Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Bitter Dating Crowd

Injustice collecting is one notable way that partners create and hold on to strong feelings of animosity toward each other. Injustice collecting is a psychological process whereby we gather and accumulate an inventory of grievances concerning our subjective perceptions of having been mistreated by others or by the circumstances of our life. Injustice collecting reflects our unconsciousness interest in remaining stuck in negativity.

Although blogger Peter Michaelson wrote the above in relation to married couples, I actually think it's applicable to all of us. In fact, something I have been thinking about recently is how single people often run their dating (or non-dating) lives based upon a heap of collected injustices from their past, expecting that somehow they'll find a person that will never "wrong them." Which is impossible. And which points to one of the reasons why these folks remain single.

So, what are we talking about here? It's important to note that the "injustice collecting" Michaelson describes above is not focused on violent or abusive partners. He's not, from what I can tell anyway, trying to psychoanalyze away the pain and suffering that come from being in an abusive relationship. What he's really getting at are all the little, innocent things people get annoyed by, or irritated with. Or the minor transgressions that are elevated in the mind into major violations.

When it comes to what might be called the bitter dating crowd, what you find is an increasingly rigid view of what's right and what's wrong, coupled with a long, internalized list of possible offenses to be on the lookout for. Instead of entering a new dating situation with fresh eyes, the bitter dater has one hand firmly placed on the rejection button.

The woman who is 15 minutes late is rejected because she "must be inconsiderate, just like X who never cared about my time at all."

The man who fails to compliment my new dress "is probably just like that ass I dated two years ago who never really loved me."

The guy who doesn't display the same love you have for kittens "is probably an animal hater, and I'm not dating another one of those."

The woman who doesn't display the same love you have for the Lakers "is probably a sports hater, and will nitpick me every time I wanna watch the game."

These are kind of ridiculous extremes perhaps, but the reality is that the majority of "injustices" people speak about in the realm of dating don't have much more substance to them. They are minor actions being linked to long term projections about who the person is, and how they behave in their partnerships. At best, they are poorly researched guesses. At worst, they are essentially erasing the uniqueness of your date by equating him or her with someone from the past. Or with some gender based abstraction.

Having been through my share of dating struggles over the years, I'm well aware of the fact that it feels better to quickly reject, than to face the possibility of having to do it later, after you've been together awhile. Furthermore, it's a hell of a lot more easier to place the blame on the other person's "character defects," than to sit with the mystery of why things didn't work out. Because often it really isn't totally clear why a relationship worked or didn't work. Why a first date didn't lead to a second. And the more that we admit that whatever conclusions we come to are partial, the more likely it is that we will be open, available, and ready when the right person comes along.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Your Dreamed Date ... Doesn't Exist

I remember several years ago, when I first tried online dating, exchanging a couple of e-mails with a woman who was juggling a job, being a single mother, and few other things I can't remember. She seemed really nice, we shared a lot in common, and I started to get excited about meeting her.

This is where the trouble started. I imagined my long relationship drought was about to be over. That I she was going to be the new "One." I was even imagining spending time with her kid already, playing games in her apartment (which I never had seen before).

The day finally comes for the first date and I'm sitting there at a table outside a local coffee shop and she comes up to me, says hi, and then her cell phone rings. It's her ex. They start arguing about something having to do with the kid. I'm listening to her talk to the guy. She sounds a bit like a mother, a forceful mother. Not a good sign, but because of the stories I had already bought into, I tried to ignore what was happening.

Finally, she hangs up and we have coffee together. A nice conversation, but I'm still sort of wary, given what I had witnessed. We part ways, agreeing to go out again.

A week or so later, I meet her for dinner a favorite restaurant of mine. Things are going ok, but I suddenly start to sense that voice she was using with her ex creeping into our conversation. We were talking about the new non-profit I had just co-developed with some friends of mine, and I was getting the sense that she felt I'd be "better off getting a good job" instead of devoting time to that project. Suddenly, my attention started kicking in, and I noticed a pattern emerge. Basically, she was used to being in charge in her relationships, and being something of a caretaker of the men she dated.

She was the one that asked for another date at the end of dinner, and although I was already questioning everything, I ended up meeting her again.

I went because I was less experienced than I am now, and more desperate as well.

However, anyone who knows me well knows that this wasn't going to work. While I tend to be easy to get along with, and am not demanding or terribly picky, I am quite independent and not a pushover.

And so, the third date ended with me basically showing a lack of interest, but I still think she believed we'd keep going out because she was surprised when I e-mailed her the next day saying I didn't want to see her again.

I offer this experience because it probably never would have happened without those initial stories I bought into. If I met her today, I doubt we would make it past the first date. Because I'm much less likely to let myself get too far ahead of what's happening right in front of me.

