Chapter 1: The first person you need to get to know. Yourself.
Let’s start off with a tough question: Would you be happier staying single?
How do you feel about this question? You may have done an immediate double-take, horrified by its sheer temerity. You may even have experienced a deep surge of indignation – it’s blindingly obvious that you’re not happy being single. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have bought this book!
Indulge me in playing devil’s advocate for a moment.
Ninety percent of our emotions are concealed in the subconscious. Things are rarely as simple as they initially seem, and although it’s going to evoke controversy, I believe that some people just aren’t cut out for coupledom. If you work your way through this book, using my suggested tools, and you do come to that conclusion, then I salute you and wish you a splendid life where the things you need come from people and other stimuli in your life; other than that one “special” person! Love is blind, but relationships are an eye-opener.
If, however, you’re up for some radical self-challenging and self-transformational action, and you discover that you really do want to find a partner, then this is absolutely the book for you.
The Inside Job Principle
Most “How to Find Love” books adopt, what I believe, to be a superficial and facile approach to your love search, focusing purely on externals such as having a certain type of man, worrying what others think of us, and competing with other women on the man hunt. Actually, we have little control over these things. That’s because the only person we can ever truly control – and change – is ourselves. My approach is based on what has actually worked for me personally, for my clients, and for many friends and relatives. I come at it from a completely different and unique, sassy, heart-set.
The most important, yet neglected, element on the path to finding a permanent enriching relationship, is You. If you don’t love and care first and foremost for yourself, you’ll have no chance of loving somebody else. Smart singletons are far likelier to find and keep love if they’ve undertaken The Work on themselves, before they venture out into the big, wide relationship world on their love quest.
Self-fulfilled single ladies are more attractive to potential partners, and more likely to go on to form happy couples. The reverse is also true. If you skip the stage of getting yourself sorted, the relationship will be built on weak foundations, whereas if you’re really sorted (and so is your choice of partner), your relationship will be built on rock.
Alexander Graham Bell said, “Before anything else, preparation is the key to success.” How much time, emotional energy and money would you put into planning your wedding day – a single day? Ergo – how much should you put into finding that person you’d want to spend the rest of your life with? The answer is surely a no-brainer! So, my very loud message is that for now, you must keep the spotlight entirely on you, and not focus on looking for a man.
Nobody can ever make you feel complete and whole, other than yourself. Whilst you may believe and experience rough external circumstances, and automatically conclude that these must dictate your reactions, as the great Viktor Frankl, concentration camp survivor, and pioneer of Logotherapy stated, “The last aspect of humanity which can be stripped from a person is that of choice.”
I’m going to show you how to make wiser partner choices. When I refer to The Inside Job or FLY Principle, I mean that unless you love yourself first, then you’ll never be able to love anybody else. You have to do the inner work, so that first and foremost you feel content in yourself.
The art and practice of nurturing self-care
Practising the art of nurturing self-care ebbs effortlessly, like a river tributary, into the Inside Job principle, and must consequently be stage one in finding love. Sure, a great partner can transform your world. But ultimately, only you can choose your feelings. How many celebrities do we know who objectively seem to have it all, but are actually prey to depression, compulsion and misery?
Confidence, which goes hand in hand with practising self-care, is also an Inside Job. If you feel good about yourself, this will spill over everywhere, making you a more alluring potential companion in the process. You can’t ‘give’ from a place of emotional emptiness.
Think of the oxygen mask principle. When you get on a plane, and the flight attendant runs through the safety instructions, you’re advised to put on YOUR mask first, before you try to help anybody else. This analogy applies in the arena of love. Think FLY – First Love Yourself – and others will then follow.
Remember – nobody can ever complete you. The relentless search for that missing “whole,” in order to make you complete, falls under the label of co-dependency, a subject about which I could write a veritable tome.
If you throw your lot in totally with your Significant Other, you suck them and the relationship dry, because effectively you’re not growing as an individual in your own right. Foolishly, you are attempting to get all your succour and validation from a man, so you end up being swallowed up by a bigger whole and lose your own powerful self in the process. This why it’s absolutely crucial that you do learn to practise the art of nurturing self-care, and I’ll identify ways for you to do just that throughout the book.
And doing that involves not just “the externals” but – much more importantly – defining, and acting upon, “the internals” which include: motivation, perception, and attitudes.
You can’t afford to skip this essential first step of identifying the internals. It will begin the process of constructing emotional resilience, which you’re going to need in shovelfuls when you do start dating again.
