Did You Just Cancel Yourself?

When we lack compassion for ourselves, we are dismissing and cancelling our very experience.

The 21st century has brought us a world of “cancel culture” where one wrong phrase or action could land you on a figurative island of ostracism. Cancel culture is “political correctness on steroids.” American culture has morphed from a gentle parent to mind one’s manners to a shame-inducing zealot of morality. And no one is immune from getting “cancelled.” Heck, as I’m writing this now, there’s a good chance that someone is silently seething in their seat from these words on their screen.

When did we get so sensitive? When did we go from speaking up to shaming? When did we go from making a mistake to paying for it for the rest of our lives?

There’s an old Twilight Zone episode that comes to mind: Rod Serling’s The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street. We often hear, “history repeats itself,” and the 1960’s sci-fi episode is proof of this aphorism. Without giving the episode away, the story involves neighbors in a “quiet, suburban town” who suddenly lose electricity, sans explanation. When one neighbor’s car starts on its own, the other neighbors begin “canceling” him. Before long, with other lights in the neighborhood going on and off sporadically, neighbors begin to turn on neighbors. The late and great Serling was using sci-fi as a vehicle to highlight the onslaught of fear of communism.

Fear itself is the all terrain great vehicle for cancel culture: the unspoken “what if” that is temporarily flattened when attacking another. It’s temporary because, again, the next person to be canceled could be you.

However, there’s another side of cancel culture that goes unaddressed: canceling ourselves. Rejecting what we think and how we feel. The other day, I spoke with a friend who was upset with something her fiancé did. 

“Do you think I have a right to be upset?”

Wow. It doesn’t matter what her fiancé did or didn’t do; what stood out to me was her unconscious decision to question her very emotion. She went on:

“I think I’m just going to stay quiet. Things are good between us. I don’t want to upset that.”

Double wow. Instead of allowing herself to feel the negative emotion—not bathe in it, mind you—just feel it, she shoved it down, away—no different than the way we cancel culture each other. There’s a famous quote by Rumi that comes to mind:

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing, there is a field. I will meet you there.”

The field, I believe Rumi was referring to, is Compassion. When we have compassion for ourselves and others, we are able to make mistakes and learn from them. We are able to grow and forgive ourselves and others. We are able to see that we are all in this life together and canceling one of us is canceling all of us.

Source: Author D. Eric Schansberg https://www.courier-journal.com/story/opinion/2021/03/29/cancel-culture-america-political-correctness/6991235002/

The Bar Date or the Coffee Date?

First date coffee or first date drinks? One of them is better than the other. The answer depends on where you are right now.

*Samantha and *Matthew are good friends. Both are divorced, though Samantha is 10 years post the end of a marriage and Matthew is in the embryo stages of life after divorce—a few months shy of a year. Friends since college, there is an ease between them that can only come from a combination of time and knowing each other in their formative years.

Since Matthew’s divorce, their friendship has morphed into an unspoken mini therapy group of two: sharing each other’s trials and tribulations in the dating world. Matthew wants to get laid; Samantha wants to experience a romantic relationship. Their different goals cause the other to shake their head.

“Why are you wasting your time on a coffee date?” Matthew asked.

“I want to get to know the person.” Samantha said.

“But you can’t make out with a person in a Starbucks.”

“I don’t want to make out with a total stranger. You do?”

“Uh, yes! That’s the whole point of meeting at a bar.”

Both have approached me separately, telling me how foolish they think the other person is. They are both right…and wrong.

Matthew is newly divorced and still licking his wounds from his ex’s desire to end the marriage. “I was happy,” he tells Samantha. Married for almost 19 years, the only roles that remain constant in his life are father and business consultant. Overnight, he’s gone from living in their family home to residing in a one-bedroom bachelor pad. 

“What are you looking for on all those dating sites?” Samantha’s asked.

“I don’t know. Nothing serious. I’m all messed up now. But I’m still a guy.”

So, Matthew meets women at bars. For now, this works—for him. He doesn’t want a relationship now; he wants to “make out” and wake up the next morning and drive his daughters to school. He wants physical intimacy without emotional intimacy; he wants easy sans—for now—self-reflection.

