Saturday, December 31, 2011

Is Your Resolution to Find Love in the New Year?

The second half of this post is similar to the one I offered on my other blog. However, I think it's important to share here as well.

Many single folks make New Year's resolutions related to romantic relationships, and then ramp up the search for that special someone. If you are considering doing something like that, please read my blogger friend Maia's post first. She offers a more in depth approach to planting seeds for the new year, one that I have used myself.

As many of you probably know, "resolutions" almost always failure. Have you ever asked yourself why that goal to lose 10 lbs or to choose a more healthy partner falls flat time and again?

Let's face it. The vast majority of our resolutions aren't coming from a deep enough place to succeed. Many of them are simply born out of desperation to change something in your life you do not like. While others are built on hope and wishful thinking, neither of which do anything to bring something into reality.

With that said, Here is the list of specific intentions that I have come up with so far for 2012. The list was prompted a bit early this year by a friend's Facebook call for folks to share with each other. Everything on the list above has come up repeatedly for me over the past several weeks, and some of them are carry overs from the list I made last year.

1) Develop creative, transformative work that support me financially, emotionally, and spiritually.

2) Cultivate gratitude daily.

3) Finish one of the book projects I have in mind.

4.) Be fully open to new relationships in their many forms.

5). Take more intelligent risks.

Note that these aren't off the cuff ideas, nor are they quick-fix goals that I hope will make me feel better.

Notice that only one of the five is something with a concrete end point. That's about the right ratio. 1 in 5. There's nothing wrong with having something really specific in your list, but if it's not grounded by deeper intentions, odds are it won't mean much to you even if it happens.

One of the yoga teachers in my teacher training program reminded me, during a yoga nidra session yesterday, that we can all go deeper. To look beneath for something that encompasses all the rest of your intentions. And so, as I settled in to the nidra practice, this arose:

I trust that the universe is providing what I need.

There's not much else I feel compelled to say. May you have an excellent new year, and may your greatest intentions come to fruition.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Searching for Your Soulmate?

That's a road filled with landmines my friends. As is the notion that when you meet the right someone, you'll "just know."

Most of us don’t actually know how to read our gut feelings very well. We think we know what's going on, and whether someone is right for us or not, but so often, the guesses turn out wrong. Or fairly off anyway.

Why is this? Because our true experience tends to be obscured by a whole lot of artificial rules, culturally-sanctioned stories, and even silly fairy tales. You meet someone, go on a date or two, and then move on because he or she didn't blow you out of the water with hot sexiness. Or you meet someone who becomes a friend and a great relationship develops, but because you read in some dating book not to date friends, you remain single. Or you've been in a relationship for a few months, can't figure out if you love the other person or not, and so you bail. The variations are endless, but all of it comes down to a failure to access, and then listen to, your deepest wisdom.

If you're like me, you probably enjoy reading a bit of dating advice, and also other folks stories about their dating experiences. However, there's a danger to this kind of activity. Specifically, that the words and ideas of others can overtake your own if you're not careful.

Regular readers might notice that a lot of the advice I offer on this blog points back to reflecting on your experiences, cutting through internal dialogues, and paying attention to what's actually happening in your relationships. One of the main reasons for this is that I don't want MY ideas to control YOUR process. Instead, I'd like what I have to say to assist the unfolding wisdom you already have hanging around in your core.

I truly believe that we each can access a knowing about whether someone is right for us or not. However, that knowing isn’t going to happen overnight. You need to spend a significant time with someone. And you also need to repeatedly question all those stories about how it’s “supposed to be” until you see what actually is.

At the end of the day, so much of what constitutes a successful, conscious relationship depends upon each of the participants willingness to grow together. To shed yesterday's half-truths and awaken to today's callings.

So, as the new year comes upon us, set an intention to begin with yourself. To reflect upon where you have been,and what you have learned from the past. And to let go of whatever seems to be blocking your way to having true and deep connections, romantic or otherwise, filling your life.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Learn the Person You Are With

This is the kind of simplistic gender narratives that drive me nuts. Well, not really, but still, why do people continue to believe in such easy explanations?

