Tag Archives: adult dating

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 5 Stages of Dating Again After Divorce: Letting Go of Expectations

WHOLE-couple

I’m not all that good at dating yet. I mean, I don’t really know how to BE. I try to be “myself” of course, but I’m too involved, to hyper, to talkative. I don’t listen as well as I should. But the part of the problem, that I’m just beginning to understand, is my habit of projecting any “potential” relationship off into some imaginary future. What I mean is, I sometimes have a problem staying present.

If we both felt a “yes” we should both want to feel it again, soon.

The fact that most of my adult life, post college, was spent married is a good place to start. I’m new at this “dating” concept. When I was last on the dating scene things were a lot different. I was more interested in sex than in “relationship compatibility.” I need to reframe my expectations and assumptions about dating vs. relationships. I’m going to attempt an exploration of what is going on in my head, to help illuminate (mostly for me) my issues and see if I can get some traction underneath the “issues” to them to let them go.

1. Before We Ever Meet

The process of meeting potential dates these days is “easier” but also more distracting. We’ve gotten online dating down to a “hot or not” process. And I’ve met plenty of “hots” that were not. And more women who were quite attractive who had nothing in common with me. The question, “Why am I here,” was a constant refrain in my early dating experiences, as I jumped at the opportunity with anyone who looked interesting. Notice the emphasis on look.

Looks are deceiving. Of course they are, because the outward appearance has very little to do with what is going on inside the person’s head. And with most of these “pretty dates” I never got to any expectations or projections because I was disinterested within the first 5 minutes. Sad when the extent of a person’s conversation is work, working out, and television. “But their profile seemed so lively,” I thought. Upon returning home I’d go into forensic mode and scour their online profile to see what I missed.

What I’ve decided about online dating recently is that it’s a distraction. Profiles are full of great things just like your fortune cookie after a nice Chinese dinner. You can see things in the words and pictures that can fire up your imagination, but it’s 100% made up. Until you meet there is no such thing as chemistry, or connection. All the texting and flirting via email and even phone calls are moot the second you meet in person. If I’m going to schedule a date these days the woman has to absolutely amaze me before we meet. THEN we might have some touch points in the real world. “Meh” dating is done. (See: Why Online Dating is a Distraction and Not a Solution)

2. On the First Date

I believe the chemistry is either a “yes” or a “no” with little room for middle ground, or “maybe.” In the first minute, perhaps much quicker, I think two people sum each other up in their animal brains and either get a tail wag or no tail wag. It’s a lot less about what type of person we think we’re attracted to and a more about instinct and dog-like reactions. If both people start out with a tail wag, then you have the potential to begin exploring what’s next. When the hit is strong neither of you will ever have to ask, “What’s next?”

We need to see each other under the duress of regular life to understand how we deal with things.

For me, it’s what happens after the tail wag that is illuminating. Even in those first minutes together my mind is jumping all over the map of the future. I don’t think we can help it, actually. I’ve begun watching my brain on “yes.” My fantasy maps all kinds of odd things from “do they play tennis” and how would they look in a tennis skirt, to are they creative, do they have other passions that can balance our time together? I am fascinated by the things my animal brain locks on to, again in almost dog-like fashion: a dark glint in their eyes, a soft vulnerable spot on the side of their neck, a whiff of their perfume and the intimacy it unlocks.

And I continuously try to pull my attention back to the conversation even as my blood is rushing into dusty areas of my body. And I use little tricks to bring my focus back to the present and what she is saying. I will try to repeat a tiny portion of what she just said as a connector. “Yes, I love the Spanish poets too.” The real trick is stopping the projections into the future. I have an internal mantra going, STOP, LOOK, LISTEN, REPEAT. It’s not that mechanical, but I’m aware of how whacked out a YES date can get me. I do my best, but if my animal brain is turned on, I’m not as clear as I’d like to be. If we’re both in a semi-intoxicated space, we’ve really got to move carefully and slowly.

