Tonight is Friday. I am single. So I have so many options. So many options. What about setting up an online profile so these Friday’s don’t seem so lonely? I could jet out to the local bars to harness whatever small amount of luck I have left in me? I could swipe a tinder app, or upload a boyfriend? As I sit in my living room Frosty the Snowman by Beegie Adair Trio plays in the background. My roommate makes dinner for her date, herself, and myself. The Christmas tree is lit in the corner aligned with presents. My roommate loves Christmas. I could take her evening happiness away by being a bitter single. I could scoff at every couple that passes me and snuggles with hot chocolate and hand holding. However, as I sit here, I have decided to do none of that. I have a heart of compassion and understanding that has taken years to cultivate. The expectation is to be bitter after the reason for my recent break-up, but I refuse. I refuse to be angry. I also refuse to seek out filling the void through another relationship. I was offered for one of the couples this evening to bring me a date, and I kindly declined. It was time to take a break from the dating world. I look at it like switching up your routine at the gym so your results can be better. This year launched a long line of failed dating attempts. It was time to go back to the drawing board. It was time to figure out what new self-discoveries could yield a more stable and loyal relationship. Like I always say, the common denominator in our failed relationships is us. Through weeks of sadness and honesty I have gotten to this point. Here I am single, not about to mingle. I am excited to head out tonight to see the beautiful Balboa Christmas Boat Parade with two couples this evening. I am happy to be a fifth wheel.
Being single in a coupled world seems hard. It’s really all what you make it. When did it become so complicated that we had to seek out the next partner before spending some honest time with ourselves cultivating self-love? We should wait until we have an understanding of why the last relationship didn’t work out. Being the fifth wheel has it perks. No worry about that awkward end of the night kiss. No obligations to meet or expectations that could go unmet. Spending time with yourself harnessing a new passion for life and a better understanding of love. Spending time with your friends and family. It’s really all what you make it.
As a relationship blogger I’ve come to realize the masses of material around me. I sit in a coffee shop that I frequent to get a bite to eat before work and most of what I overhear from the wait staff has to do with relationships. One was a blossoming romance that included a child from a previous marriage, and yet another was about who would take the kids for the weekend. I had an unfortunate heavy heart that most of the chatter included breakdowns and break-ups. It included devastation and divorce. I wondered how we could all get back to a place where relationships and partnerships provided us with the sense of support and strength they were meant for. Where we grew together and genuinely appreciated one another, even if we get pissed off from time to time.
Not to offend, but it’s my personal opinion that no one is in the mood to work really hard for anything anymore. When I sit and read about dating and relationships it appears apparent why we have shifted into a culture of divorce rather than long unions. Article after article on what you are doing wrong with your new relationship and tips or “how-tos” on anything from keeping him guessing to 12 ways to have a happy marriage. But is it really that simple? And if it were that simple why are we in an epic fail? We learn Why Men Love Bitches or how to Get Married This Year, 365 Days to I Do or how to Get the Guy, but we forget that this mainstream culture of self-help and fast fixes just sheds light on the problem. These are just outlines to a very long syllabus. Relationships take work, dedication, and lots of commitment through the years.
I am not suggesting that every divorce should be stopped. There are several reasons divorce takes place and the hurt and pain can not be overcome. Sadness or unhappiness can sometimes be a reason to split. However, all I am suggesting is that when you take the vow to commit to someone for the rest of your life, that you remember just how much work, patience, perseverance, work, humor, work, respect, and did I mention- work, that it is going to take. Get angry with me, get really angry with me and explain yourself to death about why your divorce was reasonable. Many times over I am going to disagree with you. You get to choose who you marry. That’s right, it’s a choice. You get to choose who you will be able to run the business of marriage with for the rest of your life.
The percentage of divorce gets higher with the number of divorces you have. So you have a 40-50 percent chance of getting divorced the first time and a 70 percent chance of divorcing again. The common denominator of that statistic is you.
