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.