Parallel Lives:

Writing the Story Behind the Surface

Discover a powerful writing technique for understanding ourselves and our experiences.

Teaching English to middle school students during the peak of Covid last year often rendered me daydreaming for a lobotomy. It wasn’t the students. It was the eggshell-like-fear the teachers and students felt each day, not knowing how close to sit or converse, not knowing when to remove our masks to eat.

The inconsistent hybrid learning didn’t make teaching or learning any easier. Students’ WIFI would cause them to freeze mid-sentence, someone’s volume in the classroom would cause a deafening high pitch, or a student would choose not to show their face in our Microsoft Team’s meeting.

Staff was still expected to meet progress report and report card deadlines, attend 504 accommodation meetings, create curriculum, monitor students’ progress, discipline, nurture—you name it, teachers were meant to do it. 

English teachers are the ones who receive poetry and stories and personal essays bleeding with pain. We are most commonly the ones who notify the guidance counselor and make that call to CPS. 

Even though I’m no longer in the classroom, I am still a teacher. I’m still the person students share their creative stories with, fiction and nonfiction. It is a gift to be on the receiving end of their writing.

The teenagers I work with instinctively know that writing is a process. It helps them connect the dots in their lives, helps them to understand the world around them and their place in it.

Here’s the truth: we are all students. We are all trying to make sense of this topsy-turvy world on a macro and micro level. 

The gifted writer, Anna Quindlen, addresses this need for writing as a means of processing our very lives. We write to know ourselves, and in many ways, to heal ourselves. Writing as self-reflection is therapeutic.

Dr. Charon and Parallel Charts

Dr. Rita Charon founded a writing technique at Columbia University’s medical school called Parallel Charts. In Quindlen’s book, Write for Your Life, Quindlen quotes a summary of Dr. Charon’s Parallel Chart technique assigned to 3rd year medical students:

“If your patient dying of prostate cancer reminds you of your grandfather, who died of that disease last summer, and each time you go into the patient’s room, you weep for your grandfather, you cannot write that in the hospital chart. We will not let you. And yet it has to be written somewhere.  You write it in the Parallel Chart.”

Students and Adults Alike: The Need for Parallel Charts

Whether we are a student grappling with a tough home life, or an adult challenged by a difficult boss, we all experience stressors that can’t always be handled head on. Parallel Charts allows us to process and work through difficult emotions and situations.

Quindlen offers us an opportunity to do Parallel Charts in any circumstance:

“Take a look at your calendar, or your class schedule. Dates, numbers, times, and yet, for each, there is an observation, or a sentiment, behind it, whether of that specific event or course or of how you were feeling that day. There is a story behind our to-do lists.”

The Magic of Parallel Charts:

There’s an alchemy that occurs when we write the underbelly of our thoughts, when we connect with the surface of the day’s experiences and take time to digest them. When we write that we have a doctor’s appointment at noon, there’s the feel of the plastic chairs in your mind, the kind man behind the desk who has a picture of his daughter and wife next to a block calendar. When we write what we are experiencing behind the scenes, we boost our connection to the world around us and our place in it.

Are You Laughing in Pain?

Great comedians like Robbin Williams and Lucille Ball did it. They laughed despite their pain. Learn the difference between humor as a release and humor as a deflective strategy.


I have a dear friend from college who I refer to as The Deflection King. When things get serious, he goes for humor. It takes intelligence to throw out the quick zingers he often does. Most of the time, his comedy is welcome, but there are times when his personal stand-up routine is both sad and frustrating.

What Does Deflection Mean Anyway?

The word deflect comes from the Latin word deflectere. De means away from + flectere means to bend. Humor is my friend’s way of deflecting a barrage of whatever unpleasant experiences come his way.

I happen to love humor, and like my friend, I’ve spent time on stages performing as a stand-up comic. Humor can be a fantastic balm to a hurting spirit. Humor sugar coats some often painful medicine, allowing it a more palatable digestion.

Humor as a Band-aid

But when we use humor to deflect, it becomes a coping strategy, a comedic Band-aid that prevents us from growing and moving forward. Deflection becomes armor that might keep us from getting hurt, but it also keeps us from experiencing life fully. Over time, that armor becomes a weight, and we might wonder why we feel so alone.

Deflection is defined as causing (something) to change direction by interposing something. Verbal deflection pushes loved ones away and keeps the deflector “safe” from feeling anything of substance. Deflection is the young sibling of Denial and will literally keep us away from the chance of experiencing a genuine connection.

