I've found that four conditions often forecast the advent of real and healthy love. Love’s arrival feels like magic, a gift of luck. Yet, as I describe in this episode of The Deeper Dating Podcast, we can invite that luck by approaching our dating life differently.
If these shifts are happening for you, be encouraged. You’re probably well on the way to finding the kind of love that can last.
You lose your taste for “attractions of deprivation”
It’s easy to become attracted to people who can almost commit: people who treat us wonderfully—and then diminish, demean, or ignore us. These relationships are usually highly charged and gnawingly addictive. Like a slot machine, they keep us coming back for more.
We long to get it right, to get our partner to love us. We struggle to improve ourselves. We play hard to get. We try giving more, or we practice giving less. We try to be funnier, more successful, or more in shape, so that our desired one will finally want us as much as we want them.
I call these attractions of deprivation.
At a certain point (and usually as a result of tremendous pain), we begin to lose our taste for relationships that chip away at our sense of self-worth. We find we just can’t stomach the thought of being hurt like that again. And this is a great thing. When we become less “sticky” to these kinds of attractions, a dead-end era of our dating lives is finally coming to an end. Now, we can begin the real work of intimacy—cultivating our attraction to relationships that feed and nurture us.
Kindness and availability become more important to you
As we lose our taste for the attractions of deprivation, we usually experience a temporary void in our dating life. We know we don’t want the pain of past relationships, but nothing else seems as exciting. In time (and often with guidance), we begin to seek what I call attractions of inspiration.
These attractions are based upon a (basically) consistent quality of shared kindness, generosity, and emotional availability. They often unfold slowly. They get richer as time goes on. They make us feel love, not desperation.
We can measure the very quality of our lives by the relationships of mutual inspiration we've cultivated.
The joy we feel in these relationships doesn’t come from conquest or momentary validation but from an essential quality of contentment which we feel with our partners. We don’t feel consistently bigger or smaller than the object of our affections. In some basic way, we feel what the twelve-step programs call “right-sized.”
But most of us have never been taught that these relationships have a trajectory of their own. They need to be cultivated and nourished in different ways than we might be used to. It may seem that they are not as exciting at first, but in fact, they are much more so.
There is a thrilling risk available to us in these relationships—the risk of revealing our authentic self. If we take that risk with our partners and find that we are accepted and embraced, the erotic and emotional charge of the relationship deepens and intensifies. These are the people who deserve to see the real us: our wild self, our kinky self, our unshared ideas, our tender soul.
And by the way, that’s precisely why these are the scariest relationships of all. Our fear may do anything to save us from the risk of vulnerability. Its best strategy is to trick us into fleeing by shouting, “Next! Back to the hunt!” But if we don’t flee, we may find that the fear passes, and a deeper, more passionate love shows through on the other side.
If you find that you are seeking these relationships and ignoring the thrill of your attractions of deprivation, then celebrate. You’re on the path to a relationship that can sustain a future of love.
You become willing to give up your “flight patterns”
All of us, single or coupled, flee the heat and the risks of true intimacy. All of us. Any single person who wants to find love would do well to become a student of his or her own “flight patterns.” There are so many ways to flee intimacy, even as we seek it:
Staying home and watching TV every night. Surfing the net, instead of going to places where people with shared values can be found. Wasting time on attractions of deprivation. Not being authentic. Chatting online but never taking steps to meet. Playing it cool. Looking for hookups instead of dates. Drinking too much on our dates.
At a certain point, we really start to mean it in our search for a life partner. We realize that time is ticking, that we are growing tired of living and sleeping alone. (Please note, this isn’t true for everyone. Many of us are quite happy living solo.)
When we’re willing to let go of our flight patterns; when we find ways to meet people who share our values; and when we only have second or third dates with people who hold the promise of becoming attractions of inspiration, then things really begin to change.
You lead with your authentic self
Leading with your authentic self may seem on the surface like an easy thing, but it’s not. We get most wounded around the places we care the most. These are the parts of us that I call “core gifts.” Because our authentic self is so vulnerable, and because most of us have incurred profound wounding around our core gifts, we tend to either suppress them or create air-brushed versions of them for the world to see. But these versions of self lack the vigor, soul, and magnetism of our authentic self, so we find we are less successful in attracting the very people who would accept and treasure us for who we are.
I’ve found that the key does not lie in simply accepting our authentic self, in all its humanity. The key lies in treasuring it, in all its timidity, imperfection, and excess. We have the right to honor our core gifts and only to choose people who can do the same.
When we do that in a non-defensive way, our world begins to change. That’s when we somehow find ourselves dating people who accept us for who we are: people who are kind, generous of spirit, and available. I can’t explain why this happens, but I’ve seen it occur so many times that I’ve come to accept it as a happy truth in the frequently treacherous world of dating.
Instead of helping us embrace our core gifts, the singles world teaches us to dishonor them—in ourselves and in the people we date. Like those ugly fun-house mirrors, the prevailing 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.
© Ken Page, LCSW 2015