Sunday, October 30, 2011

Talking about Past Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dating Multilple People at the Same Time: Some Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you think about all of this?

Monday, October 24, 2011

Marriage and Fidelity: Debunking the Mythological Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 23, 2011

More On the Nuclear Family with Children Narrative

Since the conversation continues from yesterday, here is the latest comment from Stephen and my response back.

Stephen wrote:

as regards to soul-mate. I said it depends on your perception of soul mate. A woman who views George Clooney as a soul mate will eventually wound up believing she doesn’t have a soul mate. We all know Clooney is neither willing to settle down nor permanently remain with a particular lady. This has nothing to do with Experience. Nathan take a look around you and tell me you haven’t seen ugly people, uneducated people, disabled people, even poor people settling down.
Nathan, lets rewind to centuries past. folks seldom traveled more than 500 miles from their birthplace, yet they still managed to find their soul mates and spend the rest of their lives. Fast forward to Today, we travel the world easily and often live far from our place of birth. Yet we rapidly fail to do what our ancestors did successfully.

In response to the list of questions I posed yesterday about community involvement, adoption, and other issues, he further wrote:

Everything you mentioned are not exclusively to be carried out by single childless individuals. Angelina Jolie had 3 biological children yet adopted another 3 from 3rd world countries. Talking about people who can’t conceive is off point because i directed my comment to people capable of conceiving. Most famous men (like steve jobs & bill gates) who had impacted the world are family men. Many volunteers are family people. Most farmers are family men. Many small scale entrepreneurs are family men. Many Ecologians are family men. Many soldiers are family men. Single childless people simply chose to remain such, not because they are contributing more than family people in building communities. Your logic is flawed.

Here's my response in full. One thing I realized after reading Stephen's points was that the way I wrote made it sound like was placing single folks or people without children above couples with children. Which wasn't my intent.

You assume that I meant to exclude “family men” from all those questions I mentioned, when the real point was that it takes diversity to make a thriving community. Sure, people raising children are part of the equation – I’d never said they weren’t. Nor did I want to suggest that single people are necessarily “more involved” in their communities than couples with children. I’m not interested in creating a moral hierarchy, whereas you seem to be doing just that, shaming people who choose to not have children.

Your notion of “settling down” seems to require having children. I simply disagree with that view. It can include or not include having children. People can have completely full lives in long term partnership or marriage without having and/or being the primary care giver of children. In fact, some of these people might be able to help multiple other couples with their children because they aren’t focused on “their own kids.”

Your view of the past is romanticized. Many people were forced into marriages with someone that wasn’t remotely their “soul mate.” Women were considered the legal property of their husbands for centuries, and it’s only been in the past 60-70 years that most women had any real mobility to choose their partners. There was also the commonplace early deaths of mothers in childbirth or from diseases, and fathers in warfare, awful factory and farming accidents, and diseases, which completely blows the idea of being with one’s soul mate for decades on end. Women who lost their husbands sometimes ended up with brother-in-laws or male cousins of their husband. Men who lost their wives often remarried not out of love, but because they needed someone to care for their children. And if you think infidelity is a modern phenomenon, you’re sorely mistaken.

When I speak of the world having 7 billion people, and that it’s ok for some to choose to not have children, I’m speaking from a place where we aren’t – collectively – in need of having most everyone having children to maintain our population. I remember having a long discussion with two of my former ESL students, women from Ethiopia who had large families. They couldn’t believe it when I said I wasn't 100% sure I'd have children. But then we started considering the circumstances they came from. Given the conditions in Ethiopia, it’s not uncommon to lose at least a few children to malnutrition, malaria, and other issues that just aren’t common here in the U.S. Furthermore, if you were a rural family, trying to run a farm, you needed enough children to keep things going. Having a big family meant you had a better chance to maintain a livelihood. Again, something that just isn’t the case here in the U.S. for the most part. Even though I still think it would be just fine for someone living in a country like Ethiopia to choose to not have children, the encouragement to have children makes more sense there than here.

As for those “family men” you mention who have greatly impacted the world, you might want to consider how their decisions impacted the lives of their children and spouses. Martin Luther King Jr. was an amazing leader who gave our nation and the world many gifts, and helped liberate a hell of a lot of people, but he wasn’t that great of a husband, and his parenting was “uneven” as well. Steve Jobs had a child he essentially disowned for years. And there are plenty of other examples amongst powerful “family men.” (Interesting that you don’t mention women at all in that list of yours).

