Study Your Process
Dating Wisely Concept #4, Study the Process, follows directly from Dating Wisely Concept #3, Successful Failures (see yesterday’s post by that title). As much as the new love hormone (dopamine) will muddle your greatest efforts to be awake and aware, forcing yourself to consciously study your dating process will be both fascinating and rich in wisdom..which could save you deep pain and regret down the road.
In order to learn from our mistakes (and have successful failures), we have to be conscious of our motivations, which means we have to be emotionally and intellectually honest enough to acknowledge them, especially when they don’t paint us in the most flattering light.
Human beings are wired for connection–we’re social animals–and our very bodies (hormones) seek one another for comfort, intellectual stimulation, company, shared responsibility, etc. If you pay attention to the emotional processes, the motivations, compelling you into relationship, you’ll also become more aware of the motivations of the people you date, and that can prevent a multitude of mistakes.
Loneliness is probably the greatest compelling force in the dating process, and can lead us into some pretty sketchy territory if we’re not careful. In fact, loneliness should be given the respect of a ravenous lion, as it can drive us into deeply painful relationships if we aren’t respectful of its power.
Where loneliness is concerned, I have to be willing to ask, “Do I want relief now in exchange for (virtually guaranteed) loneliness later? Or am I willing to deal with loneliness now in exchange for (potentially) solid relationship later?” In a nutshell, “Am I willing to delay my gratification?”
The Marshmallow Experiment
In 1960, Dr. Walter Mischel at Columbia University designed the Marshmallow Experiment to study the phenomenon of self-control, and he found that 4-year-old children who were willing to delay their gratification were much more successful in life decades years later than those who were not. (See: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcmrCLL7Rtw; and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QX_oy9614HQ.)
The same question faces us when we’re dating. Am I willing to exert control over my most primal emotional processes so that I can make wise choices? Am I willing to introspect and examine my motivations so that I can be in charge of them, rather than the other way around? Am I willing to own and accept the consequences of not doing so? Am I willing to recognize that my life will be what I make of it, that I’m not just a victim but an agent in how my life turns out? Am I willing to pay attention to and tend to my own emptiness so that I’m not desperately seeking someone else to assuage it?
Perhaps studying your internal process when dating seems as unsexy as Dating Wisely Concept #1 (See post titled, “Dating Wisely 1.2”), and again, I say, “Au contraire!” Nothing could be sexier. When you detect that your date is, like you, awake and aware and isn’t going to project his or her issues onto you, it can get very steamy very quickly…on an intimate level that you can’t even approach when two people are unconscious of their motivations.
On A Personal Note
Studying my own motivations as I dated for about 10 years post-divorce saved me a lot of heartache (see yesterday’s post). Of course, loneliness was a continual heartache of it’s own, but I was keenly aware that it would be even more painful to be in another union that was unequally matched–emotionally, spiritually and intellectually–as was my 17-year marriage. I just couldn’t do that again, and I was willing to wait, rather than to settle for fun now but incompatibility later.
What got me through some of my loneliest days was my journal. Writing became a way to validate my principles when everything in me wanted to cave to primal instincts. I really despise the feeling of regret, and my journal helped keep the potential of regret in perspective for me.
So did living my life fully, even as I lived with that deep loneliness. That’s the subject for tomorrow’s post. Stay tuned….