Getting into and developing a genuine relationship is something that appears to be becoming more and more difficult for many people in the modern world of dating.
There are plenty of on-off or ‘is-it-isn’t-it-an-actual-relationship?’ situations going on; there are endless hours of chatting, texting, flirting, hinting and implying being indulged in… many of which end up just being frittered away with no actual outcome.
Now, I understand that not every attraction should automatically result in a walk up the aisle – the process should be a bit like a delicious, enticing dance – enjoyable, but not supposed to be taken too seriously at the very first step on the opening beat.
However, for most people, the intention behind the dance is to ultimately find a compatible partner with whom they can develop a loving, mature, mutually supportive relationship that has long-term potential. And obviously this does happen – but, from what my work is consistently making clear, it is no cake-walk!
And I think I know why.
In the ‘old’ days, for the average seeker of love, there was a limited pool to fish from. When I was a teenager there was no internet, no mobile phones, and no social media. We didn’t have a landline telephone, and the entire family shared one television (can you imagine?)! I had my first kiss at the age of 14, with what I considered to be a sophisticated older guy I met at the school disco – a 17 year old art student with shoulder-length blond hair and a leather jacket – but sparks didn’t fly and I don’t think I saw him again. Funnily enough, though, I did meet his mother many years later, when she came into the shop in which I was working to buy a washing machine. I recognised the name, and she told me that he was now a responsible, short-haired accountant… and I couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated, somehow!
I was once, very briefly, a fantasy figure…
My second foray into the world of romance also occurred in my 14th year, when I was introduced to a good-looking guy who’s house I regularly passed on my way to visit my best friend. He fancied me and somehow discovered that I attended the same school as his mate’s sister, hence the introduction. I was blown away, embarrassingly out of my depth hanging out with the ‘cool’ people, and completely inexperienced at kissing; disappointed that his fantasy girl was such a let-down, he quickly and unceremoniously dumped me.
With a friend like me, who needs enemies?
My third attempt was with my best friend’s ex (yes, really). He was 17, had a job, rode a motorbike, and vaguely reminded me of David Cassidy. I was besotted, selfishly jealous of my friend being with him. And then she dumped him for being a sex maniac (something I refused to believe), and he was immediately on my doorstep. And, being the wonderful, loyal friend that I was, I grabbed the opportunity with such enthusiasm it’s a wonder I didn’t knock him off his feet. I still remember the conversation at school the following morning:
My friend: “I have something to tell you. I have finished with Alan.”
Me: “I have something to tell you. I am going out with him…”
My friend: “WHAT?? I don’t believe this… how could you?”
And yet, she continued to be my friend, albeit a bit frostily for a while. And she was absolutely right: motorbiking-David-Cassidy-look-alike Alan was a sex maniac… who also ate loudly with his mouth wide open. Yuk, he had to go. I haven’t seen her for years, but I still owe her a huge apology for that particular misdemeanour, although I am sure that I did eat humble pie for quite a while.
And then came ‘the one’… who wasn’t, as it turns out.
And then, at the grand age of 15, I met the guy who was to become my first husband, through a worldly-wise school mate who had been dating since the age of 12, and hung out with yet more cool people. The first time I saw him he was wearing platform shoes and a crombie coat, spray-painting graffiti onto a wall, with a cigarette hanging from his mouth. I was engaged at 17, married at 21, and separated when I was 27. I discovered that the world of dating had moved on whilst I was married, and was already becoming more complex. Newspaper ads featured telephone numbers that could be dialled to hear the recordings of other lonely hearts, doing their best to present themselves as the one you just had to meet – each with their own identification code. And, if you liked the sound of a particular individual, you could respond with your own recording, hoping that they would like the sound of you and follow up. There were no pictures, so it was always a bit of a punt, and suggestive talk definitely wasn’t allowed, so the creeps weren’t immediately obvious. For me, it wasn’t a rip-roaring success, and I still remember meeting a short, chubby policeman who said I looked like a secretary and turned out to be a compulsive eater, and a strange guy who followed me to a nightclub after I had made an excuse to leave, loudly haranguing me. Oh, and I met a guy who’d described himself as being 30, tall, and a laugh a minute; in reality he was clearly past 40, short, and his idea of letting his hair down (of which he didn’t have much) was to take his tie off. I’m not sure why he thought I wouldn’t actually notice those discrepancies…
Fast forward 30 years and the dating roller-coaster is in full, terrifying swing. When I was younger most people met through everyday life situations, and were limited in the number of potential partners they were likely to meet (which probably encouraged them to make more effort to hang onto any relationship they did manage to get into!). I am not saying that it was ideal or easy, but it was more simple and straightforward. And, of course, millions of people still get together in this way… but millions are also struggling to find love in a world that is awash with lonely hearts… crazy, isn’t it?
