Dating Wisely 1.6: Study Your FOO

Study Your FOO

Yesterday, we looked at the importance of studying your own motivations as you date. Today we’re going to broaden the lens a bit, and encourage you to not only study yourself in the dating process, but to Study Your Family of Origin, which is Dating Wisely Concept #5.

If you look back through the generations of your family, you’ll notice patterns. Perhaps the women in your family system tended toward alcoholism and the men toward workaholism. Or maybe the women found their identity in their children, rather than in their own development. Or perhaps the men were passive under-functioners while their wives were busy over-functioners. Maybe your family has a history of keeping up images rather than facing reality. Or maybe there’s a pattern of religion being more important than relationship.

Whatever the patterns are, you’ll be able to detect them as far back as you can see in your family history. That’s because we simply repeat patterns we learned in our families of origin when we become adults…unless and until we become conscious of them, which is when we can actually change them. Not easily, mind you, because patterns become active in our very DNA, due to the process of epigenetics, but change them we can…and must, if we want to live more fulfilling lives.

Past Meets Present

And you’re not the only one with patterns in your family history. The people you date also have family patterns that they may or may not be aware of. In fact, many of them won’t be interested in studying themselves or their family histories, as they won’t see the immediate relevance to the dating process. They may think they left home long ago, and that what happened in the past has no real bearing on the present. Since when, I ask? The past just ended a moment ago, and the present just started and is now past. The line between the past and the present just isn’t that clean.

As Psychiatrist Dr. Murray Bowen worked with families when the field of psychotherapy was blossoming in the 1950’s and beyond, he found that, “the emotional attachment between the spouses is identical to the emotional attachment that each spouse had in his or her family of origin” (Family Therapy in Clinical Practice, 530). So if you don’t want to have the kind of relationship your parents had, it behooves you to study how it came to be and how it unfolded, so that you can choose more consciously, more wisely, than they did…and with better information than they had.

Bowen’s goal was to help his clients study their families so that they could become experts on how the emotional processes in the family dictated the moves of each member, in an effort to help them change ineffective relationship patterns that had been in place for generations.

This is what you can do now, if you make a study of your life and select your mate with conscious awareness. I can’t think of a more important choice to make. Too bad we usually have such poor information when we make it.

On A Personal Note

My family of origin isn’t any different than many–it operates with unconscious blinders. Consciousness, in fact, is suspect, because to my family members, it doesn’t sound Christian. The principle my mother was operating from when she married my father was, “If we’re both Christians, everything will be fine.” Naive, yes, and although the principle failed her (their relationship was painful for everyone), she married again using the same principle several years after my father passed away. Although it failed her that time, too (her second Christian husband was unfaithful to her), she still clings to that principle.

Having studied the patterns in my family for many years now, there are many more I could share, but I won’t bore you. Suffice it to say that my ex-husband and I were operating from unconscious patterns when we married, and we ended up recreating the dynamics of his and my parents’ relationships, which were ultimately unsustainable. Our relationship ended in an amicable divorce after 17 years of struggling to make it work.

In order to make better choices, I began to study myself and my family of origin, just as I’m suggesting to you. The process has been fascinating, depressing, and hopeful. Knowing now what I didn’t know then has allowed me to make conscious dating choices that have served me and my intimate partner well.

More on what you can focus on in your self- and family-study tomorrow.

 

Dating Wisely 1.5: Study Your Process

Study Your Process

Dating Wisely Concept #4, Study the Process, follows directly from Dating Wisely Concept #3, Successful Failures (see yesterday’s post by that title). As much as the new love hormone (dopamine) will muddle your greatest efforts to be awake and aware, forcing yourself to consciously study your dating process will be both fascinating and rich in wisdom..which could save you deep pain and regret down the road.

In order to learn from our mistakes (and have successful failures), we have to be conscious of our motivations, which means we have to be emotionally and intellectually honest enough to acknowledge them, especially when they don’t paint us in the most flattering light.

