Saturday, December 5, 2015

Giving up Dating, Part 2: An Update on the "Forever Stop"

This is a ridiculously long essay, but I feel it is necessary. The essay that this follows up on, The Forever Stop: Giving Up Dating, is the most viewed on this blog, and so in standard "Hollywood" tradition, it makes sense to have a sequel! In this case I hope that you find this to be more than just a trite re-hash of previous themes; perhaps more of a further examination or extension of the original themes. Who knows...this may end up being a trilogy! Read on and enjoy...

There are certain things that one should not "let go of". Fear is a classic example of one such thing. "Let go of fear!" Do you know of anyone who has successfully let go of fear? I don't. I do know many people who have tried to let go of fear, and as a result now suffer not only from fear, but also anxiety and the shame of failure. The idea of "letting go" of our feelings is right on par with the religious expectation that we should strive to never "sin". It sounds good on paper and sells books, but it only generates disaster when applied to real life lived by real humans. With fear, what generally works is leaning into it, as Pema Chodron advises. With fear, "letting go" does not work. It often results in something more like chopping off the hand that is doing the holding. How do I know? Because I know.

But you are welcome to try it out yourself, since my authority no doubt means nothing to you. The next time you feel anxiety or fear, go ahead and try to ignore it, or be happy. Go ahead! Then if you succeed in having it "go away", I will eat my shoe for charity. But I like my shoes very much, so I doubt this will happen. But you are free to try.

However I am not writing about fear in this essay. This essay is about what happens when you choose "letting go" in a situation where it can work. Dating is a classic example of one such situation. With dating, "letting go" can work because it suggests the loosening of one's grip on control, not avoidance or distraction. Control, in this example, often shows up in the way one thinks about dating, and it often goes something like this:

meet, attraction, sex, date, commit

Granted, those categories can be arranged in any possible order--it is not the order that indicates control, but the reliance on categories that yield a consistent low return. On their own, these categories can be quite harmless, but combined together, in any order, they rally their power to steam a train along a rickety track. Time after time I have noticed it in myself and others: if I meet someone and there is attraction so we have sex and if that is good then it means something so we date and if we date then we must at some later date commit.

Or perhaps that was just me.

Regardless, I made the decision at the end of last year to let it go, forever. I made a decision to break up the chain gang of categories and throw them up into the wind to scatter and fall where they may. I let it all go--the story, the expectations, the format, the need, the interest...the control--and I decided that I would just busy myself with living my life.

This essay is my follow up report on that strategy, a year later.

Nothing happens unless you do something. While I wouldn't build a scientific theory around this statement, it succeeds in communicating a basic idea. I tell my clients this all the time: If you want change to happen, you have to do something different. Letting go of dating was just one step in my process. Why did I not stop there? Because in my desire to let go, I was not inferring that I was giving up; instead, I was starting a process. There is a difference. I was making room for something different; the nature of this something was more vague than I preferred, but I was willing to start with "something". That something was a desire to re-ignite my creative, playful nature, and to find out how to trigger erotic connectivity.

Why did I want to do this? Primarily, my motivation was the desire to feel something other than a sense of efficiency in my life. Do any of you identify as taskmasters? Well, hello there, I am your leader. Building a business from scratch is a lot different from baking a cake from scratch. My livelihood depends on the results of my efforts. In the process of doing this, I got a bit safe in my emotional life. I am not sure why I felt this was necessary, but it is what I did. Freud used to say that we have a finite amount of energy to direct, but he used to say a lot of crazy things that have no scientific validity. I suppose that I felt that all my energy had to go to business development, or else I was being lazy. I also think that I knew the energy focus would be temporary, until things began to hum. It worked, from a business standpoint, as I now have a mildly supporting fledgling practice that continues to build momentum.

As my business grew, so then did my restlessness for some sacred messiness. I liken it to recovering from a broken limb, when you get the sense that you have progressed far enough to try and "get back to it", as it were. I was surprised by this resurgence, but not disappointed. And since I like to explore my instinctual inclinations, or at least the sober ones, I decided to look for opportunities to pursue this. At this point I will cut to the end of the story and save you the suspense, not because I am a nice guy, but because the opportunities are not what I want to write about. I want to write about the results.

Ain't nothing easy about "relationships", I always like to say. My opinion is supported by the culture, the media, and certainly by the couples who come into my practice struggling with unanticipated difficulties. I have long suspected that the stories we are fed about love are similar to the apple that dooms Sleeping Beauty--enticing but numbing--they lead us into a state of constant unfulfilled desire. I am currently reading a book that talks about how we spend most of our time in relationship with our partner's unlived self, and I see this as the result of a story of relationship that resides nowhere in our lived biological or emotional lives. Not that there is no truth to the story of romance, but it is just one of many ways to be with another, and at some point every couple has to get off the cloud and face the question of "Why am I really with you?"