Today, the pool to fish from has grown into an ocean, but the excess of apparent choice has made finding a partner more difficult. It might appear that there is a plethora of potential partners out there, but it is an illusion… there are just more people getting into the mix and in the way. And it is an illusion that is convincing some that there is always someone ‘better’ out there, leading them to go through love interests like a dose of salts. It is also an illusion that is leading others to become more desperate, especially if they have crossed paths with one or more of the above. The higher number of people they connect with or meet without actually getting into a promising relationship the greater their feelings of frustration and inadequacy. It can become a lose-lose situation for many… not to mention soulless.
Hiding, bailing and blocking!
Something else that I have come to believe is true is that technology has allowed human beings to become hiders and avoiders. This has, one hundred percent, not improved the process of finding a partner. Those with ‘issues’ can present themselves in any way they choose from behind a phone or computer, enjoying flirtation or even make-believe-love, without ever even having to meet the recipient, or being in a position in which they risk revealing aspects of themselves that they would rather not acknowledge. And, when things get a bit too close for comfort, or less interesting/exciting, it is easy to bail out and block communication. We are in danger of becoming a species of cowards!
Technology also allows those individuals who only want to live in a romantic fantasy world, and those who love the chase and the excitement but are not mature enough to handle the responsibility that comes with a grown-up relationship, to play their games and waste the time and emotional energy of anyone unfortunate enough to become entangled with them. I have said it again and again and again (and I might as well pee into the wind for all of the good it usually does!) – when things move TOO FAST in the world of attraction and dating, nine times out of ten it ends in tears (not to mention disappointment, anger, and agonising rejection)!
So – for all of those who are repeatedly experiencing dating problems and complications, and those who are struggling to even get their love life off the ground – a different approach is required. And a new understanding.
To find any kind of solution, first of all we have to identify and understand the problem… or, in this case, problemS, because there are several – and I have come up with 7 of them!
1) The world is now wide open, and access to other human beings – no matter where they are on the planet – can be instantaneous. People are getting in each other’s way and distracting one another, leading to excessive amounts of wasted time and energy. There are individuals who should just never associate with each other in any depth, or for any real length of time (the warning signs will always be there!) – who might not have crossed paths in the ‘good old days’!
2) There is a demand for instant everything at this time in history, including love and relationships. People are almost demanding to be provided with ‘the one’, the soulmate, the twin flame… yesterday, not tomorrow, or next week, month or year. We are losing the desire to develop anything, to explore and discover – and it isn’t helping us to develop as mentally and emotionally healthy individuals.
3) We are becoming too attached to our ‘rights’ – what we believe we are entitled to, what we deserve. There is a modern myth that we shouldn’t ever be hurt or offended, and yet, ironically, it is that very myth that is causing so much emotional pain and offence. We are becoming less resilient than at any other point in time, and the ripple-effect has spread to the world of dating. We are very aware of what we expect in a partner without always giving genuine and honest consideration to what we ourselves have to offer, other than the obvious stuff. Self-protection and defence is the order of the day, or so it seems.
4) Despite the ongoing feminist movement, there are still a large number of females who are not genuinely committed to the idea of developing themselves as unique, individual souls (yep, that’s got the potential to stir up a massive hornet’s nest!), believing that if they can get into a relationship then the inner emptiness will disappear, never to be felt again, or that that alone will make their life fulfilling. It is a form of avoidance and procrastination, and it leads to desperation rather than inspiration. Now, I am not endorsing extreme feminist beliefs, or suggesting that women shouldn’t ever aspire to being part of a committed, healthy relationship … I am referring to the way in which a desire for a relationship can be allowed to dominate our thinking, at the expense of our own happiness and personal growth, leading to downheartedness and even depression. It happens, I promise you, and not infrequently.
