Tag Archives: online dating

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

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

image: tennis player, creative commons usage allowed

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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

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

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

Do You Know What You Want? Dating Strategies After Divorce

WHOLE-2016-tangoFiguring out what went wrong in your marriage is a big puzzle. I hope you’ve done some work on your issues before you start looking for your next relationship. We’re going to start with the premise that you’ve solved some of  your own issues and identified some of the things that split you apart.

Online Dating

While I do think there is value in online dating, I also believe there are problems inherent in the social click-me culture. But let’s look at what’s great about online dating.

  1. Browse the available field from the comfort of your home.
  2. Put your personal value proposition together. (What you have to offer.)
  3. Put your wants, desires, and dreams out there. (What you are looking for.)
  4. Put what you like to do out there. (On Friday nights I’d like to be on the couch, or in a night club are two very different trajectories.)
  5. It helps you get your image together. (You didn’t post that one you took in the bathroom, right?)
  6. You can learn what parts of your profile people are picking up on. Because you’ll ask them on the date.
  7. Try some dates. Learn what you like and don’t like about “dating.”
  8. Low commitment of time to get a date lined up.
  9. Flirting online is fun.
  10. Seeing all the potentials is inspiring.

Offline Dating

The goal of online dating is to get to an offline date. Meeting is person is the only way to really see if there is chemistry going both ways. Photos are interesting, but they lie. Profiles are interesting, but they are about 50% made up. You’ve got to go toe-to-toe, face-to-face, to understand if you want to date this person.

Being with someone should be an energetic experience. Both of you should feel energized after being together. And you can’t find that through text messages or emails.

I found that my efforts online were fun and semi-fruitful (my first relationship after divorce was from Match.com) but they were lacking in the more fundamental aspects of relationships. 1. Do they like to do the things you like to do? (Not just say they do.) 2. Does your heart race when you are near them? 3. Can you pick up the returning vibe when you are with them?

Being with someone should be an energetic experience. Both of you should feel energized after being together. And you can’t find that through text messages or emails. And you can’t really see what a person looks like from photos. You get their BEST SIDE, but you want ALL SIDES.


This is the biggest decision for you to make. What are your must-haves and what are your deal-breakers. And know this, these things will change. Things you thought were must-haves might fall off the list when you meet the right person.

A few of my priorities looked like this.

  • Must love being active.
  • Has a positive personality.
  • Whip-smart.
  • Athletic body shape.
  • Funny.
  • A single mom.

Then know that your priority list is changeable and resort-able. And you may change it frequently.

A Road Map

All of your ideas for who you are looking for are more like ancient treasure maps than today’s GPS-accurate maps. You do need a map, however. Here’s MINE. (The 6-Step Relationship Strategy)

Get your plan. Try online if you want. Get to offline. And then see what fits and what doesn’t.

And then you have to know this. Your map will be burned and charred from adventures. This is not a bad thing, it’s part of the process. You’re map is an idea of where you want to go.

When the right person shows up all of your priorities and maps will be blown away. At least that’s what you hope for. You need the maps and plans and strategies. But when the right person shows up, you will be amazed how little those things mean.

Get your plan. Try online if you want. Get to offline. And then see what fits and what doesn’t. It took me three relationships to find the ONE. And this ONE I hope to be the last relationship I’ll ever have. And we are both committed to that idea more than ever before. You need someone who’s willing to fight for their relationship. When you both played that role in your last relationship, you might have found a like-spirited person who will fight for your love, just like you will fight for theirs.

That’s my dream, and I’m sticking to it.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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Offline Dating: Setting Intentions and Actions in Real Life


Let’s start with an assumption: you are looking for the next real relationship of your life.

Now let’s look at what’s wrong with online dating.

  • Primarily based on photos.
  • Photos can be retouched, enhanced, and from much earlier times.
  • Most profiles begin to sound the same (long walks on foreign beaches, red wine, and having fun).
  • Most of what you see in someone’s profile is what you want to see.
  • Many people are just playing on dating sites, just like Facebook, they’re killing time.
  • The “matches” are usually so far off, sites like eHarmony are actually depressing.
  • Age is just a number.
  • A lot of men and women lie about their age.
  • There’s no way to sense chemistry via an online profile, email, phone call or text. (Phone calls do get close, but it’s 2-dimensional rather than 3-dimensional.)

And there are some myths about online dating that might be more marketing than reality.

