Monday, September 15, 2014

Better Relationships Through Balance

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You might notice that one of the underlying themes in much of my writing is balance. When our bodies are healthy, they are said to be "in balance." Experiencing homeostasis. The blood Ph level is hovering somewhere around 7.35. Body temperature right near 98.6 degrees F. Blood pressure rates vary a little bit more, but with all of these indicators, anything more than a slight shift can cause great disturbance.

The same can be said about human relationships. Whether we’re talking romantic relationships, friendships, family, or even relationships with co-workers, if you focus too much on the other person's flaws or weak points, you miss everything you are adding to the equation. On the opposite end, if you focus too much on your own flaws, you can miss or downplay questionable or negative behavior the other person might be displaying. You might even take responsibility for their bad behavior, thinking that "you did something to deserve it." And definitely, no matter what, too much focus on your own flaws will make you a pretty unpleasant person to be with. Always apologizing. Always thinking you did something wrong. Always feeling like you're never good enough. None of that is attractive.

So, balance. Self reflection is an essential ingredient, but so is being able to drop that and pay attention to the other person. Learning to detect red flags in another, like the person who seems a little too keen to impress you, is an invaluable skill. However, so is recognizing the subtle and not so subtle good qualities in a person.

Better relationships with others starts with being able to balance internal awareness with external awareness. From this place, we’re more able to share, create healthy boundaries, and love well.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Just Be Yourself?

I've seen a lot of posts lately that boil down to lists of dating advice that "have to go." Artificial times seem to be high on all these lists, and even making a suggestion that they might be helpful sometimes doesn't go over well. Overall, I tend to agree with much of what's being offered on these lists. At the same time, they often feel like shooting fish in a barrel.

However, I found this point in DrNerdLove's current post about the advice to "Just be yourself" pretty interesting.

The problem however, is that “just be yourself” is inherently bad advice. Being authentic is one thing – that’s something we all should be doing. But “just be yourself” is about not changing, period. And sometimes, quite frankly, being yourself is the problem. It doesn’t do you any good to “just be yourself” if you suck. Being told to be yourself means refusing to change, even when your current self is what’s holding you back. I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve known whose “bad luck” with women boiled down to something about themselves – something that was well within their ability to fix.When I’d point out their issue: a shitty attitude towards women, an unrealistic expectation of relationships or just plain being a selfish asshole – they’d come back with “well, women should love me for who I am. I’m not going to change just to please people.” Then with their very next breath1 they’re back to wondering why women don’t like them.

One thing I've grown to have disdain for is how much of the general dating advice scene is about how everyone is so dysfunctional and how the path to finding love is either one of learning how to navigate through all sorts of horrible, predatory people, or it's about following someone else's supposedly "foolproof" plan. There's something really disempowering about all of that.

When I see people acting really resistant to ideas and suggestions that might actually be quite helpful, I'm reminded of my own resistance back when I was in the dating market. It's not just whether something is "good advice," but it's also how it's delivered that matters. In fact, I'd say how it's delivered matters more. And also timing.

DrNerdLove's comments point to a fair amount of this. First off, he's absolutely right that giving that kind of advice to some people is awful. Because it just reinforces their sense that the problems are outside of themselves. Secondly, his tally of men in this case, demonstrates that timing matters a lot. Even if he gave the opposite advice to these guys that they needed to drop the shitty attitude and change their behavior, odds are plenty of them wouldn't have listened. In these cases, "Just be yourself" is reinforcing what they already believe. Namely, that they're trying to navigate through a field of landmines, and mostly are getting explosions from messed up people in return.

Overall, I think DrNerdLove is rejecting "Just be yourself" because it's too vague. Which is fair. However, the subtle distinction he makes between that phrase and "Just be authentic" is probably lost on many people. I'm not really convinced that using the word "authentic" would trigger self reflection on ways someone is acting poorly or negatively. He needed an entire post himself to unpack the difference, which to me suggests it's not the particular phrase, but more that advice needs to be more specific and detailed as a general rule.