Samantha wants to get to know someone without alcohol coursing through her veins. She doesn’t want the commitment of a meal with a total stranger. She wants to pay attention to the person she meets without the distraction of loud music or the subterfuge that comes with a smoky, dark bar.

“Meeting at a bar just sets up a different set of expectations,” Samantha says.

“Exactly,” Matthew says.

                        Again, they are both right…and wrong.

                        Both Matthew and Samantha are dating the way that works best for each of them. They’re both honoring what they need. The issue between them is wanting the other to live through their lens; the dating diet that works for each of them is a prescription that works for them and them alone.

                        Matthew is hungry for physical intimacy; Samantha is hungry for emotional intimacy. Both have different ways of acquiring what they want. Both are good people figuring out what works best for each of them.

                        When it comes to dating, honor the journey you are on. Decide what kind of dating style works for you. There is no right or wrong when you heed your intuition. 

*Names have been altered to retain the privacy of individuals.

Earning Vulnerability

Excavating and exploring the painful parts of ourselves with self-compassion is needed before we offer our vulnerability to another.

It was a second date. The first one involved coffee and the kind of conversation typical of strangers: What kind of work do you do? Only child or one of many? Cat or dog lover? Do you prefer beaches or mountains? But *Mike, recently divorced with two girls under the age of 10, felt the questions lacking. He hadn’t wanted his twelve-year marriage to end yet felt lonelier in the marriage than on his own. He felt an urgency to get past the seemingly trivial “get to know you” questions and delve into “the stuff” of intimate relationships.

“I was low-hanging fruit. This was my first date out of the divorce gate.”

So, on this date, hungry for affection and connection, Mike didn’t waste any time on the second date. Before their appetizers arrived, he told her…well everything but the kitchen sink: his low testosterone level, the frequent verbal put downs he experienced from his ex in their marriage, his belief that his ex-wife treated their daughters like pawns to “get at him.” 

“I thought our date went well. I gave her a respectful kiss on the cheek and a hug. But she’s not returning any of my texts, and her phone goes right to voicemail when I call.”

Poor Mike. 

“I don’t understand. I thought women like it when a man is vulnerable. Did I scare her off? Am I supposed to act like some Alpha male? What do women want?”

There’s a famous quote by the late and great author, Dr. Wayne Dyer:

“You do not attract what you want. You attract what you are.”

Vulnerability has two sides: the willingness to look within and the willingness to be seen or known by another. Both involve risk. To look within, to possess the courage to self-reflect and look unflinchingly at our beliefs opens us up to potential emotional pain. Getting “real” with ourselves is no journey for the faint-hearted. 

Mike knows the surface facts of his recent past. He’s:

  • A recently divorced father of two young girls
  • He was married for 12 years.
  • The divorce was not mutual.

The remainder of his story is highly subjective and requires Mike to excavate the cracks in his (currently) unsteady foundation. For example: Was Mike’s ex abusive or is that a story Mike tells himself? If Mike’s wife was abusive, what brought him to experience an abusive relationship, and why was he against divorcing someone who abused him?

 Before Mike can experience vulnerability with another potential romantic partner, he needs to be vulnerable with himself. When we look under the figurative hood of our own life, when we are willing to see the parts of ourselves that aren’t so shiny, something changes from the inside out: we discover our self-worth, we remember that we matter and can distinguish between wanting a romantic partner and clinging to someone just to have a someone. When we explore the slings and arrows of our past with a willingness to see it in the broad daylight of self-reflection and compassion, we aren’t so quick to be vulnerable with others. After our soul’s journey into the wilderness of vulnerability (thank you, Brene Brown:-) our perspective has altered: a potential romantic partner needs to earn our vulnerability. Vulnerability is no longer a by-product of low self-esteem; vulnerability is now an invaluable gift to share with the right person on YOUR timeline.

   *Mike, in his desperation for affection and loneliness, attracted what he was: the absence of a potential partner and a greater sense of loneliness. This pattern of women leaving him is likely to continue, so long as he continues to perceive himself as “low-hanging fruit.” 

    Vulnerability is both a gift and a wound. When we are willing to go within and explore our wounds with an open and compassionate heart, we receive the greatest gift: self-love.

