The relationship training I do with singles is based on the premise that dating, relating and connecting are art forms – you really need to know what you are doing. I have found that the overall biggest stumbling block is the prevailing lack of know how, which includes the fact that a number of key terms, concepts and common pitfalls are not on their radar, that the overwhelming majority of singles are not prepared for the realities of dating.
The most common pitfalls to be avoided are:
1. Not Knowing when You’re Flirting
2. Nothing More than Sex
3. ‘Being in’ or ‘Falling in Love’
4. “Splitting” Sexual and Emotional Intimacy
5. Confusing Feeling and Action
6. The Personalization Phenomenon
7. Why can’t you read my mind?
1 Not Knowing when You’re Flirting What is flirting? Flirting, like sex, is often exciting, stimulating and feels good. Flirting is a way to express interest and pique another’s interest by sexualizing the communication, while not making yourself vulnerable. Is a means of seduction, whether it’s verbal or non-verbal, conscious or unconscious, and usually involves little emotional risk or investment. What happens when you don’t know you are flirting is that you can mistake excitement and sexualized interest for rapport, which often results in an unconscious misperception and potential lapse of judgment. There is a tendency to make more of what is happening regarding the quality of rapport or level of intimacy than there actually is, which often leads to ill-fated decisions about who you get involved with and how involved you get. 2 Nothing More than Sex Another common pitfall is to mistake physical intimacy for emotional intimacy. Confusion is evident in the words often used to describe our sexual encounters. “We were intimate.” “We made love.” Emotional intimacy does not naturally accompany or follow sex. Even great sex in no way guarantees emotional intimacy or a great relationship. While it may often appear as if you are (emotionally) intimate when physically naked (or when having sex), they are mutually exclusive. There is no correlation be the two. Emotional openness, nakedness, vulnerability and connection are, in general, much harder to achieve than getting naked and having sex. Sex often becomes the preferred mode of interaction simply because it’s easier and pleasurable. What happens when you don’t distinguish between physical intimacy – sex, or great sex – and emotional intimacy, you lose objectivity and your ability to assess your experience. Similar to not knowing when you are flirting, when sexual attraction and excitement are mistaken for a great relationship in the making, you are at much greater risk of ill-fated decisions about who you get involved with and how involved you get. 3 Being or Falling in Love Romance is a state of mind - “you and me forever.” ‘Being in’ or ‘falling in’ love are altered states -- peak experiences – exciting, intense…but temporary. Although you may feel clear-headed and certain about each other, you forget that you are looking a lens of idealization, which leads to disillusionment and overwhelm when reality sets in. When you emerge for the altered state, the reality that every person is a “mixed bag” becomes irreconcilable. You lose interest and there is no longer a basis for continuing the relationship. When too much stock is placed on ‘being’ or ‘falling in love,’ you are again at risk of confusing being in love with being a good fit. As long as you understand that being or falling in love are not reliable predictors of the quality of the developing relationship, you’ll be far less likely to assume more of a relationship than there is and be unprepared for the ensuing crash when reality falls short of expectations. 4 Splitting Sexual and Emotional Intimacy For many people, sexual intimacy and emotional intimacy is an either/or situation. If they have sex, they will not be emotionally intimate. If they are emotionally intimate, they will be afraid that having sex or sexual feelings pose a threat to the relationship. They falsely believe having a relationship that’s both sexually and emotionally intimate are not possible. You can avoid falling into the trap of splitting sex and intimacy by being mindful, aware that you’re looking for both to exist together, be able to differentiate between the two, and act in a way consistent with what you are truly after. 5 Confusing Feeling and Action Maintaining the awareness that feeling and acting are separate entities makes it possible to enjoy the excitement without the risk of a lapse of judgment and decisions you’ll later regret. The importance of being able to distinguish between feeling and action also applies to feelings in general. When your emotions are triggered and you are reacting strongly to something, it works well to pull back, take some time to reflect, settle down, before deciding on a better course of action or communication. Understanding the difference between feeling and acting is the key to being able to enjoy your fantasies without being at risk of getting involved with the wrong person or relationship. Empowerment comes from your ability to assess the best course of action. 6 The ‘Personalization Phenomenon’ The personalization phenomenon occurs when you fall into the trap of taking what has been said or done personally and turning it into either a positive or negative self-affirmation, which leads to misperception. “That means… he or she likes me or doesn’t like me.” When this happens, your response is obviously based on wishful thinking or insecurity, rather than on what was actually happening, which leads to painful misunderstanding and miscommunications. Too often, we never check out how accurate our perceptions actually are. In effect, you’re having a relationship with yourself. 7 Why can’t you read my mind? Unspoken and unmet expectations are common pitfalls, i.e. expecting your partner to know how you feel or what you want without your making it explicitly known. If your partner picks up on how you feel and acts accordingly, s/he will obtain a high rating. If not, s/he will lose points. Guesswork and projection are not viable substitutes for vulnerability and risk-taking. If you don’t know, and you want to know, you must ask. If you want your partner to know how you feel or what you want, you must let him or her know explicitly. This is how two people get to know each other. While most people may understand that unspoken, unmet expectations are a set up for an upset or misunderstanding, they will still expect to or wish that your projections are accurate and that the other should be able to accurately pick up or interpret what is going on with you. Most of us have grown up in families of origin in which is unsafe or taboo express how we feel or what we want, land have learned to refrain from explicit communication, which fosters isolation and disconnection. You must understand that when it comes to getting to know each other, guesswork is not a viable shortcut, and vulnerability and risk-taking are unavoidable.