I first heard of conscious uncoupling when Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow announced their split, as I am sure, most of us did. Thank goodness the Wall Street Journal took the time to write an article on what was meant by conscious uncoupling. According to the article the term could, “be new language that could frame the end of a marriage or relationship in my positive light.” I was happy to hear that definition because basically what we are saying is that we are going to put a pretty frame on a shitty picture. Break-ups and divorces suck. Make no mistake about it that they leave people jaded and discouraged. Society has become a mecca of pretty frames on all sorts of false pictures (Facebook facades). Now we sit in a society that is ready to approach the hurtful parts of life by being consciously fanciful and politically incorrect. Distorting the truth doesn’t make it any easier. Conscious uncoupling is a sham.
Isn’t dating suppose to be a way for us to test the efficacy of marriage? But if we are a break-up culture, is the desired effect to separate or to sustain the marriage? And we are a break up culture. A culture that wants more, faster and easier. What it took for our grandparents and parents to sustain a marriage, we are just not interested in putting in that kind of effort. A recent article in Shape magazine discussed that treating your relationship like your job could have positive effects on the happiness and teamwork in your relationship. The article simply suggests that if we put in as much effort for our relationships as we do in our jobs, we would be in a better position with a better attitude. I mean when was the last time you neglected your job or just walked in late? You make an attentive effort to be on time, to dress accordingly, to follow the employee handbook. Maybe you can establish a relationship handbook and overcome the complacency and inflexibility you seem to have in regards to your relationship. Sorry Gwen, but remarking on your divorce as conscious uncoupling is bullshit. Talk is cheap. Cheesy wording is even cheaper.
Let’s talk about relationship expectations. The expectations you have of your partner may lead to disappointment and brokenness when it comes to your romantic relationships. But don’t worry, I am not just going to sit here and tell you that your expectations are bullshit and that you are ridiculous for wanting your partner to call, to help with the dishes, or to split the bill. I am going to assist you in understanding how to alleviate the communication barriers of expectations. How are we ever going to find a resolution if we can not communicate effectively about the problem?
Couples should discuss the expectation that they have. They need to be able to communicate this early on in the relationship. Some expectations are derived from each individual. They may have come from pressures our parents put on us or from past dating experiences. However, some expectations are created within the relationship. When a couple first gets together they are excited to be sharing in one another. They might talk on the phone every day and this expectation is one that is created by the couple in the process of engaging in the relationship. If this stops suddenly, there may be some discrepancies in how both parties feel about it. It is important to know and understand which expectations were mutually created and which are individually brought into the relationship. This way you can get a better idea of how to properly handle each expectation.
I will utilize an example so we can process the helpful responses we will discuss later. Sally wants Harry to text her on Tuesday because he is out of town for work. Harry called her when he arrived to his hotel on Monday night; they chatted, said goodnight, and went to bed. On Tuesday, Harry got busy with work and had dinner with colleagues, so he called Sally late in the evening around ten p.m. Harry did not text or call during the day. Now they are on the phone and at this point Sally is already irritated because she was hoping to hear from him during the day since he is away on a business trip. Harry is unable to understand why if he spoke with Sally on Monday night and again tonight why it is such a big deal? So Sally goes on about how Harry doesn’t care and Harry tries to explain that he does. He gets defensive and she came into the conversation angry. Inside he feels like he failed and inside she feels like she isn’t cared about.
It becomes a dance that we see all too often; and honestly, it is normal in the context of a relationship. Especially in the beginning when we are learning about one another’s needs. If this type of behavior continues as the length of the relationship progresses and the parties are unable to communicate about it, we have to ask ourselves, why? We have to consciously make the decision to do something about it and not just blow off the other person.
Not to make it a battle of the sexes, but woman often verbalize and hold onto their expectations more. Men are like, Meh. They can passively get through the small expectations. The woman handles it with anger or sadness which makes the man feel like he let her down. There is nothing worse for a man than the feeling of failure or disappointment. It is ingrained in the man to be able to care for the needs of others in specific ways. If he feels like he failed, withdrawing is often the easiest response to an angry woman. The easiest response for the woman is anger when hurt is what she really feels.
