Sunday, July 31, 2011

Exit Interviews

Over at Simone Grant's dating and relationship blog is a post about having exit interviews with former partners. You might be thinking, what?! But let's read her introduction to the idea first.

Let’s face it, most of us don’t exactly get “closure” when we go through breakups. Sometimes, after much time has passed, it’s hard to even pin point what were the exact reasons for splitsville. For the past year, I’ve been playing around with this idea of an Exit Interview. We have exit interviews when we leave a job, so why don’t we have exit interviews when we leave a person?

The premise of the Exit Interview is to reveal each other’s strengths and weaknesses, reasons for departure, and key takeaways for the next relationship. I know, this all sounds so corporate, but the Exit Interview is most successful when it’s mostly void of emotions. As a dating coach, I recommend all of my clients to first close the ex files for at least 3 months and then conduct the interview. This way, it allows both parties a time to chill out and think (somewhat) rationally.

I'm interested in this experiment in trying to formalize "finishing your business" from the past. On the one hand, it seems too business-like and somewhat unrealistic. I don't think I agree with Simone's view that the best "interview" is one mostly void of emotions. When I consider the few times I have had something like this occur with a partner at the end of the relationship, some kind of emotional release was an important part of the process of letting go. Expression and release on my own, but also expression and release with the other person. Just having a dry and rational analysis feels way too much like an exit interview at a job, which I think is a nice model, but not to be followed to the letter.

On the other hand, I really like the sense of consciously attempting to have closure. To spend time with someone you might have loved, or even still love, and sharing something with each other that could ultimately aid both of you moving forward in a more healthy way.

One of the problems, though, is that often, doing such an interview is either next to impossible, or might simply lead to more damage being done. Some people cut and run and don't look back, and trying to connect with them is pretty pointless. Some relationships end due to physical or emotional patterns of violence, and going back to meet with those folks might lead to more trauma on both ends. And some relationships simply weren't that deep to begin with, and reaching out as part of the closure process might not mean a whole lot to either person, even if seeing each other would be just fine.

So, it seems to me like there would be a limited subset of relationships where this kind of action could be a good part of the process. But I do think it's an interesting idea to consider.

What do you make of it?

Friday, July 29, 2011

"Till Death Do Us Part"

If I'm honest, I have always been on the fence about marriage. When I was younger, I was afraid of commitment. And I needed to have some experience to realize the value of a committed relationship, and what it takes to maintain one. In more recent years, I have, you might say, become more "marriage minded" in a sense, while still wondering about what it really might mean for me and a partner.

One thing that has often come up is the following question: How does lifelong commitment wash with expanded lifespans?

"Till Death Do Us Part" is a variation of a phrase that comes from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Originally published in 1549, elements of this text have had some strong influence on the English speaking world, sometimes regardless of any one person's religious affiliation. Historically, this was due, in great part, both to England's colonizing role around the globe, and also to the fact that the Book of Common Prayer was amongst the earliest mass produced texts. Today, it's impact is probably much less so than even one hundred years ago, but there are still lingering elements, such as "Till death us do part," which is part of the traditional marriage liturgy.

You're probably wondering, what's this guy going on about the history of some religious book for? Well, there are a lot of reasons for this. First off, although marriage is not, historically, a religious institution, it's become intimately intertwined with churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and the rest. And that isn't a major issue to me, but it can create a quandary for those who are either not affiliated with a religious institution, or who aren't of the same religious background.

For those who have secular views of life, it's easy enough to have a civil marriage ceremony, performed by a government official of some sort. However, I sometimes wonder if people still feel pressure from family members or even friends to do a religious-based ceremony. Obviously, that pressure doesn't stop a lot of couples from doing it their own way, but I think it's worth considering how cultural forces can, and often do, impact our intimate relationships.

As far marriage between people of different religious/spiritual backgrounds, it wasn't that long ago that it was almost taboo for a Catholic to marry a Protestant. My grandmother has stories about such situations, and I can imagine that it even occasionally comes up today. (In fact, in parts of Ireland, I'm quite certain it's still "a major issue.")

But you know, for me, the issue of longevity of relationships, coupled with individual growth and change, is perhaps the most important amongst the few things I'm, bringing up here.

When the phrase "Till death us do part" was first penned in the Book of Common Prayer, people who reached their 50s were considered quite old. Commonplace diseases took down many folks. Warfare took down many others. And the simple wear and tear of living took down most of the rest, far before they could reach what we sometimes call "the golden years" these days. The average marriage might have lasted 20 or 30 years, with the longer term exceptions coming mostly amongst those with the most power and wealth, and thus were more protected from the toil and diseases of the day. In addition, women frequently died in childbirth, even into the first half of the 20th century, which significantly shortened many marriages.

Given all of this, the idea of being married for life made a lot of sense. Now, there were all kinds of imbalances within the institution of marriage that favored men, but when you look at it purely from a length of time perspective, it seems reasonable to marry someone and stick with them.

