was conflicted about a lot of other things, including her soon to be empty nest (her two children were in their teens), and her well paying, but highly stressful and not terribly fulfilling job.

All of that, and more, went into the focus on age which, in this case, really was a pretty meaningless difference anyway.

Another commenter on yesterday's post, Bjorn, wrote this:

My partner is 18 years older than me, and I had a lot of preconceived ideas and fears about age difference in the initial stage. But when I really looked into it, I found that our difficulties had nothing to do with the years inbetween us.

Opening up to this together with my loved one has been a very enriching experience for me. And I would hate to have lost all that just by pretending to be in an unsolvable situation.

Now this is quite a gap, but I also think that it brings up the fact that you have to move beyond the numbers themselves to get a clearer picture of any given relationship.

For example, I believe that the older you get, the less age differences will bring with them significant road blocks.

Taking the age gap between Bjorn and his partner, consider the difference between:

1. An 18 year old dating a 36 year old


2. A 60 year old dating a 42 year old

While either of these could work out just fine, with the first scenario, you have someone either in high school or fresh out of high school with someone approaching middle age. Although it's very true that some teens are more mature, and have their lives more together than many adults, that's not the norm. Furthermore, even with someone with an unusual level of maturity and awareness, it's pretty easy to imagine that things like current life goals and focus will be really different.

Over the past year, I spent several Fridays practicing Zen meditation with a local college sitting group. It was a great experience for me, in part because I was able to be around younger folks who were excited about, and committing themselves, to a deep spiritual practice. We had some excellent discussions after our meditation sessions, some of which brought back memories of my college days. However, that was just it. For me, it was about memories. Whereas for many of them, it was their lives.

I actually found that I had a lot more in common with the graduating seniors, given that a fair amount of my life is up in the air right now, as I work to redirect and redefine myself. And with the age difference issue above, even shifting the first example from an 18 year old to a 22 or 23 year old, often makes a lot of difference, given the kinds of development and life experiences that happen in those early adult years.

In fact, this NY Times article includes research suggesting that brain development probably continues well into the 20s for many people. Which might be one of the reasons why you find many women and men in their late teens and early twenties who are "hot" for older partners and then, once they've had some experimenting and gotten some experience, move on to people closer to their own age.

On the flip side, I have known people my own age and even younger who already consider themselves "getting old." And when you look at their lives, it's clear that this mindset has had a strong impact on both how they live and what they choose to do or not to do. Instead of opening up to learn new things, they've closed in on a routine that feels safe and comfortable. Every little ache and pain is sign that their bodies are starting to betray them. They wax nostalgic about the "good old days," even though they might have another 40 or 50 years of life to live.

It's beyond me how someone at 35 or 40 could be talking about "getting old" in this day and age. But it definitely happens.

Remember this from Irina: "Age difference will color our perception of life..." The same is true of how we perceive our own age, regardless of how old a partner or perspective partner is.

My mother turned 60 years old this year, and yet, you'd be hard pressed to find another 60 year old with as much energy, openness, and aliveness as she has. Even though she is getting older, she has never bought into the stories about "what is supposed to happen" when you get older. This attitude, as well as other healthy habits, has meant for her being a person who somewhat defies age. She could easily match up well with someone 10, 15 years younger than herself because of this. And on the other hand, you line her up with the average 60 year old, and she'll probably make that person look old just standing there together.

So, I'm really convinced that it's much more about one's perceptions related to age than it is age itself. And that these perceptions, coupled with life experience, can come together to either make or break a potential partnership.

Some people are like logs (see photo above) when it comes to age, seeing it all in terms of the body. While others are more like the moss growing on the log, seeing everything, including the body, as an opportunity for continued growth.

I'll opt for being the moss. How about you?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Longing for the "Unavailable" Partner

One of things about getting a little older is that, if you've let yourself live at all, you actually have had some experiences to talk about. Some you might prefer not to talk about, others might need to remain unspoken, but still, you've got stories! So, when I saw this post, I thought, yep, I've been there before.

