Be Seen. Be Real. Be You.

“The opposite of belonging is fitting in. Belonging is belonging to yourself first. Speaking your truth. Telling you story. And never betraying yourself for other people. True belonging does not require you change who you are. It requires you to be who you are.” ~ Brené Brown

A few months ago, I wrote about how, after being in a relationship for over twenty years, I have started to explore dating again. I am investigating the unfamiliar territory of the online dating space: something that did not even exist when I was last single. There are so many of different web sites, it can be overwhelming and difficult to know where to start or what to do.

It is a loud and busy environment. It is also not set up for deep and meaningful encounters. Swipe left if you “like” someone and right if you do not. Capture yourself in a short and pithy bio, with posed photographs on the beach or hiking in the mountains. Be cute and alluring and most importantly…vanilla. In other words, reflect back to the other person what they want to see, not who you truly are.

One of the more challenging aspects of this experience so far is learning how to hold onto myself and my own unique sense of individuality in such a public forum. To be vulnerable. To truthfully state my interests and hobbies, even though they may be judged as quirky. To openly share my values and stand behind them, even if this results in alienating prospective partners.

It may sound strange that being open and honest is a challenge for me; but I spent a large part of my adolescence and young adulthood in hiding. I perfected the model of survival through adaptation. I was a master of reading the preferences of my peer group and then camouflaging myself to my environment. Being publicly exposed and potentially judged awakens my natural tendency to conceal who I really am. It brings our the primal desire to fit in and to be accepted: even at the sacrifice of my most authentic self.

The good thing is, this time around, I am able to spot the pattern and lean into the discomfort rather than lose connection to my true self. For me, it is less important to find a partner than to honour the person that I have become. In my heart, I know that the right person will show up at the right time. It may be that I encounter him online or through my social circles. It does not really matter. What remains key is that I allow myself to be vulnerable and truly seen throughout. The gifts that live on the other side of fear are far more valuable than gold, as vulnerably is the birthplace of love, belonging and joy.

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Learning How to Date…Again…

“Thankfully, relationships aren’t like baseball, where it’s three strikes and you’re out. The universe keeps pitching us new opportunities to redo, repair, and reinvent ourselves with another person.” ~ Dr. Stan Tatkin

Give Love Man Holding Red Heart In Hands For Love Valentines Day

I never enjoyed the dating experience as a teenager. It always felt awkward and uncomfortable to me. I think this is, in part, because I am an introvert: so making small talk with strangers is a challenge. I much prefer spending time with people who I know and love well and engaging in deep, intimate conversation. This is generally not a great fit for the superficial nature of the dating scene.

I met my ex-husband when I was nineteen years old; and we stayed together for twenty-one years. I was overjoyed at the thought of having found my special person so young and I loved the idea of staying with him ‘forever’. I never wanted to date again. Check!

For a variety of reasons, I found myself at the end of my relationship two years ago; and now here I am starting all over again.  After experiencing deep heart-break, it is hard to imagine re-entering the arena of love. The vulnerability required to play the game is truly intimidating. You have to bring your whole self to the dating experience; and this means taking a deep breath and jumping into the unknown.

To start the process, a friend of mine recommended that I look into the work of Dr. Stan Tatkin. His is a relationship expert and his work focusses on how to build secure, functioning relationships.  He draws on principles from neuroscience and attachment theory to first help you better understand yourself and then your potential partner. I am currently reading his new book, Wired for Dating. It is a great resource and I highly recommend it to anyone considering entering the dating scene.

The interview with Dr. Tatkin posted below, hosted on the podcast Relationship Alive with Neil Sattin, is a good capture of his work and overall approach:

I really appreciate Dr. Tatkin’s description of the various attachment types (anchor, wave or island). I found it to be very revealing and I now much better understand my own preferences and approach (I am a wave/anchor). Additionally, I like the traits that he describes of a secure functioning relationship. It provides me with a clear outline of what needs to be in place for a romantic partnership to succeed. I also love it because it is so relevant to parenting my daughter and nurturing a healthy relationship with her as she grows into adulthood.

Traits of a Secure, Functioning Relationship

Security: We protect each other.

Sensitivity: We are aware of each other’s needs.

Justice and Fairness: We quickly repair any hurts that occur.

Collaboration: We are in this together.

True Morality: What is good for me, is good for you.

Although I am still nervous about the journey ahead of me, I feel like I have some really good tools on hand now to help me enter into this experience with an open heart and mind. I will let you know how it goes!

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