Dating Wisely 1.10: Differentiate, Part 3


For the last couple days, we’ve been discussing how critical it is to a wise dating process to be a solid self, a differentiated individual, a person who is adept at consciously separating intellect from instinct, thought from feeling. Those who are low in the capacity for or the practice of this are considered to be more “fused” than differentiated.

Fusion, the opposite of differentiation, refers to the degree to which a person operates from the unconscious, automatic, reactive emotional realm. The inclination to fuse with a new love interest is hard to resist, particularly because of the powerful hormones that govern the honeymoon phase (called “symbiosis”–literally “same life”) of a relationship.

Separateness and Togetherness

Plus, it’s just human nature to struggle between the forces of separateness and togetherness. We’re social creatures, leading us toward others (potential fusion) for the joy of shared living, and we’re different from everyone else, leading us away from others (potential differentiation) as we try to make our unique contribution to the world.

By becoming increasingly aware of these normal, natural, competing motivational forces, we can become more adept in our resistance to fusing with the other, maintaining our own individuality and allowing others, including our intimate partner, to do the same. In the long run, this is the saving grace of a stable, effective partnership.

The Challenge

For those who date consciously and wisely, the attempt to remain unfused will be challenged to the nth degree in the early life of a relationship (the first three years), and how the couple handles this period will establish the pattern of the relationship for years to come.

The attempt to remain unfused is challenging because it inevitably stirs conflict. Some conflicts will occur because your new love interest will try to get you to conform to his or her view of life, while you try to hold onto your core essence. Other conflicts will occur because you try to get your new love interest to experience the world the way you do, while he or she resists you in his or her effort to remain self-defined.

If conflict doesn’t occur in the first three years of a relationship, it’s a sure sign that fusion is ruling the process, likely by the practice of accommodation, in which one or both parties sacrifice their essential selves to avoid conflict. Not a good dynamic if you want that peaceful, stable relationship later on. Respectful conflict must occur between conscious individuals if they want to set themselves up for a satisfying future.

On A Personal Note

For Brad and I, conflict occurred on our first date. We had met at a philosophy discussion group three weeks prior, after which Brad messaged me an invitation to car pool to the next discussion. After taking a day to do my due stalking diligence on-line to make sure I wasn’t going to be riding in a car with a serial killer, I agreed.

On the way to the discussion, Brad waxed eloquent about the philosophy of a particular religious perspective in such a way that I wasn’t sure he was interested in my opinion. After about 20 minutes of partly listening to the content he was presenting, partly deliberating about whether and how to inform him about my experience of the conversation, and partly deciding that I could only be friends with this guy if this is how our conversations were going to go, I finally inserted myself into the conversation.

“I don’t know if you realize this, but you’re coming off as arrogant, in that you’re presenting your opinions as if they’re fact, and what you’re saying could be offensive to me since you don’t know who I am or what I believe.”

After a moment of stunned silence, Brad’s response was free of reactivity. “I think you’re missing my point,” he said simply, and he made his point again. That began another 20 minute discussion about my experience of the conversation (the process) versus the subject matter Brad was presenting (the content), and by the time we got to our destination, I understood Brad’s point, and he understood mine.

Differentiation is Sexy

On the way home, I experienced Brad very differently. He presented himself more personally, less intellectually, and I was pleasantly surprised by his ability to effortlessly shift his way of being in response to my experience. By the time we arrived back at our meeting place, I was willing to extend our conversation over drinks at one of Brad’s favorite haunts. Perhaps I misjudged this guy, I thought. I’m willing to give it another try.

At that point, our conversation moved much more solidly into the personal realm, and we began to discuss our mutual interest in understanding male/female relationships. Then the conversation moved to an even more personal level: our personal relationship history. Risky stuff for a first personal meeting, but I have nothing to hide, and the sooner my relationship partner is willing to be open, the more quickly I’m able to trust in the connection.

If you’ve been reading this daily blog, you know that, in that conversation, I presented my desire for my next relationship to be one in which my partner and I placed personal growth over personal fulfillment in the relationship. You also know that Brad was intrigued by the idea of using relationship itself as a tool for personal actualization. How sexy is that?

My, How Quickly Things Change!

And so, a night that had begun with risking defining myself (differentiating) within the context of a potential intimate relationship became the first building block of a solid foundation for a mutually satisfying relationship. By the time the night came to a close, I didn’t want it to. The physical attraction had begun to take hold, and it took some fortitude not to take Brad up on his invitation for a kiss goodnight (see post from two days ago) :-).

I took a couple risks in the interest of differentiation that night, believing that honoring my essential self would serve any future relationship well. I’m pleased to say that it has.


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