Category Archives: dating

Breaking Up: Loss as a Journey

I thought I was going to die. This last breakup was more expected and yet more devastating than any I’d gone through before. I think it was because I had such a strong relationship that had come to pieces. I think it was also because my entire identity was wrapped up in being a couple with this person, being codependent. It’s easy to do for those of us prone to over commitment. So, even though the actions toward suicide were never put in place, my mind often yielded to the fantasy of dropping myself off a high bridge, except I was afraid of heights. Suffice it to say, it was bad. I was in bad shape as I moved back into my mom’s house to recover.

Grief

Feeling the hurt after a breakup is one of the keys to healing and recovery. You have to go through the pain of loss, you cannot shortcut your recovery. As a typical male this process was hard for me to get started. I knew I needed to cry. I felt the sadness deep in my bones, but I couldn’t access the tears. I wrote letters to my ex. I took inventories of what was good in the relationship. I accepted my faults and wrote about where I had failed to live up to my end of the deal, where I had gotten scared and recoiled from my partner rather than turn towards them.

One of the things I did immediately was start going to Al Anon meetings. 1. I needed to be with people and not isolated in my single bedroom at my mom’s. 2. I needed to hear from others who had been through hard times and used the program and their “higher power” to gain strength to recover. 3. I needed a network of friends I could call when things got tough. And the local Al Anon meetings provided all this support immediately. I was not alone. I was not the only one hurting. I was encouraged to call others and talk about what was going on.

So, I accessed some of the pain through journaling. And I watched some sad romantic movies that got a few tears going. But mainly, I just sat with my sadness. I wasn’t inspired to read, though I did buy most of the Al Anon literature as a starting point. I couldn’t just make myself cry, though that’s what I felt I needed. So I sat. And as I ruminated about the past and was bombarded with images and feelings of my ex I tried to say a prayer of appreciation, “Thank you, Samantha, for these wonderful times. I bless you and give you up to God.” And I said it over and over.

I learned to pray again in the simplest terms. “Help me to hope again, God.” “Help me to heal.” “Help me to see a future.”

And I continued my exercise program by walking or playing tennis every single day, without fail. No excuses. This was one thing I could easily control, and if I put my mind to it, I could succeed. And some success was important to me at that time.

Alone time. Prayer. Journaling. Meetings. Phone calls.

That was my strategy. And in a matter of weeks I was having momentary flashes of hope. I would notice walking around the lake that I was actually having positive thoughts about the future. It was subtle. And the ups came with reciprocal downs, but the roller coaster started leveling out and I was having days with little or no obsession about my ex. I was grateful. I built on that momentum and went to more meetings and called more friends. And as the grief began to lift I felt myself imagining and hoping for a new relationship, again.

Turning Point

As things were starting to get better for me, I remember a distinct moment when I decided to get back on the online dating sites again. There was something hopeful about imagining hundreds of women who were looking for a relationship. I wanted to dip my toe in the water and see what they looked like.

I wrote in my profile that I was first looking for friends. And that’s what my intention was. I wanted to meet some women to do things with, but not necessarily to date them. I was pretty certain that my relationship boundaries were not up to snuff, but I could certainly go for coffee or a walk with some women and see what happened. And I think it was this action, this hopeful seeking that really turned the corner for me emotionally. Even the tiniest glimpse of desire in me was a welcome indication that something had changed. That hope was still inside me. And while I was in no position to date right away, I was optimistic about the possibility of having another “date” at some point in the future.

Results

As of this writing, I’m about three weeks in on the dating thing. And I’ve had some interesting experiences. I have one woman who I play tennis with. That’s all we do. We haven’t talked about “dating” the entire time we’ve been playing. I’ve had a few promising first dates that went nowhere. And I’ve got a few first “hello” dates planned for the next few weeks. And while I’m not planning on making any of these women my girlfriend, the idea of having a few women friends that I can hang out with, is quite exciting. Where things go beyond friendship, well, there’s no telling. My heart thinks I’m ready, I know I’m not. So, we’ll see how things progress from here.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  elvis, creative commons usage

Your Sex Is On Fire: The Intoxicating Burn of Love

Everything in your body changes when you have sex with someone. For me, when dating, having sex becomes the moment that I go exclusive with that one person and say, “This is the relationship I’m going to give a try.” But these days, I am more clear than ever that sex is an intoxicant, and should be treated with respect. I’ve certainly gotten into a few relationships due to great sex, that I might have avoided had I taken a bit more time to get physical.

