As a psychotherapist who specializes in the search for love, I've come to believe that mindful dating leads us more quickly to real love, and to richer, more fulfilling lives.
In most cases, the way we approach dating determines the kind of love we find. And the quality of love we find determines the very quality of our lives. For most people, this search is one of the most important missions of their adult lives. Yet the majority of dating advice treats it as a slick package of superficial actions or behavioral tweaks that promise to result in the attention of the type of mate we desire:
Ken Page L.C.S.W. is a New York based psychotherapist, lecturer and author of the upcoming book Deeper Dating: How to Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy (Shambhala, 2014). A dynamic and inspiring speaker, he has led hundreds of workshops on intimacy and spirituality for thousands of participants of all ages, backgrounds and sexual orientations.
Editor: Haroon Christy
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The truth is that the search for healthy love is not about tricks, gimmicks, or quick fixes. Dating skills are the deepest skills of intimacy—the very skills that will keep your relationship alive and thriving when you finally find it. This is great news because it means that dating success is based on more than just sheer luck, having a smoking-hot body, or being willing to suffer through countless bad dates.
Our search for love deserves our deepest respect, compassion, and intelligence. The good news is that the more we approach our dating life as an intimacy journey, the greater our chances are of finding someone truly wonderful, and of keeping our relationship with them alive. In fact, if your approach to dating isn’t helping you deepen your capacity to give and receive love, then it's not worth your time.
The following two concepts are pillars of a wise search for love. Each asks something powerful and challenging of us. And each one we attempt will make our lives happier, more meaningful, and richer in intimacy.
1. Identify—and work on changing—your “flight patterns.”
We all push the possibility of love away, even as we search for it. Choosing unavailable people, drinking too much, staying home and web-surfing every night, going to places (and using apps) where we are less likely to meet quality people—the list is endless, but most of us know how we sabotage our search for love.
Our fear of intimacy isn’t a character flaw that renders us unfit for intimacy; it is part of being human. The real questions are, How do we keep love at arm’s length? And what can we do to change that? Addressing this two-part question is perhaps the most direct path to finding love—and achieving greater happiness in all our relationships. We can’t correct all the ways we flee intimacy; that would take until the end of time. However, if we find one specific way in which we push love away in our dating life, and then tackle that particular defensive pattern, we improve the chances that we will see the love in our life increase and deepen. That choice is a small act of personal greatness—and it is within all of our reach.
2. Develop kindness and understanding—and only pursue people who do the same.
When it comes to dating, we’ve been taught that cool trumps kind. This is misguided—and the fast-track path to emotional pain. In an age of online meet-ups, the modern dating call has become “Next!” We scroll through countless profiles, looking almost exclusively for photos of people who represent our exact "type." With a sharp eye, we seek immediate physical attraction and relentlessly judge others (and ourselves) according to a personal checklist.
But why didn't anyone tell us that kindness and understanding are two of the greatest aphrodisiacs that exist? In your next dating experience, try practicing just a bit more kindness, understanding, and generosity, and see if that changes your inner state and the actual quality of your date. Chances are that it will.
The more you do this, the more you will come to value those same qualities in the people you meet. You will discover that wiser self-protection is less about keeping your distance and more about becoming fiercely discriminating in your choice of partners—as well as of friends. For example, in dating, consider the following:
- How does this person treat clerks, restaurant servers, and people who are, for whatever reason, vulnerable?
- How does she treat the people who matter most to you?
- How much does he consider the needs of others?
- Does she listen to your feelings with care and interest?
- Does he have an innate generosity of spirit? (This is not the same as being romantically demonstrative.)
Usually, you’ll know in a relatively short time if your date is someone who truly cares about these qualities. If so, you’ve got something to celebrate. If not, I recommend that you protect your future and move on.
Young or old, single or coupled, we are all students of intimacy. At any point in our lives, there are deep and essential challenges we must tackle to find love and become the people we want to be. We may feel the call to increase our compassion, steel our resolve, take action, be brave, be truthful, be vulnerable, or protect and save an important relationship that’s deteriorating.
And there’s an added perk—one that never ceases to inspire and surprise me. Any significant step in these directions usually leads to new open doors. This happens more frequently than you might imagine. Test it out, and I think you’ll be delighted by what you find.