  • It ups your odds of finding the right person by making a lot more people available for dating.
  • Many people have found the love of their lives using online dating sites.
  • It’s better than the bar scene.
  • There are 1,202 women who match your search criteria.

Um, yeah, if there were that many women, that were attractive, charming, smart, and had a creative passion in their lives, I’d already be married again. As it is, I’m not even dating. And the one person I dated from an online dating site, WAS super, but she’s one out of at least 45 dates and perhaps 1,000+ out reach requests I’ve put into the system.

So what are the alternatives to online dating? If I’m not going to browse and click my way into a new relationship, what’s it going to take?

Here’s what I think.

For me, chemistry is part sexual attraction and part magic. There is no way to get a hit of either of these things online. But when you experience them in real-time you know it immediately. With that understanding, I think there are a several real world criteria that might help me find a relationship in 2015.

Spiritual But Not Religious. What this means to me is the person may or may not go to church, but their spiritual belief system is strong and vibrant in their lives. With that essential element to my perfect mate, I can assume that she probably attends some of the following places. Alternative churches in my city. Yoga studios all over town.

Health Conscious. I’m more likely to meet my next mate in a Whole Foods than in a McDonald’s. I’m not sure how you go about meeting someone while shopping, but I guess if people are putting out the “hello” vibe you can sense it. I need to be more observant, more conversational, more open to nuance and fresh produce.

Active Lifestyle. (Tennis and trail walking are my two favorite pass times.) She’s got a fitness program of her own, for sure, but wouldn’t it be amazing if she also played tennis? What if I started there? What if I actually worked at networking through some of my tennis friends to find a mixed doubles partner? The one woman who I dated since divorce, who played tennis, was a total turn-on when she smacked a top-spin forehand. Why wouldn’t I want to do my favorite sport *with* someone? Okay, note to self: tennis networking – priority number 1.

Creative Living. I went out on a couple dates with a woman who kept repeating, “You’re so creative.” At first I thought it was a complement, and I’m sure she meant it as a complement. But what I started realizing, is she was saying, “Wow, you are *so* creative. I am not very creative. I’m amazed by creative people.” Oh. So, I think I need to be with another creative person. Because this writing and songwriting isn’t going to happen unless I preserve some alone time. My perfect mate has to desire alone time as well, and when we come back together, has to be able to bring some of her creative energy.

Mind Over Body. I’m probably not going to get my six-pack abs back. I’m probably always going to have love handles. So I’m not looking for a body-builder girlfriend to admire and worship. What I know is my mate has to be happy in her own skin. If everything is about fitness and diet and beauty, then I’m going to be left behind. And probably a bit bored. We all need to work on our health and fitness, for life. We all need to live with as much vitality as possible. If fitness and working out gives you that jolt, go for it. (I know tennis does it for me.) But let’s hook up in our mental space as well. We’ve got to spend a lot more time talking than lovemaking.

In Joy. Happiness is not something you can buy or learn. (Though you can work on it.) Happiness is the feeling you get when you are around someone positive and hopeful. If I learned anything from my last marriage, it’s that I am very hopeful and very positive, sometimes to a fault. But that’s also who I’m looking for. Someone who smiles more than frowns. Someone who wakes up each morning with wonderment and a stretch towards what’s possible.

Intense and Low-Key As Needed. I am most jazzed when I’m performing. I do have type-a driven characteristics and when I’m ON I push hard for what I want. But I also have a quiet repose, where I recharge and relax. I do want someone who can jolt up with me and climb the mountain. And then the next day uncoil on a beach for a day without any objectives or requirements. In contrast comes my power and pleasure. Let’s spark one another and massage one another as needed, in the moment.

I cannot catch a glimpse of the above characteristics from an online dating profile. And sure, over time, over the course of a few dates, I could get there, but what if we just started in reality? What if we knew what we wanted and showed up at those places in those ways to be seen and to seek? That’s the real world method of communicating and that’s what I’m planning for 2015. This year, every time I get the inclination to open Match.com I’m going to make a concrete plan to do something in the real world that will put me in contact with real women.

I’ll let you know how it goes. (grin)

Always Love,

John McElhenney

This post really began here:  Why Online Dating is a Distraction and Not a Solution and continues here: Action Not Intention Will Determine How Long I’m Single

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image: yoga girl and boy, cc 2014 john mcelhenney, creative commons usage

Thriving After Divorce: 6 Lifehacks Along the Recovery Process


I’m going to say something you’ve probably heard a lot. “I’m happier after the divorce.” It sounds trite, but I am sincerely convinced that my divorce transition made me a better dad, a better man, and more conscious and centered man. It’s been a long process for me, these last 4+ years, but with some hints, perhaps I can spare you some of the mistakes I made and help you along your individual path towards divorce recovery.

