Recently I listened to a lovely talk about meditation, about paying attention to the present moment, practicing loving compassion, and letting go of thoughts that carry you away from your breath, or mantra, or wherever you focus when you meditate. This makes so much sense. Why is it so hard to practice these guidelines in the world of dating and relationships?
Well, sitting alone meditating is one thing, and sitting with another person is more complicated! Dating is stressful. We often resort to habitual behaviors to manage anxiety, and forget all about mindfulness. So here are three basic guidelines for mindful dating and relating.
1) Be present. The person in front of you deserves your full attention in this moment. This sounds obvious until you think of all the ways we distract ourselves from being present with another person. Most people have more sense than to be texting while on a date—but will sneak in a few texts when said date goes to the bathroom. Not sure how this adds to the value of the experience. It’s not like you’re going to forget important details if you have to wait until after the date to discuss with friends.
A recent study found that the mere presence of a smartphone in the same room decreased the number of words exchanged between couples. So if you’re trying to be present, leave the little devices out of reach, or sight, or sound; for instance, in the car, or in the other room. You will be more fully present if you’re not mentally reviewing your text messages, or checking emails from work.
2) Be compassionate. Hardly anyone enjoys the process of dating, and almost everyone shares the desire to find someone. We need to give each other credit for having courage to try it, and compassion for our fumbling efforts to work it out. We really are fellow travelers on this journey, and the least we can do is to be kind to each other. In fact, you will gain more from that experience than from effortlessly falling into an instant relationship. Being compassionate with others, and with yourself, expands your heart and brings more loving energy into your life. In other words, it’s good for you, and for her too.
3) Be willing to let go. This is hard, because our desires seriously color our perceptions. Our hearts really, really want to be in love and to be held and wrapped into a secure attachment. Then our minds get busy construing some alternative facts, such as “She’s perfect for me” or “She really likes me but is afraid to show it” or “Sure, she talks, interrupts, criticizes, or drinks too much… but she’s just nervous!” Sadly, alternative facts turn out to be, well, not true…but there you are, clinging to hope—and missing the point.
The point is there’s no way to date, to intentionally look for someone to spend romantic time with, without going through the hope-disappointment-letting go cycle. Most of the time when you meet a new person, she’s NOT the One for you. That’s just the reality of dating. It’s also why most people hate to date. Why go through all the prep time and anxiety just to discover it’s not a good fit, again?
Letting go also can mean letting go of your beliefs about what’s the “right” way to be. Sally strongly believed that being closeted is detrimental to mental health. Then she fell for Jenny, a school superintendent in a conservative county, who did a lot to support queer students and to promote gay-affirmative attitudes among teachers and parents… but was in the closet at work, and at community social functions. Sally’s dilemma was, could she deal with a closeted partner? Could she let go of her belief that Jenny would be better off if she came out at work? Or should she let go of Jenny? Not an easy choice, but a perfect illustration of how complicated things can get when two real people are trying to work out a relationship.
We can’t avoid complexity, but we can make it easier by remembering to be present, to be compassionate, and to be willing to let go. That just makes everything better, alone or together.
Glenda Corwin, Ph.D is a clinical psychologist who specializes in lesbian sexual issues. She is the author of Sexual Intimacy for Women: A Guide for Same Sex Couples (Seal Press, 2010).
Her specialty areas of practice are:
- Issues associated with female sexuality and sexual desire
- LGBT individuals and couples
- Workshops on sustaining sexual intimacy
Find out more at GlendaCorwin.com