dating + the(un)disturbed mind

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1

A girlfriend came by the house the other day bearing gifts of Coffee Bean. As we sat at the kitchen table and sipped our Sumatra roast she gave me a rundown on the date she’d just been on with a guy.

My friend is striking – the last time I was at an airport with her, someone mistook her for a famous actress and asked for her autograph – smart, entrepreneurial and funny as hell. What amazed me was how quickly her conversation veered off the cliffs of her own self-confidence and into an abyss of uncertainty and self-doubt.

The guy hadn’t called or texted (yet).

My friend wondered aloud if she had been funny enough, or charming enough, if she had talked too much or too little, if she had freaked him out with an offhand comment she’d made about having a family –

“Dude,” I finally said, “stop. Just stop. Stop second-guessing yourself.”

2

In his book THE GREAT WORK OF YOUR LIFE, Stephen Cope talks about

“…the power of nonattachment. Give yourself entirely to your work, yes. But let go of the outcome. Be alike in success and defeat.”

Although he’s talking about work – more specifically, the great work of your life, otherwise known as your dharma – these ideas could just as equally apply to the dark, grim, soul-crushing ritual otherwise known as contemporary dating.

“….clinging to outcome has a pernicious effect on performance,” Cope writes. “Clinging (or grasping) of any kind disturbs the mind. And this disturbed mind, then, is not really fully present to the task at hand. It is forever leaning forward into the next moment – …..Grasping, it turns out, is just another form of doubt. ….The mind that is constantly evaluating – “How am I doing?” or “How am I measuring up?” or “Am I winning or losing?” – is the divided mind.”

You don’t know, I said to my friend, what else is going on in that guy’s life. Maybe there’s an on-again off-again relationship that just got switched on again. Maybe he’s going to Spain. Maybe he got trapped beneath something heavy. Or maybe he just decided that he wasn’t attracted to her for reasons that are all about him (maybe he prefers brunettes, or waifs, or she reminded him of his mother, or he wants to be with guys).

You have to ask yourself: So what?

When she chews over the date the way she was doing, she was operating off the assumption that she could have controlled the outcome – and the reason she didn’t was because she messed up.

This is one of those places where we tend to twist ourselves inside out. We assume it’s us. Even that popular adage – “He’s just not that into you” – has a way of turning into, It is my fault and something is wrong with me.

And we’re surrounded by books and magazines and various experts who are happy to help us perpetuate that sense of total responsibility for a relationship that doesn’t even exist. He’s not calling because you broke some kind of Rule, or slept with him before the end of his three month probationary period, or maybe you ‘intimidated’ him by what you do for a living, or — gods forbid — you called him.

When maybe – and the odds would suggest this – he just wasn’t the One, or even a One, and you don’t want to date him anyway. You just hadn’t figured that out yet.

But when a date is no longer an exercise in expanding your social circle, meeting someone you might or might not be compatible with and/or attracted to – when it becomes a statement (at least in your own mind) about how loveable and desirable you are, a reflection on your worth as a person – it’s hard not to grasp for a certain kind of outcome.

3

But on top of everything else, a divided mind is not attractive.

Confidence is attractive.

Being at ease – and putting the other person at ease – is attractive.

Being comfortable in your own sense of self is enormously compelling.

Irony is that when you don’t have so much invested in the outcome, when you have the power to walk away – no harm, no foul – you are more likely to get what you want (or what you think you want). And I’m not talking about being aloof or hard-to-get; but about being present, vulnerable, in the moment, enjoying the process as another life experience, focusing on the other person instead of getting lost in your own head, open to whatever this is going to teach you about your life, your ability to be in relationship, yourself.

And whatever happens, happens.

It’s no big deal.

So what?

In order to have that sense of ease and non-attachment, it probably helps to believe the following:

You are okay on your own.

There is more than one kind of happy ending (and sometimes the traditional one actually isn’t that great, as the divorce rate will tell you, or the number of people suffering in quietly — or maybe not so quietly — unhappy marriages). As the predominant creative force in your own life, it’s your task and challenge and privilege to work the raw material of your existence into whatever works for you, no matter what notions about couplehood, singlehood, family and togetherness you might want to reinvent – or invent – for yourself.

Whatever happens, you will handle it and make it come out right.

Your belief in self is the ultimate ace in the hole.

Jan 31, 2013
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14 comments · Add Yours

Justine,

How do you keep such good friendships in Los Angeles? You seem to have so many friends from so many different walks of life and – considering how difficult it is in Los Angeles to get together with people – you ACTUALLY spend time together. You sit down and have a girl talk. Or guy talk :)
What is your secret? What do I not know about friendships that you do? Or do you just have to hunt down your friends to make coffee dates with them, something I find myself doing all the time?

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Will you marry me?

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Hi Justine,

What a great reminder of the ‘nonattachment to outcome’. Two aspects in particular resonated:

1) the assumption that I can control someone else’s opinion about me

and

2) I am OK on my own

Both pieces required years.. YEARS of introspection and therapy with which to come to terms and deep understanding. Since the understanding of those subjects in my inner world consumed my 30s (I’m 51 now), I can only guess that other women all over the world have similar paths. And like all inner world work, we are onions, peeling off the outer layers to see the same issues again from a different perspective and position of understanding.