In the story of Sally and Harry here are some helpful examples of alternative responses:
1. Sally could have sent a text to Harry and said “Hey sweetie, How is your day going?” If we have an expectation for someone else to do something, the easiest solution is to do it ourselves. (Starting with a pet name always creates positive energy.)
2. Sally could call and leave a message or verbalize to Harry that it was her fault that she is upset since she had the expectation for him to call. But maybe in the future he can make sure to have some form of contact during the day when away? (This is formed as a question because it is important that our partner have a say in the resolution and that we are not just demanding something.) Sally is openly communicating a need and placing the burden on herself rather than her partner. This can help the partner to feel empathetic rather than defensive.
3. Sally can self-reflect. Understanding why we need a certain behavior out of our partner is important. Sally may have had a negative past dating experience with a previous partner while away on a trip. It is important to discuss this with our partner, but also to take additional time to ourselves to reflect on how we might be able to change this expectation since it was not created in the current relationship.
If these don’t work because there is still defensiveness and anger even when just trying to communicate a problem, it might be time to look into couple’s therapy and have a third-party reflect with you on some good solutions and tools. We get our cars serviced. Relationships are no different. If you want it to “run well” you have to take care of it.
When is an expectation reasonable or unreasonable? How is this even decided? This type of reflection and answer is a process. I believe that I personally didn’t understand the expectations that I had for partners until I had personal therapy combined with experiences in dating. There has to be some self-reflection and self-awareness that takes place if we are going to change patterns that sabotage our relationships. Expectations can disrupt a relationship if not handled correctly.
If you are the type of person that doesn’t take constructive criticism well, you might find it difficult to self-reflect. You will be more defensive at the thought of changing something about yourself instead of being humbled by the opportunity. I urge you to do the same type of reflection and allow yourself to let that self-critic go. It is beneficial to be able to change difficult or unwelcoming patterns so you can have successful romantic relationships. Ultimately in successful relationships, partners need to be able to meet one another’s needs or expectations to a reasonable level. The environment of the relationship should feel like teamwork. When it doesn’t feel like teamwork bitterness and frustration come in. It is only fair that we partner for the long-haul with someone who is similar in nature. Specifically when this nature has to do with work-ethic which directly correlates with some expectations. I have yet to see anyone do a relationship perfectly, so we are all in this together. Relationships are hard work, but they yield the most rewarding happiness.
In fifth grade I had a crush on Daniel Johns. The lead singer of Australian rock band Silverchair had just released Frogstomp which yielded the famous song Tomorrow. A year later I fell in love with Stephan Jenkins. Anyone who knew me in middle school knew that Third Eye Blind was a staple in my musical life. I fell in love with every album that they created after the first. As my music and dating life both expand, I understand the arts of both music notes and commitment.
My taste in music developed much like our relationships do. We check out different albums and listen to new tunes. We learn what we can enjoy long-term as we go through dating. It is by these experiences that we better understand ourselves and our relationship needs. I learned along that way that what makes a great musician and what makes a great band are not created equal. The musician is the single part in the collaborative effort of the band. Much like a single person is a part of the collaborative effort in a relationship. Successful bands that stay together for years work hard to foster the relationships of its members. Bands break up and so do people. Bands succeed and so do relationships.
It is easy to be single. When you are a solo musician you have no one whose chords or lines you have to be in sync with. It takes less effort to be single than to be in an active healthy relationship. However, the rewards are said to have significant positive impacts on your health and your life. A relationship where you whole-heartedly learn the different music style of your partner and they learn yours. Where if you work together well enough those two different songs make much better music. I am not assuming it doesn’t take work to be a solo musician, but my argument is that you learn much more about yourself in the context of collaborative relationships with others. You develop the craft to be a better self when you are among others. Our culture is praising differences and independence; which leads to negative connotations when in a relationship. Some classics are “ball and chain”, “tied down” or “locked in.” It’s as if we forget that no one forced us into an exclusive relationship in the first place, but hey, we have to fight something or someone to regain control.
