I have noticed people dating using two predominant strategies when looking for their partner online.
Some are looking for someone they like, who will like them. When they find them, they mould themselves around the person.
This stems from the anxiety that they are unloveable and won’t ever find anyone who loves them that they love. And so they are just happy to find someone that sticks around.
At the extreme, this can be an abusive relationship, but it might be someone agreeable and easy to get along with.
The Checklist Strategy
The other approach is to have a checklist of everything you want in a partner.
This is based on the flawed assumption that we know what will make us happy.
Research shows that we are really bad at being able to predict our own happiness.
Daniel Gilbert’s book Stumbling On Happiness showed us how flawed we are at predicting what would make us happier.
When asked people will often answer something like, winning the lottery, having a nice house and marrying Brad Pitt.
Yet research shows that lottery winners actually often end up unhappier after their ‘luck. And Jennifer Anniston and Angelina Jolie didn’t find Brad equaled happy ever after.
Most people’s checklists are flawed because they have no idea of what it takes to make a great relationship.
Their checklists are usually predicated on avoiding mistakes they made in previous relationships.
Checklists include things like height, looks, job type, income level, and often a list of avoid certain personality traits and hobbies.
The Refusal Of The Call
Neither strategy is particularly effective for long term relationships.
In a nutshell, one is based on building your life around whoever find you attractive and the other is based on finding someone who will fit neatly into your carefully planned and controlled life.
Just as adventure found Bilbo Baggins and dragged him into a world he had little interest in exploring, life will also laugh at your plans before throwing you a curveball that will shatter your ideas.
However, much we try, we cannot keep life into a tightly structured and organised frame. Life demands that sometimes we let go of our plans and surrender to it’s greater force.
We can of course deny the Call, but that leads to a lesser life.
Embrace Your sovereignty
Having given many years of intense study and observation to all areas of relationship, I’ve seen that neither of these strategies has ever worked out all that well.
They evolve because they have a force and nature of their own. When we try to control and plan too intently, we are trying to play God.
Whatever your spiritual or religious views, I think we have to accept there is a power greater than us. An intelligence or chaotic rule that determines the rules of life. It is that power more than our self determination that controls the ultimate destiny.
Therefore, just as our best physical strategy is to try to harmonise with gravity, our best relationship strategy is to try to harmonise with whatever rules we can decipher from the challenges of life.
The deeper problem
To build our life around someone else is a mistake. It is parasitic, because our sustenance then has to come from the other person.
We become the Pleaser always trying to pacify and placate the partner we adore. Ultimately, we fail and find that we have not only lost the partner, but also, most damagingly, we have lost ourself.
Just as flawed is the idea that we can find the perfect partner who we recognise will fit neatly into our little world and complete the jigsaw puzzle.
This is a flawed strategy to try to manage the anxiety that you won’t be able to cope with life unless you can control every element.
It is flawed because life is something to be experienced. The attempt to control, is a refusal to engage with the mystery of life. It is to assume that we can manage every element of life to avoid feeling fear or loss of control.
Both of these strategies are about taking responsibility. One is about submission of your sovereignty in the hope someone else has better skills to lead you to happiness. The other is an assertion of sovereignty over all so that you can live safely and comfortably.
Life isn’t something we can ever refuse to engage with. Life is the wave that we can’t stop. We have to surf over it. Sometimes we will crash. And sometimes we will feel the thrill of riding the wave perfectly synchronised.
When we date, we will come across rude people. We will be rejected. We will be hurt. We will have bad dates. At times we’ll feel like we’re wasting our time.
Stop Looking For The Person That Fits! Find The Person That Breaks Your Mould
Our relationships will have messy and awkward moments. We will feel like it’s out of control at times. At other times, we’ll want to avoid making tough decisions and having difficult conversations.
Yet when you look at happy couples, they often didn’t end up with the person they thought was going to make them happy. They didn’t end up with the life or relationship that they planned.
See the right person isn’t the person you hope you’re good enough for and who you think being with will lead to happiness.
Nor is it the person that fits neatly into your carefully crafted 25 year plan.
The right person isn’t someone who you can latch onto or assimilate. The right person is the one that will shatter your jigsaw and inspire you to a much more authentic and brave life.
The Fundamental Flaw In Dating
The greatest mistake that people make when talking about finding a partner, or even dating, is the assumption that people are static. The nature of scrolling through dating profiles means that we take a two dimensional view of people.
People are multi-dimensional. Yet we look at people from a short profile or message and try to read into them set qualities. She sounds stuck-up. Or he sounds lovely.
The reality is that we all operate along a spectrum in all aspects.
We look different at different times and days. Sometimes we might look rough and dog-tired. At other times we can seem polished and full of vitality.
In the same way, at times we are all grouchy and irritable. And at others we are compassionate and caring.
We’re still the same person, what we express, just depends on our state in the moment.
What we’re really looking at is the consistent pattern of who and what characteristics show up consistently in the relationship.
Now the thing that most people miss, is that people act differently in different relationships. If you look back at different relationships you’ve had, you may see that because of the nature of them – and the stage of life you were at – you showed up differently in them.
Sometimes, this is easier to see with other people. Maybe, you notice an Ex, or a friend, being very different in different relationships. This isn’t because they were pretending to be something different.
It’s because we respond to the context in which we are. When we’re at a funeral the cues around us shape us into very different behaviour than a wild, drunken party.
Likewise, every relationship is unique. And so the interaction between you and your partner activates different aspects of both of you and leads you to be slightly different.
To take it even more granularly, the person you date will be different in a domestic relationship. It’s not that they change as such, but the nature of the context, the relationship changes. And so their behaviour responds to those cues.
Of course, there are common themes and patterns because when they are stored within us, over time we will bring them into the relationship. There are ways we’ve learned to deal with stress and certain situations, that will persist.
Someone who refuses to talk about problems will not suddenly veer to the other extreme. Yet if they are ready and feel safe and trusted in the context, they may begin to open up.
The danger in writing this is that some people will think, if only I can make them feel safe and trusted enough.
Yet 90% of the weight of change is in the person and if they are not close to the tipping point, nothing will change them.
The takeaway Message
So what’s the point of this insight?
It’s not that we can change anyone. It is that we should not get too sucked into the two-dimensional nature of dating sites.
We shouldn’t make assumptions about people from a line in their profile. Instead we should open up to the adventure of learning more about people with little emotional investment and look to connect and see what level the connection falls to naturally.
We should recognise that people who feel supported, secure and safe act very differently than when they feel insecure, unsafe and unsupported.
This doesn’t mean that we disregard past behaviour or warning signs. It means we treat people as the complex beings that they are and not as objects to fill a role in our life.
This is the basic premise of the Enchantment Dating Strategy.