Today, the average life expectancy in the U.S. is around 80 years old. Women generally live a few years longer than men, but overall, it's nearly twice what it was back in the 16th century. Furthermore, whereas the majority of people were, out of necessity, focused on activities of survival back then, the majority of us today have the potential for much broader and deeper lives. It's common now, for example, to see people in their 40's and 50s returning to college, converting to another religion or spiritual path, learning a new trade, or simply refocusing their priorities. And all of that can, and often does, have a big impact on intimate relationships, including marriages.

What I'm saying here is that perhaps a lot of what we think about in terms of marriage is either outdated, or in need of reshaping, based upon our longer life spans, and the plethora of opportunities many of us have to grow and change as people. Although I would love to have a single partner to be with for the rest of my life, I also wonder if that's really likely, and even if it's a view that might, down the line, cause me and another a lot of misery.

If I got married today, and lived to be 80 years old, I would be with the same person for 45 years. Not quite as long as the marriages of my grandparents, but still a long time. Do I think I could be genuinely happy and able to grow and develop within such a marriage? Sure. Would I do my best to maintain such a connection, and maintain my commitment? No doubt.

But I also think that part of living your relationship as a conscious relationship is recognizing what's blocking each person from truly opening into their lives, and doing what you can to help break through those blocks. Even if it means, ultimately, ending the relationship. This is far different from the person who isn't really committed, or who, when things gets tough, decides to bail. This is about being committed to what's best for each other, and operating from a place of non-possessiveness of the other.

That's another thing about marriage I have struggled with. There seems to be an implicit possessiveness within the institution. Remember, women were considered property of their husbands not too terribly long ago, and I think some of that possessiveness has slipped into both genders' in more recent times, even amongst the best of relationships. This isn't to say that marriage should be tossed out, but more that perhaps one of the major lynchpins that must be faced together is possessiveness and control. Which isn't unique to marriage - you can find it all over the place - but which perhaps takes on a different flavor (duty, obligation, fixed roles, etc.) within a marriage.

So, that's a lot to wade through. It's actually only a small taste of what I have to say on these subjects, but it's enough for now.

What do you think? How do you consider marriage (or lifelong partnership) in an age of expanded lifespans?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Assembly Line of Hot

Let's talk lists. You know what I'm talking about here. The ones in your mind that you use to decide if someone is worthy of consideration or not. They are quite commonplace amongst anyone Gen X or younger, and unlike in previous generations, they have gotten much longer and thus much harder to fulfill.

Now I'm not interested in going back to the days where the lists consisted of the following questions:

Most men: Is she healthy enough to have children? Can she cook and clean and keep house?

Most women: Does he have a steady job? Or will he be a good provider?

Obviously, there might be a few more conditions on these "traditional," pre-women's liberation movement lists, but not a whole lot. Or perhaps it might be more true to say that the "perfect man" and "perfect women" narratives still existed, but played much less of role in how people chose their partners.

The liberation from a single, dominant model of relationship built upon marriages where men were the power brokers, and women mostly stayed at home was a great blessing in numerous ways. The fact that people today have the option of choosing something like that model as one of many ways of being together is, in itself, a positive sigh in my book.

However, all of this relationship diversity has grown up within a consumerist culture that emphasizes the biggest and best, and tells us that there are always more to choose from just around the corner.

The man you are with snores? Go ahead and dump him. You deserve silence while you sleep.

The woman you are with gained 10 lbs? Go ahead and dump her. You deserve that Barbie Doll figure at all times.

Honestly, when I read some of the lists in profiles online, it sounds like what they want are designer lovers. Straight from the Assembly Line of Hot to you.

I found this mostly tongue and cheek list of traits desired in "The Perfect Man." Although the particular author seems to be just entertaining herself and her blog audience, some of the real lists I have seen aren't all that far off in terms of their improbability.

Wes Anderson’s genius
Adrian Brody’s style
Zach Braff’s quirky humor
Chris Sharma’s athleticism
The Dalai Lama’s compassion
JT Holmes’s fearlessness
David Duchovny’s wit
Mark Ruffalo’s looks
Ben Gibbard’s way with words
Josh Halloway’s dimpled smile (the smile could melt the clothes right off my back. um. did I just say that out loud? my bad.)
Johnny Depp’s enigmatic eyes
Robert Downey Junior’s everything (let’s face it)
Ryan Reynold’s body
Aaron Nace’s creativity
Zach Condon’s gypsy ways
Jamie Oliver’s skills in the kitchen
Ray Lamontagne’s voice
Jude Law’s accent
Michael Franti’s heart
Tom Robbin’s vivid imagination
Quentin Tarantino’s intellect (seriously, the guy is a MENSA member)
Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s sex appeal
Ed Norton’s activism

Also, a smidgeon of badass either in the form of Wolverine or Tyler Durden
And a whole lotta Cusack (here he is, the king of lists, in High Fidelity)

Now that’s what I call a tall order! I’m sure I’m missing the Clooney’s and the Damon’s and the Gyllenhaal’s of the world but there are only so many men you can fit in one man.