*Name has been altered to protect the privacy of the individual.

Are You Wearing Emotional Spanks?

Donning an emotional “everything is fine” mask in our personal relationships is psychological Spanx, making it difficult for authentic connection to develop.

Spanks. Those ingenious undergarment items that smooth our bumps and bulges has helped many of us feel our best. But there’s an emotional kind of Spanx wearing that tends to occur in our personal relationships: the idea of hiding our authentic selves from a potential or actual partner in an effort to be liked.

It’s one thing to want the illusion of a slimmer physique but when we hold back who we truly are in our personal relationships, we are doing a disservice to ourselves, our partner, and the relationship itself.

*Gena just started dating someone.

“I really like this one. I think there’s real potential. But then I saw him on TikTok, throwing emoji kisses and hearts to another girl. Psychologically, I went down the rabbit hole. But I’m not letting him see that. He thinks I’m all cool with his online flirting emoji-fest.”

It’s a couple of weeks into Gena’s dating “Mr. Real Potential.” Two weeks of seeing his online TikTok flirting, two weeks of keeping her angst inside like a muffin top hidden under Spanx. And just like the physical Spanx, the emotional Lycra needed to eventually come off.

“I found myself getting passive-aggressive with him. I couldn’t take not knowing who these girls were that he was online emoji kissing. So, I asked him, ignoring my head screaming at me that I looked like an idiot.”

That inner voice is fear; it’s our brain’s meaning-well-attempt to protect us. But we aren’t in danger when we are honest. Ironically, removing our emotional Spanx is the best thing you can do for everyone involved. Your relationship can literally breathe better.

A dear friend of mine is a bit of a branding guru (https://www.catheynickell.com). She recently had a speaking engagement where she shared her most popular posts on Instagram:

“It’s typically the ones where I share something about me, something personal and authentic. People are drawn to authenticity.”

Authenticity not only boosts one’s potential popularity on social media; it nourishes our relationships. When we, as Brene Brown ingeniously coined it, “dare greatly,” we are showing up in this life, removing our psychological Spanx to experience genuine intimacy.

Shortly after Gena’s confession, her Mr. Real Potential shared that he appreciated her honesty and assured her that it was just playful texting and that he only dates one person at a time.

Could Gena have experienced Mr. Real Potential giving a different answer, one filled with negativity? Judgement? Disappointment? Anger? Absolutely. To “dare greatly” is to know there are risks and to do it anyway. The greater risk is to keep the emotional Spanx on and live a lie with yourself and your partner.

*Names have been altered to protect the privacy of individuals.

The Dating Game

When we alter our perspective, we change our experience.

*Rebecca was a knockout: green eyes, strawberry blond hair and a smile that lit up a room. It’s no wonder *Jon swiped left on her profile. After several texts on the dating app, they made plans to meet for coffee.

A few hours later, the two hugged and Jon said he would be in touch. 

“You better,” she said, her voice a flirtatious wink.

True to his word, Jon reached out after a couple of days, wanting to “play it cool.” However, his mind was already seeing them go on camping trips with his dog and sitting beside her at an Astros game.

                        After what Jon considered enough “polite texting banter,” he asked Rebecca out for dinner that upcoming weekend.

                        With bated breath, he watched the 3 dots surface on his phone…then stop…then start up again. In what felt like an eternity, he received the following text:

                        I can’t this weekend. I’m heading to a family reunion upstate. But let’s definitely get together the following weekend!!!

Crushed, Jon was grateful the text didn’t allow for her to see the disappointment on his face. Instead, he texted back a no-big-deal thumbs up emoji. 

Jon spent the next week researching restaurants and cool things to do in the area. On Wednesday of the following week, Jon texted Rebecca again:

Hey! Hope you had a great reunion with your family. Does this weekend still work for you?

The beautiful strawberry blond texted back within the hour:

I just found out that I need to fly to LA for a work event. I’m sorry for the confusion. But let’s definitely meet up the following weekend.

