Friday, September 30, 2011

Finding Love After Loss: Are You A People Pleaser?

Are you afflicted with the dreaded People Pleaser Syndrome?

Before the loss of my first husband, I know I certainly exhibited the major symptom inherent in a people pleaser, which is putting the desires and needs of everyone else before your own. Although I am somewhat recovered, remnants of my former self do linger, for, at my essence, I simply like to do things for other people and please them.

There is a subtle difference now, though. Previously, I would give and give, only to eventually feel depleted with nothing left to sustain myself. Today, I have stronger boundaries and, although I do try to please, I complete this action in a healthier manner. What it comes down to is that I allow myself to say “No!” and not feel guilty when I do so.

Learning to temper my enthusiasm for only pleasing others, at times to my own detriment, has allowed me to actually become better at helping others. I know that when I feel balanced and replenished, it is much easier to extend a hand outward.

As you move into the dating world, you will be encountering all different types of people. Some are givers; some are takers, and it is not always evident at a first glance or even after many glances. That is why it is always a good idea to take your time getting to know someone.

Although seemingly innocuous, a people pleaser could actually use his/her skills to control his/her environment and the people who reside in it. If everyone is seemingly happy (because the people pleaser has fulfilled all wants and desires), then all should be copacetic in his/her world. This type of people pleaser is one that never wants to rock the boat, so he/she sublimates his/her own needs and makes sure there are never any arguments or even minor disagreements.

Unfortunately, emotions that are continually pushed below the surface usually erupt and, when they do -- watch out! Often times, it is like a dormant volcano spewing out for the first time. Both parties are surprised by its virulence, for there was no warning in the calm life that was being led.

The acts of recognizing your inherent traits and then modifying the unhealthy ones both fall under the readiness process to complete before dating with intention. Of course, practice is always encouraged, for it is in these practice dates that we learn a lot about ourselves.

As for people pleasing … never fear; there are ways to mitigate this tendency!

Recognize that fear can reside underneath the desire to continually please. It is usually a fear of rejection, if the pleaser would stop catering to those closest in his/her life. Since all actions stem from two emotions, love or fear, change the motivating factor in yours to love. This includes learning to love and respect yourself and your own time. Realize and accept that you can be a caring, loving (and even pleasing) person towards others at the same time you can care, love and please yourself.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Finding Love After Loss: Organizing Your Dating Life

When dating becomes your full time job,
it becomes necessary to use the right tools 
to keep track of your prospective dates.

Sixteen years ago, I found myself a young widow with two sons to raise on my own. At first the world was a dark place, and I needed to learn how to survive the slings and arrows of everyday life as a single, bereaved parent. After mastering that task, next, I set out to learn how to thrive in my new situation and environment … or what had become my new normal.

Dating was the last thing on my mind, although the occasional thought that it might be nice to have a new partner with whom to share my life did cross my mind. Many years down the road, I took the plunge and started Internet dating. Through this venue, I found a new happily ever after.

Let’s rewind, though, to the beginning of my adventure. And an adventure it was, which is the only way to think about dating in order to be successful! 

Diving into the dating pool was a big leap of faith for me because I knew NOTHING about how to date. My late husband was my one and only boyfriend, for I met him at the tender age of 15 and married at 20 upon our college graduations.

However, what I did know was how to be organized and set goals. As I excitedly embarked upon my new journey, I decided I would use my organizational skills and business tools to keep track of my dates. After all, at this point in my life, dating had become my new job. Consequently, I thought the best course of action would be to use the business tools at my disposal! 

Brenda Spangrud of S.O.R.T.E.D. suggests using systems that are accommodating, easy to use, and which don’t require weekend catch-up sessions to get things back in order. And that is exactly the type of program I implemented.

For those of you who have never Internet dated, upon posting a profile with a dating site, you immediately become a target for a tremendous amount of e-mail contact. You are the “new kid on the block” and everyone is anxious to meet you … at least in cyberspace. It can actually be overwhelming, if you are not prepared for the onslaught. And, if you have signed onto multiple sites at the same time, you exponentially increase the communications you will receive.

Thinking organizationally, I pondered what would be the best way to handle this situation and which tools would provide the most expedient result. I decided to use both Word and Excel. 

There is usually an introductory get to know you e-mail that is sent to prospective dates. I thought, “Why should I write basically the same paragraph repeatedly?” Instead, I penned a response in Word and then simply copied and pasted it into my correspondence. This gave me the opportunity to have a few extra moments to personalize the salutation and add a few lines at the end that showed I actually read the person’s profile! 