This isn't just an issue for women. Consider this actual list from NFL linebacker Dhani Jones:

quick-witted, yet possesses a calming motherly quality
speaks languages
tall, slender (but she can be a little bit thicker)
from a great background
Exotic, maybe light brown/olive complected/mixed background
huge heart
creative soul
stands firm behind her man (but not in front, perhaps beside)
long hair
no weave
incredible hands
insatiable eyes
wants a huge family
can talk to a homeless person or a wealthy person
she can play in the mud in the morning and go to a black tie event at night
she’s ok on her own but she loves her man
independently wealthy helps

So, do any of you reading this blog even come close to either of these lists? How could anyone really?

People talk a lot about not wanting to "settle," which I believe is an understandable, and even useful notion if it's placed in proper context. The problem is that, what many of us mean by "settle" is really "I'm afraid of choosing the wrong person, so I'll keep my options open and my list long and difficult to reach." Not wanting to settle is often code for afraid to commit, to take a risk with someone. And when it's not that, it's often about attachment to superficial qualities that really don't make much of a difference when it comes to actually building a successful relationship.

When I think of what I'm not willing to settle for, it tends to be about deeper values and ways of being in the world. I'm not willing to be with someone whose life revolves around entertainment and gossip. I'm not willing to be with someone who ignores the welfare of others, or who places too much stock in material possessions. That's the kind of stuff that I have on my list. And even then, I have had to learn to be careful with such a list because it's not always apparent right away whether someone "fits" or not. Determining things like integrity, commitment to asking the "big questions" in life, kindness, and respect for others, to name a few examples, takes awhile. And no one is perfect in any of these areas, so it's more about sussing out someone's patterns than it is about finding a "perfect match."

In the end, we all fall short of each others' lists. And yet, we all also contain much more than anyone's list could ever draw out. So, the way I see it, if you're going to have a list to help you decide whom to date and be with, make it about the most important qualities - the ones that make or break relationships - and leave the Assembly Line of Hot list to fantasy land. Which is where it belongs.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Facebook and Relationships

I have been noticing again how Facebook can play a curious role in our intimate relationships. Here are a few examples of decisions that I have seen playing out online.

1. Someone I know who is having difficulties with her partner recently deleted that she was with him. He's still around, but to the online world, he's basically gone.

2. Another friend recently got married, and suddenly I watched as her last name changed from her maiden name to her new husband's last name. And then the comments flooded in from all of her friends, including a few surprised about the name change.

3. A younger friend of mine had a period where she'd offer nearly blow by blow status updates about her rocky relationship with her boyfriend. Some of this, no doubt, can be chalked up to being a teenager. However, for those of us who were teens before the Facebook era, all of that kind of stuff stayed within a certain circle. Now, it can travel all over the world, and lingers on in cyberspace, long afterwards.

Notice these are all women I mention. I do wonder if there are differences in how men and women approach Facebook when it comes to relationships. Are women more given to noting relationship changes online? I don't know, but most of the men in my Facebook circle don't have much to say about their relationships, or lack there of, on their Facebook pages.

However, given what I have read in recent years, there are certainly plenty of men who are using Facebook and other social media in some respect to their relationships. Perhaps men are offering more visual details, like frequently updating photos with girlfriends present. Or they are checking out the pages of women they like in real life for signs that she's still single. Or isn't single. And of course, some are using Facebook as a means of checking up on a partner, and/or even to gain information to control their relationships. Much of this activity is less visible than frequent status changes and comments, but it's still part of the mix.

How has Facebook impacted your relationships? How do you use (or not use) Facebook when it comes to your dating life?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Just Be Upfront and Don't Lie

I have seen variations of the two statements in several blog posts and comments sections over the past few days. A lot of folks are outraged, and/or are lamenting how much people seem to lie, or withhold parts of the truth in the dating world. It also frustrates me as well, however, I find some of the conversation around "truth telling" to be unrealistic, and way too black and white.

If you are just meeting someone, or even have only been dating someone for a short period of time, there are usually some natural elements missing.

Such as:


knowledge of the other person's way of being and acting in the world

love (beyond something like "I love all people or the world" kind of love)

shared history

To the degree that these elements are in place in a relationship, it will be more likely that someone will be able to be more honest and truthful about all aspects of their lives with another.

Now, in writing that, I'm not saying it's ok for someone to lie to you about being married, or having a partner, for example. It's more about questioning the idea that relative strangers should tell you the whole truth and nothing but the truth when you spend time together.

When first getting to know someone, most of us pick and choose what to reveal about ourselves. We may be totally honest about the things we are talking about, but we might not bring up that drunken one stand we had ten years ago, or the intimate details of the break up of our last long term relationship. In fact, it's often viewed as a red flag when someone brings those kinds of things into a conversation with a date so early on.

When someone says "Just be up front," I take that to mean "tell me what you're looking for and tell me anything that might be a deal breaker." It seems straight forward enough, right? These are some basic questions that I usually hope to have answered early on.

Are you married, or seeing anyone seriously? Are you a drug user? Are you socially/politically conservative? If you have children, is the relationship with the father healthy or at least not likely to have lots of drama attached to it? Is your aim to find someone to be in a long term relationship with, or are you just hoping for some fun and casual connections?