I believe sex is a spiritual event. A connection on a level that begins to transcend the normal walking and talking interactions of daily life. I’ve never been able to have casual sex. (Okay, maybe in college a couple of times.) To me sex is the beginning of a commitment. I know that my brain chemistry changes when I have sex. I get all electrified and positive. And this is just the sex part. If you multiply that effect with a touch of “love” man you are in for a serious impairment. You cannot think clearly when the sexual chemistry starts. If you go physical too early in a relationship it may cause you to overlook signs that this might not be the best relationship. You’re brain and body are so focused on the sex, and getting more sex, it will blow right past the red flags warning you to take a harder look at what’s going on.

There is no hard and fast rule in dating these days, about how long you “date” before you have sex. In fact, I’m sure that the swipe apps of Tender and Bumble are more setup for casual encounters, for the younger set, but I think they are heading for disaster. However, if you were to make a decision to indulge in casual safe sex for a while, I suppose you can try to keep your emotions out of the sex. I’ve never been able to do it. But perhaps I’m old-fashioned.

As sex leads the way to love, the pathways in your brain really begin to get hyperactive. You start thinking about long-range plans together. You start imagining yourself with this person, living together, getting married, having kids. Love is the drug that has launched a million relationships. It’s also the drug that has gotten a lot of people in serious relationships with people they otherwise might pass on. If you hit the love drug too early in a relationship you might not have the opportunity to see your new partner responding to enough of the varied life experiences that happen. What is this person like under pressure? How do they respond to daily frustrations with work, money, life? Love paints over your observational senses with a rose-colored watercolor.

I’m only just back in the dating pool, but I’m setting my sights on 3 – 6 months with no sex. I want to have time to meet and play with several new partners before settling in on the one I want to have sex with. The one I want to take to the next level. That’s the plan. We’ll see how my resolve sticks when I meet someone who really clicks with me.

That’s the thing, click, get excited, but slow down. Don’t blow past all the early experiences of getting to know this person. Don’t skip any steps. And don’t let yourself get intoxicated before you have a chance to evaluate the potential relationship in honest, sober, terms.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and dating again, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: sex is on fire, creative commons usage

Back In Pursuit of Love: Slow Dating

Giving up on a loving relationship is one of the hardest things you might do in life. Calling it quits hurts and goes on hurting for weeks or months. And somehow, when you come out of it, the desire to be back in relationship comes back as well. It’s sort of a magic process, this human recovery story. Find love, explore life together, breakup, and we’re back to looking for love again. The human spirit is very optimistic when it comes to relationships.

And then there’s online dating. For most of us, a bit to busy to be sitting at a bar trying to attract someone, the online scene is the next best chance we have of finding companionship and potentially love. But it’s a long haul. You don’t want just anyone. You want the ONE. The NEXT. The lover who will join you for the twilight years. And that adventure begins with a single spark. And that spark is oh so hard to find.

Viewing hundreds of profiles can get pretty depressing. There are so many NOPES out there you might begin to wonder if there’s ANYBODY out there for you. Even with huge dating sites like Match.com and OKCupid you can exhaust the dating pool, browsing for maybes pretty quickly. And if you’re a guy, the next step is waiting patiently, hoping that someone responds to one of your outreach emails. And you wait. And you hope. And you wait some more.

Then someone cute and seemingly intelligent pings you back. “OH BOY,” your brain and heart say in unison. And we’re off to the races. And if you’re anything like me your imagination takes over and you begin to fantasize all kinds of date ideas, and conversations, and long walks on the beach. And the real trick is hinting at these flights of fantasy without overwhelming the other person or seeming too desperate. Just last week I overplayed my hand with the first woman who gave me hope. And in a heartbeat she texted back, “I think I’ll pass.” And this was after a very cool and promising first coffee date. But just like in real life, you have to drop the fantasy and move on. And we’re back to the waiting.