Human beings are wired for connection–we’re social animals–and our very bodies (hormones) seek one another for comfort, intellectual stimulation, company, shared responsibility, etc. If you pay attention to the emotional processes, the motivations, compelling you into relationship, you’ll also become more aware of the motivations of the people you date, and that can prevent a multitude of mistakes.

Loneliness

Loneliness is probably the greatest compelling force in the dating process, and can lead us into some pretty sketchy territory if we’re not careful. In fact, loneliness should be given the respect of a ravenous lion, as it can drive us into deeply painful relationships if we aren’t respectful of its power.

Where loneliness is concerned, I have to be willing to ask, “Do I want relief now in exchange for (virtually guaranteed) loneliness later? Or am I willing to deal with loneliness now in exchange for (potentially) solid relationship later?” In a nutshell, “Am I willing to delay my gratification?”

The Marshmallow Experiment

In 1960, Dr. Walter Mischel at Columbia University designed the Marshmallow Experiment to study the phenomenon of self-control, and he found that 4-year-old children who were willing to delay their gratification were much more successful in life decades years later than those who were not. (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcmrCLL7Rtw; and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX_oy9614HQ.)

The same question faces us when we’re dating. Am I willing to exert control over my most primal emotional processes so that I can make wise choices? Am I willing to introspect and examine my motivations so that I can be in charge of them, rather than the other way around? Am I willing to own and accept the consequences of not doing so? Am I willing to recognize that my life will be what I make of it, that I’m not just a victim but an agent in how my life turns out? Am I willing to pay attention to and tend to my own emptiness so that I’m not desperately seeking someone else to assuage it?

Steam Guaranteed!

Perhaps studying your internal process when dating seems as unsexy as Dating Wisely Concept #1 (See post titled, “Dating Wisely 1.2”), and again, I say, “Au contraire!” Nothing could be sexier. When you detect that your date is, like you, awake and aware and isn’t going to project his or her issues onto you, it can get very steamy very quickly…on an intimate level that you can’t even approach when two people are unconscious of their motivations.

On A Personal Note

Studying my own motivations as I dated for about 10 years post-divorce saved me a lot of heartache (see yesterday’s post). Of course, loneliness was a continual heartache of it’s own, but I was keenly aware that it would be even more painful to be in another union that was unequally matched–emotionally, spiritually and intellectually–as was my 17-year marriage. I just couldn’t do that again, and I was willing to wait, rather than to settle for fun now but incompatibility later.

What got me through some of my loneliest days was my journal. Writing became a way to validate my principles when everything in me wanted to cave to primal instincts. I really despise the feeling of regret, and my journal helped keep the potential of regret in perspective for me.

So did living my life fully, even as I lived with that deep loneliness. That’s the subject for tomorrow’s post. Stay tuned….

 

 

 

 

Dating Wisely 1.4: Successful Failures

Successful Failures

We noted yesterday that life gives us endless opportunities to do things over and over again if we miss the lesson we were supposed to learn last time we did x-y-z. Many times, we learn that we’ve made a mistake when conflict takes over our relationship, or when the stress of a relationship breaks down our bodies, or when we seek out some addiction to quell the anxiety and stress that has overcome our relationship.

When that happens, we may have to make the difficult choice to end the relationship. No one can tell anyone else when it’s time to move on or when they’ve done everything they could to salvage a relationship. That decision must be left to the people in the relationship, or life will simply give them a do-over opportunity later on when they get themselves into the same position again.

Let’s face it, though. Sometimes a relationship just can’t be salvaged, which brings us to Dating Wisely Concept #3: Sometimes Failure is Success. The tricky part is how to know we’ve come to that point. Let me offer some suggestions.

Scenario #1

Scenario #1: Several years have passed and the stress in the relationship is only increasing. In a normal, healthy, growing relationship, there will be stress. In fact, even in healthy relationships, 69% of issues are unresolvable, because no two people see the world in the same way…in fact, partners often see things in seemingly opposite ways. But when the tension becomes more of the norm than the connection, you may have that difficult choice to make.

