One of the saddest things that can happen to a person is to want a romantic relationship and be unable to find one. The single person feels alone and might often wonder what is wrong with her. Even worse, her mother, sister, or grandmother often insinuates or outright says that she did something wrong, which is why she is single. It also grates that her friends, acquaintances or frenemies might be in happy relationships even though the single person knows she is better than them in many ways.
While I have not suffered through this situation, in preparing for this book I read many novels about single women wondering if they will get married. These novels included classics like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters, and modern updates like Bridget Jones and her American and Indian counterparts. These novels describe bright, interesting, fun, sassy women whose lives seemed like they would get better if they got married.
Shortly after reading so many of these novels and having “chick lit” on the brain, my thirty-year-old son came home to visit. He had been involved in a serious relationship with the same woman for over six years. She was thirty two and wanted to have children soon. He was a beginning professor with no solid career path yet, and had never discussed marriage with her. He told me that in the last couple years, there were negative dynamics in the relationship he did not understand. Because of my reading of these novels, it was obvious she wanted to get married and have a family. From her point of view, she had invested so much time and energy in my son, and now he was not coming through for her. My son’s girlfriend was not my favorite person as she continually reminded me of my mother-in-law, but I felt sorry for her and actually thought she was a good match for my son. So I offered to pay for a Caribbean honeymoon if they got married soon. Unfortunately for her, he did not rise to the occasion; he did, though, understand her situation and the dynamics of the relationship better.
Michelle finds love
Unlike Dr. Phil who guarantees that if you use his methods you will find a partner, I give out no such guarantees. I have no idea whether the river of your life will bring you a soul mate or romantic relationship. One of my friends met her soul mate and they got engaged, but before they were married, he died in a plane crash. That happened twenty years ago and she has never met anyone else nor does she expect to. While I cannot guarantee you a romantic relationship, there are some guidelines, which if you follow, will make it much more likely you will meet and recognize your romantic connection if he or she shows up. These guidelines are not a quick fix or magic bullet; they require you to face up to difficult things about yourself that you may not want to see. They did help Michelle find her first love at thirty-nine, and they can help you too. Because Michelle’s tribulations in romance and her ultimate triumph are instructive and inspiring, these guidelines are illustrated through her story.
Michelle was not a very promising person to find love at almost forty. She was extremely unpopular in elementary and middle school (her playground nickname was cockroach, and she had only one friend when she was young but then her family’s poverty forced her family to move away). Her unpopularity continued over into high school and college: she never dated in high school and only had her first date at twenty-one. In her twenties, she had some dates with men, but only one serious relationship, which was full of tremendous problems. When she was thirty, she started dating women. She had four significant lesbian relationships, but these left her feeling so bad about herself and her prospects that she stopped dating for nearly three years. Even though she desperately did not want to be alone, she gave up trying as she thought there was no chance she could ever find a decent relationship when she was as messed up as she was. This story starts with Michelle’s significant lesbian relationships and the guidelines she used to find a good romantic connection. Michelle is now happy in a romantic relationship.
Michelle’s first significant lesbian relationship was with a nineteen year old professional tennis player named Jino from the country of Georgia. Jino was sexy with amazing arms, a great accent and full of fun. Michelle was so happy to be in a relationship that she did not mind at first all of Jino’s negative characteristics. Eventually she started noticing that Jino had some negative characteristics such as drinking too much, being very selfish and being manipulative. For example, she would tell Michelle that she had lost money or had it stolen, and Michelle would feel bad and give her money. This technique worked so well that Michelle ended up giving Jino nearly a thousand dollars. Michelle also grew tired of Jino’s constant promises to go back to school, to get a job, or to pay Michelle back without ever doing any of these things. Michelle noticed all these things, but she also decided that they did not matter much because she realized Jino was just a fun, summer fling.
First Guideline: You cannot create the connection to be what you want it to be by the force of your desire; instead, you need to face up to what the other person is in the relationship for.