Jon felt like his heart strings were being pulled against his will. For the past two weeks since meeting Rebecca, Jon had replayed their long coffee date in his mind like a record stuck on the same groove: the angle of her face as she laughed when he told her a joke about getting older, the excitement she expressed when talking about her love of contemporary art. The way it only felt like the two of them at the coffee bar.

The following week, Jon began looking on the dating app again. A few girls “liked” him, and he started to engage in texts with two of them.

The excitement of meeting Rebecca and their potential was fading.

And of course, that’s when Rebecca reached out to him:

Hey! How’s your Thursday going? I’m back in town. Did you have a fun weekend?

Jon’s veins flooded with a dopamine high. 

Good! I’d love to take you for dinner this weekend🙂

Aw. Thank you. I’m just so exhausted. Let’s shoot for next week.

Online dating makes me think of the Hindu parable of the snake and the rope. A man is walking alone in the desert when he sees a rattlesnake. His heart races and his adrenaline is at an all-time high. But before he runs away, he takes one final glance at that snake, only to discover it’s a rope. Suddenly, all the adrenaline and fear left his body.

Our perception creates our reality. When it comes to dating, the myriad of emotions we can experience can feel so personal, so real. But like the weather in the sky, our emotions are temporary. When it’s rainy outside, we don’t take it personally. Likewise, when we experience a negative emotion, we are not the emotion itself. We can observe it and know that like weather, it will change. We have the power to alter our perception, to see the dating world as a rope, not a snake. 

Jon will never know why Rebecca keeps putting off meeting him again. He will never know “the truth” about why she reached out to him if she’s not interested in dating. But he CAN experience a more enjoyable dating life if he’s not weighing everything like that man walking in the desert: fearful, anxious, considering every interaction with a stranger a matter of life and death.

When we consider dating a game, we don’t take the experience as seriously. We can enjoy the moments themselves. We can change our goal from something less lofty (meeting “the” one) to meeting new people (making new potential friends while learning more about what we like and don’t like).  A game is about having fun, not torturing oneself with what ifs and failed attempts at mind reading.

*Names have been altered to protect the individuals.

The Ghost and Ghosted

There’s another side to ghosting that is often overlooked but needing our attention.

*Jackie liked her date the way you appreciate a jacket on a cold day: He was comfortable but not someone she saw herself with. However, by the end of their dinner, he expressed he was “smitten” with her.

Despite knowing her attraction to him held a verbal equivalent of “meh,” she felt—what many of us feel at times—an inexplicable pressure to give him another chance.

On the second date, the distance between Jackie’s lack of attraction and her date’s attraction for Jackie had grown. 

“When can I see you again?”

Jackie could feel her throat tighten, unable to find the ability to say the words aching to form:

Look, there is not going to be another date for us. I think of you like a brother. End of story.

Well, that’s what Jackie wanted to say. Instead, she said:

“Yeah, let me look at my calendar.”

She dodged a kiss with a yawn.

Jackie is a divorced mom with 3 daughters who works full time as a neonatal nurse. She barely has time to date, but the time she spends dating is nothing compared to the physical and mental hours wasted, pretending there is potential with someone. 

A people pleaser, Jackie decided to text Mr. Smitten and tell him she met someone (a lie).

            “I thought that way, I could enjoy a potential friendship with him.”

            Mr. Smitten called her immediately, his voice sounding like someone losing a limb. “Oh man, did you really meet someone else? Oh man. That hurts. But can we be friends? I mean, I’m really attracted to you, but I promise to stay in my zone.”

            Again, Jackie could feel the tightening in her throat. She wanted to say:

What is the point of us developing a friendship when we both know you want more? 

            Instead, Jackie agreed to meet Mr. Smitten for lunch the next day.

            When we try to live for others, altering our lives to satiate others, we are doing two detrimental things:

  1. Telling ourselves (and the world) that we don’t matter.
  2. Hurting the very people we are trying to “protect.”

If Jackie allowed her truth to come out, it would be kind to both parties. Something simple yet direct like:

You seem like a great person, but unfortunately, I didn’t feel that x factor that is so important in a potential romantic relationship. I wish you only the best.

There’s often this unspoken sense in the digital world that the words we use don’t have an effect on people looking on the other end of the screen. Perhaps this is a common reason people in the dating world (and otherwise) “ghost” someone. But people pleasers are just as likely to ghost someone—not wanting to face the potential disappointment they will cause the other party.