My master file also included a recap of personal tidbits I thought appropriate to share with prospective dates. I could then pick and choose which were applicable and the timing in which I would send them. 

Additionally, I had the standard rejection note in my Word document, which read: “Thank you for connecting with me. I don’t believe we are a match, though. I wish you the best of luck in your dating endeavors.” I am a big stickler for courtesy, so even if I wasn’t interested, I felt it necessary to acknowledge a contact. Cyberspace can be a cruel place, and it only takes a minute to respond – especially if it only means copying and pasting!

Using “stock” answers may seem cold, but when your mailbox is filled with queries, there is no possible way you could answer each one if you had to start from scratch every time. I’m not suggesting this procedure be used for long – only at the inception of the contact. This way you can review your correspondence and figure out which ones spark your interest enough to continue communicating.

So, here I was corresponding with many men at the same time and sometimes having a coffee date, a lunch date and a dinner date on the same day! 

As an aside I chose three places where I always scheduled my first meetings. If it was just coffee, then I suggested a French cafeteria, Le Madeleine, where there was the option of getting a snack also. For lunch or dinner, my choice was Sammy’s, a California Kitchen-like restaurant, which had a nice variety of very reasonably priced salads and light fare. If we were meeting for a drink, I chose Z Tejas, a comfortable place to have a drink, and, if things went well, the date could progress to a meal. These were conveniently located near to my home and all in the same well-lit shopping plaza. 

I frequented Le Madeleine the most often, and I always wondered if the staff thought I was a “working girl” who never came in with the same man twice. It made me chuckle to myself every time and was one of the things that kept a smile on my face throughout the date!

However, I digress … so how was I going to keep track at which stage I was with each man, for example, was I on date two or three or which information about me had I already sent by e-mail? This is where the use of the Excel spreadsheet was invaluable.

I had a master list that included those with whom I had initiated contact and the ones who had contacted me first. Excel also gives you the option to copy a profile picture into your file. This helps to link names and faces. The master list is important because many people are on multiple sites and sometimes use different “handles” as a user name. You want to make sure you are not contacting the same person more than once or they you. If one rejection is hard enough, two from the same person is certainly not twice as much fun!

You can also utilize the multiple tabs Excel offers. There are many people with whom you will only interact once. There are some that will make the cut for a second or third date.** By the time you are at your third date, you can discard the spreadsheet because your interactions will be more personalized. However, if the relationship goes further, you may want to copy and paste the e-mails exchanged into a Word document. This lets you remember what you said and the response you received. Reading these more than once can give you added insight into a person who you don’t know well. It is also easier to have them in one place, rather than having to refresh your memory by flipping back and forth between past e-mails. 

**Note: In my dating career, I did institute the “Two-to-Three Date” Rule, which says you should give a date more than one chance (and preferably three) before writing him or her off completely. These are strangers you are meeting and you don’t know what is going on in their lives that might cause them to be nervous, shy, tongue-tied, etc. on a first date. By a third date, you should be able to determine whether the relationship is worth pursuing further.

Utilizing both Word and Excel for tracking purposes in the manner I have outlined will allow the dating process to be less intimidating and time-consuming, as well as provide the opportunity to meet many more people. Dating is really a numbers game; the more people you meet, the better your chance of meeting someone special with whom you can connect on a deeper level.

It is possible to be organized AND have lots of fun! It worked for me, and it can work for you! I met my husband only after 11 months of Internet dating, and we have been happily married for 8 years.

Rather listen than read about organizing your dating life? Watch the video.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Examining The Institution of Marriage, Part II

The divorce rate in the United States for a first marriage is 41%; for a second marriage, 60%; and for a third marriage, 73% (per Pretty depressing statistics, especially as they rise with subsequent marriages. Logically, you might think that one would learn some lessons after the first time and use these in a subsequent relationship. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Let’s try to understand why.

As you begin your dating forays, you may encounter many men and women who are divorced after being married for 25 to 30 years. When you inquire what led to this turn of events, even the participants cannot give you a concrete answer. I would venture to guess that they lived in an unsatisfactory or unfulfilling state for a long time in order to give their children a stable upbringing. When the children came of age and left the family nest, these people decided to see if there was anything “more” out there.