There are some others, but that's a decent example of the kinds of questions I feel are reasonable to work with in the early stages. Questions like this are trying to establish if there is enough shared ground to develop a relationship on.

Of course, during any given date, if the conversation is actually moving, there will be lots of questions. Everything from the mundane to perhaps deeply personal, intimate questions about various aspects of your lives. And that's great. If you're actually in a place where both people are asking lots of questions and listening to each others' answers, something is probably going right.

But you know, it's often the case that you'll hit questions that are too early in the process for complete, honest answers. Sometimes, people aren't very socially adept, and simply ask way too intimate of questions on first or second dates. And sometimes, a level of intimacy develops between two people almost right away, creating a sense of trust and security that actually isn't developed.

Let's consider a few dicey questions:

1. Have you ever cheated on anyone?

Now, I'm on the fence as to whether this question is ok early on or not. I can see where it might be a great way to weed out people who are obviously not able or willing to commit to their partners. On the other hand, cheating is a slippery term that can mean many things to many people. Some people consider looking at porn. Some people consider spending a lot of time with a close friend of the opposite sex (or same sex among GLBTQ couples) alone to be cheating. Perhaps what someone has done in past relationships wasn't considered cheating between them, but those same behaviors you might consider cheating. Which gets at a problem with the question itself. By asking it, are you wanting to weed out anyone who has ever cheated in any form? Or are you wanting to weed out people with underlying patterns only? Or what? And what do you mean by "cheating" anyway?

2. Are you financially stable?

Finding out about a potential partner's finances is tricky. And I firmly believe it's a process that unfolds, rather than a once and for all declaration. You'll see how a person handles money. Or what they talk about when it comes to finances. I have been asked a variation of this question a few times on first or second dates, and it's always felt a bit off. What do you mean by "stable"? If you mean can I pay my bills and have money left over to enjoy myself, then I can say yes. If you mean, do you have a well paying job, then I'd say no right now. But like the first question, this isn't necessarily are helpful question. Someone can have a decently paying job, but be an absolutely terribly money manager. I have had experience with that, dating women who actually made more than I did, but always seemed to be broke or in debt. And someone can have a poorly paying job or even without a job, but be a great financial manager who can figure out ways have a good life regardless of the amount of income coming in. (This fairly accurately describes me, as well as at least two of my good friends.)

There are plenty of other questions that could be added to this list, but one of the main points is that it's unrealistic to expect people to be 100% up front and truthful about ever last thing you might ask them in the early stages of dating. I tend to subscribe to the view that I aim to live in the spirit of truthfulness, openness, and being genuine in a relationship, and that is what I'm looking for in a partner as well. However, there might be times when I don't fully answer a question I'm asked, or where I might say something like "Maybe we can talk about that more if we're together for awhile." This actually doesn't happen too often for me, since I am a pretty open and expressive person. But I used to be more shy and reserved, and so I was more given to sharing less, or figuring out a way to return the conversation to the other person. Shyness plays a role in all of this, and I think that sometimes people mistake shyness and being reserved with having a pattern of lying and deception.

What are your thoughts on all of this?

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Warning Signs on the First Date

Over at the blog The Wrong Fish is a short list of warning signs that your date isn't that into you, or isn't someone who you'll want to be with. She only offers three signs: avoiding answering questions, punctuality, and cell phone-itis. So, I thought I would add some more. I'm writing from the perspective of a man dating women, but you could probably apply these to any gender combination.

1. Frequently glancing at her watch.

Perhaps she's got an appointment to get to afterwards, or some family function to go to. However, the vast majority of my experience has been that when a woman is frequently watching the watch, she's not interested.

2. Physically moving away from you as the date goes on.

You've probably experienced this one before. The slow shifts backwards in her chair. The moving her hands away from the table. The quick walking away from you as the date ends to avoid a hug or kiss. Even the most shy person tends to do something to move closer to touching a person they are interested in. It might just be a leaning in during the conversation, but it's there if you pay attention.

3. Lack of eye contact.

If you aren't looking into each others' eyes at least some of the time, there's probably something wrong. Even on active dates, like playing a game together or dancing at a concert, there are opportunities for that kind of connection. And people who are into each other tend to take those opportunities.

4. Constantly arguing with or disagreeing with you.

This one is a bit trickier to work with. I know some people enjoy and even thrive on debating, and view it as sexy and attractive. I definitely have a debating streak in me and love a good volleying of ideas back and forth. But if an entire date revolves around that, I'd question any future with that person. I actually went on two dates over the winter with a woman who seemed to question every other word I said. Some of it was testing to see how I'd react, and some of it was that we just didn't see eye to eye on certain issues. But after two dates of that, I felt pretty exhausted. I love a smart woman who can hold her own intellectually. In fact, without that, I tend to lose interest. However, this situation felt like a competition, not a possible romance.

5. Too much talk about Ex's.

This is especially true if there appears to be a lot of hostility towards the Ex or Ex's, or if they seem to be still longing for an Ex. I have been on both sides of that coin, and it's basically a guarantee that the other person is going to be, at most, a rebound candidate.