Plus, it takes time to see how a relationship will develop…about three years, actually. Relationships go through natural stages (symbiosis, differentiation, practicing, rapprochement, and mutual interdependence–see In Quest of the Mythical Mate, by Bader and Pearson), the first three of which take about three years to unfold. The important thing is to move through these stages consciously, knowing that some of your conflict is normal, natural, and necessary–the result of growing pains. Other conflicts signal bad relational juju–AKA, red flags.

Scenario #2

Scenario #2: You’ve become aware that anxiety is keeping you in the relationship, rather than pushing you out, as in the last scenario. Sometimes, we’re just afraid to feel the pain of loss or the loneliness of being alone, so we stay in relationship longer than we know we should.

In this case, keep in mind that the longer you stay, the longer you steal from your future and the future of the other. If you truly want to be in a solid relationship, you’ll have to be emotionally free of a dead-end one before you get into another, and that’ll require time to heal and learn the lessons that relationship had for you. Even if you left the dead one right now, you wouldn’t be emotionally ready for another one until you learn what you need to learn from the one you’re in. Dead things ought to be properly buried before bringing new life into existence.

Scenario #3

Scenario #3: You know the person you’re with isn’t the kind of person you want to spend the rest of your life with. No hard feelings…just not a good match. You’ve given the relationship time to unfold, and you realize that you just don’t want to commit the rest of your life to this kind of individual. You’ve been careful to let this person be who they are, and s/he just isn’t a good fit for the person you are. You think you’d make decent friends, maybe, but not intimate partners. Time to move on.

On A Personal Note

My own mid-life dating experiences provided two successful failures: 1) The first guy I dated out of the gate, 2.5 years after my divorce, misrepresented his availability. That 10-month relationship fooled me because of the intoxicating intellectual stimulation it provided. 2) The second guy I dated was my 6th grade boyfriend who found me on Facebook. In the end of that 4-year relationship, I learned that he had been seeing someone else for months, perhaps as long as we’d been together. It didn’t help that the relationship was a long-distance one. That relationship fooled me because I never dreamed that someone so familiar, a childhood connection, would betray me.

My most successful failure was a joint effort. On the second date, I revealed that I was interested in a relationship where personal fulfillment was secondary to personal growth, and a few days after that revelation, my date candidly informed me, “I’m just not feeling it like I was.” I can’t tell you how grateful I was for his honesty. No smoke signals, no trying to figure out why he was backing away…just pure and simply truth. I let him know much I appreciated his courage to simply tell me the truth, even if it hurt–which it didn’t, at least in part because it was so uncomplicated.

There were also a couple handfuls of men who, I was able to determine from the get-go, weren’t the kind of person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. Good guys, just not compatible with the weird mix that is me, so they ended up in my friend zone. When this happened, they’d stick around for about six months–until they realized that I meant what I said about my platonic feelings (and that I don’t do casual sex)–and then move on in their quest to find someone else, as was their prerogative. It was sad to see them go because I enjoyed their company, but it was best that we each continued to move forward with our respective relationship needs and desires.

You Can’t Fail

I consider these, too, successful failures, in that I learned important life lessons from each scenario. You just can’t fail if you learn from your mistakes and your experiences.

Dating Wisely 1.3: A Do-Over Opportunity

Holes in our Souls

Yesterday, we noted that an unconventional approach to dating is critical if you want to lower your anxiety and find a lifelong growing mate.

We noticed that, in a nutshell, conventional approaches get your focus on the other person. An unconventional approach gets your focus on YOU…the only variable in the equation you can control.

I noted yesterday that there’s nothing like  romantic relationship to surface the areas where we need to grow. Intimate relationship will uncover your unresolved issues, trauma, losses and attachments. All these realities leave holes in our souls that, if we aren’t careful (and even when we are), we unconsciously expect our partner to fill, which sets up our relationship to fail.