After Jino moved out east to be closer to her mom, Michelle started dating Denise. Denise was very attractive because she was the center of attention among the young and exciting crowd she hung out with, and Michelle had a strong desire for attention and popularity. Michelle met Denise at a nightclub where Michelle was the dominatrix and Denise came up to get spanked. Even though Denise came with another women who was all over her, Denise explained they weren’t dating and flirted with Michelle the entire time. The two women had a hot and fun relationship: they would have sex in public bathrooms, the nightclub parking lot or invite other women in for threesomes.
In the second week of their relationship, Michelle had a little cold and was pissed when Denise did not want her to come over because Denise was worried she might catch the cold. A week or so later Michelle called me and was crying. It turns out the two women went on a date together, but Denise ditched Michelle to sit with some other friends who spent the whole night laughing and joking while Michelle sat at the other end of the restaurant with people she barely knew. Michelle felt completely left out, unwanted and cried for a while after the date.
When Michelle told me the situation I was not sympathetic, because it seemed to me that Denise just wanted to have a good time in the relationship and Michelle was trying to make it something deeper and more meaningful. Denise was a hot butch (a very desirable commodity in the lesbian community at that time) and, as a player, was happy to be around Michelle if that added to her fun. Michelle though was trying to make the relationship into something more than what it was. Denise only wanted a fun fling, but Michelle wanted it to be a real romance with emotional commitment.
This type of mismatch happens all the time in relationships; the real problem was that Michelle thought she had enough power to somehow make her view of the relationship happen. She thought she could manipulate the currents in the river to give her what she wanted, instead of having to recognize where the currents were going and go with it. Michelle had to face up to the fact that her wishes and desires could not make something happen, and she had to flow with what was happening instead of trying to create what she wanted.
In the Bridget Jones novels, Bridget is in a related situation with her boss, Daniel Cleaver. She is dating her boss who is a charming, debonair bad boy. Bridget knows that he takes advantage of women and just wants sex with them, but she stands up for her right to be treated without “fuckwittage.” So when Daniel wants sex the first time, she says no as he will not agree to treat her well. The interesting thing, though, is that she seems to think just getting a bad boy to say he will treat her well can solve the problem. He does promise he will treat her better. Then he says he will do normal couples things like going to a dreadful family party, but he never comes through. Instead he skips the party and goes on a date with a much prettier, thinner, more stylish woman.
If Daniel only wants their relationship to be just a fun fling (which he does), there is nothing Bridget can do to change the situation. She cannot impose her will on the relationship and make it be what she wants it to be if he has an entirely different idea of the relationship.
Many heterosexual women Michelle’s age (early thirties at the time) blame men for their relationship troubles. Bridget Jones did that. Bridget said that men are commitment phobic or know that the demographic odds are on their side and take advantage of the situation. Even if that is true, it does Bridget no good to blame someone else for not giving her what she wants. Bridget, and anyone else whose relationship partner is not doing what she wants him to do, has to face up to the situation as it is and accept it instead of trying to create it to be something different.
It does not work to try to force your idea of what a relationship should be (in Michelle and Bridget’s cases, something more than a fun fling) onto the other person. You cannot create the connection to be something you want it to be by the force of your will and desires. You have to go with what the current of your flow gives you; or, another way of saying the same thing, you have to face up to what the other person is in the relationship for and not think you can create something more just because you want it to be that way.
Second Guideline: Learn the lesson a negative relationship is revealing to you
Michelle kept trying to make an emotional relationship work with Denise, even though Denise just wanted it to be a fun fling. They stayed together for about another month. In this time, Michelle could see that Denise was uncaring, manipulative, and insensitive. Denise was also a blowhard who would make promise after promise about fun trips they would take together or great presents she would give Michelle or how they would just spend more time with each other. But in the end, none of these things happened. Even the sex started going bad: Denise called Michelle high maintenance for Michelle wanting more attention so she could climax after Denise already had. After Michelle got an STD from Denise, Michelle finally ended the relationship.