If you find yourself already baulking at these preliminary suggestions, then allow me to point out that perhaps your motivation levels aren’t what they could be. Without renewed, daily, rigorous self-motivation, the chances of reaching love Nirvana are nil; as brutal as this may sound. There will be much more on motivation in subsequent chapters. For the moment, keep calm and carry on reading.
I now invite you to consider which of these statements apply to your current personal situation, to verify you truly don’t want to remain single. You may think that some of them are slightly tongue-in-cheek, but truth is often expressed in jest. This exercise will help you to decide what you really want as opposed to what you think you want.
Own your true feelings by candidly completing the sentences which follow this paragraph, with whichever statements apply to you. Write them down! It’s no wonder the saying goes, “The pen is mightier than the sword.” Journaling is a self-empowering, vital and integral part of this journey. Writing things down the good old-fashioned way, with pen on paper, is a fabulous way of processing and clarifying your thoughts and feelings.
Over a period of time, you start to observe patterns of behaviour and attitudes and, hopefully, you learn from them. Journaling is also important in that you can keep yourself motivated by looking back and realising just how far you’ve come. We’ll be setting SMART dating goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-specific), along the way.
Don’t sabotage your chances at the off. Writing is thinking on paper. There’s something almost magical about having a special journal in which you write everything down by hand. It’s as if there’s a connection between the heart and the pen, which can’t be replicated with modern-day technology. Now, without further ado:
“A long-term partner would provide me with…”
Companionship on the journey through life
Well, it’s true that the right partner will be great company, but you have to make a wise choice. The French say, “It’s better to travel alone, than to be badly accompanied.” Get wise, get focused and get real about your prospects. If this statement applies to you, write it down in your journal!
Status and competitive positioning – keeping up with Mrs Jones
Come on! All that glitters isn’t gold. Status can vary over a lifetime and really isn’t a big deal. Competition is rarely a helpful tactic because it can puncture an already flagging or fragile level of self-esteem. In turn, when, where, and how do you decide to stop competing and comparing? Competing in this area of your life really doesn’t serve you. Everyone’s journey is different.
Celia was a 50-year-old lecturer. Despite my setting her tasks, in an attempt to move her forward in her love life, she put up fierce objection after objection. When challenged, I was treated to a load of “buts” and “becauses” – in other words, flimsy excuses for justifying staying stuck. When a client presents me with the latter, it translates to, “I’ve heard everything you’ve just said, but I can’t be arsed to take any of it on board. After several frustrating sessions, we were able to extrapolate from the “noise” that actually she didn’t want a man right now, because she was fully-occupied undertaking research for a PhD. She thought she wanted a man, because she was comparing herself to everyone else, and finding herself lacking. I pointed out to her that this wasn’t actually a failure – merely the realisation that, at the moment, she has other priorities in her life – and that’s perfectly okay!
Sex – a permanent hot date 24/7, 365 days a year
Most people understandably rate the pleasures of the flesh highly. But you don’t need a permanent partner to enjoy good, safe and uncomplicated sex. Steamy sex on its own won’t sustain a relationship for the long haul. It eventually burns out, and all that you’re left with is a carcass of “a relationship.” Enduring, fantastic sex, however, is eminently possible within a nurturing long term relationship. It oils the wheels – but again doesn’t happen without ongoing imagination and work.
Someone to grow old with
To share a bed with your beloved until the meat wagon eventually comes to fetch one of you is a noble ambition. But being entwined with Mr Wrong can be a lifelong prison sentence, with no obvious parole card.
Emotional and financial security
And why not? Emotional and financial security can be the springboard for many joint and individual lifetime adventures, BUT you have to communicate honestly, openly and tactfully about the agreed parameters for both emotional and financial issues. Any “slippage” in understanding could result in a Day of Reckoning, resulting in relational trauma.
Nobody, ultimately, benefits if their partner engages in financial misadventure or any variation on adultery. It’s important to establish flexible boundaries and agree them as and when needed. You also need to reflect upon how you’ll feel giving up total independence and control of your life – both physically and money-wise. How would it grab you, being accountable to your partner? He’d be in your face for good, so how would it feel to lose your space in every sense of the word? There’s no such thing as a free lunch.
A sense of completeness
I reckon this chestnut must spring from 1950’s movies and songs. I repeat – nobody can ever make you feel complete. A relationship can afford you opportunities which eluded you as a single person, but if you forget that you were once – and still are – a separate person from your partner (with a separate, unique identity), then your relationship may hit the rocks downstream; nobody likes to be held hostage to another. Nor is a melodramatic fear of being alone to be cited as a reason for needing a man. In this day and age, you can be alone, but need never be lonely.