Women’s brains are wired for detail. Men, on the other hand, have brains that are wired for the big picture – they like to scan.

Take these example:

How was your day? Typically, men will answer it was OK; women will go into paragraphs of explanation
They had a baby. What was it? Men will reply it was a baby; women want the details – the sex, the weight, method of delivery etc
Women usually don’t give an abridged version of events; they relive it in detail (if it was good enough the first time to go through, it is good enough to relive in detail)

Bottom line: men want the bottom line not the details. Perhaps they even operate on a need to know basis. If it doesn’t affect them they probably don’t need to know.

So, in order words, men are basically self-focused creatures, while women are other-focused creatures.

I would argue that even in times when gender conditioning has been at it's most fierce, you could find plenty of within group variation, despite the social pressure to conform to acting certain ways. Furthermore, the idea that we are "wired" in such and such a way across gender is an excellent way of minimizing and denying socialization patterns. Like several thousand years of patriarchal norms that continue to place men above women, and in the process, also undermine the personhood of folks across the GLBTQ spectrum.

Now, that was a heady paragraph, wasn't it? And you're probably asking, "What does this have to do with my relationship or how I date?

An excellent question.

First off, I'm not one who tends to give heavy handed advice, but please, please don't believe these kinds of simple stories about people. They only contain a grain of truth, and they won't really help you interact better with your dates or partners.

Secondly, if you are someone who desires to be liberated from the old gender norms, this is exactly the kind of thinking to jettison.

And finally, remember this: we date and fall in love with individuals, not generalizations. So, while knowing something about gender norms might be helpful in some senses, in the end, the only way to develop a healthy, conscious relationship is to learn the person you are with.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Where is the Love?

Love. Many of us love to be in love, and yet how often do we actually love each other well?

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

Consider anything you might be addicted to. Like cigarettes. I have heard many people say they love cigarettes, but actually, when it comes down to it, they don't love cigarettes at all. In fact, some smokers downright hate cigarettes, but that warm embrace when the chips are down feeling that comes with smoking feels like a kind of love. Even though it really isn't. And the same thing is often true of our intimate relationships.

I can recall multiple times in the past when I claimed to love someone in a romantic sense when it really was lust. Or I was making the claim to keep the other person around until I figured out if I truly did feel love or not. Driven by fears of being alone, I would say those three words "I love you," and in the process override the uncertainty that comes with any new, or newer relationship. It's been done to me as well by a few women in my past. In fact, I can distinctly remember one former girlfriend's comment that she thought she loved me, which was followed less than a week later by a call for us to break up.

Love is beautiful and amazing and lifegiving, but it's not always easy to express, and it's almost guaranteed to bring up our most intimate fears and anxieties in the process. Because to love someone completely means to be fully vulnerable to the entire universe.

One of our biggest problems in actually finding love, and embodying love - whether with a beloved partner or for the whole of the universe - is that we're usually coming at it all from the outside in. Thinking that someone, some thing, some experience will bring it to us, failing to recognize that we are it. That we all contain love within, if only we'd stop and listen to ourselves more closely.

Whatever love actually is, in the end, it has to be experienced from the inside out. It's only through tapping into what is really your inherent nature, that you can discover that which is the stuff of intimate relationships with others.

May you have much love during the holidays this year. And may you all spend some time reflecting upon the ways in which you've mistaken something else for love in your relationships.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Sex Talks

We had one of those lightning bolt connections - the kind of chemistry people always say they want, but which often ends up burning one or both people involved. As we made out one night, I kept thinking to myself, "Wow. This is awesome. I love spending time with this woman. She's smart and funny and sexy and blah, blah, blah." Then it hits me. Or rather she does. With a single sentence that changes everything. Pulling back a little bit, she looks me straight in the eyes, and says "I want to have a threesome with you and "so and so."

You might be thinking, "Oh, come on. Guys love that kind of thing." But that's really just a stereotype about men. It's never really been a fantasy of mine. The idea of multiples partners, whether as a one time thing or over the long term, mostly conjures up messy, dramatic images for me. The kind that make many movies box office hits. It seems hard enough to be with one person, truly be with him or her, giving your all, let alone more than one. So, when those words came out of her mouth, I was stunned out of my dreaming about where "we" might be going together.