What’s different for me this time around is I have a much better idea of my ideal mate. I just had a 2.5 year relationship with a very near miss. “So close!” I just had a woman give me a taste of the potential. I caught a glimpse of that “down the road” feeling. I was looking forward to growing old with this woman. And I come back to the game with even more energy for presenting myself with a renewed vigor.

I learned these things about myself in relationship.

  1. I need someone who is athletic like me. (so we can do it together)
  2. I’m not much of a drinker, and that same ideal is of critical importance for me.
  3. The attraction both physically, spiritually, and emotionally has to be very strong.
  4. We need to be great at doing the mundane tasks of living life together.
  5. We have to both be working on ourselves, both in the relationship, and in building a relationship with ourselves.
  6. They need to be self-aware and emotionally intelligent.

I had all these things just months ago, and still the relationship went south.

It’s hard. Relationships are not all flowers and walks on the beach. A lot of the living that needs to be done can be repetitive and stressful. What you’re looking for is someone who can tackle those ups and downs of the human experience with a positive and joyous attitude. Yeah, I’m still working on that for myself. But I AM working on it, and constantly.

I’m not in the pursuit of perfection. But I am in pursuit of 100% authenticity. And I am listening and feeling into what I want in every venture back to the sites filled with hundreds of pictures and profiles of women.

I am hopeful again. I have one new contact that has potential. And I’m slowing my roll a bit. In fact, I woke up this morning composing a letter to her in my head. What I wanted to say next, to reel her in a bit, while remaining cool and collected. You don’t want to overheat, over-promise, or over-pursue. It’s a fine balance. Honesty, clarity, and some demonstrated amount of joy. But heck, I’m a writer, so I should be able to do this.

And I’m actually not looking to date at this point. I’m looking to find some friends who happen to be women that I can spend some time with. If things move on to dating, I want that phase to transition quickly into a relationship. And I suppose the difference for me is monogamy and getting back out of the online dating scene. I look forward to looking at only one profile, the one I experience in real life. So much of what people write about themselves is fantasy, or even delusion. And some of what people put in dating profiles are out right lies.

Finding that genuine needle in a haystack is going to be a long haul, I imagine. And this new “hello” contact is responding to my letters in a 24 – 48 hour window. So there’s that challenge as well. Keep looking while really hoping to be able to stop looking.

And that’s really what we are all looking for. Someone that causes us to stop looking. I am much better in relationship than I am in pursuit. I am much more interested in building a life rather than building an online profile.

Slowly but surely, with patience and grace, I will be in relationship again. Months from now, a year from now, I hope to be writing you again about “the love of my life.” Heck if you don’t believe it, how will you ever get there.

Yes, God, I’m ready this time. Ready as I’ll ever be. So BRING IT.

Keep the faith, and if you need someone to talk to, check out my coaching page.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  dating, creative commons usage allowed

 

The WholeParent Mission: Positive Single Parenting Year Four

Here’s the starting mission statement written back in Sept. 2013.

My unwavering and immutable mission:

1. 100% positive
2. Kids first
3. Honest feelings

I thought I would give pause and reflect, update, muse, on what’s been going on here and in my single-parenting life.

One way I’ve wavered from the original missions, is the 100% positive part. I realised that not letting any of the anger, conflict, and struggles out was not painting a very accurate picture of being a single dad. So, while I try to keep the focus on myself and not others, I am sure I have let a zinger or two fly here. I think it’s more important to be real.

I do believe that my kids come first. The marriage is over, but my parenting never ends. If I can stay focused on their wellbeing I can get over any frustrations I have with their mom. I am committed to being the best dad I can be, in spite of troubles, depression, anger, flights of fancy.