Here are my six hacks for recovering your full and loving life after divorce.

1. Get Positive.

Holding on to resentment and anger is the biggest mistake I made after the divorce. I laughed when I would get in a particularly sly jab in a text response. I reveled in her long silences after I “gave her a piece of my mind.” I set my own healing back at least a year by holding on to my high-road illusion. It was her that wanted the divorce. I was the wronged party. Um, let’s rewind that a bit, and re-examine.

Once the divorce is final and the deal has been struck, it’s time to move on and recapture *your* positive approach to life. All attention you give to your ex-partner, even in jest or mock-playfulness, is attention you are focusing on negative energy. I struggled for a few years with my own reaction to my ex’s decisions after divorce. Get this: if it doesn’t affect your kids, it is none of your business. And if it’s about your ex and you, you need to take 100% of that venting elsewhere.

Don’t get me wrong here. You will get mad and you will feel anger. But the hack here is to fundamentally understand that there is nothing else for you to work out with your ex. There are no stupid requests from your co-parent that require a stupid and angry response. Zero. I’m still actively working on this one. But I know, that my vitriolic texts or emails since the divorce have had no positive impact on our functional parenting relationship. When I smirked inside as I fired off an in-kind response I was actually shooting myself in the foot.

2. Co-parenting is all about parenting, money, and scheduling.

Outside of those three topics you should not have much to talk about. Sure, I know my wife has a boyfriend, and I hear from my daughter that he’s nice and has a huge grove of lemon tress in his back yard. That’s all I need to know.

In a divorce recovery class I heard this idea about dealing with your ex. Treat the transactions like you would in a convenience store. You are there to get a pack of gum. You don’t need to know about the clerk’s day or aspirations for life. Get in, get your business done, and leave. That’s the model for logistics and negotiations with your ex.

3. Flexibility is key.

Taking the flexible approach with your ex-partner will come in handy. I do everything I can to be flexible with my ex-wife’s scheduling requests. Even if they don’t make sense to me. Even if I don’t like them. One example, after my wife had been in a serious dating relationship for several months she requested that we switch up the parenting schedule to allow them to have the same weekends off. The arrangement actually meant that I gave up my 1-3-5 weekend plan and with it, I lost 4 – 5 double weekends a year. But it was a simple change that didn’t mean too much for my schedule. My first reaction was, “Why would I want to do anything to help her and her boyfriend.” But my next reaction and eventual response to the request was, “Sure. Let’s start next month.”

I didn’t get anything in return, but I lost very little. I could’ve been all concerned about my double weekends, or her boyfriend and their relationship. But what I focused on was my kids. If it would be easier on her it would be easier on them. You know the old phrase, “When mama’s happy, everybody’s happy.”

4. Find What You Love.

Jumping right back into the dating game is a mistake. I tried it, failed at it, and wasted at least a year haunting Meetup.com groups and “working” the online dating sites. It’s a common mistake. You WANT some reward some validation for being released and newly single. You want to sew your oats. You want to party. Everything is new and everyone is a potential date. Um… Stop.

Loving your alone time is the first step to getting to know what you love to do, with or without a partner. For me those two main activities were playing music and playing tennis. Two things my wife didn’t really join with me on. She put in a few weeks in the early days of our courtship, since it was something I loved to do, but it never caught her fancy.

Since being single again my tennis game has picked up. And one woman I dated for a few months actually played tennis. WOW. That was a thrill. I’m willing to admit I’m powerless over tennis skirts on a cute woman. I’m learning to control my urges, but tennis is a love activity for me, so why not do it with someone you love?

5. Reclaim Your Joyous Life.

“To find someone to love, you’ve got to be someone you love.” — a lyric from Nada Surf’s Concrete Bed. If you are still hurting from your divorce, or still learning to manage your alone time, or time without your kids, get some help. Give yourself time to re-center in your own life, your new alone life, before trying to add someone to the equation. You can’t find another lover, a well-matched lover, if you’ve got a love sucking wound in your chest. Take the time to heal. Get the help you need. Seek professional help if you want to accelerate the process. And then rest. If we get too focused on finding a new relationship we’re going to miss a lot of the baby steps of discovering the new relationship with ourselves, alone.