The fortunate thing for both of us is that we ended up having an in depth talk about our sexual interests. Something people often fail to do, and then wonder why they're so miserable down the road. And we found out that we had a lot of differences, including the fact that she really wasn't into monogamy. Which was basically a relationship killer for me.

I'll be honest. I still find having these kinds of sex talks a little unnerving. And I'm not a constant follower of my own advice either. The situation in the story above was tailor made for such a discussion, but I doubt I would have had the same discussion so early on if she hadn't brought up the threesome issue.

Some people argue that the best time to share your sexual interests is before you become intimate with each other. I've done this a few times before, but am not sure it's the best way, or only way to go.

What are your thoughts about talking about sex with someone you're dating? Are you direct? What about timing? Or are you one of those people who never talks directly about it?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rejected for Her Communication Skills

I felt a twinge of recognition from both sides of the fence when I read this:

when we met for coffee and he did the Let’s-Just-Be-Friends thing, was that he said it was because of how I communicated. He said: “You know, I really like talking to you, and I liked having sex with you, but I feel like you have really high standards for relationship communication and I’m not sure I can meet those standards. Can we keep hanging out, but just be friends?”

On the bright side, he did his best to convince me that he really does want to be friends, so that made me feel good. As usual, though, the rejection still stung. I did my best not to take it personally, but that’s always difficult. I tried to keep in mind that people are different, but sometimes that’s difficult too. For me, the take-home message seemed to be: “Hey Clarisse, quit trying to actually talk openly about your relationships! You’re unnerving even the guys who you have everything in common with.” I mean … Jesus Christ, if I can’t seduce artsy feminist guys, then who the hell can I seduce?

When I was younger, I definitely was like the guy is this narrative. I didn't know how to communication my ideas about relationships, intimacy, feelings, or anything of the like with the person I was with. I tended to get locked up in fears of rejection, as well as confusion over just what it was that I needed and wanted at any given time.

In more recent years, I have found myself more on Clarisse's side of the coin, doing my best to put myself out there, to aim for as much honesty, clarity, and openness as possible. Sometimes, people love this. Other times, I maybe come off as too passionate, too articulate, or simply too well put together to keep up with (gotta laugh hard at that last one).

One thing I wonder about Clarisse's comments above is how well she is responding to her reading of her date's verbal and non-verbal communication.

This can be really subtle, and sometimes you guess wrong. If you read the rest of Clarisse's post, you'll see that she had a sense something was "off." So, she was reading the situation well.

But what I wonder is whether she continued full force with her openness, directness, etc. as she was reading the guy's discomfort, or if she shifted what she was doing, even if just a little bit?

I have been in fair number of situations in recent years with women who were at the end of, or just out of long term relationships. And my general experience has been that inevitably, I have needed to step back and/or let go completely.

In fact, in one case, I wasn't even interested in a romantic relationship with the woman in question, but somehow, friendship was a bit too much at that point for her. Since I haven't seen her in a few years, I don't know if that's just how she is, or if something was specifically off between us.

And yet, this kind of dance can happen in any relationship - especially at the beginning when you're just getting to know each other.

Furthermore, I think what Clarisse experienced in terms of the "high standards" comment is something that anyone with more developed communication skills can run into. Because people sometimes feel intimidated. Unworthy. Unable to keep up.

The joke of it all is that those of us who have spent a lot of time and effort trying to be better communicators sometimes feel a similar sense of unworthiness, or unlovableness - precisely because we see how those skills can scare people, or turn them away somehow. And there's also the elevated expectations that can come - the "You know how to talk about this stuff, why can't you do it today!" kind of stuff - that sometimes occurs once someone gets to know you more.

Anyway, it's really easy to become like a cat chasing its tail about all of this. Sometimes, things just don't work out, and you'll never know why.

So, you can put some effort into trying to read and respond better to the person you are with. But at the end of the day, you have to be able to let go of the results, and not beat yourself up if things don't go the way you'd hope they would.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Is it Just a Compliment or Something More?

I received the following message the other day from a woman on OKCupid.

Hi! I like your thoughtful profile. Best of luck to you on OKC!

