It's Valentine's week, and if you're looking for love, you have great reason to be hopeful. As a psychotherapist who specializes in the search for intimacy, I've seen that healthy love is closer than we think--if we change the way we look for it. The map to love we're given is simply the wrong map; it diminishes our humanity and sends us on endless forays into the land of "I'm not enough." There are better ways to seek love; ones that are exponentially more powerful, because they are based on the skills of real intimacy, and not upon cosmetic change.
In my work with clients and in my own life, one insight has changed my entire understanding of the search for love: As we develop our capacity for intimacy, we find ourselves meeting--and being attracted to--emotionally available people who value us for who we are. Why that happens, I don't fully know; but it's cause for great hope. Dating does not have to be a painful numbers game that favors the young and stereotypically beautiful. No matter your age, weight or life circumstances, if you follow these three suggestions, your dating life will change, and you'll feel yourself moving closer to a truly loving relationship:
Lead With Your Gifts
Each of us has what I call "Core Gifts." As I explain in my book Deeper Dating, they aren't the same as talents or skills; they are simply the places within us where we feel and care the most deeply. Some examples of Core Gifts are an innate generosity of spirit, a profound sensitivity to others' feelings, a passion for justice, or a quiet and deep receptivity. Our Core Gifts are as unique as our fingerprints, and when they are treasured and acknowledged, they become the most exciting and straightforward path to intimacy. When we honor our gifts, we sense that we have something precious to offer. We feel our humanity most strongly in these places. It can be terribly painful when the people we love do not value these parts of ourselves. So we learn to bury or cover these gifts, or to craft airbrushed versions of them which keep us safe. But every layer of cover-up removes us one step further from love. We can find passionate--and healthy--love by reclaiming our gifts, and sharing them with those precious people who are capable of treasuring them.
As we begin to do this, something amazing happens. We find that we begin to attract people who love us for who we really are; who actually delight in our gifts. Our Core Gifts have an electricity; a kind of magic. They change our luck. The more we live in their power, edge and vulnerability, the more attractive we become--without losing a pound, changing our hair, or buying a single new accessory. The more we treasure our gifts and those of others, the less we get seduced by unhealthy attractions, and the more we find ourselves dating available and generous people.
Discover Your Own Intimacy Lessons
All of us have endless "shoulds," in our lives; things we want to change in order to make our lives better. Intimacy lessons are different. They are the insights about our behavior that touch us most deeply. They call to us, often in our most undefended moments, and their call carries a sense of urgency and truth that we feel deep inside. If we can pick out our core lessons from the cacophony of life's demands, and if we give them the priority they deserve, our life will shift on its axis. In the arena of intimacy, core lessons are the quickest path to love that can last.
What do you think your core lessons are? Maybe you see that work is eating up your life. Or that your anger is pushing away the people you love. Or that you're hiding from love. Or that you're in love with someone already and you haven't admitted it to yourself. The journey to love is more like a treasure hunt than a straight path. We follow the message we've discovered, and then we are led to another. One Sufi name for God is "the Spirit of Guidance." Core lessons carry that quality of truth. When you can identify and tackle your one or two most vital intimacy lessons, your dating life will open up in ways that will surprise and delight you.
Only Choose Inspiration
Movies, television and just about every romance novel teach us to follow our deepest attractions if we want to find true love. As you may have discovered by now, that method works about as well as a Las Vegas slot machine. Each of us has many types of attractions, and every attraction beckons us into an entirely different future. The direct path to finding healthy love lies in only following what I call our "attractions of inspiration." These attractions draw us to people who are kind and available; people who inspire us simply by who they are. Relationships that diminish our sense of self rarely change, even with love, commitment and lots of work. We don't need the roller coaster of negative attractions to grow! We can grow through inspiration instead.
If you decide to take the risk of leading with your most authentic self, you'll need to protect yourself with a fierce sense of discrimination. If someone doesn't inspire you by their goodness and their values, don't wait around. It's not worth it, no matter how good they look. The decision to only follow our "attractions of inspiration," is a complete game-changer. The whole tenor of our dating life shifts. Even if we haven't found "the one" yet, we feel a sense of rightness; a sense that we're moving closer to real love.
I encourage you to make a commitment to yourself, right now. Decide to choose only relationships and attractions of inspiration. You may be thinking, "What a fairy tale. Finding someone like that is like finding a needle in a haystack." But I think you will be amazed by what happens when you only pursue attractions of inspiration. You will find that you're dating more people who inspire you, and spending less and less time with those who don't. I've seen this happen so often. Our refusal to spend time and energy in dynamics of deprivation clears a space that gets filled with better relationships. We have the power to change our dating life--and our future--with this one simple and self-loving commitment.
Join me in future entries as we explore this new map of the journey to intimacy. You'll learn how to apply these tools, and many others, to the actual realities of your dating life. And as you do, I think you'll find that there really is cause for great hope in your search for love.
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© 2011 Ken Page, LCSW. All Rights Reserved
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