The second guideline in negative relationships is to learn the lesson they can teach you. Michelle’s last two relationships involved very similar kinds of people: they were selfish, insensitive, uncaring, low class, used her to get what they wanted, sponged money off her, and had addictive personalities. They also made continual promises of the big things they were going to do, but never did them. It is not random Michelle would be meeting these kinds of negative people; she must be attracting these kinds of people to herself. (I discuss the reasons behind this point of view in great detail in chapter twelve.) Because she was meeting two of the same kind of people in a row, she most likely had these same qualities. I also knew Michelle, and she often treated me like these women treated her.
I told her that she must have these qualities, which was why she was meeting women like this. She did not see how she had these qualities. Sometimes she thought the universe was horrible or out to get her and that was why she was meeting these horrible people. Other times she thought my ideas do not really work because she was trying so hard, but nothing ever changed. Other times she felt my ideas may be true but they are too hard to implement. Sometimes she thought maybe she was once like that or long ago had some of these qualities, but she was sure she was no longer like that in any way.
Many people have the sense that we are more than mere physical beings. They sense we are more spiritual and here to learn lessons. Many spiritual teachers (especially the New Age and Buddhist inspired ones) think when we encounter negative situations we need to learn to be more loving, more patient, more generous, and more forgiving. They say we need to gain more perspective on what is really important: love, kindness, and caring, not success in the world. Richard Carlson, one spiritual teacher much inspired by Buddhism, wrote a very popular book summing up this attitude: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff—And It’s All Small Stuff.
I agree that we are spiritual creatures learning lessons. In some way I do not really understand, we are here to learn things. I disagree, however, about what we are supposed to be learning and how we should do it. We are not here learning to have universal moral qualities like forgiveness, peace, and patience. Instead we are learning very specific lessons meant for us in particular. Furthermore, these lessons can be understood from the nature of the relationships we experience as negative.
In Michelle’s case, her lesson was that she was self-centered, manipulative, and basically just like the women she was meeting. While the qualities she needed to develop were similar to what many spiritual teachers were advocating, her lessons did not have to be like this. She could be getting lessons telling her to be more concerned for herself, and not the group. Or lessons telling her to be less trusting and open hearted with her fellow workers. (She did receive these types of lessons from other relationships later on.)
The Buddhist view develops from their primary goal of helping monks gain enlightenment. They teach the world is not important, enlightenment is; they then teach moral qualities like patience and forgiveness that will help monks reach that goal. My view develops from not believing enlightenment is the goal, and instead, trying to help people be simultaneously spiritual and successful in their relationships in this world. Thus my emphasis on our relationships revealing to us what specific lessons we need to learn.
For Michelle, her negative qualities were reflected back to her by the negative people she was meeting. She was meeting selfish, manipulative, self-centered braggarts, so she was almost certainly had those qualities and had to learn to change. I am not saying she was as selfish and as manipulative as the people she was meeting, just that she had the same qualities, although maybe not to the same degree. But she refused to see how she could have the same qualities as these people.
If you don’t learn from the reflective relationships you are seeing, you keep attracting the same kind of people to yourself. Sadly, it seems to be that if you do not learn your lesson, you get into situations that are more and more negative. I am not sure why that happens. It might be because you get further and further from the deeper currents of your life so other negative things get brought into the later relationships. Or maybe the universe just teaches that way: it starts out with easy lessons, but if you do not learn them, the lessons get more and more severe until you do.
Wise people learn their lesson early and change so they can keep flowing in their river. Less wise people refuse to look into the mirror of their relationships and see what negative qualities they have. They then keep suffering. Michelle insisted she was not like these people, so she kept suffering until she could face the truth.
