Last week, I made an unexpected trip to the hospital with my father. In the midst of the heaviness, I happened upon Barry — a 70-year-old diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer. In the four years since his diagnosis, he had undergone various types of treatments and was currently participating in a clinical trial. Despite the gravity of his illness, he radiated happiness.
I asked him his secret. He laughed and replied, "I hear that all the time! When I first got diagnosed, a friend who had beaten colon cancer came to visit me. He said, 'Whatever you do, fight this with a great attitude. Find the silver lining.' So, that's what I've done." He then cataloged his regular activities, including outings with his three grandkids and trips to California with his wife — all while sipping on a barium cocktail.
As a writer interested in love and relationships, I wondered what this poignant experience had to do with the more minor (yet far more common) challenges of dating. I realized that the answer was simple: everything.
Every day I, meet singles who are sick from loneliness and heartbreak. They complain about poor quality candidates, lack of available suitors and the betrayal of past loves. Many give up, convincing themselves that a healthy relationship isn't all it's cracked up to be. How does one find the "silver lining" in a seemingly intolerable situation?
"Change your thoughts and you change your world," said Norman Vincent Peale who authored The Power of Positive Thinking.
To that end, I offer four simple truths which will dramatically change your mindset about dating and probability of success:
1. Stop looking for "The One" ASAP!
Instead, look at dating as a learning process, a fun way to get to know yourselfand others. Of course, most of us have heard the belief that when you stop looking for love, you will usually find it. As cliché as this piece of advice can sound, it's true. So instead of feeling frustrated when each date doesn't end in a marriage proposal, slow way down.
Part of the benefit of slowing down is that you tune into your experiences with more presence. So find ways that you can enjoy the process. Perhaps you realize that dating is a great opportunity to become a better conversationalist and feel less awkward with people you don't know super well. Maybe you find it's your chance to become a more engaged listener and a social anthropologist.
Have fun learning about other people. Figure out what turns you on (and off) in a potential mate. Get curious and realize that the experimentation is part of the fun!
Can you find something interesting about everyone that you meet? Can you develop a personality so engaging and uplifting that others cannot help but enjoy your company? Are you looking for valuable lessons that bring you one step closer to finding true love?
2. Keep an open mind and heart.
"I don't date short men." "I only am attracted to blondes." "I must marry a Catholic."
Any of these declarations sound familiar? It's easy to make decisions preemptively about who you want to avoid or seek out when it comes to dating. But this kind of behavior can be self-sabotaging. If you limit your dating pool, you stymie your chances of finding happiness. Dating, by its very nature, is about trying things out. So, expand your consciousness and date outside your "type."
Most people in happy relationships are intrigued by the differences, not the similarities, of their partner. Further, most people are surprised by their ultimate choice in companion. Take, for example, my parents who have been married for 47 years. My mother is Spanish (and Catholic) and my father is Indian (and Hindu). My mother often jokes that she could barely find India on a map, let alone imagine a lifetime with a man from across the globe!
3. Diligently nip negativity in the bud.
Commit to surrounding yourself with people who make you feel positive about dating. Keep in mind that there will be no shortage of "friends" to commiserate with you on the pains of single life and the lack of available candidates. And sure, it's good to make light of life's foibles, but be wary of engaging in negative talk about your love life for too long. Words have power. We often speak our reality into existence.
Instead, make sure to surround yourself with encouraging and optimistic people. Plan outings where you're having fun and are open to possibilities. Look for inspirational couples and love stories around you. Ask supportive people in your network to set you up with quality singles they may know.
4. If you find yourself repeatedly unsuccessful, use it as an opportunity to grow.
You may find yourself in one of two camps: perpetually single or repeatedly in unsatisfying relationships. Whatever your story, take a step back to evaluate your part and make concerted efforts to change the narrative.
Ask for help and support as you grow in new ways. Consider hiring a dating coach. If your finances are limited, ask a friend who has a successful love life if they will give you advice and constructive feedback. Read books on dating, relationships and personal development (most are free at the public library) and learn successful dating and interpersonal behaviors.
You may also find that your lack of success in the dating realm leads you to pursue a passion or two in other areas of life. Even if this starts out as a desire for distraction, it can lead to meeting interesting people who you may not have met otherwise. Expand your horizons, and realize that every experience, even the difficult ones, are all opportunities.
So open your eyes and see the opportunities, everywhere, all around you. And whatever you do, don't give up on love.