Jackie didn’t ghost Mr. Smitten. She lied to him and herself, hiding behind a story to prevent dealing with the potential fallout of truth. In a way, she became a ghost to herself, rejecting the idea that she mattered.

Mr. Smitten deserved to know there was no romantic potential, so he could move on and meet someone who felt about him the way he once did about Jackie.

We humans are wired to avoid pain and discomfort, so it’s no surprise that ghosting offers a “quick fix” to avoid dealing with the potential anxiety that comes with confrontation. But there’s that other, more clandestine side of ghosting we need to watch for as well: lying to ourselves and by extension, the other person in the dating equation. It’s better to rip off that emotional Band-aid now than string someone along, hurting two people in the long run. 

Each of us matters. When we remember this, we stop lying to ourselves and others. The desire for truth eclipses fear of confrontation—the real ghostbuster;-)

*Name changed to protect privacy.

A Different Kind of Love Letter

There’s something powerful about the written word–especially when those words are crafted with the intent to alter the present.

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with the insightful and engaging, Alicia Elatassi on her Podcast, Vibes by Alicia. While our dialogue focused on feeding ourselves emotional nutrition (the main focus of my book, The Friendship Diet: Clean Out Your Fridge, Get Real with Yourself, and Fill Your Life with Meaningful Relationships that Last), one of the great questions Alicia asked me was:

Where can young women find the willpower to stop accepting emotional crumbs and leave a relationship that isn’t serving them?

Enter Faith. A relatively easy quality to possess in spades when we are flying high, but something fleeting and hard to feel when we are in a bad place—physically or mentally.

Then I remembered the Love Letter I wrote to the Universe. I wrote about the qualities of a partner I wanted, writing the letter in the present tense—not the past or the future. The idea is to write the letter and read it aloud. There’s something powerful about putting your desires onto paper; something energy-shifting about giving voice to the qualities you see in someone before he or she has physically materialized. Since time is a human construct, what matters is consciousness. According to author Larry G. Maguire:

“It is by our perception only that things appear to be, and not to be…. In fundamental reality, there is merely everything existent in a single moment.”

Mini-quantum physic lesson aside, when we reflect on the qualities we want to experience in another partner, we are paying attention, we are going within for answers, we are getting real with ourselves. The qualities we are looking for will not be found on social media or even in your close friend’s Love Letter. This writing exercise is a Love Letter to YOU, a subconscious reminder that what you want matters.

The Love Letter to the Universe can be written whether you are single, married, divorced, or widowed—the current relationship status doesn’t matter because YOU are the common denominator. The Love Letter offers a kinesthetic check-in on what matters to you and what you want to experience.

But back to Alicia’s thought-provoking question:

Where can young women find the willpower to stop accepting emotional crumbs and leave a relationship that isn’t serving them?

An internal shift occurs when you write a Love Letter to the Universe. There’s this energetic knowing that the figurative winds have suddenly changed. Faith starts to flow. You can’t look at the list you’ve created and remain willing to accept emotional crumbs. The more you refer back to your list, the more difficult it will be to continue swallowing the status quo. There will come a point when that Love Letter for Mr. Right will feel more real than the boyfriend who stares at his phone throughout dinner.

The Love Letter to the Universe is a powerful honing device when you’ve found yourself living by default, accepting whatever empty calories come your way. When we list the qualities we want in a partner, as if they’re already here in the flesh, we stop settling. We get comfortable walking away from what doesn’t serve us, discovering the very qualities we want in another, in ourselves. And when we love ourselves, we never starve.

Alicia’s Vibes Podcast: https://www.audible.com/pd/Vibes-by-Alicia-Podcast/B08JJM9S9B

The Friendship Diet:  https://www.amazon.com/Friendship-Diet-Yourself-Meaningful-Relationships-ebook/dp/B089GZJ5B5

Source: https://larrygmaguire.com/does-time-exist/

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

There’s a disconnect between what retail glorifies as romance and what romance truly is.