*Image of King Henry VIII's family. A quite "stable" royal model, don't you think? :)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Relationship Narratives: Loosening the Chains of the Nuclear Family

I've been in a back and forth with a 24 year old guy on Evan Marc Katz's blog whose ideas I find quite "conservative." Here's the comment that set me off.

I think a lot of us in this generation are often self centered and care so much about our happiness rather than look at the big picture ahead. If our parents had our mindset we wouldn’t be in this world to exhibit our selfish and hedonistic proclivities. It perplexes me that a lot of intelligent and innovative folks do not see the need to pass on their genetic code and chose to die with it.

I was in agreement to some degree with his first few sentences, but that last sentence is just ridiculous. I responded with this:

There are 7 billion people on this planet already. I don’t think everyone needs to be making more babies, especially if they aren’t inclined to parenthood in the first place. It’s insulting to suggest that those who choose to not have children are selfish and hedonistic. The two issues are completely separate. And frankly, there are plenty of selfish and hedonistic parents in this world.

And he comes back with the following:

What matters to us isn’t the 7 billion people around us. What matters is those we could actually feel and call our own.
It seems to me you want to enjoy the luxury of having a love life while inadvertently depriving someone else of that. Imagine if some else had deprived you- oh!!.. we wouldn’t even be having this discourse.

To which I responded with this little diatribe:

You’re trying to guilt and shame me, buddy. And I’m not going there. Just because we can reproduce does not mean we must reproduce. I am not bound by some divine contract to give birth to a child solely because I was born. Cultural and/or religious narratives that say we must have children to be consider worthy as adults are just narratives to me – stories people pressure and oppress each other with.

If I choose to have children, it will be because I love and am committed to someone, and we both want to bring a child in this world.

I find many of your comments sexist, to be blunt. You seem totally ok blasting women who choose to focus on aspects of life other than family, but I don’t get the sense that you hold men to similar standards. Furthermore, you’re speaking in a manner of such absolute certainty that is clearly not backed up by much experience, which many here have picked up upon, and are quite irritated with. How could you possibly know that each one of us has a “soul mate” out there? Or even more so, how could you possibly know that those who don’t find a good match simply didn’t believe in soul mates and refused to “accept” the right person?

Life is a hell of a lot more complicated than your narrative suggests it is. What about adopted children? What about people who can’t conceive children? If everyone is so focused on building nuclear families, who will build our communities, volunteer, build the small businesses that drive our local economies, grow the food we eat? Who will support the elders who have lost their children, or who have children that can’t/won’t help take care of them? Who will tend to the environment around us all? Who will do all the things that are not necessarily tied to nuclear family life, but ARE necessary to having strong communities?

There are a few ways to look at this. Stephen, the author of the comments I am responding to, is heavily wedded to a particular form of the nuclear family narrative, where focusing on having and raising children is more important that most everything else in life. Certainly, he's still fairly young, but plenty of older folks are devoted to this same story. Which is totally ok - for them. When it actually works for them.

But - and this is one place where I break from the mainstream - I actually don't believe that the majority of us really want that kind of focus. Many of us say we do, but that's because the nuclear family with mother, father, 2.5 kids, and a house story has been pressed upon us to the point where it's hard to see another way.

How many of you have never pictured yourself as a parent?

How many of you have built well-rounded lives filled with love and joy, in a form other than the nuclear family?

How many of you with children either have, or would love to have, stronger connections with your extended family? Perhaps strong enough to regularly share parenting "duties" with aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents?

How many of you have close, intimate friends who are - in your mind - part of your family?

How many of you are - like I am - passionately drawn to serving in your community, to giving your time and energy to larger social causes?

I think we all could benefit from asking more questions about why it is we think what we think about relationships, and how those narratives might be limiting our lives.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Kindness and Modern Dating

One thing that seems fairly lacking amongst us modern daters is basic kindness towards each other. A single mistake can be used to dismiss you from consideration. A small flaw or weakness can easily become a sign that you are, probably, an unworthy screw up. Many of us are addicted to a certain kind of perfection, and won't "settle" for anyone who seems to fall short.

At the same time, you might also not be willing to accept yourself as you are. It may be you who is rejecting you first, thinking your not good enough for whomever it is you are writing to online, or meeting at some event or in some public place.

