After nearly 9 years in the world of relationship, I have arrived in some incredibly fertile ground for spiritual evolution and self-development: dating.
Just a few years shy of true cougarhood (insert some mix of a sexy meow and “yikes” here), this is the first time that I’ve had any real consciousness about “dating”, per se. In my twenties, relationships just sort of happened on the sidelines of my career pursuits. I’d wake from the heady, self-involved cloud of my ambition and notice the person besides me. “Oh, you’re here!” I’d say delightedly. “Marvelous!” Then, in my thirties, I became more serious about commitment, which led to a spectacular marriage failure that was almost Greek in its tragedy.
These relationships have been conduits for evolution and growth, no doubt. In relationship, we have the opportunity to brush into our most tender places, confront our nastiest habits and – when we’re conscious – move beyond stale patterns and create new dynamics that better serve our vision for who we want to be. Or perhaps we don’t, and the relationship ends, and afterwards we smack our foreheads and say, “OH. That’s what that was. Well. Fuck.”
But don’t despair, Singletons. While relationships can be profound forums for self-work, dating is shaping up to be a pretty potent cauldron for spiritual fermentation.
It’s because of all the uncertainty.
The rampant, horrible, delicious uncertainty.
When we embark on dating, some deep part of our psyche perks up and says, “I don’t know why, but THIS PERSON that I JUST MET is incredibly important and they could be the absolute key to my happiness and well-being for the REST OF MY LIFE.” Call it hormones, call it romance, or call it delusion, but there’s a piece of us that gets stuck in the idea that this could be “it.” The endorphins kick in, the toes start to tingle, and pretty soon we’ve imagined the relationship, the marriage, the kids and the divorce before the second date.
It’s no doubt evolutionarily advantageous, but it is also pretty hilarious when given a little perspective. (Especially when we’ve been through this and know that an actual relationship is both better and worse than our visions.) But the reason our mind struggles to fill in all the blanks is because we have so little to base our feelings on. And because our mind is so uncomfortable existing in a state of uncertainty, it will restlessly ruminate and pick over the smallest scraps of information. Like:
- Why did he text and not call?
- Why did he email and not text?
- Why did/didn’t he pay the bill?
- Why did she insist on splitting the bill?
- Why did she mention her ex-boyfriend?
- Why did she take a separate cab?
- Why did she not respond to my text until the next day? (It’s a text, for Christ sake.)
- Is she dating other people?
- Is he dating other people?
- What does he/she think about me doing that thing I did?
- Why haven’t they called/texted/facebooked/emailed?
- Does he or she like me?
- Aaaarrrrrghhhh! Etc.
Or perhaps we’re on the other end of the spectrum. When we meet someone, the self-protective part of the brain kicks in and puts a big “DO NOT ENTER” sign over our hearts. Being bruised before, we withdraw, shut down, and lie in wait for someone who won’t feel quite as dangerous. The uncertainty factor – not knowing if we can trust this new person – prompts us to find ways to undermine the relationship before it has even started.
Four Practices for Spiritual Dating:
1. Admit we don’t know
In the ground between these two extremes lies an opportunity to rest in the uncertainty of the situation and come back to our deepest selves. When our mind starts telling stories, we can catch on and come back to the present moment. Resting in the power of this moment and in the quieter part of our selves allows us to observe the exuberant chattering of the mind rather than trying to control the situation. As we admit that “we don’t know”, we find that there is a steadiness within us that can easily withstand the tempestuous winds of uncertainty. Coming back to our own center allows us to remember what is really in our control, rather than fixate outside of ourselves.
When the mind starts to go, ask yourself:
- Is what I’m thinking actually true?
- Is it possible that the opposite is actually true?
- Can I rest in not knowing and enjoy the moment?
- What in this situation is in my control?
- Can I feel what I feel and not attach a story to it?
2. Feel more.
Dating can bring up some pretty delicious and intense feelings in our body. They’re your feelings, enjoy them! (And not just the sexy-time feelings, but also the nerves, adrenaline, and angst.) Use these sensations to become more deeply connected to yourself and the present moment – without attaching a story or narrative to them. Ruminate less. Feel More.
3. Practice courageous honesty
As we become more centered and allow uncertainty, we can own our own truth (“satya”). Whether that’s saying, “I really like you,” “This isn’t working for me,” or “I don’t know,” we can use this unusual landscape as an opportunity to practice being centered, brave, and clear. Sometimes the hardest thing to recognize in ourselves is our own uncertainty. The mind wants to make the answer “yes” or “no.” Admitting that we don’t know gives us the space and grace to open to possibility.
Practicing honesty allows us to trust that everything is unfolding as it ought (“isvara pranidhanani”). In the jungles of dating, everyone is vulnerable, everyone is uncertain. Because we can’t possibly have a full understanding for the context that we are participating in, we must ride the waves – knowing that we can’t see the next one coming. We can either surf, or fight the undertow. So take a deep breath, feel your body, and dive in.
Ultimately, the water’s just fine.