3. Following Up

As we are wrapping up our date I start to notice how she is responding. Is there a smile on her face or are the closing moments tinged with anxiety? I’d like to know immediately if there’s a mutual tail-wag, but it’s not necessary to ask. The signal is in the “what’s next” question. It’s best if you don’t have to ask it. When there is a pull to connect both people will be making space for the next date to happen. In that last goodbye do you feel a warm fuzzies or is there a lack of resonance? That’s probably your best indication of where things are, unspoken feelings. The words often mislead. Too often you say, “Okay, so see ya later.” And what that means is, “Probably not.”

If you get a “see ya later” rather than a “What about Wednesday?” you’re probably not a match. I think the YES happens fairly soon, and if you are interested in a relationship and motivated by the chemistry, you’re really not going to just let the person scoot away without securing a “next” time. And if it’s you, don’t wait, ask. (I do understand that I am extraverted, so I’m always the one seeking the answer, and a more subtle and introverted date might need some time to sort through all that’s happened, so I don’t push.) If we both felt a “yes” we should both want to feel it again, soon.

4. Getting Into the Groove

Beyond the “dates” comes the relating. Relationships are what happen between the dates. Dating is like a performance, a show, a wooing process. But once you’re wooed and have seen enough of the other person that you’d like to give it a go, you now have an opportunity to just be together. The mundane life tasks are what can illuminate a person’s approach to relationship and the bonds and boundaries you can expect as things move forward. For example, if you have to eat dinner every night, and you’d like to also find time to be with this new relationship, you might start deciding how to share meals that aren’t dates. In my first relationship we got this part of the togetherness down. “I’m heading home in about 10 minutes, would you like to come over, I can grab some salad stuff at the store.” What a warm feeling that gives. Just being considered as part of the plan.

As you move into relationship you have to find ways to include the other person in your normal activities. Sure you want to spend weekends (as available) together, but what about all those other evenings and nights? (Single parents have another priority that can be seen as a gift or a complication.) It is in this ongoing negotiation and resetting of expectations that we start to uncover some of the fundamentals of our relationship compatibility. Does the other person freak out when something comes up and you can’t get together? Can you have a low-key evening together? What if the other person is just too tired to get together? Is that acceptable? Disappointments are part of life, how does this new partner deal with disappointments? Do they roll out of bed on the positive side of life or is there a sigh and struggle in the morning to get on with it?

We need to be co-captains in the navigation of dark and stormy waters as well as the high-noon-high-wind happy times.

Here’s where my expectations must be tossed out and I try to be with the other person as I would like to live. We need to see each other under the duress of regular life to understand how we deal with things. If little things throw the other person’s world into a tailspin that might be a good sign that you’re either going to be a caretaker or you need to move on.

In my experience, so far, I had a HIT on the relationship front and a miss on the sexual chemistry. And in my second relationship I had a HIT in desire and sexual enthusiasm but a miss in navigating life without drama and crisis. I don’t need any more crisis and drama in my life. That’s the antithesis of what I’m looking for.

In going slow, you can get s sense of how the other person navigates their life. And if we want to jump onboard with them, we need to see how things go when storms and seasons change plans and break expectations. A healthy relationship finds easy repair. The bond between you begins to build strength and not liability. What you’re looking for is a co-pilot, not a domineering captain. We need to be co-captains in the navigation of dark and stormy waters as well as the high-noon-high-wind happy times.

5. Back to the Drawing Board

I’m just learning these things about myself. I’ve learned there were a lot of things I overlooked in my two previous marriages. Now, as a single dad, I’ve got a pretty full schedule, and a built-in priority around my two kids, but I also have a space for nights and weekends with someone special. The latest re-discovery is that time alone, even when lonely, is better than time with someone who causes us to feel alone.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: random date at maudie’s, john mcelhenney, cc 2014

The 6-Step Relationship Strategy

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Two years ago, as I was waiting for one of the “women with potential” to show up, I wrote this Relationship Strategy list. Just like I would for an online marketing project I was taking on. Here I was, getting ready to hang out with this woman, and I’m designing the strategy for getting beyond dating and into relationship. I knew this wasn’t really just about her, it was a framework, that I was hoping our passionate overtures would rip right through. She turned into a dud, but I’m still hopeful.

