SPECIAL FROM Next Avenue
By Ken Page
Midlife is a perfect time to get more real in our relationships
As a psychotherapist who has worked with thousands of single people over the past 27 years, I’ve come to the conclusion that the way we’re taught to approach relationships is more likely to lead to heartbreak than to lasting love.
Whether you’re just getting back into the dating game or have been at it for a while, you’ve probably experienced some of the anxiety that comes with the search for true love. But much of that is the unnecessary byproduct of how we’ve been conditioned to approach our dating life.
In other words, it makes sense that we feel lost. We’ve been handed a defective map of the path to love!
Take a look at most of the popular dating advice. What are single people constantly encouraged to do? Improve themselves if they wish to find love.
“Lose weight. Get in shape. Dress better. Be confident. Cast a wider net. Be a vixen, learn to seduce. Keep your partner guessing.” In this worldview, youth, beauty and confidence are the magic talismans that lead to success.
Yet all those exhortations to “improve” ultimately erode whatever confidence we may have started with. The bottom line is, this soulless approach doesn't lead to love. It leads to insecurity and desperation.
There is a wiser path to finding love, though, one that’s not based on game-playing or cosmetic change. It’s based upon revealing who we really are and then choosing only people who truly value us. Best of all, I’ve found that this approach, which I call “Deeper Dating,” actually favors people in their late 40s, 50s and older because at this stage of life, we are much less willing to waste our time in the pursuit of unhealthy relationships.
I’ve boiled the dating process down to four steps that are likely to lead to healthy love. And you’ll be pleased to know that none of them relates to your age, hairline or waist size.
We’ve all heard some version of these ideas before. Yet in our 20s, 30s and even our early 40s, most of us weren’t ready to listen. The thrill of the hunt still blinded us. But as we enter midlife, the idea of building sustainable and sustaining love becomes more compelling than ever.
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4 Steps to Finding Lasting Love
1. Give up on your “attractions of deprivation.” It’s easy to become attracted to people who can almost commit -- who treat us wonderfully then demean or ignore us. These attractions spring from early feelings of inadequacy, usually in relation to our parents. There’s nothing more exciting than trying to seduce these partners into loving us fully. There’s also nothing more frustrating. We always feel we’re one step away from “getting it right.”
Because these relationships are highly charged and gnawingly addictive, I call them “attractions of deprivation.”
At a certain point -- and this is one of the great gifts of getting older -- many of us decide we don’t want to be hurt like that again. We’d rather be alone than in a bad relationship. We’ve been there and done that, and we’re done. When we reach this stage, a dead-end era of our dating lives draws to a close, and we can begin the real work of intimacy: cultivating our attraction to relationships that feed and nurture us.
2. Cultivate your “attractions of inspiration.” As we lose our taste for attractions of deprivation and start to change our behavior, we usually experience a temporary void in our dating life. We don’t want the pain of past relationships, but we don’t know if there’s anything else out there for us. This phase can be discouraging, but it’s an almost universal stop on the journey to healthy love.
We are now faced with perhaps the most important step in the search for love: cultivating attraction to people who are kind, emotionally generous and available. I call these “attractions of inspiration,” and they’re the opposite of “attractions of deprivation.”
These relationships often unfold slowly, and they get richer with time. They make us feel love, not desperation. Often these are the people we rejected in our younger years because they weren’t exciting enough. Now, thankfully, we know better. We realize that we need not only passion but mutual respect and a sense of emotional safety.
3. Give up your “flight patterns.” Any single person who wants to find love would do well to become a student of his or her escape patterns. There are a myriad of ways to flee intimacy, even as we seek it.
Avoidance tactics include: staying home and watching TV or surfing the net instead of going to places where people with shared values can be found; wasting time on “attractions of deprivation”; texting endlessly but never taking steps to meet; not approaching the people you’re really interested in; playing it cool instead of showing genuine enthusiasm; drinking too much on dates and/or settling for casual hookups.
When we’re willing to let go of our flight patterns and leave our safety nets -- which have become traps, not havens -- that’s when we find our dating life can begin to change.
4. Lead with your authentic self. On the surface this sounds like an easy thing, but it’s not. The more we share our real feelings, desires and vulnerability, the more we risk being hurt. As a result, we often create airbrushed versions of ourselves for the world to see. But it’s a Catch-22: These false personas lack the vigor, soul and magnetism of our real self, so we are less able to attract the very people who would accept and value us for who we are.
The key does not lie in simply accepting who we really are; it lies in treasuring, then expressing that unique self, in all its imperfection, passion and humanity.
Sound risky? It is. But when we decide to only pursue attractions of inspiration and to forsake our attractions of deprivation, our dating life begins to change in profound ways. Somehow, we find ourselves dating a new set of people -- who are kind, generous of spirit and available. And that is a splendid albeit hard-won gift of maturity.
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