Tuesday, March 30, 2021

27. The Dinner Table Approach To Dating Will Leave You Starving

"I hear so many cry for help
Searching outside of themselves
Now I know that His strength is within me"- Lauryn Hill


Imagine you and I go into a restaurant and I say, “I want a table.”  Perhaps I’m hungry and complaining, “I really want a table!” Eventually we get seated at a table and I start to feel some relief.  If everything goes well then the food is good, drinks are satisfying, maybe some dessert will be enjoyed. Then we prepare to leave.  Do I stand up and take the table with me?  Of course not!  But when I walked in I said, “I want a table.”  Turns out I didn’t want the actual table, I wanted the delights and privileges a table afforded me so I could feel filled up.  The table itself was not of value, it was just the means to a temporary ends.  I disregarded and dismissed the table once it no longer provided its stated function. 

Most people approach dating like they’re asking for a table in a restaurant.  They’re not looking to authentically connect with someone for the sole purpose of being together -- they are looking to obtain the perceived advantages and privileges of connecting with that person as a means to an emotional end.  They think that their experience of feeling loved, valued, stable, and secure come from someone outside themselves. This is the very belief system that is often fraught with conflict, disappointment, and loneliness, as it shapes human connections as a transactional means to an ends instead of an ends to themselves.  It positions people to see relationships as way to get something they don't have as opposed to increasing something they already are.

It makes perfect sense that people would believe that their sense of self and identity comes from another person.  That is pretty much what every fictional story and cultural norm teaches about dating.  In this distorted view of romance you are lost and empty until that other person makes you feel “special” or “complete.”  You are afforded the opportunity to feel worthwhile after another person recognizes you as such.  This mythology is at the center of ubiquitous fairy tales like Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Romeo & Juliet, and plays out in nearly every Hollywood romcom I’ve ever seen. 

Throughout my twenties I was attracted to men with a specific set of characteristics that I describe as “charismatic narcissism.”  These are the people who would “light up the room” when they would walk in, commanding attention and regard by all others around them.  They appeared to exude a certainty I lacked, a confidence I desired, a magnetism I envied.  

During that time I still believed in what I had learned from soaps and movies -- my sense of worth and value came from another person.  I thought that if I could get the attention and affection of someone else, especially if that someone else had charisma and power, then by osmosis I would become a worthwhile person.  I would have argued at the time, "I really love him" but in retrospect I could only love the power and validation I craved from him.  This endless pursuit resulted in much sorrow, frustration, and ultimately a need to physically escape from a violent partner.  

In my early thirties, I began studying with Jacob Glass and getting serious about my own mental health in a sustainable way.  It was clear that my true sense of power and worth couldn’t come from another human being.  But where exactly did it come from?  

By learning more about tenants of New Thought and A Course In Miracles, I came to understand that authentic and sustainable love, beauty, worth, value, and serenity, came primarily from my relationship with Source, and then from people.  I learned that loving my “self” was simply a matter of connecting with the intelligent benevolent energy that is all around us at all times.  As described in Lesson 43, I could experience true connection with friends, family, partners, colleagues, acquaintances, by recognizing the abundant Light inside and around them.  Practicing this way enabled me to feel fulfilled, loved, confident, centered, empowered, even when I was not in a primary relationship with a man. 

I know that a lot of corporate CEOs, dating apps, talk show hosts, Hollywood writers, and therapists have a lot financially riding on people suffering in their pursuit of "romance".  There are multiple industries invested in people not practicing true love and self-care, searching outside themselves for that lost "soulmate." That is precisely why many of these views are considered unpopular or unfavorable in the cultural lexicon -- can you imagine what would happen to the self-help industry if everyone felt strong and empowered? 

"But what about people who say they truly want to be in a relationship? What’s wrong with that?"

There is nothing “wrong” with wanting connection with another person.  But if you’re suffering in the process of getting it, or suffering in the process of holding onto it once you do get it, then you are probably going about it in a way that prioritizes another person’s attention and validation ahead of your own.  Without realizing it, you may be using them as a means to your emotional ends.  Yes, it can be painful if you are interested in someone who doesn’t return your affection.  But there is no investment in suffering when you are engaged with nurturing your health, your Light, the abundant loving presence that you bring into the world.  

Centering one’s true value doesn’t mean “you’re going to be single the rest of your life.”  In my experience it’s been quite the opposite. As soon as I learned how to truly love and respect myself in my thirties I started attracting healthy people in my life who wanted to love and respect me as well.  I was able to build relationships that weren’t based in using each other as a means to getting something, but instead making connections that prioritized a joyful exchange of love and abundance.   

I’m not condemning anyone for pursuing “dates” or “husbands” or authentically trying to find meaningful connections.  I just hope that people reduce their search for something or someone outside themselves.   When I see people online say they are "looking for a husband" to avoid loneliness,  it signals to the world they are looking for an emotional dinner table.  It tells potential partners they are not actively engaged in the process of nurturing and feeding themselves.  That ultimately serves to perpetuate their sense of alienation and separation from others. 

At age fifty I now perceive relationships as a “banquet” of sorts in which I get to connect with many people who nurture my life in many different ways.  Some are more sexual in nature, some are more emotional, some are more intellectual, some are more spiritual, some are two or three.  But it is not up to anyone to “meet my needs” nor vice-versa.  We are here to join, meet, relate, play, connect, and love in ways to expand and maximize this experience of living.  Let's enjoy it to the fullest!

Damon L. Jacobs is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist helping individuals and couples enjoy life with peace, purpose, and pleasure. His books "Absolutely Should-less" and "Rational Relating" help people experience connection with joy, serenity, and meaning. His work has been featured on CNN Health, The New York Times, MSNBC, USA Today and more. He can be reached at Damon@DamonLJacobs.com or 347-227-7707.

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