That's really the best way to begin things. Staying present in the present.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Dating While "Fat" - On Body Image and Socially Constructed Narratives

The majority of women I have been in relationships with have had insecurity around their weight. It hasn't mattered whether they were actually larger or decidedly thin, the perception of being "fat" - and thus unattractive - was often palpable. As a man who pays attention to limiting cultural constructs around relationships, and who doesn't go with the oppressive flow, I often have found myself in a strange place when it comes to weight.

In response to "I'm fat" comments, I have offered compliments. Or flat out rejections of the statement. Or sometimes have simply said "I love you as you are."

No doubt it's good to have a partner who isn't harping on you about weight, but at the end of the day, you have to believe it internally.

Which is one of the reasons why I really liked this post from the Crunk Feminist Collective.

I have recently come to the conclusion that I’m going to have to lose a significant amount of weight in order to have a viable chance at a love life.

Let me be clear: this is not a fat-hating post. When I look in the mirror, for the most part, I like what I see. I like my curves, I like ass, I like my legs, I like my boobs (which I only have in abundance, when I’m tipping the scales), and I like my face.

So, you might be thinking - sounds like a mixed message here. And to that I'd say, yes, it is. The author, like so many larger women (and some men as well), is trying to balance self-love and confidence with cultural stories about body shape and desire. Having been a man with a life long high metabolism, and who has maintained the looks of a soccer player far into his 30s, I can only imagine how challenging it is for the author, and others like her. While I have listened to countless stories from family members, friends, former lovers, co-workers, and others related to difficulties around weight and body image, I do not have firsthand experience. And yet, when the post author says the following, I find myself nodding my head vigorously:

I know that we have huge problems with obesity in Black communities. I have thought long and hard about my relationship to food (and exercise), and I have started to make some changes in order to remain healthy. I also have both short and long term goals for doing so. I made those choices for myself, not for a man. So please save the condescending lectures (and arm-chair therapy) for someone else. This big girl (and I suspect every other big girl with access to a TV) doesn’t need it.

And a third, fundamentally more well-meaning group, will come over an give anecdotes about all the thick chicks they know who have male partners. The number will usually total up to no more than 2 or 3 mind you. Those stories ring hollow, because they ultimately amount to a futile attempt to amass enough exceptions to disprove the rule. Moreover, perhaps folks aren’t considering that the partner-less fat girls simply remain invisible to you, and the thick girls with guys are visible, precisely because they are an anomaly.

What I’m getting at is something much more fundamental. Because desire is socially constructed (no matter how much folks justify their limited dating choices based on ‘natural preference’), the fact that we live in a fat-hating culture greatly affects who we’re attracted to, and what we find attractive. The idea that we’re only attractive within a range of sizes is absurd. And narrow. And it is absolutely a function of patriarchy. And yet, I live daily with those realities.

Online, I have challenged "natural preference" comments in the past. I'm sorry, but it's absurd to assume that what is attractive to you is all about biology. We don't live in a vacuum, nor do we date in a vacuum. In other words, there are cultural reasons why black women in general tend to struggle to get dates, for example, and why women with larger, curvier bodies tend to get rejected or tossed into the friend-zone. And it's not just a heterosexual thing. These same pattern can be found, at least to some degree, amongst gay, lesbian, trans and queer relationships as well.

On the other two blogs I maintain, I have been writing a lot about the general disconnect so many of us have with the Earth. This disconnect manifests not only in how we humans treat the planet, but also in how we see and experience our bodies. Body hatred is intimately tied to both the oppression of women and rejection of Earth as the source of life, abundance, and creation. Heavy stuff for a relationship blog, but hey, I'm not terribly interested in giving the kind of disembodied, authoritative advice that's so common amongst dating and relationship bloggers.

The problem I am seeing over and over again is that people want a fast track into relationship, and are willing to do anything that sounds good to get there. Furthermore, once in the relationship, many of us want another set of fast track rules to follow for navigating the challenges that come with partnerships, never mind that any such approaches can only be guidelines. They can never replace working with the uniqueness between partners. And furthermore, if those guidelines fail to take into account and question the social and cultural baggage present for each partnership, it's that much more likely that the partnership will stumble along or outright fall apart.

In other words, a larger woman might be able to find a partner who loves her for who she is, but if she hasn't unpacked the internalized oppression around body image, she might do everything in her power - usually unconsciously - to undermine the relationship. On the flip side, if the partner has chosen her mostly for her personality, he or she might end up undermining the relationship with body shaming, or associated negative behaviors. Sometimes, it takes years for this kind of stuff to emerge. Couples can be seemingly happy together, only to wake up one day to an outburst of anger and confusion that slowly, or rapidly tears them apart.