            Valentine’s Day. A time hallowed by Hallmark (the TV channel included), teeming with jewelry commercials, and stores littered with giant pink hearts and boxes of chocolate. Retail stores ply our senses with confectionary romance. 

All that pink can start to look like Pepto Bismol (or make you feel like you need some to quell the nausea from the retail overload).

There’s nothing wrong with the romantic holiday arriving each 2nd week of February. The tricky part comes when we lose sight of the why behind romantic gestures. According to author Kelly Gonsalves:

“Being romantic is about expressing love and dedication in a way that’s intentional, unmistakable, and deeply affectionate.”

The Hallmark Channel and Kay Jewelers offer the image of romance, all shiny and with a figurative (and often literal) bow on top. But a woman could receive a sparkly jewel and not feel an ounce of romance; she could watch flick after flick of cheesy Hallmark movies about “love” but not experience anything more than the gas she incurs eating too many bowls of popcorn.

Our retail-centered modern world offers ways to say you matter to me. But it’s the why behind those acts that make all the difference. When there’s genuine connection, romance can be found in a thoughtful gesture—something as simple as bringing your loved one a coffee made just the way he likes it. When there’s reciprocal authenticity, romance is no longer an annual event cranked out by American Greetings, it’s a regular occurrence.

But what if I’m single? You may be asking. Romance can occur regularly for a party of one. Take yourself for a manicure. Treat yourself to a good book or a massage. Go for a scenic bike ride. Remember: the most important relationship you will ever have is the one with yourself. And just like a relationship with someone else, even the small gestures can pack a significant punch.

Tina Turner’s famous hit, What’s Love Got to Do with It? is ostensibly about a girl telling herself that the boy she likes is only interested in him physically. Yet at the closing chorus, the lyrics speak a different story:

I’ve been taking on a new direction
But I have to say
I’ve been thinking about my own protection
It scares me to feel this way

What is the girl in the song scared of? What is she trying to protect and why? To love means to experience vulnerability, to accept vulnerability as a way of life, to cozy up to it and break bread with it, to look our fear directly in the eyes, knowing you might get your heart broken. The Hallmark movies, the Jared jewelry commercials—these are fairytale ideas that have nothing to do with watching a loved one go through chemotherapy or losing someone in a car accident. Love takes guts; love means you’re in the ring, knowing there are no guarantees.

What’s love got to do with it? In my opinion, everything. 

Source: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/articles/how-to-be-romantic

Our Brain’s Mad Lib

Ironically, knowing our brains’ tendency to focus on the negative is the key to a happier life.

            He was cute—really cute. A mop of dark hair with the sweetest brown eyes. For weeks, my friend talked about her new coworker, the one who asked if she wanted to meet after work sometime.

            The date was set for a Friday on a Tuesday. From Tuesday on, *Samantha could barely sleep or eat. 

            “I’m so nervous. What do I wear? What if he only meant for us to get together as friends? What do I say? What if he changes his mind and isn’t attracted to me?”

            The day finally arrived. I assumed I wouldn’t hear from Samantha until later that night. But Samantha called me before the sun even set.

            “You okay?”

            “Yeah,” Samantha said. Her voice made me think of tires losing air. “I’m not attracted to him.”

            Say what??

            “He’s not much of a conversationalist. I tried to engage him. He was so boring.”

            “Back it up sister, you thought he was so cute. What happened?”

            “He took off his mask.”

            Well then.

            We may not be in Samantha’s shoes, but we have certainly all experienced what psychologists refer to as negative bias. Our brains receive external information and literally wire the positive and negative input into different hemispheres.

            “Negative emotions generally involve more thinking…information is processed more thoroughly than positive ones. Thus, we tend to ruminate more about unpleasant events—and use stronger words to describe them-than happy ones.” (Stanford Professor, Clifford Nass)

            So, while Samantha was thrilled that the cute guy at her office asked her on a date, her brain was flooded with its Mad Libs’ tendency to fill-in-the-blank what ifs with worst case scenarios. Her brain’s negative bias created a rush of worrisome thoughts that manifested in difficulty sleeping and a loss of appetite.

            I had my own negative bias: when Samantha called me when she was meant to be on the date, my brain did its own Mad Libs negative bias: Did “cute guy” stand her up? Did he do something inappropriate? Is she in danger?

