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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The First Strategy:
Examine Your Hidden
Wishful thinking has not brought you love.
Neither has apathy, depression, denial, anger, panic, analyzing the problem, blaming the opposite sex, or cursing the bleak demographics.
So if you still want love in your life, the question is, what will bring you love?
The way to achieve any goal is first to know what the goal is and then to proceed unswervingly toward it, patiently but persistently overcoming any obstacles which present themselves-with perseverance, tenacity, and determination.
Yet in spite of all our obsessing about the state of relationships today, perseverance is one of the rarest qualities to be found among singles. We've all heard about the tortoise and the hare, but we failed to learn the lesson of the tortoise. Instead, we dash about like the hare, trying relationships that don't work, tormenting ourselves with theories, believing our excuses, following one false lead, then another, and finally, like the hare, simply falling asleep in the middle of the race.
Why do we long for love, yet fail to proceed in a determined fashion toward this goal? Why do we get sidetracked?
Ambivalence is one major reason. We aren't sure which race we want to be in or whether we want to be in any race at all.
Is love worth it?
Am I better off alone?
Is there anyone out there I could even tolerate?
Will I lose my independence?
Will I be too vulnerable?
Will I have to compromise too much?
Will my career suffer?
This book is about perseverance. But we can't talk about staying in the race until we talk about whether to race at all. That is the main stumbling block for most singles: not getting what we want in love, but knowing what we want. We keep ourselves from moving forward because we aren't sure which way we want to move.
The most important prerequisite for finding a satisfying intimate relationship is wanting one. Wholeheartedly, genuinely, earnestly, single-mindedly, and without reservation.
If you sincerely want an intimate partner, you are already beyond the roughest hurdle. But if you aren't altogether certain, then you need to take a close look at the issue of ambivalence and how to move beyond it.
Involuntary singles fall into two categories: singles who want a relationship but haven't met the right person yet; and singles who, whether consciously or unconsciously, are ambivalent. Distinguishing between the two types is difficult because their language is identical. Both kinds say, "I really want a wonderful relationship in my life." But the first type really means it. And the second type, as it turns out, doesn't. What the second type actually means is something more like, I want a relationship, but equally or more important to me is
onot having to take risks
oprogressing in my career
ohanging on to my great lifestyle
okeeping my secrets to myself
oproving I'm right that the opposite sex is the problem.
The ambivalent person is one who wants a relationship but who values something else equally-or more. The competing value will demand allegiance and will surreptitiously sabotage anything that stands in its way-like love.
Some singles are well aware of their ambivalence. They make statements like these:
oI want to be in a relationship, but I don't want to give up all I love about being single.
oI want to be in love, but I'm afraid of losing control.
oI'm torn between my career and my love life.
oMy lover is wonderful, but maybe I can do better.
oI want to be married, but I'm terrified of another divorce.
oI'm afraid what I'll gain won't be worth what I'll have to give up.
Ambivalence is especially powerful in its ability to keep you single when it remains unconscious. Many singles genuinely believe they want a relationship and are unaware of the injunctions that rule their lives and demand total compliance: "Thou shalt not risk. Thou shalt not reveal they secrets." These rules of survival, partly because they are unconscious, are far more influential in our lives than our conscious desire for love and connection.
I received a phone call from a woman named Michelle. She knew I was interviewing people and wanted the opportunity to tell me her story. She had participated in one of my workshops six months before. Michelle told me:
I totally discounted the issue of ambivalence when you talked about it. I couldn't think of any reason why I didn't want a man in my life. I felt ready! But after your workshop, I realized that in spite of all my new determination, I still wasn't doing anything about it. Whenever I planned to go to a singles event or answer an ad, I found a reason not to. I finally realized, I hate meeting men for the first time-under any circumstance. And I think avoiding those situations-which I dread-was a higher priority for me than finding someone. When I understood that that's what was going on, it really shocked me. Now, it takes a monumental effort every time, but I am forcing myself to meet men. I still don't like it, but it's getting easier, and I feel so good that I'm doing this. The way I force myself, by the way, is I always make my plans with a woman friend. Then it's much harder to back out.
Another woman spoke up during a workshop. She was thirty-nine and had her own successful public relations firm. She reported:
I know what my competing priority is! My career, my lifestyle. I don't know how I'd fit a man in! And I'm not sure I want to. I guess that's why I'm here. I think if I could find the right man, I'd want to make a commitment to him, but finding the right man seems so remote. But then, I don't do anything to try to meet him either. Ambivalent? Who, me?
Whether conscious or unconscious, ambivalence is one of the most common and most powerful reasons why singles who would like to be in a relationship still aren't. Reluctant to relinquish the advantages of singlehood, at the same time they fear they may be missing out on something wonderful in a committed relationship. Often, they are conducting an active search for a mate while secretly hoping inside that they don't find one. Or, they may be talking about how much they want love, but doing nothing toward that end.
If you are not wholeheartedly committed to love, and if you do not hold finding love as a top priority, you may be talking and behaving as though you want love but holding back on your follow-through.
Before we talk more about ambivalence in general, let me give you the opportunity to think about your own. How certain are you about what you most want in your life? How high a priority is love for you? What are your competing priorities?
Ask yourself this question: What is more compelling for you right now than finding a good relationship? List in your notebook anything in your life which seems to be a higher priority for you at this time.
With regard to each item on this list, ask yourself this question: How long will this continue to be a priority for me?
Some of your higher priorities may seem reasonable to you, and some may seem irrational. Search hard, and list everything which may be a competing priority.
