The end of my ten-year relationship brought with it a sea of feelings and experiences. At times, it felt as if I was being pulled in with such voracity that I had no ability to anchor myself to any shoreline. I found refuge in meditation and later in the Dharma. It certainly hasn’t been a consistent practice but one that has given me a home to return to when I am struggling. Lately, my thoughts keep coming back to navigating urban living as a single woman. Clearly many of our modern day challenges didn’t exist during the Buddha’s time or were present in a very different form. The role and movement of women, particularly unmarried ones, was restricted in ways that as an American born woman of privilege I am free from…for the most part. I still deal with overt sexism in the form of daily harassment on the street and antiquated notions of gender and sexuality that pop up both in professional and personal realms. Certainly covert sexism is everywhere. One of my favorites is the “progressive male” who declares the end of inequality as he rattles off various statistics or anecdotal observations not unlike those who insist we live in a post-racial America because our president is Black. Or young women who would rather eat hot coals than identify as feminist. I revisit the breath often during these conversations and find compassion by embracing the intent of the speaker rather than the actual words.
But I digress…
This has all been particularly salient during my “reemergence”. It was 1999 when I began my last relationship and the world of dating (along with my body) looked very different than it does now. Online dating? What does that even mean? It’s as if I awoke from a coma into a different era. After two years of intentional solitude and a few premature starts (stories for another piece), I decided it was time to embrace my singledom. Never one to do anything like a normal person, I hadn’t done much dating in my youth. The learning curve has been pretty steep to say the least. In the beginning of my return, this naivety led to a quick understanding of what it means to be open and yourself without a ring on your finger. It was a wake up call the first time someone asked for my phone number after what I thought was just a casual conversation at a friend’s birthday. I gave it to him somewhat out of surprise but mostly because I wanted to avoid the awkwardness of being honest about not being interested. I then proceeded to ignore his texts and voicemail. That didn’t feel good on many levels. As any good researcher does, I surveyed my friends for their take on how to handle these situations. The range went from, “Just tell him you don’t give out your number but would be happy to take his. They usually get the picture” to “I have a Google Voice number that I give out when I’m not interested and then I never check it”. I have subsequently done both and inevitably felt even more awful than I did before. Clearly I had some thinking and meditating to do. I reflected upon intentionality, the precepts, and my own personal ethics. The aspiration for all areas of my life is to be mindful, compassionate, and honest. Some days are definitely better than others but I do know that dating is not the area to make deliberate exceptions. In the past, I haven’t always been great at balancing my needs with my partner’s, which made for less than truthful communication and left me feeling resentful.
As a therapist who works with couples and families, I see how a lack of transparency is the continual cause of conflict and pain. So I have decided to make the fourth precept of right speech my guiding force as I go forth into this unknown land. I believe I’m getting pretty good at being direct but kind in the delivery of my feelings these days.I try my best to be honest about what I’m looking for and what I can and cannot offer someone right from the start. He can then decide if that works for him and hopefully feel comfortable to share in the same way. By allowing for separate identities and feelings, we in turn see one another for who we really are rather than relying on the other to define the interaction. In the end, through the wisdom of my practice, I can see that what looks like protecting someone else by not being straightforward is really about avoiding my own discomfort. Sure, there’s a lot of risk in being present and honest with one’s feelings but there is also an accompanying freedom. Every time I liberate myself from my own fears (and there are many in this process), I can bring my most authentic self to my interactions and hopefully enable that in the other. In the end, I believe that is how I can be most compassionate to the men I meet on this journey. And if there is a life partner waiting for me down the road, well, he won’t be able to say he didn’t know what he was getting into! For this guidance and so many other reasons, I am grateful for my practice.