Looking back on what I believed and was trying to make happen, I’m left questioning my apparent naïveté or idealism. Decades of working with individuals in recovery taught me that recovery is only just beginning after a sustained period of stabilization is achieved. I saw early-stage recovering clients venture out on their own, rearing to connect, but who invariably returned to therapy quite demoralized. They were unable to stay afloat in an ocean of other relationship- challenged people. The blind were leading the blind.
I wanted to believe that I could best serve my clients by being someone they could count on for unconditional support, and by providing a healthy point of reference, something that was sorely lacking in their families of origin. I believed that our therapeutic alliance would serve as a prototype or springboard that would shape how they relate to others or be a springboard from which they would make more meaningful and deeper connections.
The over-riding theme in the struggles I saw my clients going through was not only the lack of experience in meaningful and nourishing relationships and healthy role models, no one seemed to have a clue about how to relate and connect. I saw a glaring need and felt it was up to me to develop an accelerated training that would empower them with clear, specific principles, guidelines, strategies and an overall understanding of the process. The First Time you Meet Someone is a mindfulness-based training that teaches, step by step how to date, relate and connect. During and after the workshop, I leave it up to the attendees to apply the principles on their dates and any other relating encounters. Dating, relating and connecting are creative processes, art forms in themselves. As is the case with any art form, basic principles apply, specific skills are required and continuous practice is necessary to achieve proficiency. You also have to be highly motivated and hungry. Basic Principles 1 Relationships begin the first time you meet someone. Relationships begin the first time you meet someone. How two people relate when they first meet is a microcosm that replicates like a DNA molecule, that is, how they relate the first time they meet is how they will relate in subsequent encounters. Honesty breeds honesty; dishonesty breeds dishonesty; rapport breeds rapport. Every exchange counts; every minute, every hour you are together counts, whether during a single encounter or any other encounter. You are simultaneously, in a relationship and are in the process of developing one. 2 What is a date? We need a working definition of what a date is. A date is an agreed upon time-limited encounter, the sole purpose of which is to assess how you feel together, decide whether or not you would like to get together again, and then make the verdict (“thumbs-up or thumbs-down”) known. The suggested game plan is to explicitly establish a dating contract or partnership at the get-go, which entails agreeing for the both of you to spend your time assessing your respective experiences to determine whether or not you want to get together again, and to then communicate accordingly. We call this, “closing the date” with a verdict – “thumbs up” or “thumbs down.” 3 Enter into every relating encounter with a clean slate. “Clean slate” implies a state of mind characterized by openness, in the spirit of discovery, focusing your attention on how you feel and are responding to each other in the present moment. A clean-slate state of mind enables you to use the greatest level of objectivity when assessing your experience and to avoid being affected by prior experience. Like hitters, the goal is to always enter into the batter’s box in a clean-slate state of mind and taking it, one bat at a time, e.g. not to push harder as the result of a previous strikeout(s), or to be overly cocky as the result of being on a hot streak. Daters and relaters will have the best chances of making a connection or seeing a desirable outcome by taking it one date at a time, and being mindful to enter into each and every relating encounter in with a clean slate. 4 Relationships are cocreated. Relationships don’t just happen. They are not a matter of luck. You can’t will a relationship to happen. Every relationship is a joint-effort creation. Every relating encounter is a joint effort creation. Whatever happens is a function of person A’s and person B’s unique chemistry together. 5 Be committed to the process Commitment to the Process means: Entering into each and every relating encounter with unconditional interest (in seeing what happens) and conscious intention, always looking to connect and see what happens. (Like batters, daters should be inherently interested in the process, despite the fact that the odds of getting a ‘hit’ are stacked against them.) Committing to the process is the key to consistency and resiliency, and is what gets you through the highs and lows. 6 Intimacy begins with rapport. Rapport too, is a joint-effort creation. Rapport is the seed of intimacy. In order this principle to be of use to you, it is necessary that you have at least a conceptual understanding or picture of each one respectively. Rapport occurs when two people are engaged in conversation. They are listening and responding freely, spontaneously and truly to each other, neither is self-monitoring nor anticipating what is going to happen next. It’s a natural unfolding process untainted by a wish for any specific desired outcome. When there is rapport, there is a heightened level of mutual interest, honesty and understanding, and which can often remain a constant throughout the course of the developing relationship. 7 Distinguish sexual attraction and sex from emotional intimacy. A common pitfall is to mistake sexual attraction and/or sex for emotional intimacy. Confusion is evident in the words often used to describe our sexual encounters, such as. “we were intimate” and “we made love.” There is no correlation between sexual attraction and the quality of a developing relationship. Attraction can often have a blinding and distracting effect; it can prevent you from looking for or seeing other qualities, qualities that might otherwise limit the level of excitement.Being mindful of the distinction between being (physically) naked (or having sex, great sex, etc.) and being (emotionally) intimate, is key. There is no correlation between the physical aspects and the depth and substance of any single encounter or developing relationship. Sex is not sustainable. 8 Be prepared for the four basic dating scenarios and the challenges they pose. The Four Basic Dating Scenarios: 1. Both people are interested/attracted to ea other 2. You’re interested/attracted, the other is not 3. The other is interested/attracted, you’re not 4. Neither are interested/attracted Any one of these scenarios can happen at any time, and any one is guaranteed to happen when you are dating, but you’re not going to know which one you’re dealing with until you’re actually face-to-face with that person for awhile. Each scenario poses its own set of challenges. The challenges each pose: 1. Both people are interested in/attracted to each other. There is going to be a heightened level of excitement and intensity, just like being high on a drug. You’re adrenalized. Perceptual distortion and idealization occur; you’re objectivity is compromised and judgment impaired.There is going to be greater susceptibility to jumping to conclusions about character and compatibility, assuming more of a relationship than there is, and future tripping. 2. You’re interested and/or attracted, but the other is not. There will be the tendency to take the other’s response personally, e.g. you feel rejected or that it negatively reflection on you in some way. Many people’s sense of identity, self-worth and well-being hinge on the outcome of the date and whether or not their feelings are reciprocated. 3. The other is interested and/or attracted, but you’re not. The tendency in this case is to feel responsible for how the other responds or feels, e.g. hurt feelings. Many people go unconscious when in this situation– they momentarily check out’ or lie because saying they aren’t interested or “feeling it” might make them appear cold, insensitive or full of themselves. 4. Neither person is interested or attracted. The tendency in this case is to personalize the outcome (e.g. making it about you by attributing this common, everyday occurrence to something you must have done wrong). Deflation and demoralization are quite common after one or a series of such outcomes. Prepare for the future, handle the moment. The challenges each of the four basic dating scenarios pose are virtually the same challenges you will face in later stages of any relationship. When you gain experience dealing with the challenges they pose, chances are that you’ll be able to handle them later, when there is a lot more on the line given the heightened level of your emotional involvement and investment. Do not lose sight of the dual benefit of dating; an opportunity to meet and connect with someone new and to learn and grow from every encounter Consider dating to be an ideal training ground for the rigors of any lasting, intimate relationship.