The cherry on top of my existing cake and successful life
I adore nice, bright red cherries – but when they sit on the top of a cake, they get gobbled up first – and then you have to ask yourself: do you really like what’s left of the cake? The point being that relationships are fabulous, but they’re also a bit like buying a brand new car. At first, there’s huge excitement, and you make an enormous effort to keep the car clean. But before you know it, that shiny and new feeling wears off, and you’re left with a car that starts developing lots of flaws and imperfections. The same analogy applies to a relationship. You’re on a hormonal high, but then you get used to each other, and the mundane takes over. Morning breath and bathroom smells are all part of the daily humdrum of relationship life. Are you being realistic about your expectations? It’s not all romance and roses around the door 24/7.
Someone with whom to share my joys and sorrows
If you’ve lived this long, then you already have someone to do just that. She’s called a girlfriend. In fact, you probably have more than one, and there’s no finer support network than The Sisterhood. A good man is a wonderful adjunct to this but, all too often, women find a life partner and wave “adieu” to their female support network. This is extremely foolhardy. Don’t do it. Whether you’re in or out of a relationship, always make spending time and communicating with your girlfriends a top priority.
Expansion of my social circle and interests
Rest assured, you’re going to be doing plenty of this during your love search, if indeed you do decide that you still want a man! You should never stop expanding your social circle, even when you’re in a committed relationship. You’ll keep re-energising yourself, your partner, and your union, if you do.
Healing the emotional damage of my past
I know it to be true… love is a many splendored thing. The right love can open lots of doors and it can help heal emotional scars. But the mistake that many make is to transform a partner into a therapist. You can’t and shouldn’t expect your partner to heal your deep-rooted trauma. That’s the specialist work of a therapist or 12-step programme. There’s plenty of support out there, so if you’re stuck in a deep hole, please stop digging and seek it. There’s a list of resources at the end of this book.
Men aren’t for dumping on. What guy, when they come home at the end of a tough day (or when you come home at the end of a tough day) wants to be subjected to a monologue about your “issues”? This is especially poignant because men tend to be “fixers,” and there are some things that a partner can’t and shouldn’t have to fix. They’re your issues, and consequently, your responsibility is to take them to an appropriate arena for resolving. Don’t let your past suck the life blood out of your future or current relationship.
The past is a great teacher – if you use your learning and move on. If you don’t “get it” the lesson will be repeated until it’s learned and it’s going to resurface at some highly inconvenient time and bite you hard in the bum. Don’t get me wrong, having a partner with whom you can discuss challenges and upsets in your life is really important. However, if you place the burden of solving everything your problems on them, the relationship is unlikely to be one of equals and that, in itself, will become a problem over time.
Feeling cherished, valued and special
Everyone wants to feel like this at least once in their lifetime. We all deserve it. But you must ensure that you choose somebody who has the emotional maturity, stability, capability and willingness for this. And you also have to be prepared to make him feel special too, whenever he needs it. It’s about give and take.
Someone to keep me warm at night
Buy a dog! That’s precisely what I did in my “gap year” between husbands number two and three, and it worked a treat. Please – get real. A man isn’t a bed-warmer. And if you’re still scared of the dark, leave a light on.
There are no rights or wrongs, no merits or demerits, in the conclusions you draw from this exercise. What you need and want in a partner is a bit like sex, politics, and religion – it’s your private business and nobody else’s. These are your feelings and your reasons. They’re important, valid and valuable. Don’t discount or discredit them. Write them down and then park them for now.
Getting to the nitty gritty – empowering yourself with knowledge and troubleshooting misconceptions
Men and women aren’t so dissimilar. Obviously, there are physical differences and behavioural norms, but the basics are easy peasy.
- We all want to be cherished.
- We want to be understood.
- We want to be respected.
The gist of all of this is that you may have identified a number of things you would like in your life (or that your vision of your perfect future includes). You may have concluded that these things will fall into place, or are only realisable if you are in a long-term stable relationship. However, that may not be a way to get them at all, and even if it is, it may not be the best way for you.
My purpose in encouraging you to question your motivation isn’t intended to put you off; rather it’s to encourage you to pause, cool your impulses, and properly reflect upon your relationship mindset. This might result in you gaining a different insight (or two) into what you’re really looking for.