So, more to the point from my end, the biggest problem with "Just be yourself" is that who you are in the world isn't static. Telling people to just be themselves tends to reinforce the stories they have about themselves, regardless of whether they're positive or negative. Which in my opinion, isn't terribly helpful to entering into a dating situation with fresh eyes and openness not only about another person, but also who you are, and how you might be in a partnership with someone.

Along these lines, DrNerdLove says in his second post:

he concept of “You” is far more fluid and malleable than most people would think. We change who we are – who we truly are – all the time; after all, we’re not the same person we were when we were 10, or 20, or 30. We are constantly being shaped and moulded by our experiences, our beliefs, even our day-to-day experiences. A bad break up can leave us bitter and resentful and mistrustful of others while a sudden shock – a near-death experience for example – can inspire us to live life to the fullest instead of taking everything for granted.

Of course, none of this means that the goal is become chameleon-like. There are plenty of things about you that aren't going to rapidly change. Furthermore, those people who do rapidly change to try and fit in and be loved all the time are pretty awful partners. And sometimes damned scary in fact.

However, it's really helpful in my view to learn to hold everything you think about who you are and what you're about in the world a little more lightly. Because holding on too tightly to self-identity is probably one of the biggest roadblocks in dating and relationships. Which is why even if someone needs to be more authentically themselves while dating, "just be yourself" isn't terribly helpful advice.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dating Notes from a Former Nice Guy

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I used to be a Nice Guy. Not kind, generous, open, and honest. But "nice." The one many of the dating experts warn you about. And yet, too often, you still fall for because ... well, he's just so damned nice.

So, here's what was true about me. I was desperate to be liked. I was afraid of hurting anyone. I was friendly and agreeable. I listened well. And once I had my first girlfriend, I didn't want to be alone.

Except that, I also wanted "space" a lot of the time. I shared my thoughts and ideas, but not really what I was feeling. I was afraid of conflict, and the possibility of loosing someone as a result of conflict. If I was upset with a girlfriend, I'd stuff it until I couldn't take anymore and then would blow. Not violently, but more of an unleashing of a litany of wrongs she had done - and which I'd kept tally of, but hadn't mentioned until then. I took almost everything that happened in the relationship personally, even though often whatever it was had nothing to do with me.

I was, throughout my teens and 20s, depressed more often than not. I had no idea how to ask for what I needed, and was afraid that if I did start asking sometimes, I'd be considered "needy" and ultimately get rejected. The joke is that although I presented myself as almost selfless, and generally did give a lot - both in my relationships and in the community - I also was pretty needy emotionally. However, instead of getting those needs met directly, I'd occasionally suck energy from folks through over the top ranting, or I'd get my needs met through sideways asking that probably was more manipulating sometimes.

Now, the thing is that despite all of that, I was fairly well liked. I had a good circle of friends, got along well with co-workers and classmates (when I was in school), and generally was a productive, engaged member of society. But something was off. I wasn't quite real or authentic. And as a result, many of my relationships and dating experiences weren't so great.

What happened? Well, a lot of things. I began a serious yoga and Zen meditation practice. I had a long term relationship crumble in a way that exposed many of my "Nice Guy" flaws. I decided that I'd use my online dating experiences as opportunities to take risks. And eventually, I committed to being myself, and letting the chips fall as they may.

Let's consider the Nice Guy in more detail now. Here's a good list of traits, from an article exploring the nice guy stereotype.

They believe that if they are good, giving, and caring, that they will get happiness, love and fulfillment in return.
They offer to do things for a girl they hardly know that they wouldn’t normally do for just anybody else they know.
They avoid conflict by withholding their opinions or even become agreeable with her when they don’t actually agree.
They try to fix and take care of her problems, they are drawn to trying to help.
They seek approval from others.
They try to hide their perceived flaws and mistakes.
They are always looking for the “right” way to do things.
They tend to analyze rather than feel.
They have difficulty making their needs a priority.
They are often emotionally dependent on their partner.

Now, say you're out on a first or second date. And perhaps you're wondering how to discern the difference between a mature, kind man and a Nice Guy.

