Some Things I’ve Learned from Online Dating

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I’ve done a fair amount of online dating over the years, mostly on match.com and OK Cupid. And the more I dated, the more I learned – not about others, but about myself.

First thing I learned was totally Buddhist and stuff, seriously. I really got in touch with the concepts of letting go and non-attachment. When you are online dating, you can’t start decorating the Christmas tree with a potential after a) reading their profile, or b) emailing them. The art of sending out a note into the ether and then letting go to any attachment of it returning to you is paramount to online survival. It is amazing what happens out there. Unlike in face-to-face forums, say like a bar, or a coffee shop, or on the street, people online have really honed their avoidance skills because they aren’t directly in front of someone. I’ll be the first to admit that I have completely ignored an email reaching out to me because I didn’t find the person’s profile compelling, I didn’t find them attractive, life got in the way, or I just had online dating fatigue. I know, I know! I sound like an ass, but this is how online dating works. And in some ways it is a relief because you can throw out an email, if it sticks – great. If not – well, that’s okay too. This online dating experience has actually helped me to let go more in life and be less anxious because for the same reasons I didn’t get back to someone, they may not get back to me. I don’t know the reason why they aren’t getting back to me, so I don’t take it personally (more on that in a bit).

Another great life lesson is to trust your instincts. One of my bosses calls this a tummy check. If your tummy says something’s up, it probably is. For example, when I first got online, I thought it would be good to go out of my “comfort zone.” People, testing your boundaries can be and should be an amazing thing and you should do it often, but I’m here to tell you (well, at least for me), it isn’t the best idea online. Don’t keep trying to fit that square peg in a round hole, like I have. If you don’t find the person to be a fit (for whatever reason) from their profile, chances are they aren’t going to be a fit in real life. “Wha?” I can just hear you saying, but after more dates than I can’t count, I can say that if their profile picture or write-up didn’t initially interest me, my in-person level of interest was no different. For example, I still don’t find tattoo sleeves to be attractive. I just don’t. I tried. Honestly, I did. But there is something (for me) that just doesn’t find that attractive, so why keep pursuing something like that? (Okay, so I’m using a very physical visual example and I’m sorry if I’m offending sleeved or panted individuals. I love your personal form of creative expression, but I can’t help it, I like the the colors of skin, not ink.)

And that naturally leads into the next thing: don’t take anything personally. Just because tats don’t work for me doesn’t mean someone else isn’t drooling over them. And not taking anything personally is more than just this physical representation I keep talking about; it really goes back to non-attachment. I’ve had people not email me back, email me back a month later, email me and then stop (maybe only to email me again later), or even start scheduling dates only to disappear, and to be honest, I’ve done all the same things. It is hard trying to make time in our busy schedules for complete strangers. We really can’t know what is going on with someone else unless they share it with us. So it doesn’t help to fret over why someone didn’t get back to you and this should be easily extended into everyday life. People’s reactions are their own and that is okay. You can’t allow one individual’s reaction control your world.

More importantly, I’ve learned that a lot of lesbians can sometimes be a little too deep for their own good, always thinking about being present and making the world a better place. Seriously, I think it’s great, and I’m so glad that so many women are working in professions that are care-giving and that there are people who give a damn about others. But since I’m being honest, once I hear someone saying “I try to be present everyday in life,” my eyes sorta glaze over and I start to fall asleep. Sure, who doesn’t want to be “real” in this world, but once in awhile don’t we all need a beer and a bad tv show just to check out? And honestly, the things I think about are unmentionable since my parents and sisters might be the only ones reading this blog. Of course I’m overgeneralizing about lezzies, but just ask my colleagues – who have read many of the profiles of the women I’ve dated – and they will agree.

I’ve learned that I can talk to anyone for 2-3 hours provided that there is some type of beverage in front of me – preferably wine, whiskey, or beer. I have never done the proverbial coffee on a date, but once I got tea. Anyway, the point is people like to talk about themselves. I’m not saying that in any rude way, but rather just as truism. (I used to have a good family friend who could get me talking – not that that is too hard – for hours. He just kept asking questions.) First dates aren’t difficult because you are in the “discovery” period, like being in the pre-trial stage of a lawsuit. You are trying to figure out if this case should move forward, end immediately, or if you have no idea of what the next step is.  And that means a lot of questions, which usually build on previous questions if you are paying attention at all. And the truth is that everyone has interesting life stories. But I’ve also learned, while I LOVE to talk, I am really shy about sharing the more intimate things about myself. This is actually a problem because I’m not connecting, but rather leading. And the point is to connect. I’ve been trying to be more open and talk about things I find important or meaningful. It is helpful because how people respond to these things will help me understand what type of partner they could potentially be.