Third Guideline for negative relationships: Learn from your mistakes
Michelle next met Amy, a firefighter with great arms and calendar looks. At the beginning Michelle thought Amy was different than the first two relationships as Amy had a good job and cared about the environment and politics. The relationship went well for a month or so, then Michelle got a little crush on a guy at the club where she worked and told Amy that she was attracted to him. After that their relationship went immediately downhill and never recovered.
The break in the relationship was so obvious, Michelle knew she had made a mistake. Unfortunately Amy never wanted to talk about this problem or any other significant problem in the relationship. From my limited experience helping people, people have a very hard time facing their reflections and learning from what their negative relationships say about their own relationship qualities, but they are interested by the idea that they made some mistake at the origin of their problem. Maybe this is because looking at your mistakes does not seem to require the same facing up to their own negative qualities or it makes people think the relationship can be saved.
While lessons can be hard to face, it is relatively easy to understand the messages they are conveying. To understand them, you look at the negative qualities of another person and figure out how you are the same. Mistakes like Michelle made can be much harder to understand if you lack deep awareness of proper relationship style. In chapter twelve I talk much more about this. There I give an example of a woman who gave her daughter-in-law a weight loss book because the daughter-in-law was a little fat. This woman had meant it in a nice way, and she could not see why the daughter-in-law had taken such offense at it. An outsider with a good sense of empathy and awareness could see that her daughter-in-law most likely felt she was being called fat by her mother-in-law and did not like that. But the mother-in-law could not see this: she did not mean to do anything offensive; she just wanted to help someone.
If you are an empathetic, together outsider, you might be able to hear about what had happened in the relationship and figure out why that bothered the other person. But for the person who committed the mistake, often times the real trouble is that she has blind spots in certain areas and cannot see what she has done and why it bothers the other person.
It took us a long time to figure out what mistake Michelle had made with Amy. It turns out that Amy’s most significant former partner was bisexual and after breaking up with Amy, she moved in with a guy. By blurting out her attraction to a man, Michelle was bringing up things Amy had issues with. Knowing this helped Michelle understand Amy’s reaction, but we still did not understand the deeper reason behind her mistake of blurting out her feelings.
We were not able to understand it for years. Michelle was actually at the time looking at why her relationship with her father was not good. We discovered that her father just blurted everything he felt, and his feelings erupted onto other people like a volcano; he had no sense that he should keep some of his feelings in. Michelle realized that she was the same way. She just blurted out her feelings all the time because she had a deeper idea that relationships were supposed to be about the total sharing of feelings.
In this area my teachings are significantly different from New Age or other spiritual teachings. I do not think all our mistakes in relationships come from not being open hearted enough or mistakenly constructing boundaries to others based on illusory fears. There are times we have to maintain our boundaries and not pretend we are totally one with someone else. In my view, we are interconnected to other people sometimes, but never fully one with them. Thus each individual has to maintain the proper boundaries at all times.
In Michelle’s case, she wanted to fully express her feelings and totally obliterate her boundaries to her lover. That caused her to say too much to Amy and wreck the relationship. That relationship style also caused her problems many other times. Thus she had to learn from her mistake and change.
It is pleasant to share feelings, but it is also selfish as the person sharing gets the pleasure, but oftentimes the person being shared with does not want to hear the feelings. Michelle saw that she needed to learn to keep her feelings inside more often and not let them bubble over without sensitivity to how other people would react to them.
The fourth guideline for negative relationships: Learn from the intuitions you ignore
After her comment about having a crush on a guy, Michelle’s relationship with Amy went quickly downhill and never recovered. Michelle, though, kept hoping she could turn things around and make the relationship good again. But she could not. She stayed in the relationship through three or four painful months. In that time she saw the same tendencies in Amy as in the other two women she had dated: Amy was selfish, manipulative, uncaring, boastful, misused alcohol, and made promises about the good things she was going to do, without ever doing them. Eventually Michelle had enough and ended the relationship.