5) We want to have our cake and eat it (why use twenty words when one cliche will do?). We want to be in a relationship… but we don’t want to have to compromise too much, either. Merging two egos, two sets of hopes, dreams and fears – in other words two individual piles of baggage – is incredibly intimidating, if we think about it in a realistic rather than idealistic way. This is only a problem if we fail to recognise that it is ‘normal’ to feel this way, fighting against it with expectations that can’t reasonably be met, and with impatience.
6) Women have become confused, which in turn has confused men. We have fought for and earned more independence, and are completely capable of taking care of ourselves… but we still want to be part of a loving, mutually supportive relationship. No problem there. But I have witnessed many, many women approaching dating with an, ‘I’m-an-independent-woman-I-don’t-need-a-man’ attitude, an, ‘I-don’t-have-time-for-time-wasters’ warning. And this is before the guy has had a chance to open his mouth, never mind reach the stage at which he could reasonably be accused of wrong-doing! Decent, thinking men are often very uncertain about how to approach women, and so they sometimes mess it up. They don’t always know how to behave and respond, and struggle to find a balance between being overly and underly attentive. Some women are offended by not having a door held open for them… and some are offended when it is! Largely speaking, most women still crave romantic attention and nurturing – but sometimes behave as if they don’t… and men are supposed to be understanding, adoring mind-readers! The message is, “respect me as a strong, sexy, independent-minded woman who doesn’t actually need you… and be sensitive to my emotional needs and vulnerability”. Maybe it will all sort itself out in the future, when the genders have become more accustomed to and comfortable with their new roles; for now, it can sometimes be a bit of a mess.
7) We return to an earlier point – impatience! Being too keen for ‘answers’… needing to know where a relationship is heading, way too soon. Or, being too quick to judge a developing situation, dismissing it out of hand at the first actual or perceived hurdle. Neither of these approaches have anything to do with love, as they are not emanating from a loving place. The first is a selfish need for reassurance and emotional security. The second is a form of self-protection and fear of trusting. There are always reasons behind both of these no-no’s, but if something isn’t working for us, why allow it to continue to dictate our actions?
So, now we have considered seven different aspects of one problem, have we reached any conclusions, and can we come up with a solution?
I think so. Not one that transforms dating, but one that transforms our approach and therefore our experience of it. A solution to ongoing frustration, disappointment, and even despair. And the solution, like the problem, is made up of several parts!
I am now going to speak directly to you, rather than us. If you are constantly struggling with your love life, if it is becoming a roller-coaster ride, or a battle ground… or maybe even a desert… YOU need to change, because the world isn’t going to – at least, not anytime soon.
You have to identify your own particular problem. What is it that you believe, that you repeatedly think and say, where your love life is concerned? You will probably find that the same patterns are occurring again and again. Wherever there is a definable pattern that is not leading to the result you hope to achieve, it needs to be broken!
Generally speaking though, there are 9 empowering ways in which you can improve your approach to, and experience of, dating:
1) Accept it for what it is, not what you believe it should be. It is a highly competitive, over-saturated market, awash with posturing and performing. Not every person who puts themselves out there is capable of developing an honest, solid relationship… and some of them are only in it for the chase. But there are genuine seekers of love within the mix, and with patience, and the right approach, the chances of eventual alignment increase significantly.
2) Accept the fact that for some people it works like well-oiled clockwork, and for others it doesn’t. It may be that you still have a bunch of experiences to process before you cross paths with a mutually interested, compatible partner. You might not like that fact but if it is the way that it is, then becoming indignant is only going to make it more painful for you.
3) Nurture and develop yourself first and foremost, and whilst waiting for Mr/Miss Right to make themselves known to you. You are a unique soul in your own right, with your own qualities and skills, and your own greater potential. Don’t allow yourself to become inwardly desperate, even if it is something you hide from the outside world. You know how you feel, deep down inside. Desperation emits an invisible but repellant energy that travels out before you, negatively influencing the process, and who and what you attract. Inspiration – obviously – works the opposite way!
4) Stop approaching love interests in a clinical, defensive way! Immediately weighing up the person you have just met or opened up a dialogue with as a potential partner is really off-putting! I wrote a blog, Women Objectifying Men – As Potential Partners, because it is something I see happening on a very regular basis. There is nothing wrong with wondering if a person could possibly be ‘the one’… but it should be a brief wondering, pushed to one side until you know an awful lot more about them. The reason it isn’t a great idea is because it has nothing to do with genuine admiration for the love interest, based on a real understanding of who they are – it is usually about a need to establish a committed relationship, cross the t’s, dot the i’s, box it off and have it all done and dusted! There is usually a tick list, and if it turns out that the love interest isn’t actually who you imagined them to be, or isn’t interested in becoming your partner, they become the bad guy, another a******e in possibly a long line of a*******s! This is a soulless way to approach dating and rarely ends well.
