Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mindless Dating

Meeting Other Mind-Bodies

I'm supposed to meet the woman of my dreams soon, so I thought I would give myself a little bit of dating advice.  I'm proposing a simplified model of human interaction, in the hopes that we can meet better.  While it discusses how we relate to Miss Actual, it's relevant to how we meet anyone, love interest to business counterpart.

Perceiving aMiss
We pack a lot of baggage for our date with Miss Actual.  Our baggage helps us sort her into predefined categories of attractiveness or intellectual compatibility.  We idealize her into Miss Desired with a template created from our parents, exes, movies, and even past hurt we seek to repeat, avoid, or resolve.  We rationalize her into Miss Perceived with an identity accumulated over years from home, family, and education.  We have no choice but to disregard whole parts of her like Miss Ignored we can't categorize.  When our categorizing mind quiets down, we can witness Miss Experienced with our intuiting heart.  This is what our date with Miss Actual actually looks like:

Too Many Misses 
So our date with one person (Miss Actual) is actually better described as a relationship to four different Misses.  Here's how we interact with them:

Miss Actual:  She’s infinitely complex, but fortunately, we can reduce her complexity with a few handy mental categories.  We understand the world by dividing it up the way we divide ourselves, so our categories ultimately come from our own experience.  Only when the categories disappear can we experience her whole.

Miss Desired:  Combining bits of ex-girlfriends we haven’t fully mourned, the mother Freud says we still desire, the ideals handed to us from magazines, and even the hurt we fly to like moths, our first priority is to idealize Miss Actual other into Miss Desired.  We are attracted to her, we are scared of her, she scratches the itch we have deep, deep inside.  We are continually disappointed when Miss Actual fails to measure up to Miss Desired.  How inconsiderate of her, postitively contemptible.  (And contempt predicts divorce, by the way.)

Miss Perceived:  We then deconstruct Miss Actual into concepts like personality, political ideology, career potential, and ethnicity.  Miss Perceived is the right choice with our lives, someone our family might, someone who really understands us.  When we hate Miss Perceived but still love Miss Desired, we enjoy a dead-end relationship.  Happy with Miss Perceived but not with Miss Desired, our relationship makes sense on paper, but there is no spark.

Miss Ignored:  When we decompose Miss Actual into Miss Desired and Miss Perceived, we get Miss Ignored for free.  She taps her foot on the ground, is a little aloof and complains about how you “never listen.”  Our tyrannical judgment has already checked out -- since we've traveled a bunch and read novels, there isn't really much more to understand about Miss Actual.  

Miss Experienced:  Miss Experienced shocks us when we let down our guard and stare into Miss Actual's eyes, ignoring both Miss Desired and Miss Perceived.  She does not fit in our predefined checklist or follow our ideology, and she only exists for the blink of an eye.  With her, we have the experience of losing ourselves while connected to our body and the present.  Incomprehensible and mysterious, Miss Experienced has that “je ne sais quoi.”

How do you simplify the madness, and avoid projecting your neuroticism onto her?  How do you honor the beautiful, unprecedented human being in front of you, using both your categorizing mind and intuiting heart?  Here's a radical idea.  Imagine the person sitting in front of you is your soul mate, someone you will be spending the rest of your life with.  How would you treat them if they were actually *the one*?  What kind of attention would you give them?  Would you be listening so well that you might even mirror their body language, posture, and tone quality?  Research has shown the mirroring puts your partner at ease, is a potential basis for empathy, and promotes connection.  It's also a great way to bring yourself back to the moment, if categorizing mind has taken you on a fieldtrip.  Think of your date as meditation, a medAtation, if you will.

Taking Attendance
Don't worry, you won't lose your analytical mind.  You will have plenty of judgments about her personality, beauty, ambition and everything else.  In addition to categorizing her, can you stare directly into her eyes and lose track of time?  In addition to your perception, can you also have a feeling of what's going on in your body, the blood in your veins, the pace of your breath, the smell of your meeting?  Can you act and respond from your body wisdom as well as your mind?  You will continue to wonder what she's like in the sack, or if she completes your fairy tale.  You will continue to remember how your ex used to squint like her, or how awesome it is she also studied sociology.  The present is your periodic refuge from the neurotic past and fantastic future.

To be clear, I'm not advocating you drool or grin like an idiot. Just be ruthlessly present, habitually attentive.  On one of my dates, I stared, quietly, for a few minutes into the eyes of another.  It's terrifying, it's freeing, it's calming, and it's totally mindless.  If you are already attracted, it gives you a clever rationale to allow your attraction to show.  If you aren't attracted, well wouldn't it be great if you could make this person feel beautiful? And isn't this the kind of attention you would want for yourself anyway?  What if they have a glimpse of something that you will see again in Miss Perfect?  Sometimes I wonder if the smile on her, the sheen of that hair, these piercing eyes, this gait, those eyebrows are actually things I will see again

For those of you fearing commitment, it can be scary to let your inhibitions go for even a second.  But it will give you a risk-free chance to practice, like running a mile to prepare for a marathon.  Can you manage to give 100% commitment even for a split-second, without feeling any obligation?  You can still duck out later if you get bored.  But if you have given all of your heart for even an instant, and you didn't glimpse beauty, you can rest assured you weren't with the Miss Right.

What if you make the wrong impression?  What if you act too vulnerable or too interested?  What if you "play your hand" too early and you lose the game?  Well, here's where you've got to make some choices, gumshoe.  If you want to score with someone who's playing hard to get, go read The Game.  If you want to win the game of life, find yourself someone who you enjoy staring at for the rest of your life.

Love as presence
We could even define love simply as complete attention in the now.  Doing so neatly avoids some of the common pitfalls of love.  If you are completely in the moment, there is no fear, as there is no fearful self.  There is no obligation or expectation or consequence or commitment or disappointment, because there are no future moments.  There is no emotional baggage to contend with, as there is no past.  How is this different than your definition of love?  

While a few friends thought this definition of love lacked fear or permanence, or failed to distinguish infatuation or unrequitedness, I was happy to leave these out.  One thing I thought was lacking was spontaneity.  Love is not something you manufacture, it just happens to you when you aren't looking.  Unless you are made of love.  In which case Rumi would tell you, “Your task is not to seek love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”

I don't mind
So far, I've distinguished "mind" vs. "heart" and "reason" vs. "intuition" in an oversimplified manner, given what we know about neuroscience.  Clearly emotions are felt in the mind as well as heart, and reason and intuition are deeply intertwined.  In fact, scientific experiments on awareness, presence and meditation are often called "mindfulness" research.  But still, I think you understand when I contrast the "categorizing" and "rational" parts of the mind with a more present, body-based intuitive quality.  I'm claiming that we have developed our rational skills plenty, and practicing our intuition will help us actualize into wholer beings.  In dating, as in life, perhaps we will get closer to being mindful by trying out the mindless.

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