What would you add these lists, and why?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Humor in Online Profiles

Humor. It's vital to living a healthy life. Vital also to your relationships, whether romantic, friendships, family, co-workers, or any other form of connection.

A few months ago, I decided that my online profile was too serious. It spoke a bit to who I am, and what I want in a relationship, but it just sounded dry and stuffy. You know, like this guy is quite focused and passionate about certain things, but my god, can he crack a smile. Even my photos looked kind of serious - the smiles on my face fine, but not the kind of natural, wildly joyful ones you see in some people's pics.

Anyway, after writing some of that "serious" profile material, I added a top ten list a la David Letterman. It's silly, but I like how it lightens things up. And judging by the number of responses I've gotten from women since then, including women writing to me first, it's worked.

Here's the list.

Top ten reasons why you might want to go on a date with me:

10. You won't have to do a Google Search to find my pulse.

9. Someday, you might get to pet my neighbor's cats.

8. I occasionally get chased by dogs while biking.

7. The police won't suddenly appear while we are on a date to execute an arrest warrant.

6. I have never had cosmetic surgery to remove the tattooed name of an ex-girlfriend from my chest.

5. I'm not given to long winded stories about gettin' blitzed or marathon games of World of Warcraft.

4. My relationship status on Facebook is not "It's complicated."

3. You might learn how to turn the weeds in your backyard into medicine.

2. I'm fully clothed in all of my photos.

And the number one reason why you might want to go on a date with me:

1. Because dating Harley dudes and golf addicts hasn't worked out too well.

Now, although I did date someone for a short time following putting this list up, mostly it's just increased the correspondence volume. So, who knows if it will bring someone into my life for the long haul or not. But maybe, at least, I'm sparking a few smiles and chuckles. Which is vastly needed amongst all those profiles out there that are dull, filled with painful comments and past miseries, or are, like mine was, just too serious.

* I took the photo above after a snowstorm last winter.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Online Dating E-mail Scenerio

The other day, I received an e-mail from a woman who saw my online profile. She saw that I was a yoga practitioner and doing a yoga teacher training, and decided to write me. It was nice to be contacted by a woman, given that I probably am the one sending out first messages 90% of the time.

Anyway, I went to her profile and noticed we didn't have a lot in common. However, since she didn't actually write a lot, I figured it would be worth seeing where a conversation might go anyway. In the past, I have ended up dating women who initially hadn't written much about themselves, but upon talking with them, we found there plenty to talk about.

So, I wrote her back, asking her a few questions based on what I did read about her. A day later, I received a two sentence reply about how she loves "hot yoga" and thinks I should try it. Nothing else. No questions for me about my profile, nor anything else I had written.

Now, the way I see it, if you don't have any questions to as someone after a single e-mail, it's probably not a good sign. Maybe she's just looking for an e-mail buddy to chat about yoga with. Maybe she decided my response wasn't what she wanted to hear, and just offered that reply as a way to close the conversation. Or maybe it's something else entirely.

In any event, I'm letting it go. This has happened before to conversations I have initiated as well. A few messages sent back and forth, and then the questions stop coming, and the answers become more clipped and forced, as if the person on the other end is just trying to be nice, or perhaps is dating others and doesn't want to lead you on, but can't quite let go.

Have you had experiences like this? What did you do?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Dating as Investment?

During a long and heated discussion about dating and finances here, a guy made the following statement:

“No one should shell out money until you believe you’re going to get a return on your investment.”

When I read that, I kind of cringed. There's something off, in my opinion, about viewing relationships like a business. But I imagine many of us have had, or continue to view all or parts of our relationships - romantic, platonic, even familial - in a transactional/exchange sense. It's another example of how thoroughly the capitalist, consumer-based mentality has penetrated our lives.

Here was my initial response to the comment above:

Perhaps it’s just a nice turn of phrase, man, but if not, you might want to rethink your relationship views. Seeing relationships in a business-model framework, including how you choose to spend or not spend your money, is a road to misery from my experience.

It’s one thing to keep the spending reigned in early on because you’re maintaining a budget, and don’t know the person you’re dating. It’s another to think of your date as not currently worthy of an investment. The money spent might be exactly the same, but the thinking impacts how you treat someone. Any woman I go on a date with I consider a person first and foremost, and because of that, someone who I will my time and attention to on that date, even if we aren’t a match.

I'm fairly convinced that healthy, fulfilling relationships are not based on transactional thinking. When I think of my best friends, for example, there isn't any thought about what they will give me, or not give me. There isn't this sense that they own me something, or that they need to fork up some money, or a gift, or some time even in order to prove they are "a good investment." The connections are so much deeper than that. And in a lot of ways, it doesn't really matter much anymore what we do together, or whether I or friend X has paid for more of this or that.

I consider my immediate family in a similar way, although there is really no way I can ever repay my parents for all they have done for me. Other than to be generous with my time, skills, and life with as many people as possible. But even there, thinking solely in terms of a debt you "can't repay" isn't really helpful. A healthy relationship with a parent is much more, and many of us instinctively understand that, even if we struggle sometimes to articulate it.