And the final mission, “honest feelings” is the glue that makes this entire adventure work. I think that’s what keeps this blog going even when I’m not contributing to it. I went on a year or more hiatus from writing here and the blog was still getting 100 – 200 reads per day. That’s pretty exciting. So, it seems like my voice is resonating with some folks. I’ll do my best to continue, even in the hard times, even in the blissful times when I don’t feel like writing. Most of all I will continue to be the best single dad I can be. And if I can give you a glimpse of what my life is like, struggles and all, then I have done my best for you as well.

Keep the faith, and if you need someone to talk to, check out my coaching page.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  recent pic of me, creative commons usage allowed

A Muse Enters and Leaves

I’m all about having a muse. A romantic ideal that I can project all my needs on. And last week a woman showed up in a big way and became a muse. We met for coffee and she said we couldn’t date but we could be friends. “Fine with me,” I said. “I’m not looking to date anyway.” We made tentative plans to play tennis over the weekend.

She lodged a possibility in my emotional mind. “This is a woman who could challenge and reward me in a new way.”

So I did what the 38 Special song says, “Hold on loosely.” I texted her a few times over the weekend suggesting times and got nothing back. “Hmm,” I thought. “Maybe she’s just not that into me.”

But she did finally respond with a positive text. And we, again, tentatively, made plans to do something during the week. Today’s Thursday and this morning she said. “All those ideas you have are great but they sound like dates. I’m going to pass.”

So like that, before we had our second conversation she was gone.

Her ideal, however, lingers on. It wasn’t about her. It was about my projection of what I want in a relationship. Let me try to define the qualities she had that heated me up.

  • She was very smart, witty, and psychologically deep.
  • She was beautiful in a simple way. Her smile was killer.
  • She was fit and very active.
  • We seemed to hit it off with our conversation.
  • She liked me.

Perhaps she did not see the potential to love me. Maybe she didn’t see the same spark that I did. For whatever reason, she passed. Not what I was anticipating, but okay. I can move on from here with a better idea of what I’m looking for. And a muse is a near miss. A woman who I can see potential and hope with. A woman that meets some unspoken standards, and fits some magical equation in my heart.

Thank you, muse, for giving me something to shoot for in my next friend.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: autumn woman, creative commons usage allowed

Dear Single Ladies, Here’s What Single Dads Want

I’ve recently been back in and now back out of online dating. It’s a rough world out there. Lots of scammers. Lots of really young and really old women. Lots of profiles that are like “WHAT? That’s the best photo you could come up with? That’s what you’re leading with?” And if you don’t like dating, well it can be hell.

But I came upon a different perspective with my latest loss of a 2.5 year relationship. I don’t want to date at all. I want to have some women friends and see if anything develops from our friendship. Like everyone goes into the friend zone until I’m 6 months sober from my last intoxicating adventure. I’m not ready to date or be in a relationship even though it’s what I long for. I like being a couple. I like mundane joys alongside someone I love.

As a single dad I have a few additional responsibilities in my life. And so does the woman who I’m ultimately with. If you don’t respect and cherish my kids, well, you’re kind of disrespecting me. You don’t have to love them or be a mother to them. But you’ve got to put in the effort to be a friend to them.

Okay, so in line with my What a Single Dad Wants post, I’m ready to update my list based on my current experience of dating, loving, being in a committed relationship, and losing it. Here goes…

  1. I’m not looking for kind of, maybe, or a near miss. I’m looking for everything rolled up into one package. A woman who’s done the work on herself and is looking for an evolved and loving relationship.
  2. She’s got to be physically fit. And this is more about us doing our exercise together, not about body shape or ultimate tone. If we play tennis 3 times a week and 1 of those times can be with our significant other, well, that’s heaven.
  3. She probably has kids of her own. The reason I say this (and I get flack everytime for putting this in) is I want someone who’s made the commitment to another human being (0r two) and knows the sacrifice and work it takes to parent.
  4. She needs to know more about healthy food than I do.
  5. She needs to enjoy her work in the world. And yet, she needs to have ambitions and dreams that zoom out into the future. Where she it going, with or without a man/partner.
  6. She needs to be spiritual.
  7. She needs to understand Real Love and how to get there first with herself, and second with me.

I think that’s a pretty solid list and not too much to ask for.

