November 9, 2023

A Question (& Exercise) to Ponder & Reflect On.


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A friend and I were conversing the other day while she was excitedly getting ready to go on a date with a new potential suitor.

He is a person from the real world (versus the online one), and although they’ve met briefly in person once already, she doesn’t know him all that well.

As a more introverted type, she asked me (her extroverted life coach friend) to help her brainstorm potential topics to talk about.

Our combined list looked somewhat like this:

1. Love languages. Can you guess what each other’s primary giving and receiving language is? (As a reminder and in no particular order: Acts of service, quality time, gifts, touch, words of affirmation.)

2. Astrology. Can you guess one another’s star sign?

3. Thoughts on pets: dogs > cats > pet tarantulas?

4. Marmite. Discuss.

5. Do ghosts have teeth?

Of course, this is all a bit tongue-in-cheek (but really do ghosts have teeth?). Yet we need to remember this is the initial stage of getting to know someone. And whilst it is important to elicit key information up-front, we are not interviewing someone for the position of future life partner, at this stage.

As Logan Ury, author of How Not To Die Alone, and all round dating guru advises: the purpose of a first date is to establish if you want to see them again, not whether this is the person you are going to spend the rest of your life with!

So, this exercise got me thinking, and I ended up adding one additional question to the list.


Do you come with an instruction manual, and if so, what does it say?

I love this as a question, but also as an exercise to ponder and reflect on.

Let me state my case:

1. A good answer to this requires a certain amount of self-awareness. At the end of the day, not only do you want to know what gets you going (and what triggers you!), but you want to be interacting with people who have such self-awareness, amiright?

2. It is our responsibility to not only know how we work as humans, but it’s also up to us to help communicate this to the people around us. Who are we really and how can others work best with us? As Alain de Botton argues in his book, The Course of Love, the “sulking” phenomena arises when two people rather than openly communicating their wants and needs with one another expect one another to perfectly “intuit” what the other one is thinking:

“At the heart of sulk lies a confusing mixture of intense anger and an equally intense desire not to communicate what one is angry about. The sulker both desperately needs the other person to understand and yet remains utterly committed to doing nothing to help them do so. The very need to explain forms the kernel of the insult: if the partner requires an explanation, he or she is clearly not worth of one. We should add that it is a privilege to be the recipient of a sulk: it means the other person respects and trusts us enough to think we should understand their unspoken hurt. It is one of the odder gifts of love.”

Are you anxiously or avoidantly attached? A mixture of both? Well we might want to let any future potential partner know that and help them understand what they can do to work with us better.

3. Transparency as a birthplace of compassion. Sometimes the things that we value are not the same things that others value. Hopefully, somewhere along the line, some of those values line up, but often the order of priorities can be different. If we understand what’s in another’s instruction manual and are able to communicate this in an open, honest, and transparent way, it can help us rest in the shoes of another.

You might value order whilst another might value spontaneity. What might it look like to let the order slide for one evening and dance in the mess to allow the other freedom of expression? What about if you asked thoughtful engaging questions about a topic you find mind-numbingly boring, in service of seeing the other light up in being given the opportunity to talk about what gets them going.

There is an important kind of service in dropping out of “me” and into the inter-relationality of how “me” and “we” connect, and it leads to not only a greater sense of self-awareness but also to a deeper level of compassion.

As an exercise, I decided to write my own instruction manual. I took some time and gave it some thought and am sharing in the hopes it inspires others to write their own.

My instruction manual:

1. Handle with care; I’m a sensitive soul.

2. Overcommunication is better than under-communication. Talk to me; there isn’t any topic that’s out of bounds.

3. Help me understand boundaries and parameters. What exactly are we working with here? Let’s work to find a solution that meets both our needs.

4. Spend time with me and let’s do fun things together. My definition of fun is broad. We can have a crazy wild weekend in Amsterdam or alternatively meditate in a field of daisies underneath a starlit sky. I get a kick out of novelty, seeing and doing new things.

5. For extra brownie points, you can gift me an elastic band you found on the floor that you said reminds you of me because of its flexibility, and I will literally keel over right there and then from this simple but profound act of kindness.

So herein lies my challenge from me to you. If you had an instruction manual, what would it say? Take some time to reflect on it, condense it down, and write it out in three-to-five bullet points. And then share it with people you are interacting with. Could be potential dates, new friends, old friends, colleagues, or even family who have known you for years.

Getting to know yourself and then adequately communicating that to the people around you is never a bad idea.

So, what will yours say?


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