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Like so many people, I used to see dating as a stressful and taxing experience.
I had no idea just how enjoyable and life-affirming dating can be.
Ten years on, I now counsel people to experiment with mindful dating.
What on earth is that?
At the core of the mindful dating experience is letting go of trying to control every aspect of dating. Instead, you notice how you are behaving and, much more importantly, how you are feeling, then letting yourself effortlessly gravitate toward what feels good.
At some point, when I was battling through dating, as if it was an awful experience that I just had to get through to find the relationship I longed for, it dawned on me that treating dating like a visit to the dentist for a root canal wasn’t working. It was also not in the least bit joyful or affirming.
I decided to come at it somewhat differently.
The first thing I decided to try was to spend as much time as possible in the present moment. Of course, your mind will wander to past experiences you’ve had with other men, and it will also want to think about the future with whoever you’ve dating now. That is natural, and a little of that is fine. But too much of it and dating becomes a stressful experience.
I decided to apply mindfulness to the dating process, so when I noticed my mind wandering to the future, worrying about what a man might do next or obsessing about the past, for example fixating on an ex, I’d gently bring my mind back to the present and enjoy the moment.
I’ll give you an example. I’d been on a few dates with a nice guy and enjoyed myself. I thought it was going well. And then after date 3, he went quiet. The phone stopped ringing, and no texts arrived. I didn’t know when or if I’d see him next.
If you are not dating in a mindful way, in this situation, it is extremely easy to start feeling your stress levels rising. You find your mind in a constant state of worry, questioning, and doubt. It isn’t a nice experience at all. It feels like the only mental relief is when they finally get in touch, and if they don’t, we feel so disillusioned.
But this time, I’d been approaching things differently.
Whenever my mind started to rush ahead to the future, making plans, and piling a fledgling relationship high with expectations, I gently brought myself back to the present. I kindly reminded myself that I have no control over what’s going to happen. it’s important to just feel my feelings in the moment.
I had a little reminder phrase I’d use when I felt myself moving out of the present moment.
“I don’t know them yet. I’m going to relax and see what unfolds.”
And so, when this man stopped contacting me, I’d already developed a lot less expectations. I’d already internalised that I didn’t know them yet and that I was happy to let it unfold. It actually turned out he’d had a family emergency.
By not getting tied up in stressful knots, I could happily welcome him back when he resumed contact. But even if he hadn’t, it would have been just fine.
A moment of potential stress or waiting is a great time to really lean into your usual meditation practices to find that calm spot within yourself. In mindful dating, we embrace the adventure of life unfolding.
Mindful dating is not about suppressing your feelings. I let feelings come up and respect them. Sit with them for a while. If I was feeling sad or disappointed, I’d feel that feeling and then let it naturally pass through me and let it go.
A great way to hold on to your calm centre in the potential turbulence of dating can be to find a mantra that you use to anchor yourself. I would advise someone to allow themselves to feel what it is they would love to hear—either from a partner or for a friend or family member when they are talking about this area of their lives.
When I was dating, I found that what I longed to hear was that I was worth loving and holding on to. Every time I went swimming (which was a few times a week), I would swim lengths whilst saying this to myself: I, Nerina Villa, am worth loving and holding on to.
I soon found the phrase popping into my head many times a day. When I felt myself start to get buffeted around by the process of dating, I’d say it to myself and find I was coming from a much calmer place, a place where I could notice things without so much emotional turmoil.
And that, dear readers, made all the difference.
Slowly but surely, I was transformed from a bit of an emotional mess when dating to someone who loved the process. And in loving the process, I found the peace I needed within me to find the love I longed for.