To help you get started on the above experiment, here is
a sampling of responses that have been shared during my workshops:
Higher priorities for me right now than finding a relationship, and how long I expect each to be a higher priority:
Finding a job-three to six months
Paying off my debts-one year
Building my house-eighteen months
Getting my China fellowship-two years
Finishing my dissertation-six months
Not having to date and do the singles scene-forever
Keeping my life the way it is: career, kids, house, friends-five years???
Keeping my options open-forever
Nursing my hurt over my divorce-short time, I hope
Spending time with my kids-six years
Not having to waste time on mediocre relationships-forever
Retaining my independence, freedom to travel, etc.-a few more years?
The Age of Ambivalence
If you found in the above experiment that you have several competing priorities, or one very strong one, then you are not alone, for ours is the Age of Ambivalence.
Intimacy is both appealing and intimidating. Singlehood is both freeing and lonely. Men are supposed to be successful and family-oriented. Women are supposed to eschew patriarchy but love men.
In recent decades, singles have banded together to stand up to the larger society that views singles as flawed human beings. This "singles movement" has, fortunately, largely succeeded in achieving general acceptance of the single lifestyle. But it has also created an attractive alternative to coupling up, leaving a generation caught between two appealing choices. Now, both men and women search for love with one hand and sabotage it with the other. They come to my seminars on how to find love, yet spend the whole day convincing us all that love is restricting. Or they fall in love with married people. Or they keep themselves too busy to date but then complain about how hard it is to meet people. They dance around relentlessly on the edge of the pool, not willing to dive in and not willing to walk away, get dressed, and forget it.
The Living-Together Trap
Perhaps nothing symbolizes the ambivalence of our era better than the institution of living together. I am not referring here to couples who have a clear commitment to each other but have chosen not to get married. Rather, I refer to the couples who date for a while and then, because they don't want either to give it up or to commit to each other, decide to live together. Side by side, they stand on the edge of the pool, prolonging their mutual ambivalence rather than helping each other to move through it.
Janice and David, whom I met because they attended my workshops, are a case in point. David is a corporate attorney and Janice is the director of public relations and marketing at David's firm. They had worked at the same place for five years but met and began to date shortly after Janice got a divorce. David is a real romantic and pursued Janice steadily but gently. She responded cautiously but soon found she was very much in love. Yet every time I saw Janice, she was reporting another fight. It seemed David was more committed to the relationship than she was. Also, she had a hard time with David's two young boys and didn't like the way he treated them. They fought about other things, too. For example, Janice was critical of the way David dressed, and David would finally get tired of her nagging and blow up at her.
Months would go by before I saw one or the other of them, but each time the story was similar. They loved each other, but they were "having problems."
One day, Janice called me, all excited: she and David were buying a house together. "Oh!" I replied. "Are you getting married?"
"Heavens no!" she cried out. "I'm not ready for that. Living together is the best of both worlds. I still feel independent, but I have intimacy and companionship. This way, we'll know that we aren't staying together because of some vow, but because we choose to be together every day."
"And you know you can still choose to split every day, too," I wanted to add. That seemed to me to be the real advantage of their plan, but it remained unspoken. I also wanted to ask her, "Have you considered a trial separation?" but it seemed the wrong question to ask at that moment. Besides, I knew it would be useless.
David and Janice were both ambivalent about their relationship, and they were not willing to face their ambivalence directly and resolve it. Instead, they institutionalized it. They actually agreed with each other to remain on the fence for as long as they could both stand it.
The epilogue to this story is that David and Janice lived together for two years, spent a small fortune on couple counseling, and then, with a great deal of mutual resentment and pain and two angry little boys, broke up.
Living together is a fundamentally ambiguous partnership which represents the worst of both worlds rather than the best. As a single, you lose the freedom of exploring new relationships, having your own place to bring people home to, making your own decisions, setting your own schedule. You're not really single anymore.
But you aren't able to explore genuine intimacy either, because the cloud of uncertainty that hangs over the relationship precludes it. You never get to experience the unfolding that begins to occur in a relationship of complete trust. You may feel inhibited about releasing tension in a great gush of anger because every time you fight, the entire relationship could be up for grabs. Rather than furthering exploration of the subtle reaches of deep intimacy, moving in together usually shifts the focus to mundane issues like who's going to do the shopping. Neither singlehood nor an intimate bond is served by institutionalizing the ambivalence no one has the courage to resolve. All you get is more information about your daily habits-one of the easiest things to work out eventually if genuine, unabridged love is there in the first place.
When it first became popular, living together looked like a revolutionary solution to the problem of marrying prematurely for logistical reasons. The idea was to have a "trial marriage" before making the big commitment. But too often it has turned out to help couples postpone decisions that would serve them far better in the long run than living for months with one foot in the relationship and one foot out the door.
The "I'm Trying" Trap
Ambivalence kept Janice and David in a difficult relationship. But for many singles, ambivalence keeps them alone. They institutionalize their ambivalence by "trying" to find love.
I once told a Gestalt therapist that I was trying to lose weight.
"Trying isn't enough," she told me. "Here." She threw a pencil on the floor. "Try to pick up this pencil."
I bent over and picked it up.
"No," she said. "I didn't say pick it up. I said try to pick it up." Then I reached and reached for the pencil. I touched it; I moved it. "I'm trying," I said. But the pencil never got picked up.
I got the message: Committing oneself to trying to accomplish a goal is very different from committing oneself to accomplishing the goal.
But ambivalent singles try a lot. They may think they are committed to the goal of finding a lover, but they are not at all committed to the process they must go through to achieve the goal.