Here are some questions to consider.

What happens if you disagree with him on something? Does he rush to agree with you?

Does he seem "too perfect"?

Is he overly quick to offer to help you with some issue that no other person who barely knows you would? Or is he overly giving right off the bat?

Is most of your conversation about ideas and intellectual interests?

Does he seem to be seeking approval from you a fair amount of the time?

These are all questions based on the traits above. Here are a few more, based upon how I used to be.

Does he paint himself as the underdog much of the time, in order to seek sympathy?

Does he struggle to make eye contact with you when talking about anything more serious?

Does he shut down, go quiet, or change the subject when emotional topics are brought up?

Of course, none of these alone mean a whole lot. But if you've got someone who fits several of the patterns these questions are getting at, then chances are you're dealing with a Nice Guy.

I could say more, but I'll stop there. Thoughts? Anything to add?

Monday, April 7, 2014

How Your Dating Conflicts Are Sometimes Mirrors from Your "Distant" Past

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The issue of communication in a relationship is often tricky. Each person has their own style and needs, which sometimes conflict. However, sometimes the conflicts are about something deeper than just basic differences, such as in this post from a yoga practitioner who's blog I've been reading for awhile now:

I've been unhappy with the lack of communication I had with the bf. We barely interacted besides funny cat pictures he occasionally sent me, so last week I decided to tell him that either we see each other more often, or he calls more often, or I wouldn't see him this weekend.

Worst. strategy. ever. He got furious, started listing everything that I have ever done wrong, how I stress him out, and now it's zero communication.

I realized we probably already interact more than he's comfortable with, which is ridiculously little by any normal standards (we might as well be in a long-distance relationship even though we live in the same city). I started browsing through a thousand articles about men and why they stonewall women and how to get them to communicate more and stuff. I already tried to mentally prepare myself for the worst case scenario - our break up, but it was still very painful.

Now, this situation doesn't sound terribly promising in my view. She's thinking that he's at his limit in terms of contact, and yet in between seeing each other, they're only sharing cat pics? Seriously, not good, no matter how you slice it. However, there are some details missing that might make an assessment easier. Such as how often they see each other, and also how long they've been dating. So, let's move on.

The most interesting piece to me is in this additional paragraph:

My dad also has a style of rarely talking or discussing things, but it suited my mom because she likes to have complete control over the family and he lets her shove him. She treats him like a small child: she tells him when he needs to put on more clothes; she decided that he should retire early and we should move to North America; she signed me up for all sorts of extracurricular activities without ever discussing with me or even informing me beforehand and made him drive me to these classes while I was young. He put up with all this and never complained much.

Over the years, I've noticed how I have attracted dates and partners that reflect traits of my parents. Sometimes, this is a positive thing, such as finding someone who has my mother's general optimism about life. Other times, though, it's been a major source of conflict, like in the situation above. The unresolved difficulties you had/have with a parent can be mirrored in the person you're dating, giving you yet another chance to face and resolve things, or get tripped up by them.

How we communicate and connect with each other are often driven by old patterns from our formative years. It takes a lot of deliberate focus and effort to overturn such patterns, and to operate from your own ground, as opposed to that which allowed you to handle your childhood years.

My own pattern of heavy self criticism around mistakes, given to me by both of my parents to some degree, needed to be shaken out of me over and over again. In terms of dating, I was prone to finding other perfectionists who triggered my sense of internalized shame around screwing up, even in the most minor of circumstances. It really wasn't until a few years ago, when I dated someone who's streak was so strong that after a month or so of going back and forth between fighting with her and going along with whatever to not upset her, I realized this was old, old stuff. That I would never be "good enough" for her because she didn't think she was good enough herself. All the controlling, endless analyzing of any situation that didn't go well, or how she wanted it to - all of that was just a variation of what I was prone to doing.

Needless to say, that relationship didn't last much longer, but ever since then, I've found it easier to identify the "not good enough" narrative and let it go.

How about you? Have you seen these kinds of issues in your relationships?

