I am a big fan of internet dating sites—for many reasons, including the fact that I met my life partner through eHarmony. But an equally important reason is the opportunity these sites offer my coaching clients for practicing and honing their communication skills. Dating sites are a great place for “practicing being yourself.”
The idea of “practicing being yourself” is an idea that is currently gaining popularity among growth-oriented singles. Since the book Truth in Dating http://www.susancampbell.com/products/books/truth.htmlcame out in 2004, I have coached many singles in the art of using their early communications with possible dating partners as a “practice,” a yoga of communication. Anyone who has ever practiced yoga or meditation knows about the concept of practice. A practice is a discipline that you take on intentionally in order to expand your awareness and enhance your capacity to experience life to the fullest.
So, since internet dating is actually a pretty low-stakes relationship, I think it offers a perfect vehicle for taking risks and being yourself—for stretching your comfort zone, just like in yoga. My dating coaching clients find this perspective incredibly freeing. Can you imagine how good it would feel to know you can say what you really feel without playing it so safe? Or maybe you have a list of questions you’d like to ask someone but have been inhibiting yourself due to a fear of being seen as pushy.
If you make it your conscious intent to grow inwardly stronger through taking interpersonal risks, then outcomes like being judged or rejected (by someone you hardly know) begin to carry less weight. I recommend daters do this type of “risk-taking as a practice” while you’re still at the emailing or telephoning stage of internet dating. That way, it might hurt to hear a “No,” but it won’t hurt as much.You’ll receive this feedback in a less intense way than if you were sitting face to face with the person. And you will get better at dealing with rejection if you make this your intention.
Getting less fearful will make you more spontaneous and delightful because you are going to be more relaxed, present, and open vs having your mind clogged up with worries about the future. When you focus too much attention on “how am I being perceived?” you’re going to come across stiff, phony, or boring.
So how does one begin to practice “dating as yoga?” As I said, it starts with making this your conscious aim. After this, here are some additional steps to take:
1. Reflect back on your recent email or telephone exchanges with possible dating candidates, and ask yourself, “When have I felt or thought something that I did not express?” Did this fact—the fact that I was not saying what I was feeling—affect my sense of relaxation or openness? Notice this. And value whatever you notice.
2. Ask yourself, “What was I afraid of? What is the reason I tell myself for not being more honest?”
3. Then ask, “If I had felt completely safe (if I had not been controlled by my fear), what would I have said?” Now, say these words inside your own mind right now—just as if you were saying them to the other person. This gives you practice taking emotional risks.
4. Now, notice how you feel saying these words. Whatever you feel, you are now getting in the habit of noticing or witnessing your feelings (vs being consumed by your feelings). This practice brings you into the present moment, so you're less worried about possible outcomes. Communication that comes from such presence is always more alive than communication that comes from trying to get a certain outcome. And you are getting practice noticing your feelings as you speak. This,too, is good practice for “being present.”
5. And finally, ask yourself if you’d like to try revealing to this other person whatever it was that you did not feel safe to reveal before. If your answer is Yes, then during your next communication with this person, go ahead and say the words you said to yourself in item #3 above.
These five steps will get you started. They also help you put more of your attention and self-valuing on being aware in the moment vs getting a predictable outcome. “The outcome” is something you cannot control. So if you tend to base your self-esteem on whether someone approves of you, which is not in your control, your self-esteem is on shaky ground. It might be a good idea to make the shift to valuing and appreciating yourself more when you show up real. That’s something you can control. And the fact is, when you’re less concerned with rejection, you’re more attractive to others. That’s the paradox of dating: the less you worry about being loved, the more loveable you become.