dating + the(un)disturbed mind
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.”
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.
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.
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.