Sounds like a thanks, but no thanks message, doesn't it? Well, here's the thing: I have never contacted her, nor even added her to my favorites list. So, what gives?

It could be that she's simply offering a compliment, but how often do people do that on online dating sites?

It could be that she's too shy to directly ask a question about what I wrote, or express any more direct interest, but then why did she add the last line?

Honestly, I'm not sitting around puzzling over this. In fact, I have barely paid attention to my profile over the past month, basically because I have been doing other things with my time.

Yet, it's these kind of ambiguous e-mails that I tend to spark my curiosity about what it is that people are doing on online dating sites.

In the particular case above, the rest of this woman's profile demonstrates a clear confidence in speaking about herself, to the point where it seems like it wouldn't be a big step to start a simple conversation with someone she might have some interest in. So, I am left to wonder if she's just offering a compliment, which was nice to receive, but left me wondering how best to respond.

Do any of you offer others online compliments about their profiles without having any other intention, such as hoping they'll start a conversation with you? What do you make of the e-mail I received above?

Again, I'm not tied up in knots over what the intention was behind the e-mail above, but I am curious.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Disappearing Dates

Something I have always found challenging to work with is disappearance. When a relationship ends, the person you have been intimate with for however long often is gone from your life. Sometimes, never to return. Now, that is hard enough when you have a clear ending, when you've broken up and said something resembling a good bye. But it's even more difficult when you don't get that sense of closure, when someone just up and leaves one day, or stops returning your calls and messages.

Having had a fair amount of experience with online dating, I have also seen a lot of women come and go in a very quick fashion, vanishing without a trace. To some degree, this comes with the territory - I mean, we're all strangers in the online dating world, with nothing really that ties us together other than the internet. So, I have gotten a lot of practice with letting go. Letting go of expectations especially, but also letting go of not knowing whether I will ever meet someone, or if I do meet them, if I will ever see them again.

I've learned that a lot of women, after a first date, will say they'd like to go out with you again, regardless of their actual interest. I can imagine men do this too, but perhaps more women end up doing it for various reasons. Not wanting to hurt the guy. Not wanting to deal with a guy who gets pushy and demanding in the face of rejection. Not wanting to completely close the door on another date. Those are a few of the ideas I have seen people offer for why they lie about their level of enthusiasm for another date.

Now, in my experience, a certain percentage of the women I have gone out on dates with have e-mailed or called me afterwards and said that they actually weren't interested in seeing me again. I can say that I'd rather someone just get it over with in person, but at least they bothered to tell me. Others, though, after having said they'd love to go out again, just don't respond to follow up e-mails or calls, and simply vanish. And yet, they aren't quite gone. You sign into the online dating site and there they are, looking at other profiles.

And so it goes. Sometimes you get a clear ending and sometimes you don't. In my view, it's probably best not to put too much stock into disappearances.

Odds are it really isn't about you, unless your actions repeatedly seem to drive your dates away.

In which case, I'd suggest reading blogs like this one a lot closer.

Or go and get yourself a dog.

They're loyal, and they don't care if you blather and drool incessantly.

Just don't expect them to share your love of Albert Camus and motorcycles.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

External Validation and Its Discontents

One of the big lessons about relationships in general, romantic or otherwise, is recognizing that it only goes well when you are able to be you, without the need for external validation. This sounds pretty basic, and yet if you pay attention to your interactions with others for any extended period of time, you'll probably notice yourself saying or doing various things, primarily out of a hope that the other person will maintain their "good image" of you.

I enjoyed this post from twenty-something blogger Cali Bradshaw. She writes:

Anyone who tells you that they have never used an interaction with the opposite sex to validate themselves, is lying. Whether or not validation was the only motivation for talking/hooking up with someone, everyone at one point or another has felt better about their life because of attention from a guy or girl. It’s natural.

I, for one, am no stranger to looking to guys for validation. In fact, there was a point in my life where I was so caught up in needing guys, that I really lost who I was. Back when I was 18/19 I was insecure about everything – my looks, my intelligence, my personality. I didn’t know who I was, and I used guys’ level of interest to define me. If a guy wanted to take me home and make out with me, then I must be pretty, funny, and smart, right?

