I’ve helped many singles find partners and get married over the years. I also know that many people date for fun, or sex, but often the clients that come to me have great hopes of finding a life mate. I now realize that many of the lessons of dating can go much deeper. As a psychologist who specializes in dating, I’ve helped singles to remove blocks to finding love, which often begins by exploring their own dating psychology.
Many singles see dating as a means of finding a life mate, and they only undergo the stress and effort of dating if they feel they’ll be given the grand prize of a significant other at the end of this heroic quest. While this is understandable, I’ve come to see what a process of spiritual growth dating can be, as a road to knowing and loving oneself even more.
Dating is a context within which singles can examine how they defend against love. In my book, Dating From the Inside-Out, I list fifteen defensive dating styles or ways in which people unconsciously defend against letting love in. Let’s use the television character Jerry Seinfeld as an example of the “Perfectionist” defensive dating style. Seinfeld rejected dates for wearing the same dress twice or because he doesn’t like how they ate. He always found something to push away a potential partner who might really be able to love him.
It’s curious why we humans do this (and countless other defensive maneuvers) when consciously we bemoan not finding a mate, and we continue to take action on the dating wheel, without looking within.
Perhaps we’re afraid of being vulnerable, getting hurt, or truly letting someone know us. Some singles may fear change, but when we remove ourselves or take a break from dating, there is less hope to discover these patterns. For it is in the dates themselves that we get mirrors into why we reject people and why they sometimes reject us.
Sure, sometimes rejection is based on attraction, timing or preference, but it often goes deeper. A good therapist can help singles examine their limiting dating beliefs regarding love and the opposite sex, and see whether past relationship baggage may be preventing them from being open. For example, sometimes a bad parental marriage embeds a fear of intimacy or commitment in a child of divorce. Past hurt or betrayals from prior romantic relationships may also inform, like a mantra: “There are no men in NYC like my type. I may as well give up!”
Relationship rejection can color present self-esteem in singles, making them feel that no one of the opposite sex finds them attractive. They need to return to a place where they feel loveable and attractive again, so they give others a chance to respond in kind.
Many singles still believe that they’ll live happily ever after once they marry. They await their spouse to buy a house, travel, take risks and achieve most of their dreams. But, the more they create their best life now, the more attractive they’ll become to the right mate. And once they have the life they basically want, it’s also easier to see who will best fit into it. So, dating becomes an opportunity to improve your life satisfaction, self-esteem and to achieve your dreams so you can share all this with the right person.
There’s also an opportunity to learn from dates that fall far from the mark. Singles can practice noticing which traits they like and don’t like… and why. Where are they very judgmental of others? Are they able to see the essence in someone new, regardless of whether that person is an exact right match as a life mate? Do they know what they need in a partner and what they can live without?
And how do they handle rejection? When they’re rejected, do they remember that “no” is just a word like “yes?” Do they reject themselves in the process, or do they remain in a state of self-love and keep moving towards their goal? This is a good skill to develop no matter what your aim is in life.
And do they over-reject others without giving them a real chance? Do they base all these judgments upon a ‘type’ of person they think they should love? Are decisions only based on immediate chemistry, or are they taking time to really get to know someone and learn how they are loveable and how they might show up as a partner?
Do they just sit around waiting to meet “The One,” or are they willing to take action to create a great love partnership? Do they say they desperately want a relationship, but they’ve only had one fix up that year? Are they willing to go to singles events, parties, bars, do online dating and ask friends to fix them up? Will they meet the universe half-way and do their part? Do they realize that dating, relationships and marriage take work? Perhaps some have seen too many chick-flicks showing spontaneous romantic meetings so it takes them awhile to embrace this notion.
Sometimes they’re unclear what they even want in a life mate and as a result they’ve followed the butterflies dancing in their chest as the hallmark sign that they should commit to someone. Then they end up in a year-long relationship with someone who can’t meet their core needs and who doesn’t match their core values for a lifetime relationship.
Other singles have a list of one hundred criteria for a mate, most of which they don’t meet themselves. They leave no room for imperfections or to be surprised by the package in which their soul mate arrives in. I advise them to whittle down their list to seven essential qualities they’d like in a mate so it’s realistic and to understand that everyone has both great and challenging qualities, it’s about which challenges they choose to work with.
And with all the dating games and ‘catch a man’ schemes proffered by dating experts, hopefully, they find a way to love and be themselves through the dating process. The most important thing about love is the ability to truly be yourself. It’s the litmus test. The right mate will accept and work with you as you are. Otherwise, you can act coy and unavailable, but a year into your marriage your partner will discover that you’re actually needy and demanding, and you won’t know if they can actually deal with it (and neither will they!) And if the two of you cannot accept each other, you’ll probably divorce anyway.
Sure, some expert could write a book or article (like I did) explaining the essential growth lessons of dating, but life and your specific dating process is really the best teacher for you. Like the big hulk of stone from which Michelangelo chipped away, removing what didn’t work and discovering what was most essential; so too, in dating, singles can learn what they want and don’t in a mate and what they ultimately want to create in a relationship.
And although this can be a rocky road, they may discover that finding a husband or wife is only the booby prize in the end. The real “Return on Investment” is learning to love yourself, discovering how to relate to a range of different people, and learning to make choices that are an extension of that commitment to yourself and your life vision.
And when your mate finally does come along, you may realize that the dating process prepared you to recognize “The One,” to remove blocks to love, and to become the partner you most wanted to attract.