Managing Romance When It is Not Ours, and Finding Our Way Back to Love With Self-Compassion

The Woes of Fraternizing with the Romantics

 Subtle notes of chocolate, hot apple cider, cinnamon, and faint perfume fill the air.  As the wind picks up and the temperature drops, people pull each other closer, some of whom intertwining fingers, or enlocking arms; others rest their cheeks on their partners’ cheeks or cradle their heads in their partners’ shoulders.  As a colder season with romantic opportunities drags on, those in love seem to lean into it with the abandon of expected reciprocity.  Some single folks, on the other hand, feel like they are under siege.  Recently at Starbucks I heard someone say, “What is with this lovey-dovey crap?  If I see another apple picking picture on Instagram, I’m gonna kill myself.”

The toughest part about being alone in the company of paired others is that some people believe that relationships are the reward for having good qualities.  They do some short math, and find themselves wonting.  Self-criticism comes up, which leads to shame, and poor self-care skills, such as indulging in eating, drinking, or media that is harsh in the ways that it talks about love and lovers.  Slowly they descend into the land of low self-esteem, and only appear available to others who have equally low self-esteem or are willing to choose them for their low self-esteem.  This last part seems complicated, but it is actually pretty simple.  When you feel really bad about yourself, feeling good seems impossible.  Feeling bad, on the other hand, feels very doable.  So, as long as someone is willing to pick you for feeling bad, you may choose them over ice cream or those pumpkin chocolate-chip cookies you saw on Pinterest.  The cookies might just be too good though.

Stop, Drop, and Roll

 My favorite part of fire safety training was a little exercise called, stop, drop, and roll.  It involved imagining you were on fire, then stopping, dropping, and rolling.  When you are surrounded by intimate connection that all people crave, it is only natural to feel disappointed if you don’t have this kind of intimacy in your life.  Because meeting people, and finding good connection seems so unpredictable; we make it predictable by criticizing what we have to offer.  This may not sound great, but it makes sense.  The anxiety of not knowing why you don’t have your special someone is worse than blaming your own attributes for this lack of success.  So, you choose the lesser of two evils. 

The choice to become self-critical and take on poor self-care behaviors leads you down the complicated path I have described into a world that is too dimensional to simply observe and step out of.  Instead, I advise you to stop, drop, and roll.  You can even do this literally, if you like.  I guarantee that it will ground your body in something other than worry.   But seriously, I want you to interrupt your negative thoughts (name them), drop them (allow them to pass away), and roll (do something actively kind for yourself that has nothing to do with pleasing others). 

Interrupt these thoughts by acknowledging what is causing you suffering.  Name the suffering in as few words as possible.  Make space for this suffering by reminding yourself that you come by it naturally.  Let this suffering pass.  If it helps, imagine standing in front of a river or perhaps a stream, and put the suffering you have named on an abandoned rowboat you see passing by.  Watch the rowboat until you cannot see it anymore, then bring kindness to your experience, perhaps with self-compassion phrases, a ninja hug, or the reassurance of kind words (you are enough, this moment is enough).

Switching Directions

Although negative thinking that occurs when you see others together is trying to protect you from feeling lonely, it is not helping you.  The truth is that the person of your dreams could be looking for you, but they can’t find you if you have decided that you don’t deserve somebody, who is wonderful and loves you.  I know that being patient stinks, but it beats sitting uncomfortably and twiddling your thumbs until Glenda the Good Witch decides to bring you the partner of your dreams.  I hope she does, but in the meantime let’s try something different.  Let’s switch directions from negativistic thinking and passivity to action and burgeoning hope.

To start in a new direction, you must absorb this mantra: If it were my time, my person would already be here.  For most of us, the timing has to be right.  We need to be doing well enough in our life that we have room for someone with whom to spend time.  Prior to this time, like all people, we could benefit from some practice.  Date people who you have things in common with without needing them to be the very last person you ever date. 