Monday, March 31, 2014

The #1 Reason to Delay Having Sex

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No point in getting into a shit storm of a fight over on Moxie's blog about her constant lampooning of folks who want to slow things down, and also her endless suspicion of anyone who doesn't fuck after a handful of dates.

I'll just say here that I think she's wrong. And her advice suffers terribly for it.

In her current post she cites this article, which I think is pretty level headed, if also lacking in details and supportive research.

I particularly like this section:

One might think if American culture has continued to become more open, then the three-date rule might now be the first-date rule. It is, but only with a small minority of daters.

Instead, by becoming even more sexually liberal, our culture is more accepting of a wider range of sexual attitudes and behaviors.

This is a positive, don't you think? Folks who so fiercely advocate against delaying sex seem to me to be, in part, battling against the opposite kind of culture. A socially conservative one where sex is shameful, to be controlled, and littered with oppressive gender scripts. Something that's still present in the U.S., but doesn't dominate our overall discourse, despite the religious right's continued attempts. Of course, regionally there are major differences. Some places are much more open and accepting than others. But overall, we're a nation with a wide mix of views about sex and sexuality, many of which contradict each other.

There are tons of Dating Books on this subject and much more.

What I find so fascinating - and disappointing - about the commonplace heterosexual arguments in favor of sex right away, or nearly right away, is that they're usually built on really old stereotypes about male sexuality. In particular, the idea that men can't wait, won't wait, and those who do must have some issue (sexual dysfunction, they're closeted, etc.) These folks think they're being so progressive in voicing all this, but they're actually peddling the same old patriarchal nonsense that has dominated the sex lives of generations of women and men before them. Yes, they're free to have sex whenever they want now. But their thinking isn't that much better than their grandmothers and grandfather's was on the subject.

If a man runs his dating life on the premise that he's got to have sex early on, or else he's going to move on, he's not "liberated."

If a woman runs her sex life on the premise that men are going to bail if she doesn't have sex with them early on, and/or that guys who don't want sex right away are "damaged" somehow, then she's not liberated either.

True sexual liberation, in my opinion, is being able to engage the current dating situation as it is. To be able to let go of the stories and propaganda you've swallowed over the years to face, and embrace, the person before you as they are. To learn each others' actual needs and desires and go from there.

The number 1 reason why waiting a bit is a good idea is that it takes time to wade through each others' conditioning and fears/hangups from the past in order to actually engage sex in a more liberated way. Hell, the first month or so of most relationships, you're operating almost completely on a fantasy sketch of who someone is, and how they are in the world. Add on that all the mixed messages you've swallowed over a lifetime, plus your past dating/relationship history, and it's gets complicated really fast.

Which doesn't mean you can't have casual sex, or that sex on the first or second date dooms a relationship. I'm just saying you're fooling yourself if you think that just being able to have sex whenever is a liberated position. That you're somehow have so much more freedom just because you can fuck whomever whenever.

Because You don't. It's not that special anymore. Take a look at the underlying motivations and rationales. Consider whether your ideas about men and women are actually your own, and also whether they help you be the best person that you can be in a relationship. Having a liberated sex life is much more than just being able to do it.

Monday, March 17, 2014

When Gathering Evidence Becomes a Dating Crutch

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In my 20s, I was an endless evidence gatherer. In fact, that even was true with women who I never dated. I recall one in particular who demonstrated a bit of interest a few times, but then didn't really respond to my "let's get together sometime" kind of comments. I sat around for weeks, rethinking the conversations we had had. Did that look mean she was interested? She really liked the poems I had written. That must be a sign. But she didn't want to get a drink with me? Is she a recovering alcoholic? Should I ask her about that? The questions were endless, as was the tallying. All for a woman who probably thought of me as some nice guy she had a few conversations with, and that's about it.

I have had to train myself to cut off the evidence gathering mind. To know when enough information is enough, and when it's time to make a decision.