Let Go

The only person who can fill those holes is you, and some of them can never be filled. They simply need to be let go, chalked up as a loss, so that you can move on, free of the emotional weight and pain. Your partner cannot be the person who takes away the pain of being unwanted; or who convinces you of your intrinsic worth; or who gives you meaning in life; or who takes away the pain of past failed relationships. All those things need to be faced and dealt with on their own, not masked by the dopamine-high of early romance.

Nor should you allow yourself to be in a position to rescue someone else from their own pain. You can’t do it, and you shouldn’t be asked to.

However, romance can make you realize what you need to deal with, and in that way it gives you a unique opportunity to do life differently than you’ve done it before, with better information than you had in the past. How often have you said, “I wish I could do that differently, knowing what I know now.” Well, now’s your opportunity to figure out what you need to do better…and do it.

A Do-Over Opportunity

That’s Dating Wisely Concept #2: Use This Opportunity to Do Relationship Better.

For example, if you’ve noticed that you tend to over-function (or under-function) in relationships, which has had the reciprocal effect of your partner under-functioning (over-functioning), you can purpose to operate differently this time around.

Of course, you’ll have to face the reasons you allow yourself to be in an over-functioning (or under-functioning) position to begin with, a pattern that’s usually rooted in the role you played in your family of origin. And never fear, if you inadvertently do the same thing again (because it’s really hard to change these patterns), the conflict in the relationship will remind you of your mistake, doggedly riding you until you self-correct.

Relentless Do-Over Opportunities

In this way, romance provides relentless do-over opportunities to figure out how to do life well. As we accept each challenge to do relationship better, we grow–new emotional muscles form that strengthen us for the next time we’re faced with a similar challenge. If we stay the course, we find, in the end, that our new default is to choose wisely, so that we don’t have to keep learning the same painful lessons over and over again.

If you want to do dating in an unconventional way, allow the process to grow you up. Take the challenge to examine your life, and make sure the person you’re dating is doing the same thing. The unexamined self is simply not worth dating.

On A Personal Note

I allowed myself 2.5 years to heal after my divorce before I got back into the dating world. I didn’t want to make the same mistakes again, and I needed time to figure out what they were. I didn’t want to saddle any potential partner with my unresolved issues, nor did I want to be saddled with anyone else’s, however inadvertently. I also needed time to heal from the pain of a failed marriage, so that I wasn’t taking that with me to my next partner, either.

I encourage you to take some time to find yourself and get centered before you get out there. Even so, it may not prevent you from making mistakes. We tend to regress to earlier times of unresolved developmental issues when we find new romance, so it’s unlikely that you’ll make perfect choices right out of the gate. You’ll be faced with the same scenarios and tempted to make the same mistakes as before (although it’ll all feel different), so you’ll have to be extremely conscious of what’s going on within you, perhaps with professional assistance from a counselor or life coach.

As committed as I was to knowing myself and making conscious, wise choices, I still made mistakes in my first mid-life dating endeavors. I’ll share a couple of those when I present Dating Wisely Concept #3 tomorrow.

 

 

Dating Wisely 1.2: An Unconventional Approach

An Unconventional Starting Point: You

Yesterday, we noted that a conventional approach to dating just doesn’t work, if the statistics on relationship are any indication, and we decided to take an unconventional look at this most stress-generating activity.

In a nutshell, conventional approaches get your focus on the other person: Is s/he attractive? What will s/he think if I do (or don’t do) this or that? Is s/he honest, kind, employed, single, ready for relationship…? Of course, all of those things are important, but they aren’t foolproof, and they distract you from the most important tool you have to choose well: yourself.

YOU…Why?

Let’s look at you for a moment, and start with this question: Why are you dating? Are you lonely? Unhappy? Bored? Broke? Looking to hook up for sex? Following a list of “supposed to’s”? Trying to check “get partnered” off your bucket list? Your friends think you should? It’s okay. Be honest. There’s no judgment here. Just tell yourself the truth. If you can’t do that, the rest of this blog series won’t be very useful.

How you answer that question is the best predictor of how successful you will be in the dating and mating market, and success will be determined by the reason you identify for dating. What if you’re in the market because you’re bored and the person across from you is in the market because they’re broke? It might work for a while…until one or the other of you emerges from the temporary state of bored or broke and finds another reason to date.