There is a mentality of individuality in our culture. There is a collaborative lack of commitment. I recall hearing a friend say this about not including her boyfriend in a recent decision, “It’s my body and I’ll get a tattoo if I want.” I thought to myself for a second. That is like the band that set up the play list and one member just decides that they want to begin with another song. Why are we so afraid to make collaborative decisions? You don’t loose your individuality by respecting the opinion of your partner. However, we seem to have become a society that believes the opposite.
Are we purposely becoming a society where individualism trumps hard work and collaboration? It is time we didn’t distinguish between the two. Relationships are complicated. They might be complicated because of the different ways people communicate. Maybe they are difficult because of differences in personality. But the most predominant reason that relationships are hard is because human behavior is difficult to understand. We have a ridiculous sense of having to be right and in control instead of understanding the work relationships take and humbly accepting that we can’t always be in control; that we must consider our partners opinion and needs.
One day at the gym I overheard a man and woman chatting with one another. The woman was talking about her upcoming celebration for 23 years of marriage and he was discussing that his 40 year marriage anniversary had just passed. I remain in awe about how these couples manage to give support and love throughout the years. I also can’t help but wonder how couples today will connect and survive in today’s technology driven society.
The digital age brought around a huge evolution for business and educational styles. Our daily lives have changed significantly due to search engines and social sites. But have our dating lives and our self-development increased at the same pace? Smart phones have become a great technological advance to cellphones. Have humans evolved in their dating styles or are we still T9 dating?
The release of smart phones and social dating sites has left us no more savvy consumers in the dating world than we are in the public arena. If you are hoping to get out of bad dating patterns, hiding online won’t help. Give a girl who dates jerks 5 guys and she is likely to pick the 1 jerk out of the bunch. Give her 100 guys and she is still likely to pick the jerk. The real question is if your mental aptitude for dating has enough ram to keep up with the current technology. Maybe it is time to upgrade ourselves before we go fishing, get on ok cupid, download the tinder app or pay for sites like match and e-harmony.
The first smart phone came out in 1993. In the last ten years smart phones are the new norm. But what has happen to our dating lives? What are the advances to our human development that are making dating better today then it was ten years ago? In a world where you have 1,009 Facebook friends and 876 Instagram followers, the only human evolution has happened to our egos. That doesn’t equate with making us more responsible dating partners. Bigger egos may make approaching another person easier as we become more aggressive, but it isn’t helping us develop compassion for being thoughtful in romantic relationships.
Society might be on the cusp of social explosion. I can not tell you how many photos I have seen where guys have their pants unbuttoned and I can almost see their junk. This isn’t what I signed on for. This type of dating has allowed the douches to get even douchier (as if it was possible). I find myself erasing more messages than actually connecting on a real human level. What is socially appropriate publically weeds out that kind of behavior and nonsense. But online, anything goes.
You are what you are online and offline. Whatever attitude, defenses, lifestyles, or energy that you have as a person, you will have on a computer. It is important to develop yourself with other people in mind. Sorry, Selfies, it’s not all about you.
When I travel, I usually have my head down working on something. Whether I am reading a book or working on a new paper, I consistently miss what is going on around me at airports, on trains or buses. It is assumed that I and most of you also miss a lot going on in other venues too. Don’t get me wrong, I love people watching, but over the course of the last several years I see the same thing, other people with their heads down too. We have all become so exceptionally busy with our phones and tablets. As I sit and write on my iPad, I’m a catalyst of the social ineptitude.
I look around the environment while waiting to board my plane. People, human beings, engaging in real conversations as strangers. Directly in front of me a young woman spoke to another woman about college. Behind them sat a gentleman with headphones draped around his informal dress of an old school MTV shirt, jeans and a dodgers hat; conversing with an older gentleman for some minutes. After the conversation ended I saw the younger man reach for something. Next to him sat his cell phone on a ledge. The ledge clung to furniture that looked like it came directly out of a Jetsons cartoon. I glanced up at the futuristic looking table, at the top a huge sign read: Charging Station. Then I began to think about all the possibilities for a sign like that. All the possibilities for human charging and not just electronic device charging. We have to be willing to give into the idea that ourselves, not just our devices need charging. We have to be conscious of the types of charging our bodies, souls and minds need.