The painful truth is that generally they are not able to find more, for it is their attitude towards life, relationships, and love that make them feel lacking or unfulfilled. A new partner will not be able to fill up that hole in their soul. They may experience the exhilaration of a new romantic relationship, but soon the shine will fade and they will be left with the same feeling of melancholy and want.

They are not necessarily to blame, though. Society has programmed its members to think of marriage as the pinnacle of relationship success, while, in fact, it is simply a social institution originally conceived to bring financial comfort and emotional stability to its participants, as well as being a vehicle for having children. As children, we had a romanticized version of marriage ingrained in our brains and so we grow up thinking that our partner will “telepathically know our thoughts; the relationship will be conflict free; and our partner will make us feel fulfilled on all levels.” This leaves most people unprepared for marriage, for it is hard work to live with another person.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with marriage, although you must look at it realistically. Marriage both “adds things to your life and takes things away.” It is necessary to pick your battles and decide “what part of yourself you’re willing to let go.” At times, you may also need to trade one feeling for another. You must decide which ones are important to you and, when you attain them, not be disappointed by their ramifications. Consider this pyramid of feelings as stated in Marriage Confidential and decide what you want. Is it stability, security and constancy, and, if so, are you willing to give up the highs of excitement sometimes associated with danger or lust?

Despite the high prevalence of divorce, people have not abandoned the institution. Mark Mather and Diana Lavery tell us that “although marriage rates have dropped among young adults, it is important to note that most young adults will go on to marry later in life. The probability of an adult getting married at some point during their lifetime is still nearly 90 percent.”

How can you avoid becoming a statistic?
The best antidote to divorce is to pick your partner well. Take your time to truly get to know your intended. Observe him or her in all types of situations. Discuss the vision of your life before you get married, which includes the possibility of children and finances, to name just two topics. Come to know his/her family and their eccentricities. This is often the best indicator of the type of behavior you can expect from your mate.

Before you step into marriage, it is also imperative to adjust your expectations. Once, women, especially, came to marriage inexperienced and untouched. There may have been arranged marriages or couples married young for convenience and economic reasons. Today, young adults are taking their time getting married and, most probably, have been a participant in other relationships. Women are also self-supporting and can have children without a husband, so the desperate need for marriage to accomplish one’s goals is tempered; instead, one looks for another to enhance his/her life. Yet, despite all these advances, women (and men too) expect marriage to be the answer to their problems. They want it all and may still harbor the thought of attaining the fairytale of romantic love.

Instead, Kristina Zurcher (as quoted by Haag in Marriage Confidential) says that marriages ideally should be “stronger, more lasting and about more than romantic love” which is after all a highly perishable good and may have a short expiry date (aka the honeymoon period).

Don’t get me wrong; I am not negating the romance part of a relationship. I’m all for it and believe you need to find something that makes you fall in love with your partner every day. However, to sustain a relationship for the long term, one must also be realistic and, above all, cultivate patience.

You simply cannot expect to be “happy” (whatever that means to you) every moment of every day. Also, you should not expect your partner to be responsible for your happiness; that is your job! Let go of narcissistic thoughts; it’s not always about you and what you need! Many times you must sublimate your feelings for the good of the relationship. Change is constant, so the wheel will turn and you and your needs will have a chance to be at the top, too.

So, if you are in the midst of a melancholy, low level conflict relationship and asking yourself “Should there be more?” OR “Why don’t I feel happier?” then look within and examine what it is that you think is missing and if you necessarily have to leave your relationship to get it. This constitutes part of the “work” you must do to nurture your relationship. Contrary to popular thought, relationships are not disposable! Open your eyes to the opportunities that always surround you that can help you discover your passion and then bring your enthusiasm back to your relationship vs leaving the relationship in order to pursue it. Your inner excitement can be contagious and rekindle the fire of love with your partner!

Marriages, and relationships in general, do not have to turn into hotbeds of discontent over the long haul, as long as the partners strive to keep it alive and vibrant … and, all the while, BEING NICE to each other.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Examining The Institution of Marriage, Part I

“There is no product in the world
(except perhaps commercial Xerox machines)
that has a 50% breakdown rate and is still in business.
Change the institution.”
Raoul Felder, divorce attorney

For those of you looking for love the second time around, or even for the first time, does the whole world feel like it is coupled except you … and is that making you feel worse about your single status?