Or what if you’re looking for a mate and the person you’re dating is just looking to hook up for sex? Not going to work. Someone’s going to get hurt, and we both know who that is. Better not to waste your lips, or other body parts, on that fated endeavor.

I’m going to assume that most of the people who will stick with this daily blog are looking for a life-long partner and they want to do that with someone else who’s looking for the same. This blog series can help you weed through the millions of folks who are looking for something different.

Again, it comes back to you.

Personal Growth Over Personal Fulfillment

Most well-meaning people go into the dating market seeking to find someone who will participate in a mutual happy-making endeavor. He expects to make her happy and she expects to make him happy, and so we make our first mistake, unwittingly setting our brand new relationship up for potential eventual failure.

That approach doesn’t work for many reasons that we’ll cover in this series. Briefly, however, any time you rely on someone else to make you happy, you’ve put them in a position to fail you. It’s your responsibility, and your responsibility only, to fashion your life into one that fulfills you. You don’t like the pressure of having to figure out how to make someone else happy, and they don’t like it, either. Avoid that dynamic like the plague, or it will become one.

So here’s Dating Wisely Concept #1: Personal Growth Over Personal Fulfillment. Go into a relationship for the primary purpose of personal growth, with personal fulfillment as a secondary by-product.

It’s Reality…Not Hollywood

Now before you shut down this blog, notice that I didn’t say that you should remain in a perpetually unfulfilling dating situation. Dating Wisely Concept #1 simply acknowledges that conflict will occur in every relationship–it has to, in order to provide you with practical knowledge about how you, the other, and the two of you together will resolve conflict…for the rest of your long-term relationship…because you will certainly encounter it every now and again.

Plus, the first 36 months of your relationship–after the 6-to-9-month hormone-driven honeymoon high has subsided–will help you determine whether your respective conflict-styles are compatible (the subject of future blogs), as you figure out whether your conflicts are a result of fusion or differentiation (stay tuned for info on that, too). That difference is critical when you’re trying to determine whether you and your date are well-matched. Rom com’s don’t include that part. They think it’s not sexy enough. Hogwash. Nothing could be sexier.

Romance Forces Growth…It’s Supposed To

There’s nothing like a romantic relationship to surface the places where we need to examine ourselves and grow. In the end, the unexamined self is not worth dating. You will only invite pain and sorrow into your life if you or the person you’re dating is unable or unwilling to examine him- or herself. (More on that tomorrow.)

However, if you and your date both go into your new relationship with the goal of personal growth over personal fulfillment, it’ll certainly be personally fulfilling, too. Not many people consider this approach, however, so it might not be easy to find someone who’s game. If s/he is, how exciting! It bodes well for your future!

On A Personal Note

On a personal note, this was the foundational principle that governed my approach to dating after I got out there in the market 2.5 years after my divorce. I dated a few frogs along the way to finding my prince, frogs who were in the dating world for reasons that weren’t compatible with mine, which was to find a life-long growing mate. I’m glad I didn’t settle for less.

Tomorrow we’ll look at our second principle for dating wisely: Use Dating as an Opportunity for a Do-Over (knowing now what you didn’t know then).

 

 

Dating Wisely 1.1: A Conventional Approach

A Conventional Approach

Yesterday, we began a series on how to date with wisdom…and if you haven’t already figured it out, you’re going to need it in spades if you’re going survive the crazy dating world out there. And you’re going to need an unconventional approach because a conventional one doesn’t seem to have a great track record, if the statistics on relationship are any indication.

What do I mean by a conventional approach? Nothing about dating seems conventional if you’re a mid-lifer, either widowed or divorced. Gone are the days when men met women in high school, college or at a social gathering, asked the one out that he couldn’t get off his mind, went on a date and then asked her to marry him within a year or two.

Now, the most common way to “meet” someone is on-line, and when you actually meet in person, they look nothing like the ancient picture they posted on their profile.