But somehow, when it comes to dating, a lot of us seem to think in business terms. In what we can get from another. In what someone has to offer us. In how "worthy" someone is of "our investment" in them.

And I'm convinced that this attitude, and all the behaviors associated with it, often bleed straight into our long term relationships, slowly (or sometimes quickly) poisoning what otherwise might be a great thing. I have certainly been guilty of this in the past. I remember internally tallying expenses I paid on certain trips, or nights out with a former girlfriend who regularly made more money than I did. We rarely argued about money, but I do think that the resentment I had about what I was spending, and her struggles to maintain a decent budget, negatively impacted our relationship. The reality was that any imbalance in spending was probably minimal and so it really was silly to feel resentment, and also let it influence how I viewed her, but I did it anyway. Why? Because some part of me saw the relationship as a series of transactions, and when hers slipped below a certain point, I felt cheated.

I believe she also had some of this attitude. However, instead of money, for her it was about attention and affection. If she felt something was wrong between us, she would withhold not only sex, but most physical attention and contact. Or sometimes, she would heavily increase all of that out of a desperate attempt to please me, or sooth whatever issue was between us. After awhile, I began copying her, almost unconsciously, to the point where during the last several months of our relationship, whenever there was a problem, we did this dance around physical intimacy all driven by a failure to clearly communicate with each other.

Now, I definitely believe there are times during a relationship when one or both partners are totally right to step back from physical intimacy. I have been on both ends of that equation, and don't believe anyone should feel obligated to be physically intimate and sexual with their partners.

But the particular dynamic I wrote about above seemed much more about a transactional approach to relationships than healthy boundaries. Any little disagreement could lead to withholding touch. Or to a ramped up expression of touch that was based both on a fear of loss, and on a sense that in imputing X amount of physical attention will right whatever is wrong.

Have any of you treated your relationships in this way? If you have worked to shift that, how so?

As always, any thoughts or sharing is welcome.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Dating is a Balancing Act

Here is a comment by someone named Raymond from a recent thread on Evan Katz's blog:

Most of us hardly ever think about our negative points and the effect on others. Being aware of our own negative traits would be very beneficial to our relationships in general. Be it with co workers, friends, or our partners.
It took me many years to finally realize I had been treating women appallingly. I was insensitive to their feelings, and deep down i was only really interested in my well being. I actually imagined I had been good to them.
My wife must have put up with a lot from me all those years ago. Today we enjoy a genuinely warm amazing relationship, because I stopped being selfish.

Having spent a lot of time paying attention to how people write about dating, one of the most common issues I have seen is the tendency to focus on another person's flaws. Not that this should surprise anyone. Humans do that all the time. In order to avoid looking at ourselves, or seeing where we are part of any given problem, we point our fingers outward at whomever is the easiest target.

Read the comments section of Evan's blog, or any well received dating and relationship blog, and you'll see countless comments about the bad behavior of others.

My date was an asshole. He flirted with the waitress, talked endlessly about his boring job, and didn't pay for my dinner.

My girlfriend was a bitch. She never cleaned our apartment, she complained about everything, and she turned her friends against me.

All of these statements could be true, but how often are they balanced with some self reflection?

I really wasn't very attentive on my date with X.

I often got angry at silly little things.

I allowed him to keep crossing my boundaries.

I stopped caring towards the end with her.

You might notice that one of the underlying themes in much of my writing is balance. When our bodies are healthy, they are said to be "in balance." Experiencing homeostasis. The blood Ph level is hovering somewhere around 7.35. Body temperature right near 98.6 degrees F. Blood pressure rates vary a little bit more, but with all of these indicators, anything more than a slight shift can cause great disturbance.

The same can be said about dating and relationship analysis. If you focus too much on the other person's flaws, you miss everything you are adding to the equation. Furthermore, you miss all the other person's positives, perhaps to the point where you reject someone who could be a great partner for you. On the opposite end, if you focus too much on your own flaws, you can miss the red flags the other person might be displaying. You might take responsibility for their bad behavior, thinking that "you did something to deserve it." And definitely, no matter what, too much focus on your own flaws will make you a pretty unpleasant person to date or be in a relationship with. Always apologizing. Always thinking you did something wrong. Always feeling like you're never good enough. None of that is attractive.

So, balance. Self reflection is an essential ingredient, but so is being able to drop that and pay attention to the other person. Learning to detect red flags in another, like the woman or man who seems a little too keen to impress you, is an invaluable skill. However, so is recognizing the subtle and not so subtle good qualities in a person.

Do you agree?

Friday, July 8, 2011

15 Random Thoughts About Dating

Inspired by this post, here are 15 random thoughts about dating:

1. it gets easier the more experience you have.

2. objects in your mirror may not be what they appear to be.

3. are the majority of online dating profiles fake?

4. has the disappearance of regularly used and free public spaces increased the challenge of finding a partner?

5. repeated though after first date: "it all looked so good before we met."

6. first impressions are often flawed

7. falling in love is so much easier than actually loving someone

8. i have plenty of time; i'm not getting any younger

9. i though FWB was a television show when I first saw it written in a dating profile.