My experiences with this have been a little different, but still amount to the same thing. When I was younger, I often lapped up any extra attention women gave me. During college and even for a good long while afterward, if a woman showed romantic interest, I'd entertain the idea of dating her, even if I really wasn't interested. In fact, my first long term relationship was built on that model. She kept showing interest. I kept considering the idea, but also not feeling enough to go forward. And then, one day, there we were together and alone, and the attention I was receiving outweighed everything else.

In some respects, I was just a young guy without a lot of experience. Discerning the difference between a friendship connection and a romantic interest wasn't a skill I had much of yet.

However, it was also the case that I rarely had the guts to pursue women I was actually interested in, had been rejected by the few I had pursued, and so was generally swamped in feeling inadequate. All of that lead to situations where women like this ex-girlfriend would enter, display an interest, and something inside of me would stir. Today, I can see that what stirred was that inadequacy, that loneliness, and the hope attached to it that so and so might be "the one," if I just give her a chance.

In more recent years, I have dropped off that whole "the one" narrative, believing that there are multiple people in this world that could be potentially great partners, so worrying about missing out on "the one" isn't much of a concern anymore. And that's a hell of a relief. Because it allows you to let people pass out of your life who might be interested, but whom aren't really good matches for you.

I'd like to say that I'm completely over the who external validation bit, but that wouldn't be honest. It still gets me sometimes, when I'm feeling down or have gone a long time without having a relationship. The repeated flops of online dating sometimes have led me down that path of reconsidering anyone who shows some interest, even despite my best judgement. This winter, I went on two dates with a woman who I had some things in common with, but whom I'm found rather combative and self-centered.

The first date should have been enough. I felt exhausted after talking with her for a few hours, and although there were some things I liked about her, I couldn't imagine us actually being together. And yet, it was January. I was still feeling down about the events that led to my last relationship falling apart. And so, someone who, at any other time I would have just said "thank you and have a nice life" to after the first date became a person of interest.

We went on the second date. Had nice dinner at a Thai restaurant and then she invited me back to her place. Had it been warmer out, I would have suggested a walk or something outside. I wasn't ready for anything more than that. But I went anyway. And it was, like the rest of the time we had spent together, a decidedly mixed experience. She complained about a situation with her neighbor for a good half an hour, maybe even longer. We made out for awhile, but it felt awkward and forced. And we stayed up really late talking, but there were plenty of times during the conversation where it felt like we were talking across each other, or at each, but not really with each other.

Over the next week and a half, we sent a few e-mails back and forth, and I considered whether I wanted to see her again. Fortunately, I was participating in a meditation retreat at my zen center, and the jolt of just being there with my thoughts and feelings for several hours a day quickly made me realize that pursuing this connection was a mistake. I didn't like her for her, I liked her because she liked me. And that was no grounds for entering a relationship.

So, you might say I'm a lot quicker to catch on to this old pattern. And as such, tend to be much more willing to remain single, and enjoy being so, than to leap into something with someone just because she's interested.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Are You Depressed Because You Can't Find Love?

Depression seems to be a hot topic on dating and relationship blogs right now. No doubt the coming winter and the lack of light in the Northern Hemisphere, where all the blogs I currently follow are from, plays a roll in this. Having had my share of minor depression, especially of the seasonal variety, I know all too well how easy it can be to get down about being alone. Even when you have an otherwise good life.

The first thing to realize is that being without a partner is not a character defect. Single folks in many societies have long been demonized for various reasons, but the fact is that there's absolutely nothing wrong with being single. In fact, I'd argue that sometimes our lives paths are such that it's absolutely right to be single for awhile.

For those of you struggling with being ok by yourself, perhaps this simple meditation practice will help.

Take a comfortable seat and close your eyes. Let your awareness move to your heart center, and feel whatever it is that is present. It might be a specific feeling, like happiness or sadness. Or maybe it's some less defined energy - a flow or a tension. Occasionally, I seem to feel nothing at all when I do this, and that's fine as well. Whatever is there, just let it be.

After a few minutes, begin to slowly say the following phrases to yourself. You can say them silently or out loud. Either way is fine.