I’ve heard that sentiment from many a client, and the first thing I tell him/her to do is to take a good, long, hard look at all his/her friends that are married or in solid, monogamous relationships. After this examination, next, let me know how many he/she thinks are truly happy. The answer is sometimes surprising. If you complete this exercise, you may find yourself hard pressed to come up with more than one or two couples who are completely enthralled with their relationship.

Dr. Pamela Haag, author of Marriage Confidential, contends that many married couples exist in a state of melancholy. “They have a brooding sadness around them that often lacks an obvious, concrete cause.” These couple often ask themselves, “Is this all there is?” or “Is it ever going to be any better than this?” Most of these marriages are low conflict ones – that is, there is not a lot of contention, and when the partners are asked if they are generally satisfied, the answer is “Yes, but …”

It is the “but” that causes people to think about how the grass looks greener on the other side … that a new partner/new relationship will make him or her feel better or allow him/her to recapture his/her dreams of youth.

According to Haag, the “but” consists of “withered passion, boredom, lack of affection, lost affinities or a world-weariness that has beset the marriage.” However, she found in many cases, these did not seem enough to break up the relationship; it did, though, leave one or both of the partners feeling as if something was missing.

If these issues are not addressed, it can lead to further estrangement. When couples focus on what they feel is missing, instead of concentrating on the good features of the relationship and nourishing them, those in a low conflict, nebulously unhappy marriage can easily end up walking towards divorce.

In the next post, I'll address how the lessons we are taught in childhood program us for failure in our relationships. 

Friday, September 2, 2011

Finding Love After Loss: Overcoming the Fear of Rejection

Is the fear of rejection holding you back from jumping into the dating arena?

Did you ever consider that the people with whom you will interact are also afraid of rejection? Chances are, they are either faking it until they make it or have discovered ways to quiet that little voice in their head that says, “You are not good enough.”

When the dating pool is entered, especially after a long hiatus, there is a tendency for both men and women to revert to teenage behavioral patterns. Fear of rejection is probably #1 on that list. Considering that it is much easier to be the rejecter than the rejected, there are various ways daters protect themselves. In truth, many reject everyone, cutting off the possibility of being rejected.

So how is this fear usually manifested? Some are too aggressive in their attitude towards others. This is usually bravado rearing its ugly head; a person barrels in so not to think about the situation that is causing fear to rise. Others wear an unapproachable countenance and strike a "stay away from me" stance. In essence, this is daring anyone to cross over the line into the imaginary protective circle which has been drawn. As am aside, keep in mind that sometimes this behavior is simply indicative of shyness. A shy person often appears aloof and not interested in others. However, underneath his/her exterior, he/she is hoping someone will strike up a conversation and help put him/her at ease.

As you can see from these few illustrations, if you exhibit these behaviors you are the one who is doing the rejecting -- or, at least, so it seems!

How can you overcome the fear of rejection?

1. First, you need to determine your goal. If it is to have a happy social life then you need to change your behavioral patterns so you don’t negate your efforts.

2. Keep in mind that it is not always about YOU! In these stressful times, each person has a lot of issues with which to deal. Upon meeting a stranger, it is impossible to know what is going on in his/her life at that moment in time. Behavior that seems like a rejection may have nothing to do with you, although it is very likely you will take it personally. Your self-worth must not be tied to whether you are accepted or rejected by others.

3. Move slowly as you develop your new relationships. People get scared for a variety of reasons and may retreat – again, not because of you but because of their own issues. When you take baby steps and incorporate a non-demanding attitude, you are establishing a safe environment in which to explore possible deeper feelings.

4. Be on the lookout for encouraging remarks and actions that let you know the other person is interested. If he or she is receptive to your advances, there is less of a chance of rejection. And if you are the one giving the encouraging hints, sometimes you have to be less than subtle!

5. If you don’t have any expectations then it is difficult to be disappointed or hurt by rejection. This is the best way to approach dating.

When you have experienced the loss of a partner, it is a type of rejection. Naturally, you want to protect yourself from more loss and so you may hide your vulnerability under many layers. Unfortunately, this has the opposite effect. When you opt to be closed off from others and the world (or, in other words, reject life and/or love), you are making the probability of being rejected a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

If you want to love, love more. If you want to be accepted, be accepting. If you don’t want to be rejected, don’t reject others based on preconceived notions. Open your heart, even if there is a chance of experiencing pain, for as the saying goes …. No Pain, No Gain!