Here’s the whole list:

relationship-strategy

Let’s put these in text where you can read them.

1. Establish mutual connection
2. Spend time together
 - learn + listen
 - experience life
 - be yourselves
 - how does it feel?
3. Learn each other's relating style
4. Define love language
5. All good? Add kissing if you want to
6. Kissing may lead to lovemaking

That’s it. Pretty simple. And while it hasn’t produced the next relationship for me, it has helped me dodge some non-starters. Why spend our time pursuing someone who may be attractive but has nothing in common with us. It happens, beauty is hard to deny. But beauty can also be a trap. We can pay too much attention to the fitness and beauty of a person and miss the inner-connection. If they’ve got rock-solid abs but no substance underneath, well… Relationships are long. At least that’s my goal, the next long relationship. I don’t want to spend a lot of time on fluff (discussions about television, working out, or work stress). I want contentment, happiness, and a mutual admiration that we can build upon.

The heart of my relationship strategy is number 2: Spend time together. Let’s parse this strategy out a bit.

learn + listen

If your partner isn’t worth listening to you have a deep problem. I am fascinated by women, and conversations that teach me a little bit about their hopes and dreams are pure gold in terms of getting to know someone. The question, “What’s your dream?” can reveal a lot about a person. When their answer is, “What do you mean?” then I get a quick snapshot of their creative inner life. And being a creative person, I want a creative and aspirational person to be engaged with. I want to learn from her. I want to listen to her. I am continually fascinated and intrigued by her thoughts and expositions.

experience life

What do you like to do with each other? Sunday brunch at a Mexican food cafe with good coffee, can be the start of a perfect morning. When I am with someone I care about, the experience is even more ecstatic. Reading in bed. Playing tennis or walking around the lake. Cooking a meal. Taking a nap. Spend time in ordinary life with each other. You can’t really get a sense on a person on a “date.” We’re too buttoned up. We’re performing a little bit, to put our best persona forward. But what do you “do” together after that? What are you going to do with this person, if you begin to spend more time with them? Sure, sex might be awesome, but after…

be yourselves

Can you really share all of yourself with this person? Sometimes we share only the positive and hopeful side of ourselves. And in the early “dating” phases this is what gives us more of a romantic glow. We share only the best of ourselves. And the person we are dating is doing a dance of their own, we are seeing their optimal self. But life is a bit more rough around the edges. After you begin to spend non-dating time together how freely to you share your vulnerability? Can you talk about times when you weren’t doing so good? Are you okay telling them about some of your pet projects, unafraid of their judgement? Do they *get* you when you try to share your hopes and dreams? Are your dreams in sync? Could they change enough to get them in sync? (Again, you can see how, if they don’t *know* their dream, this process of seeking affinities is more difficult.)

how does it feel?

And finally, can you let your self be natural and easy? Are you happy just seeing the face of this new friend? What is the tone of the weekend when you stay together? Are their harmonies or discordances? Is there a balance of give and take? Are you both fascinated with the other person and their ambitions? Do you share values and daily activities that can carry you forward even in the difficult times?

Don’t get too far ahead of the process. If you jump from initial spark to lovemaking, you could find yourself in a relationship that’s less of a relationship and more of a fling. I’m not interested in flings at this point in my life. If I’m looking for a mate, I need to be focused, patient, and easy-going about it.

While this list has not produced the next relationship for me, I have used it to successfully navigate several relationships both into and out of intimacy. You need a plan. And you need to keep checking your experience against the plan. This one has worked for me.

Spend time together. Keep checking in with each other and with yourself. “How does it feel?” Let the answer to that question guide your relationship decisions. And remember, kissing can lead to lovemaking, if you both want to head in that direction. But don’t start with that as the priority. You’ll find yourself it a lot of relationships that don’t work at all, even if you have great sex. What I’m looking for will start the other way around, the good sex will be a finale in the symphony of courtship.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

reference: The 5 Love Languages  by Gary Chapman

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image: journal sketch, john mcelhenney, cc 2014