Since the earliest days of human evolution, relationships have been central to our existence.
Most of us place the greatest value on romantic relationships, because they give us three powerful "happy chemicals" at once-
- Dopamine (Lust), through sex and sexual attraction
- Oxytocin (Love), the happiness, security and contentment that are part of pair-bonding
- Serotonin (Approval) - through the approval of your partner, the approval of your family, friends, and society, and even self-approval.
With that much good feeling at once, it's no wonder we're so easily addicted to love.
This makes our love lives, romance, and dating a central priority.
At BROJO, dating and romantic relationships - how to find, and keep romantic love - are continually a central focus of discussion.
As I continue my own journey and adventure in finding the right partner, and building a beautiful relationship, I like to stop and reflect at what I've learned.
Here are some of my key reflections on dating.
Be Patient & Expect Challenge
Finding the right person, the right relationship...
Figuring out who we are and what we need...
Learning how to love and be loved... these are all difficult challenges.
Relationships are where we're most vulnerable, and where there is the most expectation and potential for confrontation in our lives.
Most of us are tested and challenged to grow in our romantic relationships more than anywhere else in our lives.
The dating journey for most of us is a bumpy jungle mountain road, full of potholes, cliffs, and the occasional snake. It's emotionally challenging- which means that if you're actively dating in hopes of "finding the one," you're on a wild ride.
Both you, and your date- almost certainly have emotional bumps, bruises, scratches that need to appreciated and respected.
Especially when you're meeting someone new, be aware of this reality, and be as respectful and empathetic as you can, both to yourself and your date.
Being Interested v. Being Needy
Interest and neediness can be close cousins. In a sense...
Neediness = interest + attachment.
When you are interested in someone, it's great to feel that excitement around the possibility of a relationship. However if you attach to that fantasy, all your attention will be drawn to finding out whether, and figuring out how, to make that fantasy real.
This creates pressure, and therefore neediness around the progression of the relationship.
In general, pressure harms a connection, because it feels demanding and unsafe.
It's important for both men and women to manage their own fantasies, attachments and expectations well.
The Ladder Problem
People often approach a new relationship like a ladder. Every date progresses you up a rung, to the next level of connection & intimacy. Eventually, you reach the top of the ladder where commitment, love, happiness await ( right?! ).
This is such a common "model" for modern dating and relationships that people begin to expect a YES/NO result from every date. If you both say YES, the relationship goes up another run.
The problem with this is that not everyone operates at the same speed in their emotional processing and relationship-building.
One person might know they are interested in going forward, but the other is uncertain.
They're over stressed with work, uncertain what they want, or recently came out of a relationship and they're not ready to be emotionally vulnerable yet.
The demand for a YES/NO at the end of each date is unhelpful.
If you think of each partner in a relationship like plants, YES/NO is about evaluating the part we can see- the growth of the above-ground plant- but the roots are perhaps even more important for the long-term relationship.
If you pressure your date to decide how they're feeling about you, it's likely they'll give you a NO, simply because the pressure is uncomfortable, and they can't give you a YES yet.
Often, a YES/NO decision does happen, but that's not always the case- and a lack of a clear YES doesn't mean your date isn't interested either.
Processing what you feel takes time.
One of my favorite relationships ever was with a woman with who the first date & second dates totally sucked. If these were stairs, we were in the basement. Then she asked me on a third date, and things were entirely different. She was like a different person. That quickly became one of my best & deepest relationships ever, and now we're still best friends.
Don't expect a YES/NO answer from a date. Often you cannot see where or how the relationship has grown, much like you can't see the roots of a plant. Patience helps. Similarly, even having sex doesn't mean you're now on "step 3" of the relationship.
Don't expect her to know how she feels, and don't demand that she tells you. If you like her, invite her to another date, that's it. Good relationships often take time to develop.
Empathy Helps Build Connection
How does your partner, or you date feel?
I give this guy solid points for being open, honest, courageous, & vulnerable. He didn't hide his interest, and he didn't get angry when he was rejected.
However he didn't seem to be very aware of your uncertainty, emotional state, or hesitation. Empathy takes work to develop, but it's a central skill in relationships.
Practice building empathy, and use it in all of your relationships, with everyone.
Manage Expectations as Best You Can
What are you looking for? Does your date know?
What are they looking for? Do you know?
You don't need to decide, there is no pressure to make a YES/NO decision.
But do be clear about uncertainty.
If you're asked "How do you feel about us?", it's absolutely fine to say that you're not sure. Usually, that will be the most accurate answer.
If you or your date have been through a recent break-up, there's probably some fresh emotional trauma in the air as well.
An emotional trauma will massively slow down emotional processing, so be patient with them, and with yourself.
If you're the one with the recent trauma, be clear about that. Let them know you're
"I just came out of a relationship" "I'm not sure how I feel about dating yet" "Please don't be offended if I decide I'm just not ready to date anyone yet" "I'm just figuring this out" "IF you're totally cool with all this, we can meet"
At the least it will help them understand your uncertainty. Without that you're likely to feel pushed to a lot of NO answers, simply because you can't say YES yet.
When dating, always be aware that the person you're on a date with may have recent emotional trauma they're dealing with. Their apparent lack of enthusiasm, or emotional resistance, may not be about you at all.
If you have recent emotional trauma, be clear about that, so they they don't take your uncertainty as rejection. Instead it's more of a "slow down, I"m injured and can't run that fast..."
Are you actively dating? Share your reflections and what you've learned.
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In any new dating situation, you are starting from a place of uncertainty.
Just because you had a date - not matter whether it went well, or didn't go well - doesn't mean you're any more certain of how you feel, or what you want to happen next.
Even though this is a common social construction, complete with timelines ( sex on the third date, engaged by 2 years into the relationship )... it's really not applicable to any specific relationship you might have.
Let your relationship be yours, with its own pattern of growth.
At the end of a date you might have no idea whether it even went well... a date is not meant to result in a a YES/NO answer.
There's no right or wrong here, but perhaps a more understandable response to his "how do you feel?" would be "... I'm realizing I'm not ready for a relationship yet." or "I'm feeling a bit numb and confused (or whatever you're feeling) inside - so much has happened in my life lately" "Actually, I'm just not sure, give me some days to think about how I feel."