Both of these issues are tied together by a thread of unkindness. We don't want to fully embrace who we are, and so we walk around feeling unworthy. And/or we don't want to fully embrace who someone else is that we're considering dating, so we choose to dismiss them for something that is most likely insignificant in the long run.

I'm kind of convinced that people struggle with kindness because they've been burned a lot. Or they worry that they'll become doormats, and let someone enter their lives and do whatever they please.

The thing is, that's not what kindness is about. However, I do think people that are kind tend to also have their guard down more, and are more open to what life is bringing them.

Here is a small list of expressions of kindness applied to online dating situations.

1. Writing someone back who clearly took the time to read your profile and ask you questions. Even writing back to say "Thank you. I don't think we'd be a good match. Best of luck to you."

2. Coming up with a meeting place for the first date that is inexpensive, comfortable, and centrally located for both people.

3. Engaging friendly conversation with someone. Even if you decide you're not interested in seeing the person again, you're not mentally preparing to leave 5 minutes into the date.

4. Hold the door open. Clear the table if your at a self-service kind of place.

5. Really listen to what the other person is saying.

6. Share about yourself in a respectful manner, which means straddling the line between being open and dumping your "stuff" on the other.

7. Pay attention so that you actually can make a decision about someone based on something real, instead of something imagined or a knee-jerk reaction.

Those are a few examples from my own experience. How about you? What would you add to the list? What do you think about kindness and modern dating in general?

Monday, October 17, 2011

The 80-20 Rule

One thing I have noticed about myself over the years is that when I am single, and everything else feels at a lull in my life, I tend to start fixating on wanting a partner. Partly, this is just a response to the loneliness that can come up, as well as the myriad of dreams about what you might be doing if you were with someone. Another piece of it, though, is a basic failure to appreciate my life as it is. Being alive, healthy, with my basic needs mostly met isn't enough. Having a small group of quality friends isn't enough. Nor a supportive family. Nor any of the other things I'm simply taking for granted.

As I read other blogs and dating forums, and I wrote posts for this blog, I keep going back to the idea that being at ease with being single is the best way to enter into a long term, healthy partnership. And that those who are severely uneasy about being single tend to struggle in relationships, and use dating in part, as an attempt to bring ease into their lives through connection with another person. A strategy that nearly always fails over the long term.

When I think about all the comments people leave on dating blogs saying things like "these people I go on dates with don't appreciate me." Or "they're just into my body or my money or my political ideas or whatever." When I see these kinds of comments, I wonder about the people saying them. Do they deeply appreciate their lives as they currently are? Do they feel a love and passion for what is already present in their lives? And can others see that love and passion?

I'm not a believer that our thoughts alone make our lives. That's way too simplistic in my view. However, I do believe that how we think about our selves does have an impact. Sometimes a strong one, and sometimes much more subtly. If internally, you feel some desperation to find a partner, and some loathing of being single, others will pick up on that. If you don't feel passionate about different aspects of your life, that will be fairly obvious to others.

In other words, we need to place a lot more focus on how we are ourselves, and much less focus on what we want in a partner.

I like to think of it as a 80% - 20% rule.

80% of the energy I expend on dating is about honing my attention and listening skills, refining the list of what's important to me, practicing being open to a new relationship entering into my life, and reflecting upon what I might have learned from recent dates I have gone on that "didn't pan out." It also may simply include time doing things to take care of myself.

The remaining 20% of the time involves doing things like looking at online profiles, making lists of wants and don't wants in a partner, going on dates, and other such outward looking things.

What I usually see people doing is the opposite ratio. 80% of the time is spent focusing on the dating pool, including copious amounts of time bitching about other people's flaws, mistakes, and offenses.

There's more I could say about this, but I'd like to offer this flipped ratio as something for you all to consider. If you like this idea, how might you change what you're doing now to get more in line with it? If you dislike what I've said, how have you been successful using a mostly "other focused" approach? Or have you not been successful using that kind of approach?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Your Mind Wants Answers

So, you doing the whole online dating thing. You've been writing some guy and he seems interested. Maybe you've talked on the phone, and even gone on a first date. It all appears to be going in the right direction. And then - poof! He's gone. What happened?