If you were looking for a partner, what are the must-haves on your list? Share in the comments. I’ll promise to respond.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: tennis player, creative commons usage allowed

see also:

Don’t Wait and Don’t Settle

You are worth it. You should be with someone who makes you feel special every day. Sure there can be disagreements and dark periods (most relationships go through some trials) but as long as both parties play by the rules and never do anything to hurt the other person, relationships go on. Mine dragged on. And I realise after the fact that I was settling. And I’m worth more. I am loving and loveable and I deserve the same in a partner. Not sometimes, not mostly, but all the time, even when things are bad. I deserve that and so do you.

So, if you’ve been following along you know I’m single again. Not by my choice, but I think this wonderful woman did us both a favor. I’m also conflict averse and I was never going to say uncle. And after a glimpse into the online dating pool, I’ve decided I’m not ready for a relationship yet. Not with anyone but myself. I’ve got a lot to learn and a lot of work to do. If you don’t love yourself, how can you love someone else.

I had fallen out of love with myself. I was the most negative voice in my head. All the time. I hated myself. Imagined offing myself. And I knew I was pathetic and worthless. All because I lost a job. A job that was not right from me from the beginning. The problem is, this was the 3rd job in a row like this. Miserable. But this last miss crushed more of my spirit than I could handle. I mean, when you’re imagining that you’d be better off dead, you’re in a seriously fucked up place. That’s where I was.  And in this relationship we were hanging on, both wondering where the relationship and magic that we started with had gone.

Now, I’m working on finding out more about myself. I’ve been on a weight loss journey that has given me the healthiest body I’ve experienced since my 20s. And for the first time since I can remember I don’t have love handles. I’m not down to my 16 yo swim team weight, but that’s where I’m aiming. Why not? I should have that body again. Would I be more attractive and loveable? Probably not. Have I gotten a huge self esteem boost from losing all this weight? Yes. And it feels good to feel a bit hungry. That’s my body working on becoming a better machine. A leaner machine.

And the biggest part I’ve got to work on is loving myself. I know I’m repeating myself but I’m saying it for me. I need to hear it. My friend texted me one day while I was feeling particularly down, “You are loveable and you are loved.” It hit me with some force. I didn’t feel lovable at that moment. Far from it. But this phrase has become somewhat of a mantra. imagining myself lovable is a task. It’s a practice. It’s my journey towards loving myself. Not losing more weight. But just accepting and believing that I am loveable just as I am. I still don’t believe it, but I’m working on that issue right now. A am. And you are loveable too.

And you deserve to be loved fully and unconditionally. I know that sounds like a stretch. Like who really believes that woowoo shit? But it’s true. Even 2% out of sync is not what you need. You need 100% loving or you’ve got to pass. Miss almost, no matter how appealing she might appear, is not the one for you. Sometimes we call them red flags. And at this time in your life, you should not settle. Not one iota. I know this means it will take longer to find that match, but it’s going to be worth it. And you are worth it. I believe in you. And I believe in this Real Love.

So I’m staying out of the dating pool for a while as I reset my own self worth. My esteem was at an all-time low because of my job loss, which turned into one of the most protracted depressions I can remember. And while I’m no longer depressed (thank god) I’m also not about to start thinking about another woman. I’m not ready. I feel it. Sure, I feel the desire and longing to be with someone. And sure, I desire sexual connection with someone other than myself. But I’m not ready, and I’m worth the wait.

But I also said don’t wait. And what I mean by that is GET ON WITH YOUR PROGRAM. What do you need to improve about yourself. What kinds of non material things, what types of activities would make you feel happier? Seek those out. Learn again what YOU want to do, not attached to anyone but yourself. Only when you show up 100% for yourself can you really be ready for the next relationship of your life.

That’s what we’re talking about here. THE ONE. And if you see the signs at any point along the relationship journey, any red flags, the deal is off, the person is not the ONE. The person does not deserve you. And I’m sorry to say, they don’t get a second chance. Once you’ve seen someone’s true colors and you know in your heart that their behavior was hurtful or at best unthoughtful, it’s time to move on. “Let them walk,” as T. D. Jakes would say.