You have to learn, for example, how your mind rationalizes the poor behavioral patterns of a partner, or the ways in which you discount or marginalize your own needs in a relationship as a way to keep the peace. Or out of a fear of losing the person. You also have to learn to see through the cooked up stories your mind makes about ambiguous situations. It takes some discipline, and really a willingness to let go of knowing for certain what's going on.

In other words, it's all about balance. I think it's especially difficult in the beginning, when you don't know the other person well. And also when trying to decide if something should end or not, where emotional attachments and feelings of not wanting to give up on something you've put a lot of effort into come into play.

When it comes to those of us who have challenges with leaving, it's really important to remember that you don't have to justify everything. You don't have to have reasons for every last thing you don't like about the relationship, nor do you have to explain all of that to the other person. Offering some of that to the other person, especially if you've been together a long time, is probably a kind thing to do. However, if somewhere in your mind you believe that you have to explain your way completely out of a relationship, then what you have built is a prison, not a relationship.

If you find yourself spending numerous hours tallying pros and cons about a relationship, and/or constantly digging for more information or opinions from others about your relationship, this is probably just another form of endless evidence gathering.

At the end of the day, it's all about trying to avoid pain and suffering. Which never works in the long run.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

"Boys Don't Cry:" One Reason Why Modern Men Struggle With Grief and Other Emotions

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You ever wonder why so many men struggle with their emotions? Or why in particular men don't seem to handle grief well, or cry very often? Well, I don't have all the answers, but in my latest post over at Life as a Human webzine, I share a bit of my own story and talk about how modern economics plays a role in how men deal with grief. Check it out!

Monday, March 10, 2014

What Do You Hate About Modern Dating?

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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 my modern 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. The plethora of one sized fits all dating gurus. I get it. People like to be told exactly what to do. But seriously, when you keep failing to find a good partner, and are swamped in self loathing or endless self improvement efforts as a result of thinking someone else knows better, it's time to stop drinking the kool aid.

5. How easy trivial things seem to trump everything else. Things like being an inch or two "shorter" than desired, or a few pounds heavier, or not having the high powered job that supposedly demonstrates personal ambition. This goes part and parcel with our consumer culture, which glorifies materialism, celebrities, and fairy tale romances in ways that our ancestors never had.

What about you? What drives you nuts about modern dating?

Are you looking for Dating Books? Click the link to find dozens of great titles.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Fears of the Friendzone are Overblown

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Anyone who has been reading this blog awhile knows that I'm not impressed with speed. There seems to be no end to advice that boils down to "you snooze, you loose. This post, from the Urban Dater, is no exception.

Many guys think that they’ve been friend-zoned because they did something (wrong), but often times, it’s because they didn’t do something. They failed to take action soon enough. Does it takes balls to take action? Absolutely, but this is something that is within our power. Just keep in mind that guys who get friend-zoned are the ones who “played it safe.” You must strike when the iron is hot.

Ah, the "friendzone." I felt like I spent much of high school there. I can recall multiple women in college with whom it seemed I was lost in the long tunnel of maybe, but not quite. Even in grad school there was one woman. But since then, well, the term doesn't really apply to anything I have experienced. Furthermore, both in college and grad school, there were people who were attracted to me in my friend circle that I had little or no romantic interest in. Perhaps they felt trapped in the friendzone as well. I honestly don't know.

Here's what I think. The friendzone is a concept that is not only over-applied, but also is yet another excuse for folks to rush things, instead of act naturally. The fear of being labeled not interested or simply lumped in with someone's friends feels no different than the commonplace advice to "lock in" whomever your dating online because there's "so much competition." It's all about fear, and not about reading reality.

In reality, a lot of the time you "land in the friendzone" is because the other person just isn't that into you. When I look back at my school days crushes, I honestly don't think most of them would have dated me. They liked me well enough, but my lack of making a move wasn't the issue. The reverse is also true. I wouldn't have dated most of the people I knew had crushes on me. I just wasn't that interested.

Which brings me to my next point. How much of this is rom-com fantasy? I have a hard time taking the concept too seriously, even though it does happen sometimes, even between middle aged adults.

