The media loves to feature famous couples who marry after brief courtships because their marriages rarely last and the split-up headlines draw even bigger audiences than the wedding notices did. It's hard to resist watching a train wreck.
What about the rest of us, though -- people who're weary and wary of rocket-ride relationships? We go up and down so quickly that we hit the ground feeling shell-shocked and then sink into emotional numbness, becoming dating zombies -- not really shut down, but not open and available either. It's difficult to begin again after a failed relationship, but this interim period is a gift that we can use to feel the pain, learn the lessons, and chart our course for future relationships.
It's important to leave the baggage from old relationships behind and come into a new relationship with new eyes. To do that, we have to look deeper than our skin -- and hers -- to find the kind of love that has a snowball's chance. Physical attraction is the magnet that draws men and women to each other, and chemistry makes our hearts beat faster; but they're just the tasty appetizers that bring us to the table. We want -- and deserve -- relationships that are nothing less than banquets.
That kind of relationship requires an open heart, and what does a man need to feel confident enough to open his heart? A simple answer, but not so simple to achieve -- trust. I learned this wisdom from my mentor, an elderly man who often spoke about his 35-year marriage. "Where there's no trust, there's no love," he told me. And he's right, because trust is the glue that holds a relationship together and is the foundation of every successful relationship.
It's what's in our hearts, not in our heads, that solidifies relationships, and giving another person access to our hearts is giving them a pass to our souls. And that's terrifying for most men, since we've been socialized to stuff -- not share -- our feelings and aren't used to experiencing them authentically. Just because opening our hearts isn't second nature to a man, though, doesn't mean he can't learn how.
My heart was closed to women until I finally realized that, just as building a strong body means pushing our muscles to the limit, building strong emotional connections in relationships means maxing out our emotional awareness. And, like well-developed muscles, well-controlled emotions are powerful and dependable. They provide calmness in crisis and allow intense joy in good times. A man who's in control of his emotions can hold up his end of a relationship, and a man who hasn't done the emotional work, can't. No pain, no gain.
Trust isn't something a man or woman should have to earn in a relationship. It should be implicit at the start. That's because, to trust someone else, we have to be able to trust ourselves. And that means being aware of our emotions and confident in following our instincts -- instincts that should identify and warn us against potential partners who aren't trustworthy. Of course, getting involved in a relationship is a calculated risk, but if both people don't have the capacity for trust and extend it from the start, intimacy can never develop.
In counseling men for decades about opening their hearts, I've stressed that doing so doesn't give them any control over a woman's behavior. Which is part of what makes entering into an intimate relationship such an act of faith. But trust is a two-way street, and men who work at being the best partners possible typically find their level of commitment reflected back from women. Of course, sometimes we're betrayed after trusting a woman and feel emotionally crushed. But most men think that's a risk worth taking.
Because there's also a big reward. Isn't it worth risking the potential emotional pain of a failed relationship to find that this woman might just be your soul mate? The only way to know with any certainty is to open your heart and trust her. My previously published article, "5 Sure-Fire Dating Tips for Frog-Kissing Boomers," offers helpful tips for identifying someone who's a good prospect.
For more in-depth explanation and guidance, also read my new book, Act Like a Man. It tells the stories of eight guys who learned to open their hearts in the safety of a men's group. Every man in America will find his own story, and every woman will see her boyfriend or husband, in its pages. It's a guide for everyone who wants to create intimacy with a current partner or find the relationship of his or her dreams.