By the time Dave came to me for help, he was convinced that loneliness and disappointment were his destiny. He was deeply demoralized. So much so that he was determined to prove me wrong when I told him there was a way to turn things around and find dating success. I asked him, “Do you want to be right or do you want to be happy?”
Is there such a thing in life as a bad experience? Of course. We cannot control what others do. But we sure can control how we react and we can control what we do. And I’m not talking about white knuckling your way through life trying to be something you’re not. I’m talking about changing your thoughts and beliefs in order to behave differently and, yes, find happiness.
For now, let’s focus on one aspect of life: dating. Dave was 38 years old when he came to me. He’d never been married, and had not really had a serious relationship since grad school, about 11 years before. His heart was broken when his girlfriend of 5 years left him to take a job—and a new man—in the Philippines. I found out that the first few times he asked women out after that experience, he was clinically depressed.
Rule #1: Take care of yourself first. If you are in a bad way for any reason, hurt by, recovering from, or angry about a past relationship, find help and work through it before going out on the dating scene. Not only will you not have the heart for it, but that negative energy will get in the way of genuine connection with another person. Seek the advice and support of a trained coach or possibly friends, get healthy, then go for it!
Because he was out there too soon, and so deeply depressed that he could not connect with anyone, Dave had a few dating disasters. By then, he had firmly created a solid belief: “Dating sucks. There is no one out there. I’ll die alone.” You may be aware of recent research about the effect of mental energy on behavior. It works like this: our thoughts create our emotions, we act in accordance with our feelings, and those actions lead to our experience of life. Literally. Dave believed every date was going to be horrible. That created feelings of doom, fear, and anxiety. Everything he did and said reflected those feelings. He said that, within five minutes at each date, he would be talking about his theory of dating (it’s horrible) and his theory of women (they can’t be trusted) and his theory of life (I’ll die alone). Bummer, right? I am sure his body language spoke volumes, too. His entire being was steeped in negative beliefs.
Rule #2: Create positive attitudes. Not necessarily easy, but not impossible. Creating a positive mindset is not “Pollyanna crap” as Dave initially said to me, rather cynically. It is proven to work. Think about it. Not only is positivity an attractive feature to have, it creates an optimistic and confident energy around you. That energy attracts others in your life who are also attracted to positive thoughts and feelings. As I said above, your thoughts become your experiences. “How do I change my beliefs?” you ask. Dave thought that he could not change his beliefs until his experiences changed. “I’ll be optimistic about dating when I have a good date.” But he was not going to have a good date until he changed his belief! So what did he do? Meditation, visualization, behavioral modification. We wrote affirmations for him to repeat throughout his day, such as, I am an interesting person and there are interesting women out there for me to meet and I am excited to start dating again and have some fun.
It took about 6 months for Dave to be in a different place—a healthy place from which he could not simply face dating again, but genuinely look forward to it. I was eyewitness to his transformation. He joined a local yoga class, practiced 7-7-7 meditation (something he could do while sitting at his desk), and started reading “success stories” on line, about people who changed their outlooks and their lives. He was, after his initial reticence and cynicism, truly determined to transform his thoughts, beliefs, feelings, and ultimately, his reality.
Rule #3: Commit. There is some value in “going through the motions”—it is a place to start. When I am in pain or emotionally traumatized, I often begin with positive affirmations I don’t actually believe at that moment, but I know there is value in speaking the truths I hope for, even if they don’t seem real…yet. But you have to commit. Don’t do the practice to make your sister shut up about it, or while rolling your eyes, or to appease me. Say to yourself, “What the heck. I’m going for it. I’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.” You will be surprised. After “going through the motions” for a bit, you will literally start to feel different. You’ll know the change in your body.
When Dave was ready, he created all new online profiles and took some new photos. He commented to me one day, as we looked through recent pictures together to select some good ones, “I even look different than I did before.” An avid reader, he decided to join a book club at his neighborhood library. He signed up for a local singles event. He noticed a difference right away. Women looked at him differently, approached him more readily, and signaled to him that they were interested. He had several dates that first month—one with a woman he met at the book club, and three with women he met through the two dating sites he used. Even though he did not seek a second date with any of the first three women, it was not because the dates were “disasters” as he once would have said. Why? Because they were not disasters! They were just typical first dates. He enjoyed them. They were what any first date should be: a chance to see if there was something worth pursuing.
The fourth date he had was with Lauren. That was 7 months ago. They are still dating.
Rule # 4: Have fun and let go of your expectations. Dating is about connections, not results. Be your own glorious self and get out there. Believe in yourself and in the universe. Be positive that you can and will find love—or a great person to date for a while (whatever you are looking for)—and then let go of expectations by living in the moment.