My dear friend has a heart of gold. He is loyal to his family and friends. He also has uncanny comedic timing and possesses the ability to make a crowd wish they were sporting Depends. But this King of Deflection is in pain and no amount of sharp jokes will remove the turmoil in his eyes.

Comedians in Pain

I think of the late and great Robbin Williams, bringing tears of laughter to millions of people through the years. I think of Christopher Titus whose mother and sister both committed suicide; I think of Lucille Ball whose offscreen personal life did not look anything like the slapstick humor the late comedic genius displayed onscreen. Humor can be wonderfully therapeutic, but we also need to be willing to look under the spiritual hood.

So, the next time you find yourself or a loved one tapping a funny bone, ask yourself: is there a bigger story here that I’m ignoring? Humor can often be the vehicle to truth.

They Myth of Empathy: What It Is and Isn’t

The notion that empathy can deplete our mental resources or hurt us is an unarticulated myth.We can appreciate someone else’s suffering without the need to experience it.

A good friend has a car accident. Your uncle has dementia. A sibling has breast cancer. In each of these situations, as in any challenging time in the lives of loved ones, our heart has the opportunity to open and experience compassion.

But sometimes, we humans confuse Compassion’s powerful sibling, Empathy, for a virus that’s potentially contagious. 

So, we close up, emotionally distancing ourselves from whatever turmoil a loved one is experiencing, not because we don’t care, but because we are afraid to care too much.

Empathy Fear in Action

Years ago, a friend of mine saw I was struggling with a family issue. When I articulated what was going on, she told me the following:

“You know I love you, but I can’t be around you while you are going through this. It’s too hard for me. Once it’s over, let’s get together.”

Despite knowing me for years, my friend equated “being there for me” with somehow catching the challenges I was facing.

What Empathy is Not

Empathy is not something that requires physical, emotional, or spiritual stamina. It doesn’t ask us to drain our health, bank account, or time. Empathy doesn’t infringe or demand. It isn’t a cosmic paramecium, feeding off of us to help another.

What Empathy Is

The prefix EM means to put into or bring to a certain state. The root word PATHY means feeling or suffering. To have empathy to imagine what another feels in a given situation. We are imagining the Other’s experience, but we are not in the situation itself. Empathy is the emotional lubricant that allows humanity to connect. By putting ourselves in another’s shoes, we stimulate Compassion.

Empathy in Action

My friend’s fear of empathy ironically prevented her from experiencing it. When someone loses a loved one, when there’s a difficult divorce, when a family member is robbed — the greatest thing we can do for that person is be present. The sufferer does not expect their friend to BE in pain, only to acknowledge that it’s there.

Empathy is a silent or verbal acknowledgement to let the sufferer know they are not alone. It can manifest in anything from a homemade pie to a text, letting them know you’re thinking of them.

The Myth of Empathy

There’s this unspoken fear that demonstrating empathy, allowing ourselves to “go there” for someone in pain, is going to break us. 

But the opposite is true: when we open our hearts to someone else’s pain, our heart gets stronger, not weaker. Our ability to put ourselves in another’s figurative shoes makes us more powerful, not less.

A Surprising Benefit to Empathy

When we lean into empathy for another’s suffering, we strengthen self-compassion for ourselves. By welcoming the unwelcome in others, we grow more understanding and forgiving of our own imperfections and challenges.

What’s the Big Deal with Meditation?

Meditation is about giving the fractured parts of us a space to commune.

Last night, the rain slammed against the windows of my home and woke me up, thunder making sure I stayed awake. I tossed and turned, not quite asleep but not awake either, as the light bled into the bedroom with the dawn.

A couple of years ago, a storm like that would have easily rendered me hitting my pillow, counting, and recounting the hours of sleep I was missing. A couple of years ago, I perceived life coming at me more than coming through me. A couple of years ago, I saw my brain’s worst-case-scenario game as something belonging to me instead of a mere function of that organ warehoused in my body.

My external life hasn’t changed much in these past couple of years. There’s still bills to pay, traffic to maneuver through, personal challenges to face — you name it, life stressors continue.

So, what’s changed? What’s given me the gift of inner peace, the ability to both strive and surrender, to relish experience over destination, to trust that everything is always working out — even at those times when my brain is telling me a very different story?

Meditation. I love it and cannot recommend it enough.

The prefix medi is Latin for middle. When we meditate, we are putting ourselves into this middle space between waking and dreaming. We are both in our physical bodies and beyond them.