They say timing is everything, right? Well, we've all heard of those long term friendships that eventually become romantic partnerships. They aren't the norm, but they do happen. And the thing is, there's not much you can do to speed something like that up. Nor would it be wise to bank your life on something like that, no matter how great someone is. However, it strikes me that to whatever extent the friendzone is real, it's also not something that's fixed.

That's the problem with life: it doesn't conform to human ideas.

Which doesn't mean you shouldn't make a quicker move sometimes. Sometimes, that might be right thing. Does it make sense given what's present, or is it forced? The answer will be different every time.

Fears of the friendzone are overblown. Even if you are really shy about dating, like I used to be, odds are the ones you think "got away" never would have been yours anyway.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Dating Timelines and Waiting for Sex

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A few, short reactions from reading various blogs over the past few weeks.

1. Moxie over at And That's Why You're Single had post insisting that folks who don't respond to online dating inquiries after 24 hours aren't serious, and should be simply be dismissed.

My general response: that's a ridiculous idea! I don't even think it's true for those seemingly hyper-speed New Yorkers Moxie appears to be speaking to.

A more nuanced comment: arbitrary timelines are far less valuable than discerning the quality of the interactions. I'd take a handful of thoughtful messages and a date after 2 or 3 weeks any day over a flood of one liners and pressure to get together after a couple of days from a stranger.

2. Somewhere, I can't remember exactly where, I read something about perceiving dating as a "battle" to win someone's heart over. Which isn't much different from seeing dating as a "competition."

My general response: these are destructive ideas. If you have make a ton of effort to "win someone over" they probably aren't really that into you. And/or their interest might be or remain dependent upon your ability to keep doing X,Y, or Z to keep them interested. In addition, rushing to "get commitment" and/or worrying about others who might "take your date from you" is a great way to create misery. How many of those rushed relationship work out in the long term? And how often has your incessant worrying lead you to a happy, healthy relationship?

3. Evan Marc Katz offers yet another right wing piece of research to support his views. Why use a video which appears to wallow in socially conservative rhetoric about contraception and modern social ills to point out that waiting for sex is a positive thing?

That basic message both he and the video in question (here's the original source) offer is totally fine. I agree with it wholeheartedly if your aim is to develop a long term relationship with someone. I also think that mutually agreement to have casual or more loose ended sex is totally fine as well. And there are enough examples of folks who didn't wait and ended up in good long term relationships too, so nothing is set in stone. It just seems easier to develop a good long term relationship when you take it slower.

Furthermore, I find it troubling that the whole works is balanced on notions about men and women that are questionable at best.

Such as the sense that men need to be "trained" by their female dates to respect them sexually. This runs dangerously close to the idea that men can't control their sexual drives, something that continues to be used to defend all sorts of abusive behavior.

Beyond that though is something more subtle. Namely, that men will only "value" women who make them wait, which to me assumes that men default at not valuing women. Which is true for some men, no doubt.

However, if we continue to assume collectively that women must keep men at bay, and their own sex drives at bay, solely (or primarily) to get men to respect them and value them - well, that doesn't strike me as anything more than coping with patriarchy.

Does this make sense? It's pretty subtle. As I said, I support the waiting guidelines. But I think we need to re-frame what they are for.

The way I see it, waiting to have sex is about giving space to learn about each other. To discover if you have enough of a connection to be more vulnerable together. Perhaps there's some sort of increased "valuing" included in this, but it should be about the unique individuals involved.

In other words, it's framed in the positive (I'm waiting so that we can come to care for each other as unique people.) It's not framed in the negative (I'm doing this to make him respect me first because I'm afraid he won't if I don't.) Do you see how fear based this is?

The thing is, I think you can both make decisions to protect yourself early on in the dating process, and also maintain the positive framework as your aim. It's not an either/or as I see it.

I could say more, but I'll stop there.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Two Truths About Your Dating Life

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I'm going to make a bold statement. One that you might not believe.

You know much more about relationships than you think you do.

Maybe that sounds ridiculous. Maybe you totally agree.

Let me offer another statement. One that on the surface contradicts the first one.

