Monthly Archives: August 2016
Can mindfulness and online dating coexist?
Let’s be honest – browsing the wilderness of online dating can feel like sending your ego straight into a land mine field. Not only does online dating encourage a judgmental attitude – it requires it. We find ourselves making snap decisions based on superficial criteria, and ourselves being evaluated by the snap decisions of others. We are at once too good and not good enough. With every profile “like” and unreturned message, the ego experiences a subtle roller coaster of pride and devastation.
And the actual dates? They require the emotional balance of a tight rope walker. It’s no secret that the average person in real life bears little resemblance to their best photo, which happens to be their profile head shot. Is dinner too much pressure for a first date? (Yes.) Is it disrespectful to date more than more person at a time? (No.) When is the right time for sex? (Depends.) In our world of feedback loops and curated reality, intentions and values vary from person to person as widely as the millions of channels on YouTube. Every person is a universe unto themselves, an algorithm of preferred music genres and sex positions. The options for today’s single person have never been more diverse or readily available. Meanwhile, true love is nowhere to be found.
If you are the type of person who values mindfulness and meaningful connection, this routine can be more than a little frustrating. But in truth this is nothing new. Each generation rewrites the dating rules in their own image. Our technological advances have given us a power of connectivity that, while spectacular, is still an experiment. Mindful online dating is possible; we just need to decide how it’s done. Below are 10 guidelines that I created after years of trial and error.
1) Show your true nature in your profile
You don’t have to tell your life story (please don’t), but avoid overly obvious information (“I like to travel”) in favor of more revealing anecdotes (“A book that taught me a lot is…”). This will help filter deeper connections from superficial attractions from the start. One approach I take is listing my Instagram to show women my thoughts and beliefs.
2) Know what you are looking for
Without a game plan, online dating can become a frustrating maze of aimless swiping and dead end conversations. It doesn’t matter if you are looking for a long term partner, new friends, or a fun hookup. But it does matter that your intentions are clear. If you want to stay sane, it’s important to know which two or three things, and types of people, you are looking for.
3) Avoid app addiction
Don’t be that guy/girl who obsessively checks their messages in social situations despite having checked them 15 minutes ago. Those sweet nothings will be waiting in your inbox tonight. Set aside two times per day to read and send messages, and practice app abstinence the rest of the day.
4) Be genuinely curious
It’s easy to forget that the person on the other side of the screen is a living, breathing human being. Instead of thinking “what can I get from this interaction?” you will have a better chance of making interesting connections if you slow down, forget about yourself, and actually pay attention to the other person.
Cognitive distortion is the fancy term for a distorted belief, a belief that doesn’t make sense because it’s not rooted in reality. For example, a thin woman who truly feels that she’s overweight has a distorted belief. The idea is that this distorted belief is pervasive and has the effect of making this woman feel badly about herself. Another example: I may come up with a million reasons why a date might not like me, but the root problem could be that I have a distorted belief about myself that underlies everything I say and do: the belief that “I am not good enough” or that “Something is wrong with me.” Some therapists are called cognitive-behavioral therapists, and this type of therapist focuses on the beliefs you have about yourself and helps you uncover any distorted beliefs that might be holding you back in your life.
When it comes to dating, men and women fall prey to all sorts of distorted beliefs even though they probably don’t realize it. I’ll review some of the most common ones that make dating stressful and unpleasant, and odds are that you are probably guilty of having at least one or two of these beliefs. (All of us are fallible, including psychologists and therapists.) See which ones resonate the most with you. Once you identify the one or ones which you display, pat yourself on the back because becoming aware of these patterns is the first step to changing them.
With this distorted belief, we arrive at a general conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence. If something bad happens only once, we convince ourselves that it will happen every time. For example, if your last date didn’t want to kiss you at the end of the evening, you overgeneralize the situation and tell yourself “No one is attracted to me.” The healthy way to frame the experience: “I don’t know why she didn’t like me, but people have liked me in the past, and someone will inevitably like me again in the future.”
Jumping to Conclusions
Jumping to conclusions represents one of the most common mistakes men and women make in dating, falling prey to the belief that they have x-ray vision and can see what someone else thinks and feels. Without your date saying anything, you know what they are feeling and why they act the way they do. The tendency to jump to conclusions and convince yourself that you know what the other person thinks or feels represents a distorted belief because you simply cannot know what someone new thinks or feels. Why? Because you hardly know that person! Plain and simple, you have a distorted belief.
Somewhere between deciding that I want to go out with someone and our first date, there is a question that I dread. “So, what do you want to do?” Occasionally, I’ve gone out with guys who had it all planned, who invited me into a narrative they’d already created, but for the most part, the decision is collaborative.
Perhaps I’m a little more anxious than some might be about this, but it does feel like there is a lot riding on our first activity. I don’t want to lock myself into something that requires a couple of hours, for instance, unless I already know my date well enough that I’m sure we’ll have plenty to talk about. Whenever I need a reminder of why this is important, I remember one date which started with dinner and ended with two rounds of miniature golf. We didn’t have enough to talk about to get us through dinner. As we putted brightly colored balls, I watched a young couple, probably in high school, a hole or two in front of us. They were chatting and flirting, he was helping her set up her shots. They clapped for each other when each sunk the last putt. In other words, they were doing a mini golf date right. From inside my awkward and strained version, I vowed, never again.
But all rules are made to be broken, right? Once, I met a first date at a hockey game. It could have been disastrous, even though I love hockey. I worried that our interactions wouldn’t be as smooth as they had been so far, but I went anyway. I was nervous that day, and nervous driving over, but as soon as I connected with my date, I felt calm. We talked and laughed all through the game (I can’t even remember who won). That first date turned into a relationship.
Sometimes, I get hung up on money. It can be awkward to talk about who’s paying for what on a first meeting. I always try to pick places that I can afford, and I speak up if I’m worried about that. More and more, it’s a conversation I’m trying to have early, before emotions are entangled. That way, everyone is on the same page, and no one feels taken advantage of.
In the moment, sometimes I have difficulty remembering my favorite mid-priced places to eat, or the coffee shops I like in different parts of town. To combat this, I’ve made a list. Now, when someone asks me where I’d like to go, I can suggest crepes, craft cocktails, or well-brewed tea.
Familiarity is another perk I’ve discovered in developing relationships with my favorite first date places over the years. Often, I’ll go a little early and check in with a barista or bartender, letting them know I’m on a first date. More often than not, they offer to check on me, or to develop a signal, just in case I’m in distress. I still might be nervous, but it’s awfully nice to feel like I have some backup.
Unless I have a good reason, I try to stick to coffee for a first date. No one expects more than an hour from me, and I can graciously escape if I’m ready to be done, but an hour can also easily turn into two or three if things are going well. It’s not expensive, and there’s plenty of time and space to get to know each other without a server dipping in, or the distraction of a movie, a play, or a sporting event.