10. writing about dating is often more fun than actually going on dates these days

11. if i had a dollar for every time i heard or read the phrase "down to earth," I'd be able to buy the earth. all of it.

12. it gets harder the more experience you have.

13. actually, dating isn't easy or hard. it's just mysterious.

14. i have learned a lot about myself and others.

15. in the end, though, i still know next to nothing.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Trusting Your Gut

For a variety of reasons, we often fail to listen to our guts, intuition, or what have you. Sometimes, it's giving in to the competing circus of voices in our heads. Other times, it's the allure of the person in front of us. Adding a few or more drinks to the equation is another common method of blurring out awareness. And let's face it, most of us live in a society that doesn't value deep listening, and truly following our hearts.

So, we end up making mistakes. Sometimes repeatedly. And when it comes to dating, those repeated mistakes can drain your energy, make you jaded, and press you into a corner, desiring to give up or settle for being with someone you really shouldn't be with.

That's why paying attention from the beginning is so important. Consider this story:

Years ago, I met a man in a bar. We exchanged numbers. We set up a lunch date. I offered to meet him at his office building in the lobby. He, rather hurriedly, said he’d rather meet on the corner of the block. Ding! We meet up and sit down at the restaurant. His left hand is resting on his lap. He doesn’t bring it to the table. (He wasn’t wearing it the night we met. He said it interfered with his pool playing.) I look him in the eye and say, “Are you married?” Sure enough, he was. And!! Later that day,as I was reading the paper, I checked my horoscope and it read “An attractive new friend is married.” I shit you not.

I’m telling you…in many if not most cases, we know something is off. We know it. I wish I could offer something tangible, but I can’t. Truth is, there are a lot of posers on online. People looking for something other than love. Meet enough of them and you’ll build up a baseline to help spot those people, too.

I have trained myself to listen and pay attention closely - both to myself and whomever I am on a date with. If something feels off or sounds off, I really cue in on that to see what's going on. Sometimes, it ends up being me reading a situation falsely, and sometimes it's a recognition that something is actually off. Regardless of what any given gut level feeling ends up being, it's not enough anymore if someone has similar interests to me, a similar approach to life, or if there's some kind of "chemistry" there.

In the past, I would frequently override signs that indicated coming discord or simply a bad match because of one or more of those qualities. I'd notice dysfunctional behavior, but think "oh, but she loves to do the same things as me." Or I'd see that she was responding erratically to my calls or e-mails to get together again, and I'd rationalize that she was busy, or that things were just "moving slowly."

Why did I do this? Well, you know, endless rounds of dating get old. I hadn't learned how to be alone and actually enjoy it yet. And I also really liked some of the women who displayed red flags, and truly hoped that my gut was wrong.

Hope itself is a trouble spot. It's a story about a "better future" that frequently is built on a house of cards. Politicians often play on the hopes of the people they end up supposedly representing. Marketers play on the hopes of the populace as well, saying that whatever product they are selling will cure all our ills and make us happy. And while there are also a small percentage of people who deliberately play on others' hopes in the dating world, more often than not, we let our own hope stories play each of us. The person we are dating might spark the story to surface again, but he or she is simply today's version of the leading role, the current star of the love narrative we can't seem to shake.

Dating and building a relationship are hard enough as it is. Why add in a failure to trust your gut responses? But we do all the time. I did for many years, and still have to work at it sometimes - to not let other things override what I am really experiencing.

Monday, July 4, 2011

"I want to have a threesome..."

The letter from Evan Katz's current post reminded me of an experience I had with a women I dated briefly a few years back. Here's the relevant piece of the letter:

The man I am dating is very sexually advanced and needs extreme sexual experiences. He is a voyeur and likes watching people. We have been idle in the relationship for 2 years; he doesn’t want to move forward because I will not participate in a threesome. I have stood my ground and even tried to end the relationship, but he looks for me all the time and I fall back into talking to him. I finally told him I cannot participate in that, and that I don’t feel comfortable, and that maybe we should be just friends. At first he didn’t like it, but had to accept it. Now he calls me drunk and is very vindictive telling me that I messed up his life, because he planned to marry me, but needed me to be more sexually open.

So, I'm sitting on my bed making out with a women I had been dating for a few weeks. 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. My mother says this kind of nearly instant passion for a stranger is often about some psychological or spiritual wound you have meeting a similar one in the other person. Maybe you both were unloved by a parent. Or maybe you both were abused. Or both have used sex to cover up feelings of existential emptiness. The possibilities are endless, but the point is that the power of the connection isn't being driven by falling in love, but by an inner desire to heal something.

Anyway, we are on my bed, and she pulls away a little, looks me in the eyes, and says "I want to have a threesome with you and "so and so." Up until that point, I'm thinking "Wow. This is awesome. I love spending time with this woman. She's smart and funny and sexy and blah, blah, blah." You know how the mind runs when it's the beginning of something and you really like the other person. Mine was definitely running, but it had never ran to a place called "threesome" before.

You might be thinking, "Oh, come on. Guys love that kind of thing." But I don't. It's never been a fantasy of mine. I'm just not interested. The idea of multiples partners, whether as a one time thing or over the long term, just sounds messy to me. Really messy. 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.