You don't know anything.

Now you might be thinking, "What's this guy been smoking?!"

Here's the thing. When it comes to matters of the heart, we are far too prone as a species to trusting the wrong things, and not trusting the right things. You might have a feeling deep down that someone is a poor match for you, but oh the sex is so good, and oh they're so hot, and oh they meet most or all the things on my checklist.

On the other hand, there isn't a single relationship around that doesn't involve risk. In the beginning, no one really "knows" for sure if another person is a great match for them or not. I think a lot of the time, people take leaps of faith when committing to another after long periods of dating. They say they knew from the beginning or early on, but that's just a polite lie.

I tend to believe the happiest people are those who are able to trust that deeper voice within, while also being able to be at least somewhat comfortable with not knowing all the answers.

Learning to listen to, locate, and trust that deeper voice allows you to bypass all the superficial noise. It helps to override chemistry, social status markers or lack there of, and good appearances that don't hold up under scrutiny. It also - more importantly - allows you to operate not from a place of blame and victim hood, but from a place a empowerment.

The majority of dating and relationship situations don't involve issues like domestic abuse, rape, or sustained coercion or manipulation of some kind where someone is truly victimized. Sadly, these things are far too common, and I don't want to make light of them. But here, I'm talking about all those relationships where these aren't present. Where the struggles people have together are more benign. Or even if they produce great suffering, aren't about some "evil person" hurting another. (I actually don't believe in the evil person construct at all, but that's a whole other post.)

The point here is that when you are able to hear that inner wisdom about a situation, then you can make the necessary changes (including ending things all together) without blaming and demonizing.

In order to do so, you have to first believe that you actually know something about relationships. And then you have to give yourself the space and quiet to let the truth arise. I usually opt to meditate, but it could be as simple as going for a quiet walk or drive. Regardless of what you do, it's important that you have relative quiet and also give it some time. In my experience, there's almost always a wave of superficial reactive answers and commentary that come up which I have to let go of in order to hear what's underneath.

So, that's one piece of the story. The other is developing your capacity to live with not knowing for sure. Learning to not rush to judgement about someone who maybe isn't quite what you had hoped for, but who's company you enjoy all the same. Or remembering that most of those "I knew from moment our eyes met" stories don't end in happily ever after. Or even more trickier is being ok with the reality that the future is not certain, no matter what.

One of the reasons I distrust experts is that often project an air of certainty that can't possibly be true. Another reason is that they present the truths that they do so in such a way that it tends to dis-empower the rest of us. The stereotypical doctor instantly comes to mind here. It never ceases to amaze me how people who have literally lived in their bodies for decades suddenly act like they know nothing about their bodies, deferring everything to the all knowing doctor who really only knows a certain set of facts (if that sometimes.)

So, please, if you don't already, give yourself more credit. And at the same time, stay humble and nimble.

That's all I've got for today.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Don't Assume Anything!

Photo credit: mrmac04 from

I was thinking recently how people get themselves in such messy situations when they rush things.

Flashback to an experience I had several years ago.

We had been dating about a month. We got along pretty well, and things appeared to be heading towards a committed relationship. Given that I'm not into "juggling dates," I had stopped going to the online dating sites, and had told the other two women I was writing to that I had started seeing someone. Judging by her increased interest in spending time with me, as well as the increased physical intimacy, I assumed she had done the same. Turns out that wasn't the case.

As a relative newbie to online dating back then, and also someone who really didn't have much experience dating outside of my "friend and acquaintance pool," I was unprepared for the kind of issues that can come up when you date people you have no prior connection with.

So, there we were, sitting at a coffee shop having a conversation, and I must have brought up something about her being "my girlfriend" or something of the sort.

And she says "But I've been seeing so and so as well."

"What?" (with confused look)

"Oh, I've been spending Fridays with so and so, and Saturdays with you."

Tensely, trying to hold it together, I respond, "But I thought we were becoming a couple?"

"Well, I like you a lot" (touches my hand) "but I don't know if you're "the one?"

"How can you know something like that for sure after a month?"

