Last month, I attended an event where I read from It’s Not You, my book about navigating life as a single adult, when an audience member asked an interesting question. I had said I didn’t think a romantic relationship was something you could pointedly go after, the way you might a promotion or a master’s degree. On the other hand, I was a proponent of online dating. Didn’t those two stances contradict?
It’s a good question, one I hear a version of fairly often.
We seem to take an “all or nothing” attitude about love. So you have the camp that says you have to pull out every stop—every drinks meet, every dating site, every party that your aunt or neighbor promises will be full of attractive single people. With this strategy, you burn out pretty fast, so along comes someone to tell you that love will only come when you relax—stop trying so hard! So you chill out in your pajamas and binge-watch Game of Thrones, and quickly realize that this strategy is pretty flawed, too.
That’s why I like the Buddhist concept of “not too tight, not too lose.” It’s like tuning a guitar—you want to find a place in the middle, rather than an extreme.
It’s great to make an effort—whether it’s spending an evening reading dating profiles, or schlepping to that co-worker’s friend’s birthday party three towns away. The problem is not the effort. The problem is how you respond when you don’t get what you want.
You can control the amount of time and effort you spend trying to meet people. You can control your behavior on your dates—your promptness, the way you dress and how you treat these gentle strangers.
But you can’t control whether the two of you fall in love, or even if you’ll want to go on a second date.
That’s frustrating, but there’s a good news side to it: Now you get to relax. You’ve done the work, time to sit back and let the evening be whatever it is. Maybe you’re attracted, maybe not. Maybe your dinner companion is sweet and funny, maybe tiresome and mean. But whatever is happening — there you are — in your life, trying to connect with another human being. If you can let go of “how it’s supposed to be” you might find that “how it is” is pretty interesting.
Who is this person sitting across the table from you, complaining about his ex-wife or angling to figure out your salary? What are her hopes, dreams and fears? What has brought him here to this moment in time, on this date, with you?
Even if you don’t fall in love with this person—even if you don’t like this person—you can still be curious. Dating is usually depicted as either light and giddy or bleak and pointless, but I think it’s quite profound. When else do we get the opportunity to try and connect, on the deepest level possible, with a random stranger plucked from the ether? It’s completely bizarre, and endlessly fascinating.