5) Stop being in such a hurry! I know that this is much easier said than done, but it honestly, truly IS the Holy Grail of dating advice! It is the absolute number one because that is where it can all start becoming messy and painful… that is where the plot is often lost! And here are two reasons for not getting too carried away too soon:
a) You are not giving yourself enough time to understand what your love interest is all about – in other words, you don’t yet know them anywhere near well enough – and so you cannot realistically be planning a future with them!
b) You could potentially ruin a promising relationship through impatience, crushing the life out of it before it has even had a chance to show its worth.
6) You tend to find yourself becoming obsessed when being in too much of a hurry; what are they thinking, why haven’t they texted/called, can I trust them, do they like me??? It all becomes too intense and uncomfortable, not to mention emitting a repellant energy! It is also disempowering, and steals time and energy away from other key areas of your life. So… avoid becoming obsessed!
7) You can take things far too seriously when wanting to go from A to Z at the speed of light. If a love interest is declaring love before you’ve even met, or within a short period of time of being around one another, the warning bells should be ringing… getting all starry-eyed about it isn’t smart! Keep an open mind, take it with a cheerful pinch of salt, put the brakes on, keep your feet on the ground, and see how things pan out. I promise you, the chance of it fizzling out is pretty high, when one or both parties are rushing in and jumping the gun!
8) As school teachers often say, “it is your own time you are wasting!” You might think that being in a hurry for signs of commitment, or to judge the potential worth of a love interest, is saving time – either get it done and sorted, or get it out of the way and move on to the next one! Nope, far from it. It is better to invest an appropriate amount of time in a situation that might possibly have potential so that you can get a clearer idea of how it is unfolding. I tend to think that three months is an acceptable period of time for genuine assessment; a connection that is going nowhere will either fizzle out or reveal its true nature, and a connection that does have potential will still be unfolding. However, you have to be able to be honest with yourself on this score, because I have seen too many love-seekers kid themselves that an on-off connection really does have a future, when all of the signs are flashing otherwise. There is no need to bitterly write a love interest off for wasting your time… after all, you are the one in charge of it! If they aren’t for you, and if they don’t want the kind of future that you want, at this moment in time or ever – it isn’t a crime and it doesn’t make them evil! You don’t have to throw yourself in headfirst, you don’t have to pin all of your hopes on someone you don’t yet know well enough – and you aren’t running out of time, unless you are 99 years old! If they aren’t for you, move on. Not defensively or angrily… just calmly and determinedly. The chances of you never, ever finding a partner are pretty remote… most people do, and often more than once throughout the years.
9) Don’t go in looking for ‘the one’… be open to a relationship with another human being who has their own hopes, dreams, and fears. The idea of there being just ‘one’ person for you is, in my opinion, idealistic tosh, and I have seen it lead to more heartache and disappointment than I care to remember. If by ‘the one’ you mean someone with whom you can develop a healthy relationship that has long-term potential, you have to set aside romantic notions of a roses-round-the-door existence with some misty figure who is always going to ‘be there’ for you… it doesn’t work that way. I have to say that a number of singles have strongly disagreed with me on that point over the years… funnily enough, not an argument I have ever heard from anyone in a long-term relationship! For two people to enter into the most important, fulfilling but challenging experience they will ever face is a huge deal and requires a mature attitude – not to mention friendship, tolerance, and reasonable expectation. Oh, and a sense of humour!
One day, in the future, you will have been in a committed relationship with another human being – and all of his/her foibles – for long enough to have forgotten all about the agonies of dating. They will be your rock, but also your biggest pain in the ass! You will have had arguments and disagreements, you will have let each other down at times, and one of you is more likely to have become the parental figure than the other. You will, on occasions, have wanted to smother them in their sleep, whilst on other occasions never wanted to be without them – and vice versa. You will probably have loved and lost, hated, and suffered the pain of rejection, before finally crossing paths with the big lump now lying next to you in bed every night, and waking up beside you every morning! Ain’t love wonderful – night-time farting, snoring, morning-breath and unflushed loos included!