In the middle, we are able to watch our thoughts without judgment or censorship. Meditation allows us to go from a micro to macro perspective. The late and great, Dr. Wayne Dyer wrote powerfully about this in his book, The Shift: Taking Your Life from Ambition to Meaning:

“Becoming the observer (step back) you begin to live in process, trusting where our source is taking you. You begin to detach from the outcome. That detachment allows you to stop fighting and allows things to just come to you…You get to a place where you begin to be guided by something greater than yourself.” -Dr. Wayne Dyer

The gift of meditation grows over time. Each time I take those 10–15 minutes in the morning to meditate, my spiritual muscles are stronger than the day before. If I find myself in what I perceive to be a stressful situation, I am able to catch myself that much sooner and breathe through any unpleasant feelings that arise, “welcoming the unwelcome” (Pema Chodron), knowing as the pithy goes, “This too shall pass.”

There is no wrong way to meditate. Go for a walk, listen to the air conditioning as you sit comfortably on a chair, fold laundry, paying attention to the sensations of the fabrics your fingers touch.

Meditation is about giving the fractured parts of us a space to commune. It’s an opportunity to slow down and observe, to watch without fixing, to feel without concealing, to allow our sheer being to just…be. Over time, you learn to trust both the Universe and your inner knowing (which, in my book, are one in the same).

“People can tell you all kinds of wrong directions, lead you around any corner. You can’t trust any of that. You can’t even trust me. What do they say in car adverts? About the navigation system? Comes as standard. Everything you need to know about right and wrong is already there. It comes as standard. It’s like music. You just have to listen.” How to Stop Time (author, Matt Haig).

Meditation is the portal to listening and by extension, knowing ourselves.

What’s the big deal about meditation?

In my opinion, everything. Cultivating our inner compass is where the real magic happens.

The Most Important Bank Account

The most important bank account has nothing to do with your 401K.

            It’s not the number of stocks or annuities in your retirement portfolio, nor the percent of interest accruing in your money market account. It isn’t the bonus received or expected from work or the amount of dollars in your checking and savings.

            The most important bank account isn’t measured in cryptocurrency, gold, or one’s investment in semi-conductors. Those values, like everything else fiscally measured, will rise and fall. Just peruse renowned investor’s Ray Dalio’s recent books, Principles for Dealing with the Changing World Order: Why Nations Succeed and Fail to discover the cyclical nature of economic abundance and poverty.

            After our most basic needs are met—thank you Maslow (air, water, food, shelter, sleep), our spiritual bank accounts require our attention.

            Only we humans possess an affinity to avoid pain and discomfort. We flee from hurt, instead of looking at it directly. We hide behind schedules or alcohol, or addiction to numb our pain.

            Avoiding the pain, denying what we are feeling creates two potential outcomes over time:

  1. Mountain-out-of-a-molehill behavior 
  2. Illness in the body and mind

Author and speaker, Brene Brown (Atlas of the Heart), refers to this tendency to be triggered over something seemingly insignificant as “chandeliering.” 

We see this triggered behavior all over the world and in our own backyards: 

-the “Karen” ready to attack someone for having a different opinion

-the road rage against a total stranger on the highway

-the friend who starts cursing up a storm when their iPad won’t charge

In all of these examples, the anger lashing out is not about what appears to be the source of their anger. The anger is a symptom of an inner pain that is going unaddressed.

The anger is misplaced, unexamined pain and a symptom of a depleted spiritual bank account.

Then there is the manifestation of pain in our body:

-the back pain that worsens in traffic

-the chest pain that “comes out of nowhere”

-the panic attacks 

-the frequent malaise

Brene Brown refers to our tendency to swallow our pain, pushing it down, so it can’t see the light of day as “stockpiling.” These are the folks who say everything is fine, like a spiritual Unikitty (Lego movie) when things are feeling far from fine.

If we are in denial like a super-charged positive Unikitty, ignoring our wounds, they will fester. And if we aren’t “chandeliering,” we are likely to “stockpile” our negative emotion until they show up in our bodies.

It’s human nature to avoid pain and seek pleasure. But there’s a real danger in denial, in running from our negative emotion or swallowing it and swimming like a duck through life—graceful on the surface but fighting for our lives below.

Unexamined and untended to pain that remains hidden will fester, affecting either others (when we lash out) or our own bodies negatively.

When we take time to look our wounds directly in the eye, something wonderful happens: the wound itself begins to heal.

Our spiritual bank accounts fill when we honor our journey and respect the emotions we experience along the way. Emotions, like the weather, change; it’s only when we deny their existence or demand that certain ones stay that our bank account falters.

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.

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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.

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