I’m walking my path alone right now. And I can say I’ve missed me. All that time in a chemical depression showed me, once again how bad it can be, and I’m grateful to be vibrant again. I’m developing a relationship with myself and I will eventually believe that I am loveable. And so will you. And anyone that takes that glow away from you is not worthy of your gifts.

So get on with it. Get on with yourself and your program to find the ONE. Anything less would be unfair to the awesome you that you are continuing to become.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: couple, creative commons usage allowed

Why I’m Not Dating Again

Dating sucks. Perhaps in today’s lingo “dating” means having sex, but the whole concept is outdated. Or I am. Today i’m shutting done all four of my dating profiles. I’ve got two new friends and that’s all I can handle. The nice thing about proclaiming that you just want to be friends is it takes the urgency and pressure off both of you. Let’s just slow the whole thing down and take our time. The next relationship i want is going to be the ONE. I’m only going to accept that. No excuses, no exceptions.

And I’m certainly not going to get my body involved before the mind has a chance to explore some of the nooks and crannies of this other person. So why date? What I was really doing on those sites was looking for women to hangout with. Turns out they are both quite sporty and our friendship for several months will probably revolve around doing some sport together. What better way to spend time together? What better way to motivate myself to workout every day.

I’m in no condition for starting a relationship. And I don’t like calling it dating whatever it is. So I’m just online friending. And the future looks bright.

Get back out there, but make sure your mind and heart are in sync before you “date” anyone.

As we said in my divorce recovery group, “Don’t take your show on the road until you’re ready.” And I’m certainly not ready. Give me a few more months. But I haven’t put a time frame on it, and I’m not missing anything. I’ve got two new friends. And I can turn off the distracting emails and alerts from the dating sites. Whew.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: dating, creative commons usage allowed

online dating, dating apps

Single Dad, Again

I did not ever think I’d write this post. I was certain I had found my forever mate. But somethings are not meant to be, and the best is yet to come. I won’t say much about it, in respect of my partner who I still love deeply, but I think if you read the last 30 posts or so you might catch a theme of what wasn’t working, for me. Anyway…

I want to talk about online dating for a minute. Gross, I know. I’m very discouraged to even be in this place again after so much bliss, but it is what it is.

Here’s the thing. Online dating is a pure numbers game. Regardless of what site or app you are using here are the stats, in my opinion. About 80% of the women will be out right away for various reasons. Then 10% of the remaining women are so cute that you’re unlikely to ever catch their attention. So then you’re working with about 10% of the total. And the percentage that might be a match from that smaller subset is about 2%. That’s my experience. And it’s not all bad, but the numbers are stacked against you. And if your profile pics don’t tell a happy and honest story about you, well, you’ll understand what I mean when you look inside the apps.

So… If 2% of the women in all of online dating are potentially interested in exploring options with me, why would I stay on one site only. Surely there are different people on different sites, right? Right. And if it’s a numbers game, why wouldn’t I go ahead and put myself on all of the top 4? I did and you should if you’re serious about looking for your next relationship. Here are my top 4 dating sites/apps ranked in order from best to worst.

  1. OKCupid – smaller pool but the questions are a great way to understand more about the person.
  2. Match – a bigger pool, but has a lot of scammers.
  3. Bumble – a simple app that puts the woman in charge of initiating a conversation.
  4. Tender – not so much luck on this one, but still on it.

In the week that I’ve been on the sites here are my results.

OKC – I’m currently chatting with 4 women. I’ve only met one of them and we happened to know each other from high school.

Match.com – I’m chatting with 2 women here. But there’s a lot less bio information available.

Bumble – Only one woman has contacted me, but she dropped off the map as soon as I suggested coffee.

Tender – zero.

Now, I’m not in a hurry to get back into a long-term relationship, but it takes a lot of time to get anything started, and harder still to find that person that intrigues you and is intrigued by you. So I fired them up all at once, to widen my pool.