6. Be Where You Like to Be.

I’ve been working on this one a bit recently. If I were with a woman today, where would we be? Where does she shop? What kinds of activities is she into? If she’s spiritual, where does she go for her community? If she does yoga, she’s probably part of a class. If she’s a tennis player, where do single women play tennis, or can I ask one of my tennis playing women friends who they know? Your next partner is already doing the things you want to be doing. Perhaps they are in a process of rediscovery too. And you can rejoin, rekindle a spiritual practice together.

Imagine where she might be, or where you might be together, and go there. Look around. Listen. Try something else.

Overall the process of divorce recovery has taken me at least 4 years. I’ve been in my happy place for about 6 months. If you can focus on the ideas above perhaps you can find your inner buddha quicker and move along into the next chapter of your life.

I’ve had two serious relationships in that time, and I’m hopeful that the coming year will bring a more successful coupling. But I’m no longer in a hurry. I no longer consider myself “dating” or “looking for a date.” Those activities might’ve been helpful when I was determined to be in a relationship again. Today I’m not. I’m happy in my own relationship. I’m longing for a relationship with another woman, but I’m not hurting from the lack of it.

Get right with yourself before moving on to partner with another person. You’ll be much more attractive to other healthy people, and better equipped to see and avoid negative relationships.

John McElhenney

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image; online dating, thomas8047, creative commons usage

Playful Dating Concepts with Tinder


Cupid’s Arrow strikes in the first 5 seconds: either you get a hit or not.

Tinder is the hottest thing in online dating since online dating. It’s simple. Picture pops up you swipe right to say YES you swipe left to say NOPE. That’s it. And I’m noticing several interesting effects of this new brain training game.

As I’m learning to take this “dating” concept less seriously, I can see how Tinder has taken off.

Perhaps the initial reaction, like an intuition or gut reaction is actually more accurate than our considered response. When I go too far into their profile: 1. other pictures; 2. similar likes on Facebook (the Tinder datastream); 3. profile descriptions (usually unoriginal dating fodder) I begin to get influenced more by MY projections. All of these secondary signals are more confusing to the heart, they muddy up the initial reaction with “consideration.” That’s not the magic of Tinder. The magic is the swipe.

And in the swiping you begin to see interesting patterns in your YES and NOPE preferences. Here are a few of mine, that I’ve only learned from swiping over time.

  1. Lipstick can be a real turn off.
  2. I prefer dark hair.
  3. Weight is less of an issue until “consideration” sets in.
  4. Smiles and happy eyes shine through.
  5. My preferences trend towards hippie-ish (low: makeup, high: joy).
  6. I’m a bit racist in my dating preferences.

And there have been some funny concepts that I’ve started putting together around the various types of people who pop into your viewfinder on Tinder.

3-fer: when three women are in the initial photo and you’re like, “Nope. Nope. Nope.”

Trifecta: when three women are in the initial photo and one of them is cute, but are they cute enough for more “consideration?”

Horns of a Dilemma: when there are two girls in the picture but you can’t decide which one is cuter. The dilemma, do you “consider” or swipe left on principle?

Wing-girl: when two women are in the initial photo and you immediately know which woman is the “friend.”

WTF girl?: when the photo is so bad, you go into “consideration” mode just to see what other horrible photos this person has put up.

Zombie-arm girl: when the best picture of them is obviously on the arm of an ex so they just cropped them out of the photo. Creepy.

Maybe-means-no: when you reject the initial swipe left to “consider” someone just because you’ve had ZERO hits on Tinder.

Too-Hot: when their photo is so amazing you know they’re either “working women” looking for work, or trolling for fun.

“Not Looking for a Hookup” bios: um, yeah, you’re on Tinder for a LTR, right? (Long Term Romance.)

As I’m learning to take this “dating” concept less seriously, I can see how Tinder has taken off. I’m offline at the moment, but I’ll be back in the game shortly. I just needed a reset and reboot. 2015 looks bright.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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Reference: How to Win a Breakup – the Atlantic

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image: the mindy project uses tinder, creative commons usage


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


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

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

Why Online Dating is a Distraction and Not a Solution


Yes, I know the statistics. All the happily married couples from online dating sites. Well, I don’t buy it. All online dating sites, regardless of the flavor or method, are more like Facebook than real life.

Here are a few examples of where online profiles don’t tell the truth.