Finally, I’ve learned it takes a certain amount of perseverance to date online. And this is a great life lesson. Getting turned down or ignored can, no matter how hard you try not to take personally, can be difficult on the old ego. But it is a numbers game, you have to expect for every (insert your number here) emails you send out, only 10% will get back. So you gotta just keep getting back on the old proverbial horse (poor horse). Life doesn’t typically just hand us what we want. We have to work for it – we have to earn it.  I’m not saying you have to earn love, I’m just saying you can’t hide from living life and moving forward.

Online dating, whilst I haven’t found a life partner, has helped me partner with my own life in a way that is meaningful. Now, I’ve gotta go send out some emails.

This post was adapted from Rebecca’s original post on her Tumblr, My Life As A Cartoon.

Image:The Raft of the Medusa, by Théodore Géricault (1818)

Next Year: I’m just going to be happy where I am

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It’s almost the New Year– you might associate this with champagne, the ball dropping, maybe time to burn off the holiday cookies. I think of New Years Resolutions!

I usually love self-improvement schemes and to do lists, but this year, I’m trying a new approach. Sure, goals can be helpful, especially if you are trying to change something specific. But I was recently struck by Leo Bautista’s (author of Zen Habits) attempts to de-clutter his life, including getting rid of goals. He points out:

“Goals (wanting to improve) are not consistent with contentment (being happy with where you are).”

Eliminating them, he realized how unnecessary they actually are. He found he still accomplishes a lot, simply because he loves what he does. Not setting any specific goals feels exciting to me. I can listen more to what I want to do in the moment and trust that it take me where I want to go.  There are still things I want to accomplish, but doing them can come when I pause and ask myself, “What do I want to do now?” Not “What should I be doing?”

Simply put, like Leo, I want to love what I do. The “shoulds” of New Years resolutions imply that there are things that I need to do— and need to make myself do. Instead, getting away from betterment, from the feeling that something needs to be fixed, feels liberating. Perhaps this is related to the stage of life I’m in– school has built in goals, so we get used to achieving, accomplishing and working towards something specific. We graduate and have to figure out our adult lives, and goals help us start to create the life we want. Now, I’m pretty content. While there are still plenty of things that could be better, there’s no hurry. I want to focus on what I do have and let improvement come gently.

In his TED talk, Shawn Achor describes that if you are happy, then you will be successful– rather than the other way around! If our ultimate goal is to be happy, which I think mostly means being present and open to what comes, then setting specific goals is unnecessary- and worse: sets you up for failure. This year, instead of resolutions, I’m letting go of the feeling that things need to be fixed. I’m going to focus on being happy with what is.

Here’s to 2014– Happy New Year!

Image: Ray Ewry of the USA in action during the standing high jump event, for which he won the gold medal.

“You Can Go Now”
Politeness vs. directness in close relationships

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A few weeks ago, we got the idea that it would be fun to explore some of themes of this blog in a more dynamic format by using interviews and conversation. So today we’re trying something new – a podcast! In this episode, we tackle direct and honest communication in close relationships.

This type of communication feels risky — it leaves us vulnerable to be open, to share our true selves. We risk offending and somehow being rendered less lovable. Yet, this is also where trust and intimacy are built. Why is it sometimes hard to be clear and straightforward about how we’re feeling with close friends, family, and partners? Is politeness a barrier to closeness? What are the risks of leaving politeness behind and instead opting for gentle candor? And, who is Invisible Script’s cousin? Click below to listen to the discussion.

Image:  Harold Edgerton photograph

So Much Miscommunication: The 5 Languages of Love

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“My father only calls me if he has some logistic to settle,” my friend recently complained; this didn’t feel affectionate or loving to her. Meanwhile, her efforts to call just to say hi were just as baffling to her father. We’ve all experienced some version of this–some small misalignment with people we’re close to. Maybe you don’t understand why your partner won’t just offer to make dinner if he knows you’re running late, or why your brother doesn’t appreciate the thoughtful gift you sent him.

I recognized my friend’s father right away, though: he is an Acts of Service person. Excited for a chance to explain, I immediately exclaimed, “Do you know about the five language of love?!” I then proceeded into a lengthy explanation, enumerating the languages on my fingers.

