The search for a loving partner is one of our great life-tasks. Yet most dating advice is gratingly superficial, focusing endlessly upon the power of seduction and tight glutes. Here are three exercises which approach dating as an adventure of self-discovery. They are eye-opening and fun, and they will help you grow in self-respect while opening up new possibilities in your dating life.
At a time when I had become particularly sick of my failure-ridden dating life, I began to ask friends for tips and help. I was finally coming to the conclusion that I would always remain miserably unsuccessful in the finer skills of seduction. It was time to stop trying to be someone I wasn't. I had a close friend who was immensely skilled at bring humanity into his dating life, and I asked him to take me on "dating-clinic" trips. I also enlisted the help of a wise therapist, telling him I wanted homework in mindful dating. The tools I learned from them had a huge impact upon how I dated. Mindfulness, compassion, and kindness—who knew those things had anything to do with successful dating! I was happy to learn that in fact, they have everything to do with successful dating.
For these exercises (which I describe in greater detail in my book Deeper Dating), I strongly encourage you to enlist the help of a friend. Best of all would be a learning partner—someone who is also single and who will join you on your mindfulness dating-jaunts, or at least discuss them with you by phone both before and after the trip. If you prefer to do this alone (and can’t be budged to reconsider!) then simply do some journaling before and after.
Exercise 1: Notice Your Patterns
The next time you go to a party, bar, club or a gathering where there are single people, try this exercise:
PART A: Change nothing in what you do. Simply notice your behavior and your feelings. Whom do you talk to? Whom do you avoid? Do you approach people you are interested in, or wait for them to approach you? Do you approach people you are very attracted to? Do you approach people you are only moderately attracted to? Do you avoid the whole “dating thing” completely? Or do you focus on finding your "someone" to the exclusion of spending time with friends? Do you drink a lot? How are you different when you're with someone you’re attracted to?
There are no wrong answers. Just notice your patterns of behavior, and the flow of your feelings. That’s it—that’s all you need to do. Afterward, do a post-mortem with your learning partner. Go to a café or speak on the phone and share your insights and reflections. If you did this alone, go to a café or to anywhere comfortable, and write down your reflections.
PART B: Now pick one small change you'd like to experiment with in your next outing. Perhaps you choose to drink less. If you’re always the aggressor, perhaps you might choose to be less action-oriented. There are countless possibilities for small shifts in behavior. Choose one which interests you most. Make sure that the change you’re trying for is one you’re confident you can achieve. Even a slight change will open up new insights and give you a liberating sense of movement and possibility.
Jill decided to try this field trip exercise at an upcoming birthday party where she would be the guest of her friend Dana—who was also her learning partner. She knew that she would only know a few people there. Here are some of the things she noticed:
I felt shy when I arrived. Dana, my learning partner was coordinating part of the event so I was on my own.
I went straight to the food and drink table. I felt embarrassed to be alone, and I felt like I was standing out like a sore thumb. I know it wasn't really true, but I felt that way.
I found another woman standing alone, so I smiled at her and we began to talk. We talked for the next two hours—it turned out that we had some interesting professional connections. Meanwhile, there were two guys I would have liked to meet, but I had no idea how. I kept planning ways to meet them, but I didn't go through with any of my plans.
I left the party feeling both pleased that I had made a new friend and mildly depressed that I hadn’t met any guys. I realized that this is a pattern of mine. I simply avoid the risk of interacting with guys who might be single and available. I’m very social, so I can have a good time, but I usually leave these events feeling disappointed in myself.
Afterward, Dana and I went to a café and shared what we had noticed. In speaking with her, I became much more aware of this pattern and how it was holding me back.
Here was the new goal I set for myself and shared with Dana: Next time, I would make a plan to meet her in the middle of the party, and I would have to point out one or two guys I was interested in. If she knew them, she'd help make an introduction. Dana is a real estate agent, so she knows lots of people. If she didn't know them, we'd strategize about how to meet them, but even if I wasn't ready to follow through, I'd at least feel like I was being more proactive than usual.
Exercise Number Two:
Plan a second trip with the support--and hopefully the company--of your learning partner. Try the one shift you described. Notice what that’s like, and how it leaves you feeling. Afterward, speak on the phone or go somewhere fun with your learning buddy, and share what you did, how it felt, and what you learned.
Dana, Jill’s learning buddy, was just a few months out of a tumultuous five-year relationship with a younger woman. Dana set this goal for herself:
At the next party, I wanted to simply notice my attractions. I’ve always gone out with women who are vivacious, fun and outgoing—the life of the party. So far, all of them have had drinking problems.
At the next event Jill and I attended, I looked for the kind of women I’d normally approach (there were two) and I just watched their behavior throughout the party—including how they drank. Not surprisingly, both of them drank too much. I was glad I saw this happen.
I was also really interested in seeing if there were any women who are closer to my age; women with a quality of depth which had been lacking in my other partners. I didn’t want to approach anyone unless something extraordinary happened--and nothing did. However, there were two lovely women who were closer to my age. In the past I wouldn't have thought of them as dating material. They weren't exciting enough. Yet as I watched them interact, I found myself imagining how different life would be if I were in a relationship with someone more stable. By the end of the party, I even thought one of them was interesting and attractive enough to want to date. This gave me a feeling of hope and possibility.
Exercise Three: Bravery
This is a scary one—but don’t skip it! This time, you’ll go somewhere and commit to approaching one person who is attractive to you. You’ll do it sober, and you’ll approach him or her with warmth and authenticity. Want to up the ante? Decide to approach two or three people. See if you can make eye contact and smile before walking up to them. If they don’t notice you, and you don’t think you’ll have another opportunity to get eye contact, simply go up to them anyway! This may be deliciously scary, or it may be terrifying. If you don’t feel ready for this exercise, then modify it to something easier, like finding out if any of your friends know this person and might introduce you at a later date.
If you can do this exercise, you’ll probably feel pretty pleased with yourself when you're done, even if your interest wasn’t reciprocated. Remember, your goal is not to get a single expression of interest! It’s to build your all-important muscle of dating-bravery. And it does get easier. As you practice this exercise, you’ll find it becomes much easier to smile at someone on the subway platform, to ask someone if they are enjoying a book they have in their hands, or simply to say "hi." Go with your learning partner and do it together, connect throughout the night to catch each other up and share war stories, and afterwards, go celebrate your brave action!
As with any area of our lives, bringing more mindfulness and compassion to the way we date almost always opens new doors. And as we deepen our insights about our dating life, we find that the kind of people we meet and date begins to change in surprising and hopeful ways.
Please try these exercises and write to share your experiences with them. Enjoy tackling your dating life as a journey of growth and discovery!
© 2013 Ken Page, LCSW. All Rights Reserved
To learn more about my book, Deeper Dating: How to Drop The Games of Seduction and Discover The Power of Intimacy, click here