The search for love is one of our greatest life-tasks. Unfortunately, the quality of much dating advice and the atmosphere of most dating venues ranges from superficial to downright demeaning. The skills of dating are the skills of intimacy—not game-playing. These seven techniques will speed your path to love and strengthen your sense of self. Consider giving them a try.
In the land of dating, the rewards can be profound, but the risks are daunting. Dating demands sexual and emotional maturity, vulnerability, patience and bravery. Single people should be honored simply for tackling the challenge. Instead, they are subjected to torrents of advice on why they must improve themselves in order to nab a mate. Following is a set of practices which honor both the dater and the date. They will open new windows of insight about your own search for intimacy while maximizing your chances of finding a healthy, loving relationship.
1) Discover the Art of Squinting
If you’ve ever seen an artist working on a portrait, you may have noticed that he or she pauses to squint. Squinting helps the artist capture the essence of their subject without getting distracted by its harsh outlines. We need to do the same in our dating life. It’s so easy to get lost in the hard assessment of people’s imperfections, and of our own. Squinting helps. Often, we hyper-focus on externals and miss the qualities that matter most. I’m not suggesting that you force yourself to date someone you’re not attracted to. But don’t lose sight of the whole person because you’re stuck on nagging external imperfections. Chances are, the person you will finally come to love will be younger, older, taller or shorter than the person you’re dreaming of. Innumerable opportunities for real love have been lost because daters didn’t know the wise skill of squinting. Important note: Squinting is for externals, not for important personality traits. (e.g., Nasty to the waiter? Eyes wide open. Unfortunate sense of style? Squint.)
2) Focus on the quality of your connection
This technique builds upon the previous one. On a date, it's easy to devote too much attention to our beloved inner scorecard, and not enough to the unique quality of our connection with person in front of us. See if you can drop down past that exhausting tendency, and just notice how you feel with your date. On your next date, try this simple exercise. You may be surprised by what you find.
We all have a fear-based way of handling the discomfort and insecurity of dating situations. Instead of fight or flight, we click into “mate or flee.” This time, take a break from the wearying stream of assessment: "Does s/he like me? Do I like him or her?" Instead, notice what you’re actually feeling with that person. Of course, you’re probably feeling nervous. But in addition to that, do you feel relaxed? Do you feel warm? Do you feel a sense of fun? Do you feel inspired? Unsafe? Criticized? Sometimes our minds are ticking off our checklist of what we want, but our hearts are sensing something altogether different. It’s fascinating to notice the disparity between what we are thinking about our date and what we are actually feeling toward him or her!
3) Know the difference between your "attractions of inspiration" and your "attractions of deprivation."
The most direct path to love is to learn the difference between your attractions of inspiration and your attractions of deprivation—and then to only choose the former. Almost all of us can be attracted to partners who almost love us, who sometimes accept us for who we are, and who are somewhat available. In this painful but compelling scenario, our driving desire is to get them to finally love us for who we are. This route is otherwise known as the path to hell. I call these attractions of deprivation.
Yet, almost all of us can also become attracted to people who are kind and appropriately available; who value and cherish us for who we are. These attractions are what I call attractions of inspiration, and they are, quite simply, the path to real love. They may not seem as exciting at first, because there is less of a chase involved, but they are the way to relationship happiness.
Each of these two forms of attraction follows its own trajectory. Attractions of inspiration need to be cultivated in ways that few of us are taught, and attractions of deprivation are so compelling that we usually need help to extricate ourselves from them. This post and this one describe each of these attractions in more detail.
4) Know about "The Wave" and how to handle it
The most common way we sabotage new love possibilities is through what I call the Wave of Distancing (or simply, the Wave). The Wave occurs when we become interested in someone who is kind, caring and available--and all of a sudden our desire for them plummets. The Wave is perhaps the single greatest saboteur of healthy new relationships.
Groucho captured it perfectly: "I don't care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."
This has huge implications for our romantic lives. If we can't navigate the Wave, we'll keep going after the wrong people and passing the right ones by.
The secret of the Wave is this: In most cases it passes if we take the pressure off and don’t flee. And once it passes, our vision clears and we can see if this is someone we want to take the next steps with. Without an understanding of the dynamics of “the Wave” most of us will simply flee, thinking that our love wasn’t strong enough. In most cases, our affection hasn’t disappeared, it has just gone temporarily underground. With a bit of space, it will come back. I describe the Wave in more detail here.
5) Don't have sex right away
Sex without a matching emotional connection is like Miracle-Gro for our fear of intimacy. I have observed that when our level of emotional bonding hasn't reached our level of sexual intimacy, there is a tendency to feel insecure and needy after sex, or alternatively, to simply need to flee. Conversely, when there’s a clear sense of mutual interest and sex doesn’t happen right away, that’s when things get really exciting. Both parties begin to think of each other more frequently, and the next date can be planned with a sense of anticipation, desire, and even a bit of intoxicating fear. In that mixture of emotions, new tendrils of closeness and desire begin to grow. Let the tension and that lovely frustration build. As it builds over the next few dates, so will the intimacy between the two of you--if the connection is right. In fairness, I know great relationships that began with sex, but as a whole, I've seen that waiting with sex honors and intensifies the connection.
6) Don’t play it cool. In fact, be kind and thoughtful—and don’t be afraid to show your interest.
This may seem like naive advice, You’re supposed to play it cool, not show your hand and risk frightening off your potential date. Those "rules" are in fact marginally effective--if you want to hook someone who is unavailable! Research shows that letting someone know you like them is one of the strongest ways to turn a date into something more serious. When you are kind and thoughtful, you're being the person you want to be. Now see if your date shows the same qualities. If so, you're starting things in the best possible way. If not, you have exactly the information you need. Arthur Aron, a pioneering researcher in the field of romance and human relations, speaks about the variables which lead us to fall in love in this interview.
7) Bring up things that inspire you and matter to you
Go just a drop further in sharing your interests, passions and emotions. I’m not suggesting that you over-share, but a bit of extra truth, extra vulnerability, and extra risk add a level of intimacy which can be intoxicating. Ask the same from your partner--notice what makes them glow and ask more about it.
It’s not easy to find the right person to build your future with. We need tools and insights to speed and deepen our journey. Unfortunately, most of us have been taught ways of dating which diminish us and the people we date. As a result, they lead us away from intimacy, not toward it. These techniques can bring depth, humanity and even hope to your search for love. Try them, share and discuss them with single friends, and let us know your experiences.
© 2014 Ken Page, LCSW. All Rights Reserved
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