Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Dating Industrial Complex

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

I’m hoping that Samhita Mukhopadhyay’s book, Outdated: Why Dating Is Ruining Your Love Life becomes a best-seller.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

Battle of the Sexes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Don't Doom A Potential Relationship Unnecessarily

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those are my thoughts today. What are yours?

*Image - Michelangelo's "Last Judgment"

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

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Dating Uncertainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's how it can be acted out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2011

Do You Underestimate or Overestimate Yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

On Demonizing Your Dates

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011

What do You Hate About Modern Dating?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 10, 2011

"I Want a Naturally Unfolding Relationship"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 7, 2011

Perfect Partner Narratives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Dating and Seasonal Changes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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