If we were all perfect matches for each other, picking a partner would be pure hell.  Instead, we tend to need several relationships to learn from several partners how to accept ourselves, and how to be with someone who is a good fit for us (makes us feel at ease and connected in an inviting way).  Don’t feel bad for the people who do not become your forever people.  They need the practice too! Neither of you would ever get out of these relationships if they weren’t a mismatch in some ways, so don’t worry about that either.

I know.  I know.  You don’t want to waste your time with people that won’t be with you forever.  You’re busy.  In fact, you are too busy to waste your time on relationships that are not so fulfilling.  Mularchy!  If you really want to find and be ready for your forever person, you need to put in the work.  If you care enough about other people finding their person, you need to give them a chance to learn in relationships with you as well.  Access your self-compassion and give yourself some time.  I does not matter how old you are.  Love will show up when it is ready.  It does not like to be rushed.

This is not a carte blanche to jump into damaging relationships.  The only thing you can learn from people who treat you poorly is that being treated poorly absolutely stinks.  Find people that will treat you well, and let the universe decide whether they will be the last person you date.  You are right.  You don’t have control over it, but that doesn’t mean you are helpless.  Committing to developing the skills to be in a healthy relationship, while investing in the people you meet along the way without unrealistic expectations (ie: you can control the outcome) is a great way to practice self-compassion.

Valuing Yourself

 The next step is to value yourself.  Start investing your time and energy into activities that help you find acceptance and evolution.  Never stop evolving.  It is the best way to remain content and excited about life.  Go to events that you really like to meet people.  I love the book people, who tell me there is nowhere they can go to meet people.  Hello!  How about the bookstore?  How about book readings?  How about book clubs?  How about plays based on books?  How about book fairs? 

“Do I really need to talk to other people?” is often the follow up question.  Yes.  Yes, you do, but start out with the small goal of saying hello.  Then locate yourself in an area that you find fascinating.  Notice when someone picks out a book or magazine you are interested in, and lead with your fascination about it.  If you have read it, then say “Oh I love that book.  There are so many plot twists and turns, and the author really gets how it feels to try something new,” for instance.  If you have never read the book, then say “Oh, I have wanted to read that book.  Does it seem good?” 

Your only job is to get into a conversation, and show some interest if it feels right.  While that might feel risky, the real risk is in saying nothing, especially if the person in questions could be your forever person or at least for-a-while person.  If it is going well, casually mention that you are in the mood for a cup of coffee or were on your way to grab a cup of coffee, and ask (nonchalantly) if they would like to continue this conversation over a hot beverage.  If they say no, you were going to grab a cup of coffee in the first place, so you have the perfect out.  “Well, it was very nice to meet you,” you will say, while giving yourself the self-compassion goodness of rewarding yourself by choosing to pursue the process of finding love.

Starting a conversation and showing some interest is what we call fishing.  You don’t need to catch a conversation every time you cast out your line.  You just need to cast it out, and let the universe take care of the rest.  If you are a truly compassionate person, then you won’t deny the person who is a great match for you the opportunity to get to know you.  Like you, that person may be sitting alone at night and watching something they love; wishing they had someone with whom to share it.  Even the people who are poor fits for you still need the practice of talking to someone, who might be a good fit to ready themselves for the person who is.

The Bare Bones

 No one has the definitive blueprint on dating.  Most people who are in happy relationships were simply at the right place at the right time.  The only thing that is wrong with you is that somewhere in the chaos of the world and looming romantic interludes you have forgotten what a beautiful gift you are.  Don’t ever forget this.  For every person I have met, who has doubted their loveliness; we have been able to come up with at least a handful of people, who are so grateful that they exist.  Even if one person sleeps better at night knowing that you are around, you have lived a life worth living.  Extend that circle, and let someone who is worthy of your love have the good fortune of getting it.

Never settle no matter what.  That is the only rule.  Date whomever you like, but do not stop until you find someone that makes you feel completely at ease and genuinely loves you for who you are, warts and all.  Find ways to enjoy the process, and always make time to be kind to yourself.  If it is too tough one day, then take the time to take care of yourself.  You are worth it.  Like all challenging things, we pick something about it that is so deeply rewarding that the difficulties that come with it pale in comparison.

365 Days of Kindness.  Self-Compassion. Day 60.  In the Books.