These languages come from Gary Chapman’s book: “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.” I first read the book over ten years ago, actually, during the fall of my junior year in college. At the time, it interested me but did not have much immediate impact. In the years since, however, I have become an evangelist.

The book names five “love languages” that we use, consciously or not, to express affection: gifts, quality time, words of affirmation, acts of service, and physical touch. Everyone has preferred ways that they naturally give and accept affection. (You can– and should– take the book’s online quiz to find your own love languages.)

Here’s an excerpt from Chapman’s website to describe each language:

  • Gifts: Don’t mistake this love language for materialism; the receiver of giftsthrives on the love, thoughtfulness, and effort behind the gift.
  • Quality Time: Nothing says “I love you” like full, undivided attention… Whether it’s spending uninterrupted time talking with someone else or doing activities together, you deepen your connection with others through sharing time.
  • Words of Affirmation: If this is your love language, unsolicited compliments mean the world to you… You thrive on hearing kind and encouraging words.
  • Acts of Service: Anything you do to ease the burden of responsibilities weighing on an “Acts of Service” person will speak volumes… when others serve you out of love (and not obligation), you feel truly valued and loved.
  • Physical Affection: A person whose primary language is Physical Touch is, not surprisingly, very touchy. Hugs, pats on the back, and thoughtful touches on the arm—they can all be ways to show excitement, concern, care, and love.

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Chapman describes how we all have a “love tank” — akin to a car’s gas tank — that requires constant refilling. While the book primarily focuses on refilling your spouse’s tank, the idea applies equally to relationships with friends and family. I’ve found it particularly helpful to explain parental behavior. Certain behaviors from each of my parents that used to baffle me I can now see as their unique love languages.

For example, my mom loves to buy me things, but not necessarily things I want. She likes to pick up trinkets and shower me and my sister with presents. When she came for the holidays last year, we had, I thought, agreed to give one small gift per person. Yet she arrived with an extra suitcase of presents: soap, a mug, lotion, a frog-shaped neck warmer that you heat up in the microwave, a book, earrings, tights, bookmarks shaped like sprouting plants (I actually really love these), and the suitcase itself.  I’ve learned that this is her way of expressing her affection, yet the shower of gifts made me uncomfortable. I don’t like her to spend a lot of money on me, and I don’t like to own a lot of stuff so the barrage of presents felt somewhat like an act of disservice. With Chapman in mind, I tried hard to see them as the tokens of affection that the gifts are meant to be.

My dad’s love language is completely different from my mom’s. Growing up, we used to rollerblade together, which always included a break on a park bench. We would just sit there together, soaking up the sun (one of his favorite activities) and not talking. To my dad, this was perfect quality time: being with someone he loved and sharing a favorite activity. I always found it a bit boring (and indulged him as an act of service). As I got older, I recognized that we just have different ideas of quality time. He is happy to simply have company, while I want meaningful conversation. Chapman refers to this as a dialect; a common dialect of quality time is quality conversation. I sometimes get frustrated since family visits involve a lot of sitting around, but like the gifts, I’ve learned to see it as love, especially since my dad makes such an effort to travel a long way to see me, and be together.

Just like any language, the love languages are ripe with potential for miscommunication and misinterpretation. Chapman argues that we should use the languages that our loved ones prefer to receive, rather than using the love languages that come most naturally to us, to make sure that we are communicating clearly. I agree with the value of this, though it’s incredibly difficult to do (I think we all tend to default to using the love language that comes the most naturally to us).

I think it’s equally important to try to understand what other people’s love languages are so that we can recognize their actions as affection, as annoying, perplexing, or obtuse as they might sometimes seem to us.

Since we only have the power to change ourselves, we can make the effort on both ends — to try to express our love in ways that our loved ones can accept, and to see their attempts at affection as just that.

Image:  “American Gothic” by Grant Wood (1930, Oil on Beaverboard)

The Problems We Take With Us

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Whenever I’ve thought seriously about changing jobs, it has always been a reaction to a problem – a boss I didn’t like, underwhelming responsibilities, or just non-specific dissatisfaction. This is the normal way. But is it the best first response? Sometimes, making a switch is the right choice and does make us happier. Other times, switching jobs doesn’t solve anything, because we haven’t acknowledged our own habitual patterns or recognized the small things we can do to improve our job satisfaction. Without realizing it, we carry the problem with us wherever we go. (read more…)