Unless someone tells you directly why they've chosen to stop contacting you, the answer to that question is always another question: "who knows?" In fact, even if someone tells you something directly, it might not be the truth. Or the full truth anyway.

Being a student of meditation, I have become familiar with the way the human mind likes to work. And one thing it desires whenever facing something unpleasant is resolution. Usually in the form of an answer. Or set of answers.

Now, there's nothing wrong with thinking that someone disappeared because "he/she wasn't interested." Or that "he/she must have met someone else." Either of those answers might very well be true. And no matter what you do, chances are that you're brain will produce that kind of story to help sooth your feelings.

The problem, in my view, comes when you 100% believe in the story. A story that, if not told to you directly from the other person, you can't 100% prove is correct.

Further trouble comes when you take this same story and begin applying it to everyone who does something similar.

I can hear a few readers shouting "But that's just common sense, using the past to predict the present." To which I'd like to say "Yes, but also remember that everyone is different as well."

Here's the thing. If you have decided that you want to move on from someone, then thinking something like "he/she isn't interested" is useful. It might be the very thing to help you detach from any emotional connection that may have developed.

However, there's a big difference between using an answer like that to help you move on, and allowing an answer like that to dictate how you're going to respond to someone who you're still interested in.

Letting assumptions control your behavior often leads to missed opportunities and shoddy connections.

If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read a woman describe a dating situation where a guy didn't write or call her back within a few days, and she decided "he wasn't interested," I'd be rich. Filthy rich. This kind of narrative seems less common amongst men, but I have to say that I was guilty of writing off at least a few women in the past as "not interested" for not responding quick enough.

There's another nuance to all of this worth mentioning. Like many things in life, perceived trends or patterns of experience can help to significantly reduce the amount of time involved in determining a course of action. Certainly, if you're experience has been that most people who don't contact you after X number of days aren't going to contact you - or aren't going to display a serious level of interest - then it makes sense to believe that the same might be true in the current place. I often make decisions based on trends or patterns, and so this post isn't about dismissing that.

The difference though, is that when I'm choosing to act based on a trend or pattern, I do my best to remember that I'm choosing. And that there's always a chance that the choice might be wrong. That recognition that the trend or pattern might not be true in the current situation allows me, when I experience it, to remain open to something different happening. That maybe the person on the other end is unexpectedly busy, or is waiting to see what happens on another date, or simply doesn't respond as quickly as everyone else.

It's vitally important to realize that it's in your mind's nature to want answers. If there's a lack of a clear answer, it will make something up. Learning to hang without an answer when there isn't one, or only a partial one, is a major dating and relationship skill. One I'm still trying to master.

How about you?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Dating Suggestion to the Deeply Frustrated

So, you've done the work on yourself to be ready and open for a relationship. You've tried every option and avenue you can think of. You been on countless dates with countless people and still, you're sitting here single.

May I suggest something? It's time to give up.

Specifically, give up the attachment you have to finding and having a committed partner in your life.

The way I see it, the effort of going on dates, trying out new ways to meet people, and opening space for dating and a potential new partner are all necessary ingredients. However, at the same time, none of that will necessarily lead you to getting that person you want into your life. And to push the idea above further, there's a point where focus on finding a partner slides into obsession.

In other words, sometimes more effort and mental energy are not at all what's needed - letting go completely is is what's needed. Because when you actually finally do that, you realize that it's all an ebb and flow and that letting go of your desire for relationship doesn't have to be some depressing finality, but that it's basically about admitting that you don't know. Don't know if doing anything else is needed. Or if it's going to happen or not eventually.

How can you find joy and satisfaction now, as you are? Not only is this attractive to other healthy, intelligent, creative people, but it's also an attractive way to live, period. But in my experience, it seems to require being ok with not knowing a lot. With learning to balance intelligent effort with some form of faith that it will all work out in the end.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Another Form of Fear of Committment?

I had a conversation with my mother this afternoon about modern dating. One of the things she said was that it seems like "dating has gotten so difficult. People think that even having a conversation with someone in the grocery store means committing to something." As I listened, I thought, "yeah, that makes sense. It's the oppose pole to those who date piles of people at the same time, and won't "settle" - ever - because they think they might miss out or loose their "freedom to choose."

When I hear my mother's comments, at first I wondered if that kind of thing was more common amongst Boomer generation daters, but then I started thinking about my own experiences, and realized it probably isn't unique to any one generation.

