At 59 years old, I was coming down hard on myself. After two divorces and a failed long-term relationship, I figured it was best to give up the idea of finding a partner. Perhaps my flaws were too great or else I was born without some key ingredient for relationship success.
But a fortuitous decision changed my thinking and put me on the path to finding my ideal partner, Daisy. Allow me to explain.
Through the years there had been several counselors and therapists in my life to help me deal with marriage issues. There were also several close friends who guided me into a life of sobriety after it became clear that I had to give up drinking.
My journey to sobriety involved a lot of work, including plenty of introspection and emotional work. It gave me back my life and taught me how to live. Life was awesome, addiction-free, rewarding, and fun, and had been so for many years.
Except for relationships.
Marriage and relationships were a mystery, a perpetual trek across thin ice which inevitably cracked. Again, and again.
When at this late stage in life I found myself single once again, I was hesitant to reach out to a therapist for yet another go-around with my psyche. After all, my life was full, quiet, and I was relatively happy. I didn’t want any more heartache and drama. Avoidance of a life-complicating partner appeared to be the better path.
Yet my intuition said that I owed it to myself to dig deeper, to find out why. Many friends had happy, loving relationships, so why couldn’t I? I couldn’t be at peace with myself until I knew the answer.
I decided to work with a therapist and steer clear from dating for a while. Next to getting sober, it was the best decision I ever made.
One day, working through an exercise with my therapist, I had one of those “a ha!” moments, when in a flash, I understood everything. I could clearly see why the pattern had repeated itself as far back as I could remember. With equal certainty, I knew it would never happen again. I’ll tell you why in a second.
How Does This Help You Get Better Dates?
By now some of you might be thinking, “Whoa, I just came here for a little dating advice! I don’t need counseling or psychotherapy.”
Well let me frame this another way. In my business life, I learned early on that a one-time problem or mistake is probably just a glitch. We all make mistakes. But if a mistake happens two or more times, the problem is with the business system itself. Those mistakes will continue to happen until the system or process is fixed.
It’s the same with us personally. I kept repeating relationship mistakes because I wasn’t examining the underlying system—myself.
Granted, I had done much work years before in getting sober. I just hadn’t gone all the way. Sometimes answers and insight arrive quickly. In my case it took a deeper introspection. Without this new-found clarity, I would never have seen Daisy for who she was because I didn’t know myself fully.
What We’re Really Dealing With
Let’s not forget that we’re talking about love—a gigantic, mysterious subject. I just Googled the word “love” and got over 8 billion results! If you’re struggling in your relationships, you’re not the first or the last to do so, and you’re never alone.
Last week I heard a speaker suggest that when someone asks you what love is, tell them the first step is to take a good look in the mirror.
The topic was a story in which Jesus, answering a question about which commandment was the greatest, said there were only two main ones. One of them was “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Implicit in that is if you don’t love yourself, how can you ever hope to properly love your neighbor?
When you look in the mirror, do you like and respect what you see? Or is something missing or broken?
The idea of self-love and introspection as a prerequisite for loving others isn’t tied only to religion, either.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk says in his excellent meditation book How to Love,
“The first element of true love is loving kindness. The essence of loving kindness is being able to offer happiness. You can be the sunshine for another person. You can’t offer happiness until you have it for yourself.
So build a home inside by accepting yourself and learning to love and heal yourself. Then you have something to offer the other person.”
And then there’s Socrates’ famous quote, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Psychiatrists and psychologists, who base their techniques on scientific method, shy away from talk of love and self-love. But I like to think love is more powerful. It sneaks in.
Leon Seltzer, writing in Psychology Today, tries to debunk the notion that you must love yourself before you can love others. He claims you can indeed be outwardly loving to others at the same time you have contempt for yourself. But you’ll be miserable and unhappy. In the end he says, “But if, warts and all, you come to fully embrace yourself, your relationships would definitely become more intimate.”
Another article in the same publication says, “So it seems that loving yourself is an important way to enhance your ability to love others—but the self-love that seems to count isn’t just high self-esteem, or feeling good about yourself; it’s your ability to be compassionate toward yourself that matters, flaws and all.”
And right here in our own pages, Daisy, an executive job search strategist by trade, talks about personal branding. Knowing who you are is a key element to dating success.
“If you don’t really know who you are, how can you present your best self to potential partners? How can you differentiate yourself from the sea of other people competing against you?
The more specifically you can speak to people about yourself, and write about yourself in your online dating profiles, the more likely you’ll connect with a kindred spirit.”
A Shocking Proposal for Better Dating
Here’s a shocking proposal for you, especially in this push-a-button, take-a-pill-to-fix-everything era. I propose that whatever effort is required for you to know yourself better should be undertaken, especially if you struggle with relationships. Do it.
Those of us from the boomer generation shouldn’t mind. We were raised to work if we wanted something.
Plus, if you’ve been around this long, you already know that some of the best opportunities for growth come from our most painful moments.
Which brings me back to my moment of intense clarity.
My A-Ha Moment
My assignment during the previous sessions with my therapist had been to make a list of events in my life. That was all the guidance I got. It was up to my brain to determine what was memorable, as far back as I could remember. Each week, she listed them on a chart as I talked about them.
On the growing list were many events with my father, a highly critical and violent alcoholic. There was a series of bullies all through grade school, starting in the first grade. There was an obscene phone caller who stalked me for several years from junior high to high school.
One morning I remarked how this looked like a list of tormentors.
That’s when it hit. All I knew about relationships was patterned on people who tormented me. That’s what I was comfortable with.
As I grew up, I began inviting people into my life who would torment me in some fashion. Why? So I could fix them. I wanted to replicate parts of the dangerous, damaged world of my childhood and make it better. It’s classic co-dependency. Of course, relationships based on this are doomed to fail.
The solution was simple—stop inviting ‘tormentors’ into my life. Invite only the right people. The minute I saw my pattern, I could recognize the warning flags of a tormentor as if a sign were taped to their foreheads.
I couldn’t fully have compassion and love for myself until I got to truly know myself at the deepest level possible. As the psychologists, Buddhists, philosophers, and Christians all say, it was only then I was able to seek and find my ideal partner. It was only then I could offer something truly valuable in return.
The Fruits of Introspection
In the end, I was relieved to learn I wasn’t missing a key ingredient. I have everything it takes.
Nor was I so flawed that I couldn’t have a relationship. My flaws are just like the flaws of billions of other people.
I was simply picking the wrong kinds of people to be my partner. I was using coping and survival skills I learned as a child, not the emotional skills of an adult.
I admit that I dreaded going into therapy, believing it would be a long stretch of frustrating tedium without answers. In hindsight, the time I spent on self-discovery was the life-changing blink of an eye.
If you’re a boomer struggling with dating, take some time to reflect. Resist the temptation to jump right in the online dating pool.
Talk to a therapist, counselor, or your trusted friends. If mistakes are repeating in your life, you have a lesson patiently waiting to be revealed. You and I are on a never-ending journey of self-discovery.
Carl Jung said, “Your visions will become clear only when you can look into your own heart. Who looks outside, dreams; who looks inside, awakes.”
Look inside. It’s the surest first step to awaking one day to your ideal partner.