Must Have’s and Can’t Stand’s

The popular dating site eHarmony suggests that you make a shopping list of your top 10 “must have’s” and “can’t stand’s,” so that when you’re on a date, you can fall back on your intellectual principles when your hormones tell you that the person across from you is the goddess of your dreams, even though she’s still technically married or dating a different person every night.

That’s a helpful exercise, certainly–and highly recommended–but finding a good match for the unique person that you are is going to take something beyond that. It’s just not that easy.

Conventional Questions

Then there’s the pesky questions of dating that may not sound the same or have the same answers that they did 30 years ago:

  • What does a good on-line profile look/sound like?
  • Should women ask men out?
  • Do you go together or meet there?
  • Do you go to dinner or just have coffee?
  • Who should pay on the first date?
  • How can I spot a player? (male or female)

No, dating just isn’t what it used to be, and trying to navigate these strange waters is going to require an unconventional approach, especially if you’re determined not to make the same mistakes you’ve made in the past, that contributed to the fact that you’re now single when you thought you’d still be married.

An Unconventional Approach

And just FYI, there’s no judgment here. I’m a divorcee who’s made plenty of mistakes, and who was determined to figure out what they were, how I made them, and how I could make better choices for myself so that I could be and find a suitable partner. I know how stressful that process is, and I’m glad to say that my dogged search for useful strategies paid off. I found an approach that took a lot of the stress and anxiety out of dating.

I look forward to passing along my approach to you. It’s unconventional, though, so you’ll have to really work at it, but it beats repeating the same old patterns and getting the same old results. Come back tomorrow, and we’ll get started on the particulars.

 

Dating Wisely 1.0: Yes, It’s Stressful!

The Anxiety and Stress of Dating

Today we’re going to start a new series on dating.

In 2014, the Austin Institute for the Study of Family and Culture reported that the annual revenue of on-line dating was at an all-time high: $1.049 Billion. No kidding. And yet marriage rates in the United States are faltering and divorce rates remain abysmal. Yikes! What’s going on?

That’s what we’re going to explore in this series.

Let’s be honest. There are few activities that are as anxiety-producing as dating…especially if you’re a mid-lifer. Dating after a divorce just isn’t the same as dating when you were a young adult.

High Stakes

Plus, the stakes are super high. A stable relationship is one of the best predictors of quality of life and longevity, while a rocky one is a predictable sentence for a host of physical, emotional and social problems.

So if you want a stable relationship, you’re going to have to be wise about whom you shack up with. But what does it even mean to be wise in dating? And how is it even possible? You don’t really know someone until you live with them, and by then it’s too late! At least that’s what I hear people saying a lot.

Dating Wisely IS Possible

I beg to differ. I’m going to offer a way to know with as much certainty as is possible whether you’re making a good choice for yourself. What I want to share with you is simple…though not easy to put into practice, especially when you consider that those early relationship hormones befuddle every rational thought you try to inject into the mix.

Just FYI, I may tell a few personal stories along the way. After all, I ended up divorced at age 38 and didn’t find my matching puzzle piece for almost another decade. I learned a lot of lessons from my experiences during that time, and I hope what I share will be helpful.

I went into the dating world armed with some really powerful principles that I put to an honest test, because I was determined to learn from my mistakes. I’m going to pass what I learned along to you, along with and the principles I used to date wisely. If they hadn’t worked to make me a more solid, warm, confident human being and dater, I wouldn’t suggest them to you.

The Best of Family Systems Psychology

My approach in this series will be to apply the best of what we know of family systems psychology to the issue of dating. If you come by every day, you’ll get one more tidbit to add to your wise dating arsenal…kind of like free counseling. Share with your friends, discuss the topics I present, and wrangle together over this critical personal and social issue.

If you’re already in a relationship, the principles I share will still apply, as they’re really about how to be solid and how to build solid relationships in our 21st Century Western cultural climate. It ain’t easy. I hope you’ll stick around.

Feel free to comment respectfully. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.