  • Pictures lie. Even recent pictures, when taken with the right light, can make a NOT look like a HOT.
  • Words are made up ideas. Yadda yadda, we all like beaches and wine. Music maybe.
  • Chemistry is impossible online. You can’t imagine how that person will feel when you are together.
  • The mind is wonderful, but even eloquent emails and text messages can add up to zero when you meet.
  • Some people are on dating sites for the entertainment of the idea and not to date.

Yes, it is true, online dating sites up your odds of meeting people you might not otherwise ever come in contact with. But why is that? Because you come in contact with people when you are out and about and doing the things that are important and fun to you. There’s a reason that an extroverted creative type like me isn’t going to naturally run across an introverted mathematician. It’s because we have so little in common, virtually zero over lap. And while the idea of “getting to know someone” is intriguing, you’ve got to start with some common ground to establish a relationship.

I was feeling the miss on a deeper level, but I was trying to make it all right. I wanted “her” to work.

So I’m bored on a week night and we have some unscheduled time. I can choose between a lot of different activities.  I could go out and get some exercise, that would be good. But barring the self-improvement regimen for a minute, I could

a. spend time on Facebook chatting about nothing,
b. spend time on Match.com browsing faces for a hit, or
c. do something creative.

What I’ve come around to lately is that c. is the only good answer. Let me explain.

Facebook seems like community. We call it social media, but it’s becoming more just media media. They’re showing you approximately 8% of your friend’s status updates and messages. The rest… is Facebook. Pabulum. Media. Consumerism. Today Facebook is a lot more like TV than it used to be. After taking a 99 day break from my FB habit, I’m happier and more productive. I’ve dipped back in a little, but no more hours socializing.

Online dating may also seem like a beneficial and worthy activity. But because of the illusion of social media, we might think we have a pretty good idea of who these “potentials” say they are, and what they look like today, but we don’t. It’s simply not true. Profiles on Facebook or OK Cupid are very similar. You put your best pictures up, your best accomplishments, and your little quirks. Except on dating sites you don’t get to see the quirks. (Well, OK Cupid’s questions sections are full of quirks, and kinks, but that’s a different conversation all together.)

Creative process is where I grow as a person and as an artist (writer, musician, poet, whatever). And as I am growing myself up, and growing into my creative energy I am also putting out more energy and more joy. You see, I think this dating thing is all about joy. It’s a little bit about looks. And it’s a little bit about thoughts. But the chemistry thing, I think, is all about mutual joy. Do you feel it when you are with someone or not? If you feel joy at the sight of someone, there’s a hit. If you feel nothing or something less than nothing (negative) that’s also an indicator of where things might go.

I spent a good part of a week getting to know a new woman recently, and I could see the potential. I could admire her good looks, dark eyes, and flashing wit. And yet there was something that was not coming across. I couldn’t decipher it right away. I was hopeful and encouraged by our initial and mutual glow. And her persistence in getting back together again the next day. “Spontaneously.” I loved that. “Yes, yes, yes,” it said to my brain.


In my joyous engagement I was missing something from her that I couldn’t identify. I thought I was listening well, responding well, and behaving well. I thought we were moving things along nicely. But I could only make those assumptions about myself and my own thinking. While she was sharing a lot about life and asking a lot of questions about me, she wasn’t really lighting up. She was reserved. She admitted to being an introvert. I initially thought, “Oh, that’ll be interesting, to see how I am in relationship to an introvert.”

First, I must become the lover I hope to meet, by becoming large enough to call her in, without the help of a dating site.

And even in the real-world, with all of our faculties between us, the miss between us was something deeper. And after three “dates” and the promise of an actual “date” for the weekend ahead, I was feeling good and yet still mixed. I walked away from our meeting wondering, “Am I’m pushing this one along? Am I making this one happen? Am I trying to construct my lover?”

I think I was. She pinged me the next morning saying she’d considered our time together and felt it wasn’t going to be a match for her. She was canceling the date. And would catch up with me spontaneously as the occasion might arise in the future.


I was feeling the miss on a deeper level, but I was trying to make it all right. I wanted “her” to work. And that’s when I understood it was time to kill my online dating profiles. I WANT a relationship too much. My focus has gotten lost in all this browsing, assessing, and pursuit. What I really need to pursue is my dream and my creative output.

I have time for a relationship. I have the will and the energy. I need to put myself and my life in the places where “she” already is. In real life, not online.

Sure, I will have another great love. First, I must become the lover I hope to meet, by becoming large enough to call her in, without the help of a dating site.

Always Love,

John McElhenney

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image: dining alone, john mcelhenney, cc 2014