"I don't know." (looks away) "I didn't think it was a big deal. Are you angry?"

I pause, briefly surveying the room as my body began shaking. "No. No. I'm not angry."

"You seem angry?"

"No. I'm not."

"I'm sorry. I just don't know."

About ten minutes later we parted ways.

Looking back on this situation now, there are plenty of signs and missteps that were taken. First of all, there were the assumptions both of us made that ultimately led to things unraveling. Next, there were the signs I missed that clearly pointed to something not being quite "right" about the relationship unfolding. Friday wasn't the only day marked off on her calendar. I actually only had two or three evenings to choose from to spend time with her. And I had no idea what she did with the rest of her free time. In addition, she didn't really make a lot of contact in between dates - it seemed like I was often the one initiating contact. At the time, I thought it was because she wanted me to "chase her," to be "the man," but obviously that wasn't the issue really.

Overall, the whole situation speaks to the lesson "Don't assume anything." Which I think is best manifested by having a curiosity and openness to not knowing. Which isn't terribly easy all the time, but in my opinion, is the path of most joy and least misery.

Instead of assuming the other person is dating multiple people, or only dating you, you don't assume at all. Sometimes, things just naturally become clear over time. Other times, someone has to bring the issue up for direct discussion.

It seems to me that if you're opting to date multiple people at the same time, being upfront about that earlier in the process rather than later is better. I'm not talking on the first few dates here. But if you're spending more time together with someone, with the physical intimacy increasing, it only seems fair to be as clear as you can about where things stand.

On the flip side, if you are someone used to rejecting out of hand anyone who opts to date multiple people early on (the first month or two), you might consider rethinking that. My mid-20s novice self couldn't handle dating a woman who was seeing someone else, but if I were in the same situation now - knowing we had only been going out for about a month - I might handle it differently. We hadn't had sex yet, and I could have kept that in place for a little longer to see what happened between us. Yes, it's a bit of a blow to not be the only one, but again, we're talking a month here.

I say this only because there's a lot of unknowns in the dating world these days. It's easy to get trapped in absolute rules and approaches that may not be serving you.

Don't assume you know based upon X, Y, or Z. Be more curious and open to things not being exactly as you expect, or hope for.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

He's Not Interested. She's Not Interested.

Photo credit: jade from

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Given that "traditional" dating patterns aren't a given these days, it's incumbent upon us - regardless of gender - to be a little more assertive. That might mean being the one who makes the next move, even if the old rules say you should wait X number of days or you're a woman, and that means letting the man do the contacting. You can disagree with me about this, but I feel like a lot of that stuff is just game playing. It may have served folks well when roles were more fixed, but now it's less likely to.

Whatever you do though, the biggest point remains to question your assumptions. And to make a conscious decision about what to believe and/or what to do in a dating situation.

It's your mind's nature to want answers. If there's a lack of a clear answer, it will make something up. Learning to hang without an answer when there isn't one, or only a partial one, is a major dating and relationship skill. As is choosing to act based on reality, as opposed to your fears or other mental scripts.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Why Deal Breaker and Must Have Lists Aren't That Helpful for Daters

Photo credit: cohdra from

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, there's nothing really wrong with these lists per se. But do they really do much in terms of helping us find a quality partner?

When I was doing online dating, I found most of these kind of lists rather useless. A few things, like a check in favor of drug use or smoking, were helpful in weeding people out. However, with qualities like honesty, intelligence, humor, and the like, only time spent with someone can really flush them out.

The modern dating world makes us prone to doing the one or both of the following:

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

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

While there's a lot of good advice these days around rejecting "instant chemistry," the way I see it, many of us replace the search for instant chemistry with the search for someone with "financial stability," "good humor," or "wicked smartness." Others simply expand the criteria to include several "must have" qualities, while failing to realize or remember that great relationships are much more than the sum of some list. Or set of lists.

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 want 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.

At the end of the day, any list can only be a base level guideline. It can't save you from heartache, nor can it really help you reflect deeply enough about someone you're dating, and whether or not they could be a good match.