            The idea that Samantha just might have decided to end the date early didn’t occur to my brain. 

            But what about how “really cute” Samantha’s coworker was? There’s negative bias there, too. Afterall, a good portion of her worry stemmed from a fear that “really cute” guy wouldn’t find her attractive. So, her brain took the meager view one third of a man’s face and made him a Greek god, out of her league, aesthetically “above” her. 

            It’s important to realize that it was Samantha’s brain creating the Mad Libs in the genre of a horror movie. It’s also important to remember the brain is an organ—no different than the lungs or kidneys. The brain has specific functions just as our bodies’ other organs, but it need not define us.

            So, knowing our brain is wired toward the mental gymnastics of negative bias, what can we do? The Buddhist monk, Henepola Gunarantana suggests a compassionate reckoning of sorts with yourself:

            “Somewhere in this process [self-analysis], you will come face-to-face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy. Your mind is a shrieking gibbering madhouse on wheels, barreling pell-mell down the hill, utterly out of control and hopeless. No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way, and you just never noticed. You are also no crazier than everybody else around you. The real difference is that you have confronted the situation they have not.”

            Becoming mindful, cultivating self-awareness—including our brain’s hardwired tendency to focus on the negative, is actually the key to mental freedom. The challenge isn’t our negative thoughts; the challenge is remembering that we can choose not to believe them; the challenge is remembering we are not our thoughts.

            Source: https://skillpath.com/blog/positive-fight-natural-tendency-focus-negative

Burying Yourself in Dating

Dating while still in the psychological Diet Coke of Denial can be a precarious endeavor, making it that much harder to unearth the truth.

A dear friend of mine recently got divorced. We are talking, recent as in the ink is still drying as I write this. Eighteen years of marriage, two of living together, two kids, two dogs and a house still needing to be sold.

“It wasn’t mutual,” she tells me each time we get together. “I was happy. When he wanted to go for couple’s counseling, I said sure. He kept saying he wasn’t happy.”

Halfway through our lunches, she’ll pull out her phone and ask me what I think of the men she is meeting that afternoon, that night, the next day, and the day after that one.

Before our waiter heads over with the bill, she will repeat those three words from the start of our lunch, “It wasn’t mutual.” No reintroduction to the topic needed; the pain verbally splattered all over her face and hunched shoulders.

“Why do you think he wanted out?” I ask.

“Probably because my ass could double as a pincushion now,” she laughs.

Her laughter is a forced sound that renders both of us uncomfortable. I let the sound fall between us and land with a thud. We both know her ex found her physically desirable and couldn’t have cared less about her weight.

“You know I made that big financial mistake, but I apologized. Geesh, move on,” she said, flipping through the latest Hinge profiles on her phone.

My friend has alluded to the “big financial mistake” for years now, but I still don’t know what exactly she did wrong that her ex can’t move past. We are close and yet this financial “mistake” remains a mystery only clear to her ex.

Ironically, my friend is a private investment banker. Her career is literally about helping affluent customers make sound fiscal decisions. 

My friend is in the Diet Coke Denial of the most sacred relationship: the one with herself. Deep down, she knows exactly why her ex can’t move past whatever she did or didn’t do fiscally. Deep down, she knows it was wrong to cover up whatever it is that she did. Deep down, she knows her self-degrading humor regarding her derriere reflects her self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Unfortunately, instead of getting real with herself, she buries the truth and the unspoken shame she feels. Instead of facing fears, she fabricates online filtered profiles of herself from 10 years ago, before her weight gain and financial deceit. She writes about the importance of honesty in a relationship and notes she is “looking for something casual.”

“I just want to have fun,” she tells me.

And then:

“It wasn’t mutual. I was happy.”

Until we get real with ourselves, how can we be ready to date? 

I think of the famous Sir Walter Scott quote:

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!”

My friend, in an effort to protect her already broken heart, is deceiving herself and, by extension, the men she is meeting. It’s a tangled mess only to be cleared up through the inner work she needs to do. Denial is the Chinese finger trap of healing: the more we fight to deny the truth, the harder it is to break free and live the life we are meant to live.