I can't recall how I responded exactly to her, but we ended up having a long talk about our sexual interests, which turned out to be quite different. She really wasn't into monogamy, and had some kinks I just didn't understand. Needless to say, I decided to end it soon after that. For three or four days, I tried to rationalize our differences there with the view that we connected so well in so many other areas of our lives. Which was true. But then she called me late one night and said "You wanna go see a porno with me," and whatever fire I felt for her went out. Completely. Everything had moved too fast, in a direction I didn't want, and I realized that although I'm somewhat unorthodox in how I view relationships, there's still a bit of old fashioned tucked in between these bones.

Had I stuck with her and built a relationship, odds are I would have been in a similar position as the woman in the letter above. Fighting about sexual differences. Disappointing my partner for not going along with her desires. Struggling to find a way to end it eventually. I'm basically of the view that it's better to end something quicker than to linger on and try to "fix" major differences or flaws in the connection. My first long term relationship had a number of such issues in it. We really weren't a good match, but because we were young, and it was going well enough, we stuck out for three and half years what probably could have been a two or three month experience. The thing is, the longer you are together, the more you start to rely on having the other person around. You become comfortable, even if it's a comfort in being miserable together. And trying to break the habit of being together is just so much harder than in the early stages, when you haven't formed that habit and developed that comfort yet.

Friday, July 1, 2011

"Screw the Chase, Screw the Woo"

I made this comment on another blog in regards to women who expect men, or think it's "sexy" for men, to do all the work to get a relationship going:

1. Screw the chase. And screw the “woo.” If a woman wants me to do all the work, I say goodbye and good luck.

This comment stirred up some mud, which I figured it might when I wrote it. So, I thought I would offer an elaboration, since coming to this understanding has really shifted how I look at dating in general.

I already wrote about chasing in my last post. Basically, I said I'm not into it. It seems like a one-sided game. In fact, a female commenter said in response to that post and the discussion that followed:

It's very driven by a male-dominated view of dating (men are the hunters, women respond to being hunted).

I totally agree.

Now, let me talk a little more about "wooing," since that can be a bit more tricky. When I say "screw the woo," what I mean is screw the idea that men should pay for countless dates, buy trinkets of affection, send endless amounts of "I'm thinking of you" e-mails or text messages, call three or four times a day, and the rest of the over the top nonsense some people think is the only way to show interest or love. Woo to me is about excessive volume, in other words, a sense that someone should put a great portion of the rest of their lives on the back burner to give you - a relative stranger - piles and piles of attention. Woo is about doing that not because it feels like the natural thing to do, but because your trying to prove your worthiness to the other person, so that they might choose you for the long term.

Now, before you call me unromantic, let me say this.

I have regularly cooked meals for women I have dated. Very early on in fact, because not only do I like cooking, but making healthy food for someone is - in my view - a strong sign of caring and showing interest.

I often will call someone I have started dating in between times we see each other just to say hello and see how she's doing. I also frequently send e-mail check ins in a similar manner. In fact, if there isn't an increase in contact like this in both directions after a few dates, it's almost always been a sign that things aren't headed towards a relationship.

If we had a great conversation about a specific topic, and I read something about that online or in a book, I send the person I'm dating a link to the article or to the book I'm reading.

I'm an avid gardener and so, it's not rare for me to give someone I am interested in a plant or some flowers from the garden.

There are other examples I could share, but the point is that I'm not rejecting the kind of gestures that are considered romantic and caring.

It's more about the motivations behind such actions, as well as the level of such actions in proportion to how well you actually know someone, that I'm questioning.

The way I see it, if you are motivated by the fear that you'll loose someone if you don't do X, Y, and Z, you tend to be operating out of a selfish mode, doing things that aren't really "you" anyway. You might shower a woman with a pile of attention, gifts, and dinners, but it's not about loving her as much as it about winning the game of getting to be with her. This is often even true about crisis mode expectations like when, for example, an alcoholic decides to quit drinking solely to save a marriage. It might work for a little while, but unless the alcoholic comes to some inner motivation to maintain sobriety, he or she is going to go back to boozing.

It makes a hell of a lot more sense to me to gradually increase the things you do or say to the person you're dating. To make those initial efforts to demonstrate interest and caring count by not overdoing it. And to remember that you have a larger life outside of meeting this new person who may or may not be around in a few months. Of course, this doesn't mean being totally resistant to spending a lot of time with the person you're dating, but it does mean remembering you have friends, family, work, and whatever else is going on in your as well to consider.

I was hanging out with a good friend the other day and we got to talking about dating. At one point, I said something like "I wonder how many people we have dated that have passed through our lives since you and I met." We laughed. And then easily recalled a few friends who, whenever they met someone, would seemingly disappear from the face of the earth until the new romance failed and they were "alone again."

The fear of being alone drives a lot of our wacky behavior around dating. And the fear of being stuck with the "wrong person" drives much of the rest of it. So, my screw the chasing and wooing comments are about trying to come at all of this in a different way. One that isn't based on fear or on trying to please others.