May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I love and be loved.
May I be free from suffering.

You can repeat these as often as you want. Or just say each once and then sit quietly for 5-10 minutes before moving on with your day. Sometimes, I'll do a little journaling if something specific that seems important came up during this process. Like a distinct memory that I want to reflect upon more.

One important thing about practices like this is to just do them, and not fixate on any particular outcome or goal.

I recall one particularly difficult period, following a break up, where I did this meditation amongst other practices nearly every days for months. I doubt that this practice alone allowed me to heal and move on, but it likely helped, and regardless, it gave me something tangible to do in the face of depression and sadness.

Your thoughts? What have you done when you have felt depressed about being single?

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Hurt Vs. Harm in Relationships

Baggage Reclaim is a really cool relationship website run out of the UK. Natalie, the author, offers frequently blog posts that are thoughtful, well written, and often challenge readers to consider ways in which they are dysfunctional about dating and relationships.

In an old post of hers I found, she considers six words that are both overused and misused in the context of relationships. I want to consider one of those words, hurt, in a little more detail. Natalie writes:

It’s important to understand our feelings and own and validate them but sometimes we get the descriptions mixed up. Eg. “I’m hurt that you didn’t take out the bins/trash.’ or I’m hurt you said X’ or ‘I’m hurt that you did Y to me’.

Meaning: Hurt is about experiencing mental pain or distress.

It’s important to distinguish between someone not doing what you want, someone not doing something in the way that you would like, and someone doing something that directly relates to causing emotional distress. Expand your range of feelings beyond hurt because it shouldn’t be the automatic descriptor for everything that other people do that you don’t like.

Acknowledging a variety of feelings appropriate to each situation combined with having levels of what actually constitutes hurt, will make for more meaningful dialogue. If the word we reach for is always ‘hurt’ we communicate to partners that every slight, no matter the size will cause us emotional distress – that’s a lot for someone to deal with.

I think this is good. I also have a slightly different take to add to it.

To me, when it comes to the whole “hurt” issue in relationships, it’s helpful to consider the difference between hurt and “harm.”

I may feel hurt that my partner doesn’t agree with me about something, for example, maybe she doesn't like my favorite writer or musician.

I also might feel hurt if she arrives 20 minutes late for a date, or if she points out that I'm not being totally truthful about something.

But none of these examples should have any long term effect. They aren't red flags, or issues that should make or break relationships.

On the other hand, if my partner lies to me about her intentions for the relationship for example, whatever I feel when I find out I might label as "hurt," but actually the behavior in question could be labeled harmful because it undermines the very trust needed for a healthy relationship.

I remember towards the end of my first long term relationship getting angry at my former partner because she wanted to always hang out with her friends when I was over. It didn't help that I really didn't like her friends, and they didn't like me, but that's another story. Anyway, I was young (age 24 I think) and reactive back then, and instead of telling her why I was upset, I chose to not call her - for nearly three weeks. I think internally somewhere I knew this was harmful to the relationship, and I also was kind of in a backwards way trying to end it. But when we did finally talk, we had an argument about politics and both talked about feeling hurt that we each didn't see the validity of the others' point.

The point in bringing up this story is that it contains the two levels. We fixated on the immediate feelings around disagreeing about some political issue - which falls in the hurt category - but were really acting out of the harm coming from my refusal to call for so long, which had been tied to her increasing refusal to spend time with me alone.

What I see is that many of us, myself included, struggle to pay attention clearly enough to understand whether something is hurtful or harmful. And unfortunately, because of that struggling, we often get hung up on the little things that are fleeting, while simultaneously missing the major red flags that actually need to be confronted, or which mean it’s time to move on.

In the relationship I brought up, it later became clear to me that both of us were making decisions to deliberately avoid spending time together alone, and face our challenges together. We also blamed each other for how we felt, and at the same time, fixated on more trivial things, claiming that a difference over something like wanting to watch TV or not was ruining our relationship. Pretty silly, but also pretty common, isn't it?

Thursday, December 1, 2011


I have created a central portal for the blogs I maintain. You can read the welcome message there, and learn more about my current and future writing intentions.