We are just over half way through the six group meetings of Engage. We have explored the impact of first impressions, shared personal feedback with each other, set individual goals for the workshop, reviewed dating profiles and supported each other in taking risks, inside and outside of group. Members have been learning about themselves and each other in relationship and are trying out different approaches to their interpersonal styles. Each participant has challenged themselves to do something a bit differently as they navigate their dating landscape and we are continually reminded how important it is to celebrate even tiny movements forward. Everything counts! I look forward to the last two weeks with this brave group of daters as we wind down the session by exploring how we choose a partner and how to determine the goodness of fit between two people. Stay tuned.....
If you think about it, we are always hearing how relationships take work. It’s not exactly untrue but it is a little misleading. Relationships do indeed take work…..sometimes. Every couple runs into life circumstances or stumbles into personal issues that challenge one or both partners' ability to cope well. At times like these, couples may find their issues from the past getting activated. Rationality will seem to have abandoned otherwise level heads. There may be heated conversations and unsettling conflicts leading to distress about the relationship. But in healthy partnerships, couples are usually able to right the ship without too much turmoil. They tend to lean into the strengths of each partner and of the relationship to navigate difficult terrain. The rest of the time, outside of these rough spots, things run along pretty smoothly.
If you find yourself working really hard on the relationship on a regular basis, especially early on, you might consider re-evaluating if this is the right fit for you. Does the amount of time, effort and resources you are putting into it pay off in any measurable way? Are you overvaluing some of the positive aspects and minimizing the things that don't work well? Are you in it because of what it offers you now or because of what you hope it might offer you in the future? Or maybe you're in it just because you are afraid NOT to be in it.
When people have been single for a long time or past the age when they thought they would be forever-attached, they tend to be willing to make bigger compromises when someone half-decent does come along. The hope of what is in front of them outweighs.... well, almost everything else. While I always err on the side of taking risks and having a curious and experimental attitude when it comes to relationships, a square peg is never going to fit into a round hole. Knowing when to stick with something either because it has the potential to go somewhere or because it's the kind of practice we need, and knowing when to pull the plug on something that isn't working, is one of the most valuable judgment calls we can learn to make.
If you are questioning whether the effort is worth it, ask the Evolve community for feedback. See if others think it's worth sticking with or, if not, how they can support you in letting go. When we only bounce things off the inside of our own skulls, we get the same tired feedback. Treat yourself to a fresh perspective because this stuff is hard and we can all use a little support. Visit the Evolve Dating Facebook page @IWantToEvolve or see my services page to join.
Except there's really no escaping it. Every store display, every social media post, every TV commercial, every friend who is happily partnered; they are all uncomfortable reminders that you are still alone. And if you're on the interwebs looking up how to survive Valentine's Day as a single (still cringe at that term), you'll get lots of good advice about how to throw a singles-themed party or pamper yourself so you don't feel so bad on this day that celebrates the thing you don't yet have.
But let me make a different kind of suggestion. It will run counter to most of what comes at you in popular culture and certainly contradicts the messages of corporate America which profits immensely on our wish to avoid pain.
What if you didn't work so hard to stop feeling sad or lonely. What's that you say?? Allow myself to feel negative emotion when there are so many very convenient and accessible ways to get away from it? Yep. And here's why.
We are all designed with the exact same set of emotions. Each one prompts us toward some kind of action. If you’re afraid, you move away from the danger to stay safe. Anger motivates defensive action which prompts us to stand up for ourselves or others. Sadness points us to a loss that needs to be grieved so we can let go and move on. Guilt...well, I wouldn't want to live in a world where people didn't feel guilt, would you?
Loneliness is a bit of a different animal. Loneliness is one of the hardest human emotions to tolerate. Why would that be?
Think about what action loneliness would prompt us to take? Feeling alone in the world encourages us to connect with others. It is so intense because connection with others is directly linked to our survival. As mammals, we are born attaching to our caregivers however well or poorly they do the job of taking care of us. That's because, even in less than optimal circumstances, being left alone as a small child is a bigger threat to survival than being harmed in the context of attachment. We have a strong instinctive, survival-of-the-species kind of drive to connect to other people. That's why loneliness is so hard to live with.
Being alone as an adult on Valentine's Day, or any other day for that matter, may not be a threat to your survival but it certainly is a threat to happiness and the quality of the life you live. So you could spend this Valentine's Day pretending you don't really wish you were paired up or doing all positive things to distract you from feeling lonely (And, hey, no judgment. Really.) Or you could tap into the loneliness; not to sit in it forever, but to let it do it's job. Let it motivate the action to connect.
Here is the point where so many of you feel stuck. You may not know what action to take to connect. Fear could jump in here and paralyze your ability to even think about what you would do. You may be worn down by all of the efforts you have already made to no avail. Maybe there's an inner critic that tells you there isn't anyone out there for you anyway.
Here's where our biology can be helpful. Because of our innate need to attach, your instinct is making being alone feel painful. It's your feelings and thoughts that often serve as obstacles to taking the action your biology recommends. Let your instincts guide you. They aren't wrong. Now, that doesn't mean you won't get hurt in the process but, believe it or not, you actually need the failures too. But that's a blog post for another day.
So this Valentine's Day, you can wallow, you can distract, you can ignore. Or you can let your bad feelings move you to take action. Dare to write that dating profile you've been dreading. Swipe on or wink at people you might normally find a reason to pass up. Find a way - any way - to say hi to that cutie in your building. You don't have to be profound or cool. You just have to be sincere. Give yourself permission to not do it so perfectly. Just follow your gut and do it.