The bonus that happens right away, as soon as you get a touchback from someone is the idea of potential. When my relationship ended I was devastated and certain I would never find another person so perfect for me. But as soon as a cute woman responded to me, I had a glimmer of hope. It’s worth it just for that. And now I have several women in conversation. And I even played tennis yesterday with a woman from Match. And it was AMAZING.

So, if you’re single, go ahead and put your best foot forward and get out there. Getting to a relationship may take months, so you might as well start exploring the field. And if you see the 10% as potentials then you begin to get hopeful that there “might” be someone out there for you.

Oh, btw, there is. Good luck.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: creative commons usage – https://goo.gl/images/JAcr1K

The Pretty Women Passing By, Gazelles and Lions

whole-old-lion

I love women. I love a very specific woman, who I will marry in a few months, but in general I do still love women. I think the desire response is much deeper in the animal brain than we give it credit for. I don’t have a wandering eye, but I do appreciate a healthy body. And the healthier I become, the more I am even fascinated by my own body.

We are animals. We are programmed to look. In the beginning, we were looking for our mama, for milk. Then we progressed to looking for a mate. As humans, after we’ve had our offspring, we are looking more for pleasure. Granted there are plenty of men and women who are still looking for opportunity, but that’s a different urge all together.

I call them gazelles. The beautiful woman who jog by on the running trail. People watching. That’s a fun thing, right? What are we looking at? I can tell you I’m spending an inordinate amount of time on the women. And I can also tell you I have a preference for what excites me. And all this is hard-wired into my animal system. I’m not looking for a mate, I’m not even looking for a playmate, but I’m looking nonetheless.

What is it about beauty that fascinates us all so? On the running trail, I’d guess most women are also admiring the women more than the men. So we’re voyeurs. We like to look. People watching is a thing that both sexes enjoy. And again, I’m curious, what are we watching exactly?

I’m guessing that the sexual nature of our voyeurism is quite high. I notice hips, breasts, hair and eye color, of the passing women. And some I am instantly attracted to, others I’m not. And it’s an entire range of responses. I can see something beautiful in most women that walk by, but there are particular ones that charge me up. What is it?

Joy.

I think that’s the main thing I see when I am attracted to someone along the running trail. Yes, some of the physical characteristics have to be in place, but once we have an apples-to-apples situation, the JOYFUL women are most intriguing to me. I was wondering about this the other day in the grocery store. The whole thing where women get angry when men ask them to smile. I get that. We don’t want to be on display or observed in most of our daily experience. But if a woman (or man) is truly joyful something of that happiness comes through to those around them.

I also think we see joy as love. Joy breeds more joy, so why wouldn’t we want to be with another joyful person. And as a joyful person myself, how could I be happy with someone who was innately sour? Let’s not always make this about my ex-wife, but I’d have to say that her disposition is much less optimistic and open than mine. I never asked her to smile, but I often wondered where the scowl came from. Today, I suppose the scowl comes from me. I’m the cause of much of her wounding in the world, at least that’s what I project onto her angry face. But perhaps she’s just fundamentally unhappy. There are those people.

Let’s lean into love and joy. Let’s move away from those people who are constrained by their own unhappiness. And as we move through the world we can celebrate our joy by sharing it. I don’t think of my glowing smile as a challenge so much as a “hello, how are you, I hope you are happy too,” type greeting. I know it’s often misconstrued as a come-on, but it’s really just about sharing joy.

The gazelles on the trail are fun to look at. More fun when you can see their inner joy. I am tempted to race after them. But as a wizened old lion, what would I do with them if I caught them? Devour their beauty and youth? Pray on their innocence? No, I’d rather just admire their joyful gate as they bound by, young, beautiful, and happy.

I’m no longer in the hunt. My joy is settled and content in my new relationship. But my joy is also meant to be spread. I won’t ever make the mistake of asking a woman to smile, but I might smile at them from my own place of inner joy. To some that’s a challenge and something to be angry about. To others it’s an invitation to share some of my joy.

Life is good. If you are joyful and you show it people notice. By sharing your joy you are spreading the love between you and others. Gazelles and lions can live in peace as human adults.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: old lion, creative commons usage