Thank you for writing this and showing, once again, that I am not alone in these journeys.

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I know that I struggle with “not being enough” … of anything and everything really. Like Amara I am working on it – not there yet – and like her it is nice to see other people walking along the same path. Thank you.

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How well I remember that script from my dating days! Always assuming I wasn’t pretty/witty/smart(too smart)/interesting/enchanting/whatever enough. Looking back at photos I was pretty darn snazzy, but thoroughly lacking in confidence. (Except after a cocktail or four.) Heaven knows the fellows weren’t all catches, but I felt it was always me. When it seemed I’d always be alone (and that was okay) I met Mr. Celeste, someone I thought not at all my type. A friend pointed out that we had similarities, and lo and behold, she was right. It was nice to have someone as smitten with me as I with them, and the relief of not having to worry I wasn’t enough.

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That blogpost made me feel a sense of ease… I don’t “date” – although I am frequently asked and propositioned. I tell whoever asks me that I would love to have coffee (or in my case, herbal tea) with them and get to know them as a friend, but that I have a policy of not dating people until I know that they would get on with me and I with them and that we have something in common. Because if it turns out we are not right for each-other romantically then we might still have a friendship, whereas if we dated straight off then we would have missed out on a friendship. I have copped a bit of flak from “disappointed” wanna-be “dates”, who feel “friendzoned” (which instantly tells me I *don’t* want to date them because they aren’t interested in getting to know *me* for myself rather than my physical attractions). But truly I am happy in myself and although many of my friends are doing the “dating” thing I don’t feel the need of a man. I am not writing off romance however, but I feel that I could make a success of whatever life I have… One of my greatest inspirations is Enya.

What really resonated with me in your blog was “As the predominant creative force in your own life, it’s your task and challenge and privilege to work the raw material of your existence into whatever works for you… Whatever happens, you will handle it and make it come out right.”

That is EXACTLY how I feel.

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I can so relate to not feeling good enough in a relationship. This is such a wonderful reminder to be present and practice letting go of attachment. I have been working on these things in other areas of my life, but until reading this they hadn’t quite made it into the dating realm. But of course it makes so much sense. Thank you so much for sharing and reminding me of this. I always enjoy your posts!

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Just be yourself and don’t be conscious enough on what you do and what other people think about you. The best way to attract people who will taken you sincerely is to being yourself all the time.

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@Irina What strikes me about my friends in Los Angeles is that proximity is so important! We live within 5 to 20 minutes of each other….When I was looking at new houses, I wanted to stay on the westside primarily because I knew if I moved too far east I would more or less drop off the face of the earth…My network of friends seriously deepened and grew after my marriage ended. I had to get out from my ex-husband’s shadow, I had to have the time, space + freedom to do things + pursue relationships on my own, and I had to wake up to how important it is to have friends + not get isolated within work + marriage. (Friends, among other things, keep you tethered to reality.)

And social media has been a godsend. I’m in touch with people from twenty years and two lifetimes ago thanks to finding each other through Facebook or my blog.

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Stephen’s quote on work really hit a chord with me. I am going to have to re-quote him with full credit and links of course – I want more people to come read your fabulous blog!
Thanks Justine!

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Justine. Nicely done. I found your blog thru a pointer on Rachel Reznick’s site.

Ninety five percent of the time our mind perceives wrongly. This is how our minds work according to Buddhist psychology. You don’t have to be a buddhist to experience this cloud of misperception. Coupled with feeling a sense of ‘walkin on air’ over the course of what appears the perfect new relationship is a recipe for perceptional disaster. (Cliche acknowledged, but true.) What happens is this: we create perfection in our mind. This woman, or man we have found—cannot live up to the photograph, or painting, we have of them. It hangs with a beautiful golden frame and makes us dance for joy. And why not? Who DOESN’T like walking on air?

Blame the natural order of attraction for making this situation worse—but even the relationship that ‘works’ from this state will always strip the paint off, and THEN you’re at the place where you can see this other, this love, from the perspective that you might have seen had you been an enlightened zen master who happens to believe in dating. (this is why Zen Masters make so few mistakes in life. They don’t date.)

So NOW you feel your significant other as they are. What will you do? Do you accept them for who they are and always have been? Do you work toward understanding, even deeper, who they are? Do you push them away? Do you find an excuse to work so many hours that it really doesn’t matter who they are, as long as you perceive that you have a quasi-happy marriage? (Until the day they drop the bomb and tell you they don’t love you anymore?)

Well, don’t get discouraged. Starting life over again, one learns. One grows. Just look at me.

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Justine, thank you SO much for sharing your wisdom. I adore your writing and love your outlook on LIFE…look forward to more :)
Liza

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Thank you for sharing this. I look to my dating life often to understand and experiment with different life philosophies. Your use of the dating life as an example was beautifully articulated.

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Great post. Stephen’s book looks interesting, glad you mentioned it—will be ordering.

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