A reader recently shared her conflicted feelings about dating an older man:

I’ve been dating a guy that is 20 years older than me. I’m 28. I never saw myself being with someone so much older but since I’ve met him, I’ve never been happier. Older men are not always looking for a younger women because of her looks. They aren’t always controlling or want to treat you like a kid. At least this one doesn’t. He genuinely respects me, treats me like his partner, and listens to me. We really enjoy each other’s company and gradually, I find myself wanting to be with him long term. Although he looks great for his age, I have so much fear about his health 20 years from now. I watched my mom, grandmother, and aunt lose their husbands and so I have this phobia of losing my husband too. I really don’t know how to get past this.

I have mixed emotions about this subject too, mostly because we share similar stories. My Dad was 51 when I was born, and he died when I was 22. I’m ashamed to admit I was angry that he was an older father, especially when he got sick. While my college friends were off to clubs and bars on weekends, I was visiting my Dad in the hospital and watching him slip away. In my young mind, he was abandoning me, my brother, and most importantly my mother. I told myself I would never marry an older man. There was too much risk involved.

My father didn’t really get to see me as an adult, and I often wonder what kind of advice he’d give me now. Especially because I married a man who is older by almost fifteen years. I never pictured this for myself. In fact, I made it a point to only date men my age or maybe a couple of years older. But then, I met my husband and suddenly the limitations I’d placed on previous dates seemed pointless with him. I knew he was right for me, so I went for it.

About ten years ago, I made friends with a woman seventeen years my senior. She was whip smart, funny, kind, good looking - we hit it off really well. However, one of the points of connection for us was her failing marriage, which over hours of coffee and conversation, eventually drew us together closely, a little too closely.

Internally, I resisted being one of "those guys," the one's on the other side of crumbling marriage equation. Turns out, I landed there again several years later, with my last long term relationship. Totally different stories in many ways, but still, the few similarities caused me a lot of pause.

The "thing" with my older friend lasted less than a month. We were friends close to a year by the time things began turning in a different direction. Her flirting. Me feeling flattered. Her saying things like "I really love being with you." "You're perfect. Unblemished even." More feeling flattered. Plus a hell of a lot of resistance to doing anything about what was happening.

I was 26. She was 43. The age difference rarely seemed to be an issue, but what was - for me certainly - was the fact that she was married, and was doing nothing to change that. In addition, there was this sort of idealizing going on from her end, seeing me as an unsullied man without a bunch of baggage and bad choices in his history. She routinely compared her muddled life to mine, imagining that I had few troubles and had mostly made all the right moves.

And while some of that was true, it also put me in a position of never really feeling like it was ok to struggle. That nothing occurring in my life could really compare to the difficulties she had in hers.

This made the declarations of love that she eventually made even more confusing to handle. Who was it exactly that she loved? Me or the imagine of me she had in her mind?

The boundary crossing into physical intimacy between us lasted maybe three weeks tops because although I was fairly young, I was definitely old enough, and wise enough, to recognize this wasn't a healthy situation. And probably wouldn't develop into one anytime soon.

I think she was shocked when I broke it off. She basically disappeared from my life after that, unable to maintain anything resembling a friendship with me, something that hurt at the time, but which I now understand, given the circumstances.

Natalie from the blog Baggage Reclaim put up this post recently, and frequently writes about emotionally or otherwise unavailable men. Much of what she writes applies to their female counterparts. And I have had more than my share of relationships with women who fall into the "unavailable" category in some form or another. Most of them being women with a lot of "unfinished business" from past relationships which negatively impacted whatever we had together.

The example above, as well as my last long term relationship, were the two extreme cases. The others who would fall into that category just weren't fully open emotionally, were too readily lost in thoughts about the failures of their past relationships, and were afraid to risk that I might be different from all of that.

And the reality is that I was almost a mirror for some of this. I was just as risk adverse as these girlfriends were. Unable to fully believe I was "a great catch worthy of a wonderful partner," I sopped up whatever tasty table scraps were offered me from women who maybe wanted to give more, but really were in no position to do so.

I have certainly had a few relationships where these "unavailable" dynamics were not present, but when I look back with clear eyes, the majority of my adult life has been about being with, or longing after, women who either don't want to be with me, or can't be with me, even if they want to.

It's really been humbling to recognize this, but hey, better late than never! In fact, I have stepped away from at least three "opportunities" to repeat this dynamic over the past several months, realizing that it's so much better to be single and happy, than to long after, and maybe get with a woman who will ultimately not "be there" when it really counts.