But then there's this issue about whether dating has "gotten more difficult" in general, something that kept pushing the conversation we were having. I started thinking about the "list syndrome" - how so many of us now carry with us and often broadcast a list of desired traits, skills, and accomplishments we want our future partners to have. And then there's the extreme consumerist individualism that has become the norm, conditioning us to believe we can do everything on our own, don't need communities, extended families, even partners really. So much has become about always "having choices," an endless supply of choices, assuming that this is the definition of freedom. Which I'd argue is really missing the mark.

My mother commented about how when she did personal ads in the local newspapers back in the late 80s, it was easy to get dozens of responses. And she spoke of a similar situation when doing online dating back in it's early days. I said "doesn't that have a lot to do with the newness factor, the novelty of meeting people that came when those avenues had just started to open up?" She agreed to some degree, but stuck to the thought that it's still more difficult now for some reason.

Maybe it is. But my mind keeps circling back to commitment, or the struggle to make one, and how that plays a major role in this whole conversation.

What do you think about all of this?

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Women Asking Men Out: Some Analysis of Gender Norms

During a conversation over at the blog And that's why you're single,
I was involved in a short discussion about women asking men out on dates. The lone woman in the conversation argued that while men might say "yes" to a woman's invitation to go on a date, they probably weren't terribly interested in her beforehand, and/or aren't going to be as interested in dating her as if they had done the asking. She uses this view to justify to herself not asking men out, which she's certainly entitled to do. (And if she's having luck with her current approach, who cares, right?) I guess I don't know if she's having luck finding quality potential partners or not, but another male commenter suggested that she might be missing out on a certain percentage of men who might not, for various reasons, directly ask her out. She felt that number was tiny, but I disagreed. Here's my response:

You know, I understand that adhering to the old gender norms where men do the asking, and women accept is in some ways a practical strategy. I think women who stick totally to that model are missing out on a swath of men. And it’s not just men who are shy and not assertive. It’s actually including any men who haven’t found you yet (if online), or who don’t know you (if in person), or who simply aren’t the type to ask out strangers or relative strangers.

When it comes to online dating , I really think plenty of women are – through their lack of being proactive – missing opportunities. Vox (the female commenter I spoke of above) points out that men might save her profile and then not go back. Because there’s hundreds of others out there. I know that there have been times when I have saved profiles of women I thought were really interesting, and then didn’t go back for weeks afterwards. Sometimes, it was because I was already going on dates, and didn’t have any more time. Other times, I was simply too busy. And still other times, I just plain forgot.

Another issue here is the issue of who it is you’re attracting. Perhaps you have a full inbox of e-mails from guys, but what if it’s full of guys who either are totally not what you want, or who are too much like your exs? Sometimes, you have to break the norms in order to also break patterns like attracting the “wrong people” – even if you desire to uphold the norms in general.

Besides those comments, I also believe there are some unquestioned assumptions about heterosexual men as a group that underlie Vox's view (which is shared by many other heterosexual women). First off, there is an assumption that men only display attraction directly, and that if they don't ramp things up in an assertive way, they aren't interested. I flat out disagree with this totalizing view, and believe that even some confident, mostly mainstream guys display a mixture of approaches to demonstrating interest in women. To me, this men are always direct and obvious is a dressed up version of the "men are simple creatures" narrative.

The second issue I want to point out is more complicated. I do think there are some men who feel a need to be dominant and in control of the dating process, and who would react negatively towards women who choose to initiate dates. I can see how men like this might go on a date with said woman because it's something to do, and might even be interested in her on some level, but ultimately feel threatened by her assertiveness.

However, I sometimes think a lot of women fail to recognize that men haven't stayed, as a whole group, in the past. That all the efforts of the women's liberation movement, of the various feminisms, and even to some degree elements of the more recent men's movement have had a marked impact on a large number of younger men (amongst the under 50 crowd) in American society. That there are a hell of a lot more men out there today whose actions and beliefs are a blend of "masculine" and "feminine" to use those sort of sloppy terms. That there are plenty of men who are defining relationships more along lines of an equal partnership, and who view dating as something mostly other than from a "traditional" courtship model. And this post is only focusing on heterosexual men. If you include gay men, bisexual men, and men who identify as queer, that would add even more layers upon this discussion.

