The search for a relationship is one of the most challenging and complex tasks of our entire lives.Yet single people can open entire new vistas of possibility—if they resolve to ignore the bankrupt dating advice foisted upon them, and finally align their search for love with the tools of real intimacy. The following three suggestions from my book Deeper Dating may fly in the face of most everything you’ve learned about dating—but they lead to love.
Around the world, single people are being taught that the the search for love is a race against time; a numbers game that favors the young and beautiful. That they must become more witty, charming, and sexy if they ever hope to find love and build a family. Through mass media, they’re presented with a never ending stream of air-brushed, over-romanticized images of love. Then, they are invited to an endless banquet of new ways to meet—almost all of which are dehumanizing. At the end of the day, this soulless approach doesn't lead to love. It leads to insecurity and desperation.
Why is it doomed to fail?
• It diminishes our sense of worth
• It makes us colder, less kind, more jaded. In service of our passionate goal, partnership, we throw our humanity—and that of our date—right under the bus.
• It converys an attitude of desperation, which leads us to make bad choices
• It instills fear and insecurity, which makes us judgmental of ourselves and others.
• It creates an unhealthy pressure to find “the one”
Instead of helping us embrace our authentic self, the singles world teaches us to avoid authenticity—in ourselves and in the people we date. Like those ugly fun-house mirrors, singles culture flashes distorted, haunting images at us—images of our own flaws and inadequacies and of the inadequacies of the people we date. The solution is not to find our self-esteem within the walls of that hall of mirrors. It is to get out, and to find a better path.
I’ve found that there is a wiser path that not only leads not only to healthy love but to a radical sense of self-love. Following are three tools which embody the heart of this path.
STOP PLAYING IT COOL
Instead, practice kindness, consistency, and availability. Anyone who doesn’t return the favor is simply not the person to build your life with.
In dating, we’ve been trained to be cool, not kind. “Next!” has become the modern dating call. If dating culture is anything, it’s unkind—and amazingly, we have become used to it. With the multitudes of people many of us meet online and in dating events, we’ve lost the basic codes of kindness that create the possibility for intimacy. This approach has dead-ended countless potential relationships, and has led to a singles culture filled with deep loneliness.
Yes, it’s scary to show an extra degree of kindness and generosity. It exposes our soul. And that is exactly why we should do it! There is no better way to discover who is worthy of your core self. The next time you’re on a first date, try showing just a bit more kindness and generosity from beginning to end, and then use discrimination about who you want to date again based upon their response to your kindness. Kindness not only helps others; it leads us to meet kinder people, people who are capable of long-term healthy love. Kindness and generosity are intoxicating to people who are also kind and generous. These qualities are the very medium of intimacy.
BECOME A STUDENT OF YOUR ATTRACTIONS
We’re taught that deep passionate love is found by following our most intense attractions. It turns out those attractions are frequently the fast-track to personal hell. Anyone who wishes to find real and healthy love must learn to understand their patterns of attraction. Without this understanding, we go into the dating world unprotected, and at risk. If we examine past relationships that haven’t worked, we can find the ways in which their failure was embedded within them from the beginning. How many of us have started new relationships with a sense of new hope, only to find that they lead us right back to the pains we've experienced time and again in past relationships?
Each of us has what I call "attractions of deprivation", in which we act out our personal "myth of lost love." The attributes of these attractions are unique to each of us, and must be explored and understood if we wish not to repeat them. Almost all of us are attracted to partial unavailablility in a partner—it triggers all our insecurities, and makes us want that person more. Most of us can also be attracted to people who treat us well, and then treat us poorly. These attractions of deprivation trigger our fear of abandonment; one of these strongest forces in our emotional lives.
However, no matter how much we are attracted to the bad boys and bad girls, the kind-then-cruel types, we can also be attracted to people who are kind, loving and available. I call these "attractions of inspiration."
If I could only share one insight with you, it would be this: Learn to distinguish between your "attractions of deprivation" and your "attractions of inspiration." Then, follow your attractions of inspiration exclusively. I believe that's the wisest path to love.
However, wise doesn’t mean easy. While attractions of deprivation trigger our fear of abandonment, attractions of inspiration trigger our fear of intimacy. Have you ever started dating someone kind, available and consistent—and then gotten the sudden urge to flee? Most of us have felt that, and sadly, most of us do flee. No one ever explained to us that this desire to escape is often an early--and temporary--sign of a healthy attraction!
If we don’t recognize our patterns of attraction and deprivation, we'll keep choosing the worng people, and we'll miss countless opportunities to turn good dates into real love.
LEARN TO BUILD ROMANTIC AND SEXUAL INTIMACY IN YOUR HEALTHY RELATIONSHIPS
How many single people note with despair that the people they are most attracted to aren’t interested in them, and those who pursue them just aren’t exciting or attractive enough? In reality, this experience is almost universal. It doesn't mean we're incapable of intimacy. It just means we needs new tools to navigate these complex waters.
We all know that sexual and romantic attractions can’t be forced. What we're not taught is that our attractions can be educated—and in fact must be if we want to find healthy love. If there’s a spark of attraction, and the person in question has the characteristics of an attraction of inspiration, then you’ve found something rare and wonderful. Take the time to cultivate your attraction by sharing your vulnerability, by enjoying and appreciating your time together, by honoring your own sexual pacing (strong suggestion: in most cases,its wise not to have sex right away!) and by letting the intimacy between you grow in its own way, at its own pace. And when you feel the longing to flee—don’t! That wave (which, at its heart, is simply a very human fear) will pass if you don’t flee it or push youself too hard, and when it does you’ll have a clearer sense of whether or not this person is right for you.
I believe that these three tools have the power to guide you to true love—but not through the bone-crushing dating game you’ve been taught you must endure. And they work for people of all ages, life circumstances and sexual orientations. I’ve seen true love happen for people in their 90’s, and for people just diagnosed with terminal illnesses. And for people like me, who have spent most of their lives in what a I called a state of chronic singlehood.
The path to finding a loving relationship is about something much grander than we’ve been taught. It’s not about games, seductions or tricks. It’s about intimacy, or as Arielle Ford says, “into-me-see.”
If you’re single and care enough to have read this far, then you're lucky--because you admit how much love matters to you, even though that admission may leave you feeling very vulnerable. You're lucky because you’re still hoping to find love.
In fact, perhaps the greatest gift in your possession—something you might never have seen as a gift—is your longing to find real love. We’re taught that longing for love is a weakness, a sign of failure or discontent. Well, it is not. Longing is a gift and a strength. It deserves to be honored, because it teaches us what matters most.
How many people have settled into loveless relationships? Worse, how many single people have given up altogether? Your longing for real love hasn’t let you give up or settle.
In fact, you might even congratulate yourself for being someone who hasn’t given up on seeking love; someone alive enough, brave enough, and determined enough to commit to your search for love in this world.
It’s time for single people to to honor the hard and challenging journey they've committed to: the journey to build a good and meaningful life with another person. How many things matter more?
© 2013 Ken Page, LCSW. All Rights Reserved
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