One of my coaching clients, Jo, was a 59-year-old high-powered career woman. We applied this process, over several sessions, and by the end of our work together she realised that her feelings of despair about being alone for the rest of her days, were driving her to make very unhealthy partner choices. Jo decided to take some time out of dating, and to just focus on self-care. Nine months later, she contacted me to let me know that she’d met a really nice guy and that they were now an item. It really does work – if you work it!
More food for thought
Let’s take stock for a moment. There are many advantages to ripe dating (dating in one’s later years). You possess bags of wisdom and have a wealth of life experience to talk about. Having a bit of “relationship previous” makes you a more interesting person. You’ve (hopefully) developed a sense of humour and you don’t take yourself so seriously. In all probability, you’re tenacious and you’ve been around the block which is life, more than a few times. You’re also likely to have the willingness to work on yourself – or you wouldn’t have read this far. You’re up for making compromises and keen to avoid making it a case of “my way or the highway.” You appreciate that, inevitably, mature dating will include having to become a good “baggage handler” – plenty on the mechanics of that, anon. This means that you accept that when we get to a certain age, we all have baggage of one sort or another, and you learn to embrace it, as opposed to scarpering in the opposite direction, screaming at the top of your voice.
You may have survived trauma and you know better what you do (and don’t) want in a partner, and you’re more discerning about this. You’re more likely to be financially independent, and you don’t “need” a man, in the sense that our mothers and grandmothers did. You appreciate that the road to contentment is partially about accepting what is, and then finding the courage to change what can be changed.
Your wise status provides you with much more choice and flexibility in most areas of your life. And Goddammit – you’re more determined than ever! I hope that you recognise yourself in some of the characteristics I’ve outlined. If not, please don’t worry because we’re just at the start of our journey! As we go along, you’ll undoubtedly identify those areas where there’s room for self-improvement.
Dipping your toes back into the dating pool – reigniting your dating mojo
I know how mind-bogglingly scary it can feel to re-enter the dating pool after a period out. Nobody wants to have to do it – but what’s the alternative? To sit and wait for Prince Charming to turn up after hours on your office doorstep, and whisk you off your feet? Can you identify the above – the so-called Cinderella Complex – in yourself? If you can, then I suggest you take another reality check and make old Cinders redundant. These situations occasionally happen – but again you’ll know from your working life that, in the main, there’s no gain without ‘pain’ of some sort – and by that, I mean the effort of effecting change, which is never straightforward.
However, the gain ensuing from this particular discomfort, of re-entering the dating arena, is that you’re going to find yourself teleported into a life of emotional enrichment. That’s got to be at least as rewarding as finding yourself at the top of the league tables in your chosen profession.
Riva was 39, had never been married and didn’t have children. Until her mother’s death, she was her mother’s full-time carer. Riva was fairly “quirky” and wasn’t perhaps conventionally attractive; she admitted somewhat bashfully that she’d never had a proper relationship of any sort.
Riva’s image also needed sprucing up, so I referred her to an expert on my IDA panel to help her with this, to boost her confidence. I encouraged Riva to broaden her social network and to proactively ask her friends and family to introduce her to potential partners. At first, Riva was somewhat resistant. However, after some persuasion, she made rapid progress. Within just one month, she met Lawrence, an equally quirky unmarried 40-year-old paramedic, whom she met at an evening class she was taking, on car maintenance. They’re now seeing each other on a frequent basis, and are discussing marriage and children. Riva’s delighted as she really believed that the opportunity for marriage and children had passed her by.
What’s love got to do with it?
Last but not least in this chapter, I’d like you to consider what your definition of love actually is. What does love mean to you? This is really important because many of us have been indoctrinated to confuse love with the acceptance of abuse. As Forrest Gump said, “Love is as love does.”
Abuse, whether physical, spiritual or verbal is never love. It’s harmful, causes deep, pernicious scars and leaves lasting emotional consequences. Love is respectful, nurturing, life-enhancing and expansive. Never believe that you must love somebody who has or does abuse you in any way.
Please take time out, right now, to reflect and note in your journal what your definition of love is. It’s essential to your relationship growth – both with yourself (which is actually the most important relationship of all) – and your significant other. If you have a warped perception of what love is, then you’ll inevitably attract sick people, because, fundamentally, you believe you don’t deserve better.
WOEs to WOWs (Words of Wisdom)
– Be sure you really do want to find a partner.
– Finding love is an Inside Job – remember to FLY (First Love Yourself).
– Remember the oxygen mask – you can’t give from a void.
– Practising nurturing self-care is the first step in the journey to relationship fulfilment.
– No one else can ever make you feel complete.
– Work is a four-letter word – but so is love.
From the Book: From Dinner Date to Soul Mate