They say that love can break through walls or build them. Actually, I just said that, but it sounds like something "they" would have said. Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the "purpose" of relationship as far as it applies to my work and my personal life. I have come to the conclusion that the "romance story" can only exist within the realm of lack: something must be missing (self-esteem, confidence, purpose, meaning, excitement), and it can only be attained from another. Once the illusion of lack is shattered, romance must assume a new identity. It must naturally move from its status as headliner to supporting player. But then what takes its place at the top? Is there a true purpose for getting together with another? No, not in that sense inferred in the romance stories, but there are reasons that are really very simple and based in evolution. Well, two reasons. One is ancient--we are mammals and we evolved to attach to others in order to survive and nurture our young. The second is modern--it is in relationship that we have a chance to heal emotional trauma. The rest is dressing to the turkey--delicious, but not essential, but since you are having the turkey, why not have the dressing!

As an older man, I have continued to ponder my own reasons for intimate engagement, because they are not the same as they were when I was younger. Not that the previously mentioned reasons no longer apply, but it has become more of an effort to give a shit as I have gotten older. Life is pretty damn good even without romance. But I have been feeling that there could be a benefit to my personal development were I to explore the arena of relationship, so to speak. As I dip my toe in the water once again, I have awakened the pondering, and here is what I have come up with so far in regards to why I would date.

There are three basic reasons I currently identify as draws to relationship in my advanced age:

Ignition: Have you ever just felt blah about life? Sometimes the blahs are on the surface, and they can be responded to with something as simple as a strong cup of coffee or going to a new restaurant; at other times, the blahs are more than skin deep. Sometimes they are pervasive, such that they cast a sheet of dullness over every activity, every thought, every interaction. This is not a good thing, by the way. This level of the blahs warrants immediate action, lest one either succumb to them, or resist them with harmful attempts at stimulation.

During a recent run of the blahs, I resorted to neither remedy; but I knew I wanted to interrupt them. Ignition invites in interruption, but they are equally dependent upon each other, since you can't get to the former without the latter. Why is ignition a draw? Because it feels good to feel good. Ignition dispels the blahs by interrupting them and inviting in excitement, newness, and curiosity, and as the name implies, that is just the start. Ignition can lead to more actions toward relationship, but it can just as well lead to action toward anything. As I see it, there is no downside to ignition because it is not an end in itself, and it works like a charm.

I call ignition a draw to relationship due to the fact that the source of ignition is generally another person or an event tied to another person (both can be interruptions). Ignition, by its nature, assigns meaning to the presence of the other. Meaning is one key ingredient to relationship due to its application to both event and person: an interaction with significance attached to it tends toward relationship; and a person designated as meaningful typically triggers ignition! Ignition increases the sense of meaning, and on and on it can go, the whole process infusing life energy into the trigger and the triggered. This can be especially powerful when one is older, when one's "motor" tends to stall more often.

Companionship: This is an option that is settled into by many couples who have been together for a long time, but it is also an option that is the first choice for some older folks, who don't have the energy or interest in romantic love. I get it--it is wonderful to have someone around as you get older--just not too close! Studies have shown that "loneliness", which is different than solitude, is one factor that can lead to an early death, so a relationship chosen for companionship can be helpful in that regard.

I have a couple of friends who are dear companions. I have even discussed the idea of marriage with them, but truth be told, they are holding out for romantic love. That is fine. For me, I like the idea of having someone around who I like and trust, but am not obligated to entertain or fill all their emotional needs. I think it can keep one sane. I know that there are those who will argue that getting older does not mean that you can't have romance, and I would agree, but I do have an issue with the idea that you must not stop wanting romance. Why, in god's name, would I want the same things I wanted when I was 25, or 35? There are basic needs, which rarely change, and surface needs, which are age, culture, and development dependent. Being "in love" satisfied a need when I was young that I no longer have today. Companionship can fill in the blanks very nicely.

Fair Exchange: This is actually more attractive than it sounds, and truth be told, is the basis for every traditional relationship, whether you admit it or not. The gist of it is that you find a person who has something you want, and you trade them for something they want. End of story! The items on the trade sheet might include sex, company, activity partner, cuddling. This is a specific terms engagement, as both parties agree to the limits of the exchange.

Some of my most successful engagements have been Fair Exchange, where we both know what we want from each other while also knowing what we don't want from each other! These relationships can be short term or long term, and are usually without conflict or fuss. The reason they work so well is that they are devoid of the expectations that conventional relationships come saddled with--instead, both parties get what they want while giving what they have agreed to give. You might scoff, but tell me it doesn't sound appealing!

This type of arrangement can also be known as "lovers", in which the item up for exchange is fairly obvious.

None of the aforementioned is "better" than the other, and in fact, they can be combined into a sort of combo reason.

So where does that leave us after this rambling perusal? Well, hopefully in a state of deeper thinking concerning dating and relationships. You know how they say that things are better enjoyed if you are present for the experience? In a similar way, I propose that dating is better if one thinks about why one is doing it. Dating is not just an activity to do so that you have something to publicize on Facebook, or at least not in my book. (Sorry, almost everybody!)  Dating can just be plain old fun; it can also be a powerful form of engagement with the potential to heal emotional trauma. Why not make it both?  This is currently my personal intent around all this nonsense. I like to think of it as a sort of mud run. You are going to get dirty, perhaps filthy, and you will fall down and get burned at times and shocked and scared and wet and bruised and discouraged and insecure, but if you have a certain intent at the start you may get through it with joy attached, experiencing the challenges as worth the price of admission in order to feel that alive.

See what can happen when one decides to stop doing things the old way? You might find that your engine is not quite ready to stop. At least not forever.