In fact, I'd argue that one of the things undergoing revision in society is a strict adherence to a single definition of sexuality. That who we are as sexual beings, regardless of whom we choose to ultimately be partners with, frequently doesn't fit into a tiny set of boxes. People like Alfred Kinsey were shunned for talking about this kind of stuff decades ago, and there are still plenty of naysayers running around saying things like sexuality is only about procreation, or only happens in X number of forms, and whatnot - but more and more people are choosing to see the true diversity out there, and do what they can to support and even celebrate that.

Going back to the original topic, I think men who don't "fit" the old norms have a role to play also. We need to be more vocal about how we are approaching dating, including writing and responding to these kinds of posts on dating and relationship websites. We need to share our experiences, and even to some extent explain our reasons for choosing to not go along with the old ways. And for some of us, there's a strong need to develop confidence and an ability to let go of criticism and commentary that we "aren't good enough" or "aren't man enough." And finally, we need to figure out a way to balance critical commentary about the oppressive elements of gender norms with a respectful attitude towards those who genuinely feel ok following those norms themselves.

Whew! All that from a few comments about people asking each other out dates. That's enough from me. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


"Deception has many qualities, and among them, elaborate tales certainly is a hallmark feature. So, too, is a sense of being asleep to the truth of a situation, whether you just don’t know any better, or you deliberately ignore everything occurring around you."

I wrote those words a little over a year ago as part of an article for a webzine I have a regular column at. Although the article is as much about art as it is about relationships, when I stumbled upon it again this afternoon, I felt it would of interest to readers here.

* Image of Arthur Davies, “Sleep Lies Perfect in Them,” 1908.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Obsessing About Strangers

Claire recently got in touch with me because she was literally freaking out about a guy that had asked for her number and hadn’t called when she expected. They’d met on the weekend, he’d called on the Tuesday and suggested meeting up a couple of days later, she’d said she wasn’t free and suggested the weekend, he said he was away that weekend but would call the following week, and she was flipping her wig by Sunday evening fretting about if and when he’d call. When she got in touch with me, it was the Thursday i.e the weekend he was away hadn’t even arrived yet. I.e When she got in touch with me, she had known of this man for five days.


The above scenario came from the current post on the excellent blog Baggage Reclaim. In it, blogger Natalie goes on to point out several ways in which obsessing over things like this are really about you, and not the other person.

I wanted to write a little bit about phone numbers and strangers. It's something I have some experience with, and wonder what other folks have experienced.

I have asked perhaps five or six women I've met in various places for their phone numbers in the past. And given that I took the risk of doing that, I called everyone of them back within a week of the ask. Usually within 3-4 days.

I have also done the mutual exchange route. And I have handed women my number and e-mail address in the past as well.

Here are, to best of my recognition, the results from all of that.

On the plus side, with each successive attempt, a bit of confidence seemed to develop in presenting my interest in someone.

In addition, in more recent years, I have become more able to hand out the contact info, or ask for the contact info, and then let go of any attending stories about what will happen.

On the other hand, I can recall just a single instance when any of this led to a dating situation. Several years ago, I ended up going on three or four dates with a woman who I met in a coffee shop just once, and got the nerve up to ask for her phone number. Otherwise, unless I'm forgetting something, all of those other times ended up being dead ends.

In addition, there were at least a few times the woman in question was dating someone else, and was just humoring my request for contact information or the sharing of my contact information.

Now, I'm well aware of the juiciness of the story of meeting a stranger, and then somehow, as if by magic, he or she becomes "THE ONE." Movies and television are filled with these kinds of stories. And the popularity of approaches like "Pick Up Artistry" can easily make one think that this kind of thing happens a lot.

However, I'm pretty sure that it actually doesn't. That the lion's share of long term relationships don't involve meeting some random person in a coffee shop, bar, on the bus, in the airport, etc., exchanging numbers, calling, and then falling in love. It's just not that likely, and yet I can imagine that a fair number of readers have felt like Claire before. I know I have fretted over making a call to, or getting a call from, some woman I knew next to nothing about. And it just seems foolish looking back on it now.

Which doesn't mean one should never do these kind of things. But perhaps it's best to remember the odds, and not put a lot of energy into chasing down, or fretting about, strangers.

