She Said, He Said: Be your authentic self in new dating arena
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
I ended a two-year relationship a few months before the pandemic hit and so, for almost a year and half, it’s just been my dog and me. I’m now fully vaccinated and things seem to be moving back in the right direction for a bit more normalcy in the world and I’d like to start thinking about dating again and possibly finding someone to spend the rest of my life with. I’ve tried dating apps in the past and have been reading about all the different strategies online but they all seem very impersonal and formulaic. I know I have some less-than-ideal dating patterns from the past that have landed me some less-than-ideal men so I’d like to figure some of those out along the way. Do you have any advice for both dating strategies and to help me understand my past patterns?
Ready To Date
Lori and Jeff: This will probably be the most unique dating season in recent history. Many singles had to choose between hunkering down with any available COVID partner and weathering the pandemic alone. With a greater sense of safety and freedom, the dating scene is ripe to explode this summer with a vast array of possibilities for new romance. We feel strongly about not relying on systems, scripts or formulas for making relationships work. The best dating approach is knowing who you are and bringing your most authentic self to the dating world.
Jeff: There are several “bigger-picture” things you can do to understand your relationship patterns more clearly and work toward improving them. While the process might create a bit of discomfort at times, increased self-awareness really is the key.
• Learn about your attachment patterns. We’ve written several columns about attachment theory and there are some great books out there, so I won’t go into detail here. Just know that it will help you understand how your defensive “fight or flight” protective response, while under emotional stress, will sabotage your relationships.
• Create a list of non-negotiables that you want in a partner and a relationship — things that many of us are afraid to ask for because either we don’t think we deserve to get them or that if we ask, we’ll be limiting ourselves to who might be willing to help us make it happen. But isn’t that what finding a suitable partner is all about?
• Do some work on clarifying your values (what’s most important to you) and develop a personal philosophy statement. These will both help you make decisions and choices as well as proactively, not defensively, setting boundaries in your life. There are some great resources out there that can help with this process.
• Get more clarity around some of the emotional wounds you may have experienced during your childhood. Think about ways you had to adapt yourself to be loved and accepted. This is probably one of the most important steps but it’s listed last only because it might require the most help from a professional.
These are things we recommend for people to do anyway along the path to a more meaningful and fulfilling life, so why not also include it in your search for a romantic partner?
Lori: Would you date you? Ask yourself if the person you are today represents the best version of yourself you could be at this stage in your life. You don’t have to be perfect to say yes, but you do have to be deeply honest with yourself. If you can say yes, then you may have the qualities of a stellar partner but be missing some confidence when you’re on the dating scene. If you tend to question, second-guess or doubt your worth, then you may have a history of molding yourself to what you think your new partner wants, and losing yourself in the process. The work here is to develop a greater appreciation for all that that you authentically have to offer.
If, however, your gut reaction is no, then it’s helpful to take an inventory of what you would like to shift, change or grow within yourself. When we turn a blind eye to the parts of ourselves or our lives that aren’t working, those underdeveloped aspects become a driving force in who we seek and welcome into our lives. If we want to be more social, we draw in the charismatic life of the party. If we want more success, we focus on finding someone who’s made it happen. The problem isn’t that we value finding a mate with these traits, it’s that these traits become overvalued in what we think is important in a partner. We neglect to screen for all of the other characteristics that we need in a compatible mate, and ultimately end up disappointed, hurt or frustrated when it doesn’t last. If there is a part of you that needs nurturing, commit to working on it until you can look in the mirror and see a reflection that you feel good about.
Lori and Jeff: Dating can often be a challenging and frustrating experience. But it can also be very rewarding and fun. Don’t try to streamline it by following formulas and algorithms. Instead, understand that relationships, from first introduction to “happily ever after,” are a practice. Allow yourself to be playful, make mistakes and learn from every encounter. There is no “perfect one,” but by knowing yourself and what you really need, you’ll have laid the groundwork to find someone great for you.
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.