The sign could hang above our beds, we recharge with rest there. It could be above the dinner table or in the kitchen; when we share in cooking and eating together we are recharging our souls. It could hang at the gym where we prepare our bodies for their full recharge and potential. However, we have to be visionaries like the phone charging station.
In order to prepare ourselves for “charging” we need to be conscious of noise. There is noise that goes on all around us. In communication noise is understood as anything that interferes with the communication between the speaker and the audience. Noise can be physical or psychological. In today’s American society phones have become not just physical noise but psychological noise. We have an unconscious instinction to have our devices on us, which leads to anxiety and all sorts of cognitive, emotional and intellectual noise. During the times of charging, the noise needs to stop. Electronics don’t have the kinds of needs that we do as humans, but it is important that we stop the noise around us when charging.
There is a lot of talk about mindfulness in psychology currently. This is a fancy way of saying “awareness in the moment.” However, can we actually achieve this state unless we gain some sort of social reboot? We are so untuned to our environments and connected to devises. We need to reboot. We need to engage socially so we slowly learn how to become independent from our devices.
But with all the physical noise going on around us and all the psychological noise in our head, how can we obtain such a state?
Then it happened. As I was writing this very article a woman around sixty years old knelt down near me. I was waiting for her to ask about my article so I could tell her about the fascinating ideas floating in my head. She knelt down to ask me how to post a photo from her phone onto Facebook. Strike 1.
Then a man in his late forties shot in between me and the woman as he anxiously and diligently spoke to the wire of his headphones to another human being on the other end. Strike 2.
I watched near me as two teenagers spoke to one another with no eye contact but instead utilized their phones while deciding what to snap chat. Strike 3.
This wasn’t just a generational reboot. It was a mass social reboot. If we don’t take care of our own human charging, we are going to crash. Mindfulness won’t be possible and social interaction will no longer be needed. We are creating noise because our minds lack real social connection. We have come to prefer fake over real, text over talk, internet connection over human closeness. It would be a challenge to actively participate in human charging. Its time for the social reboot.
This morning I was standing in line patiently waiting to order my tall soy chai when I noticed something about the people standing in line with me. The three patrons directly in front of me had their heads titled downwards as they typed away on their smart phones. I wondered what they were searching for, who they were tagging, or what they were hashtagging. Or perhaps they were pinning, playing candy crush, or reading the news. These three patrons included a business man with a tie holding a blackberry, a student with his backpack wearing a beanie hat, and a woman dressed casually with her purse tucked at her side. Then my eyes expanded past the three directly in front of me, as I scanned the rest of the Starbucks line. Nearly everyone in line was removed socially from the current environment.
Of the eleven people who stood in line waiting to order drinks seven of them were uninvolved in the social situation and environment as they entertained their anxiousness on their smart phones. I watched as only four stood strong with their heads high and devices tucked away. But then it happen, Man Down! (or should I say Woman Down!) One woman of the remaining four ordered. As she awaited her delightful drink she too reached into her purse and pulled out a device. In this moment the number moved to eight of eleven people in line that were busy bustling away on their smart device. Nearly 73 percent of the people in line were not engaging directly into the social situation that they were a part of. Not only were there no verbal conversations amongst them, but they were so engrossed with their heads down and personal agenda, that they didn’t even non-verbally communicate with smiles or looks. Are we opening up to a world where technology may be a catalyst in hindering our social development?
We need to be aware of a new social consciousness as the use of technology and smart phones rises. But what are we doing to make sure we remain and continue to become socially intelligent and socially in-tune? When was the last time you turned off your smart phone for a whole day and just allowed yourself to be engaged in all your social interactions? Try it. Your anxiousness may increase the first few times you unplug. This just goes to show us that we are actively having some kind of relationship with technology and smart phones. We live in an Anxious America. Time for a break up. Time to be more socially intelligent.