What do you think?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Two Dates in One

Some of you may have noticed how much I focus on paying attention. Specifically, paying attention to - as best as is possible - the whole picture of what's happening in your life. On this blog, it's about the intimate relationships in your life, or the ones you want to have in your life.

The main reason for this is that I've noticed how so much of our individual and collective relationship misery is tied to poor attention skills. Seeing things that aren't happening and then reacting from that place is pretty common, as is missing the vital cues arriving at your feet, sometimes every time your with someone. Then there's the misuse of attention, placing it upon a narrow swath of elements and assuming that those elements constitute the whole of a relationship. All of this breeds a lot of suffering.

So, I want to be a voice for bringing your attention back to dating and relationships in a holistic way. To develop less fixation on a narrow list of desired attributes, and develop more of an ability to response (as opposed to react) to what's happening in your relationships as a whole. This is easier said than done, but I truly believe - having experienced it myself - that stronger attention skills make for stronger, healthier relationships. And also healthier ends to relationships when that it called for.

Let me share a recent experience as an example.

I went on a date last week. We had exchanged several e-mails and seemed to have a lot in common. In noticed that her language sounded similar to mine. That the way we drew conclusions appeared to be on a similar page, something I haven't often experienced doing online dating. In reading these e-mails and setting a date, there were moments when I started to get excited. Started thinking that maybe she was going to be girlfriend material and that I could finally put the searching mind to rest. I can imagine some of you out there have been through this very thing before first dates. It's almost impossible not to get a little excited, nor is that really a problem.

However, unlike in my earlier days of online dating, this time I didn't let the stories in my head grow. Images of the first kiss? Let it go. First vacation? Let it go. Working together on some project? Let it go. Anything in relation to this women I simply let go. Again and again. Until I was (mostly) able to arrived at the actual date and be with the person sitting across from me, experiencing whatever was going to happen.

Which turned out to be like being on two dates at once. Something I attribute to my developed attention skills.

On the one hand, we had this wide ranging conversation that kept finding intersection points in sometimes unusual places. She had worked in the after school program that was next door to the elementary school I used to work in. We had a couple of disparate friends in common. She was just as passionate about certain social issues as I am. There was plenty on the surface that "looked right."

However, there were also all these other things going on. She seemed impatient and in need of dominating the conversation. Her relationship with her immediate family was terribly strained. When I leaned in a bit at one point, she leaned back. Her body language in general was pretty closed. I also felt some stress in the pit of my stomach while talking to her, and probably wasn't as physically relaxed and open as I usually am. And this was a different feeling from first date jitters; it had a quality of pushing away from, as if my body was telling me something wasn't right between us. Furthermore, we really never talked about what it was we wanted in a relationship, even on a basic level. In fact, it was hard to tell if she was interested in a relationship, or if she was still exploring the dating scene.

If this date had happened three or four years ago, I would have either missed most of that "underlying" stuff, or I would have minimized whatever I did experience, placing more emphasis on the points of connections. Which would have led me to pursuing more dates, and perhaps a relationship might have resulted.

However, as I sat by a lake after the date, what I realized was that the feeling tone that lingered from the whole experience was a lack of warmth. That even though I felt some attraction to this woman, and knew that we had plenty of shared interests and viewpoints, there was none of the mutual caring and warmth that's so needed for a healthy, long term relationship. Now, obviously, those qualities are something that need time and shared experiences to mature. Yet, when I consider every relationship I have even been in for any significant length of time, there was always, from the beginning, a spark of that warmth and caring.

So, needless to say, I decided not to pursue further dates with her, and it seems she was on the same page.

This is the power of skilled attention. And I'm convinced that these skills will eventually lead me into a great relationship, if such a relationship is a part of my life path. At the same time, I realize that these same skills can bring some bitter pills. You probably stay single more often than if you opt to just do things like you've always done. You realize that there are a lot of near misses out there, including ones that under different circumstances, might have become relationships. You get to be face to face with your impatience, loneliness, desire, and sometimes grief in ways that you really may not want to.

But in the end, I feel less burdened by thoughts about relationships. Less mired in angst, negativity, regrets, and clinging to the past. And more able to accept what's happening, even if it's not what I want. This is a good thing for anyone who is single, but frankly, it's also a good thing for anyone who is part of a couple.

Love itself is deeply cultivated attention trained upon your beloved, and the shared joy that comes from doing so. Without attention, there's no love. In some ways, it's as simple as that.