While I fully believe that our desires shift and change over the years, and that sometimes we naturally drift away from partners, it's also true in other cases that busted up relationships become that way primarily due to unexamined assumptions and views. Because we live in our bodies, and literally store unprocessed experience in our bodies - there's no way around it. In order to have conscious, thriving relationships, you have to learn to love your body, and feel the flow of life coming through you. Learning to love includes everything from choosing to lose weight if necessary, to standing tall and proud as you are, today, regardless of what others might think. It also means learning to liberate your desires from the narrow confines of the "proper" or "expected," while also balancing that with a deep commitment to non-harming.

It probably sounds like a tall order. And the reality is that while I can write it all clearly, I'm still learning a lot of this myself. The key, though, is to not go with the oppressive flow. In other words, if you are struggling with finding a partner, or are struggling within a partnership, instead of doing the same old thing, start to ask questions. And learn to wait for the answers, instead of accepting the first thing that comes to mind.

If you are insecure about your weight, what is that about? Where does it come from?

If you don't like to date "fat women or men," how do you define "fat"? Where did that definition come from? Is there any real benefit to having such a definition?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Men are Hardwired to Cheat, and Other Silly Stories

I have never been much for the idea that gender behavior is "hardwired." Most of the research being touted as proof is conducted on middle and upper class North Americans, Europeans, and Australians. When you boil it down, essentially what's being said is "hey, white people are doing this, so it must be true." Obviously, the participants in these studies are from racially diverse backgrounds, but if you do the math across studies, it's overwhelmingly white in makeup.

So, while I would never say biology plays no role, I question the hell out of the "hardwired narratives."

This post by Bettina Arndt attempts to defend, amongst other things, the idea that men are hardwired to want multiple sexual partners and are not monogamous by nature. It's an old trope, one that has been used for generations to support male infidelity, pressuring women into unwanted sexual experiences, and even as a defense for rape and incest.

What I found interesting was that so few have really challenged her position so far. Is it because she is woman writing about men? Is it because people actually believe these kinds of conclusions?

What was most curious to me was the following paragraph, tucked into the middle of the article:

There are, of course, high drive women who struggle to live with their own rampaging inner doe. There are many such single women but far fewer in long-term relationships. There are also those who enjoy watching porn, who cheerfully spend Friday nights with their partners munching take-away and watching R-rated DVDs. Women who happily live in open relationships, or go swinging with their partners, or post their own beaver shots on internet sites. And there are women genuinely concerned about their partners’ frustrations. It’s just that these women rarely enter the public debate.

I'd argue the numbers of women like this are increasing. Because after centuries of oppression, women across the globe are slowly - and in some places, rapidly - reclaiming their sexuality. It's impossible for me to ignore the social history around sexuality when considering sexual behavior, and instead of suggesting that men are hardwired to cheat, for example, it seems more likely that the social contracts around monogamy are shifting. Arndt cites well known sex and relationship columnist Dan Savage multiple times in her column, but fails to point out that Savage's writing on monogamish relationships are not gender exclusive. In other words, they aren't about letting men have their flings - they are about negotiated agreements between partners who may or may not both want to engage in sexual relations outside of their primary relationship.

This isn't to say I disagree with everything Arndt wrote. She's right to point out that talk about sexuality often gets shut down. Although it's not just men getting shut down. Which is one of the reasons why everything sex, from blogging to chat rooms to porn, has exploded online. Because so many of us are unable to speak to each other in person, we end up leaving comments on blogs, or disappearing down the rabbit hole of videos and texts available.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Opposites Attract?

I think a lot of us are lost out there when it comes to relationships. Some of us recognize the serious limitations of how relationships were constructed in the past, but don't know how to proceed. Others are still stuck in the old paradigm, and wonder why they feel miserable. And still others can't figure out how to reconcile independence with interdependence. Which I actually think is the biggest challenge for everyone.

Why do I mean by that? Well, on the one hand, it's really important to be your whole self in a relationship. To be able to be exactly who you are, and to have the freedom to grow and expand as your life goes on.

On the other hand, a real relationship is interdependent. You are not two isolated people spending time together. You love each other. Feed each other. Influence each other. Take risks together. Are open wide with each other.

These two points seem like opposites in out minds. In fact, much of the time, our brains can't reconcile them, and we feel like we have to choose.

You start getting too close with your partner, and you pull back. Fears of losing your independence take over, and intimacy is shut down and buried like trash under the ground.

Or you get in really close with your partner, feeling the amazing feeling that comes with love, but forget who you are, your needs, and everything else.

In order to truly live a conscious relationship, we must learn how to hold independence and interdependence at the same time. And to do that, we must learn how to be ok with making mistakes. With going too far in either direction sometimes and recognizing that this doesn't mean our relationship is doomed necessarily.