Then Michelle started dating Cat, another fun and exciting woman. There were many warning signs, though, that Cat was a deeply troubled person, such as she was a self-centered, lying, manipulative, and an alcoholic. Michelle had a deep intuition that the relationship was not going to work, but she stayed in it for another year trying hard to force it to succeed. Michelle’s intuition was totally accurate: the relationship lasted a miserable year after which it ended so disastrously Michelle never dated again for nearly three years.
Lots of people ignore their true intuitions. Hindsight can easily tell them that they should have listened to it. Figuring that out is not particularly hard, but it is also not particularly useful. What is a lot more useful is for a person to learn why she ignored her intuition.
At first when I neglected a true intuition, I would berate myself, asking what was wrong with me and psyching myself up to trust my intuition more. But eventually I learned there was something deeper going on. When you have a true intuition and go against it, there is more to the process than just not trusting your intuition. There is a psychic temptation or enticement which is like a rope with a hook on it pulling your canoe out of the main flow of your river to the riverbank. Once you understand that you can trust your real intuitions, these temptations or enticements are the main reason that you ignore or override your intuitions.
The bad news is that you often turn out miserable when you ignore your intuition. For Michelle it meant a miserable year in a doomed relationship and then a tailspin into despair that lasted almost three years. The good news, though, is that you can learn from it, and tremendously improve your future. The temptation of enticement that was the main reason you ignored your intuition will not just show up that one time. It will continue to entice or tempt you at future times. So if you can learn what the enticement was and why this misstep was so attractive to you, then you can lessen its attractiveness. You can resist it next time. Or, more likely, you can resist it the third or fourth time that you see it.
Oftentimes, it is not just one enticement that pulls you out of the current of your life; it is two or three that are linked together. If you start with one of them and lessen its attractiveness by seeing how this trait leads to a negative outcome, this gives the whole group less power over you. Work on another problem and you can severely weaken the power these enticements have over you. As you continue to look at your problems and missteps, then you eventually (this could mean years) might get to the point of just laughing as you notice an enticement trying to lure you out of the current.
These enticements are usually based on your lower desires for such things as competing with your brother for who makes more money or wanting to be the head cheerleader, but they can also be more philosophical. That is, they can be based on wrong ideas about how the universe operates. It turns out that was the main problem in Michelle’s case: she ignored her intuition because she thought she could generate good karma for herself by being kind to someone she was not really connected to.
The fifth guideline for negative relationships: Learn from your wrong ideas about how the universe works: it is not about random kindness or karma
Michelle had ignored her intuition that her new relationship was not going to work. Soon Cat didn’t have a job and was on unemployment. This meant Michelle paid for almost everything. Cat was trying though. She went to trade school and looked for work; she tried to deal with her addiction issues. Michelle felt sorry for her. Cat was not getting any breaks and it seemed unfair. Michelle wanted to help her out and make things better for her. She thought When Cat got kicked out of her home, Michelle let Cat stay with her. While letting her move in was supposed to be only a temporary arrangement, it ended up lasting nearly a year and Michelle went deeply in debt.
Michelle had an unfortunately common idea about how energy works in the universe. She thought if you see someone in need and help them then that will send good energy out and later someone will help you when you need it. Cat was in need, so if she helped Cat, then that would be setting up the energy cycle so that Michelle would be helped later on. This idea is very similar to the Indian idea of karma: if you send out energy now, good or bad, that energy will eventually come back to you in the same form. So it is not wasteful to send out good energy.
You can see this idea in two popular ways: the first one is a common slogan on bumper stickers, magnets and t-shirts and the second one is in a movie. The bumper sticker is “Commit random acts of kindness” and the movie is Pay It Forwards. Both of these are about doing good acts to random people that you are not necessarily connected to. We only have certain amounts of energy and time, and if we do not spend them on the right things, we will not have the energy or time for the things that are actually in our current to do. It is easier to do kindness for random people who we are not implicated in our deepest problems and troubles, than to be deeply kind and forgiving to those closest to us.
Too often people doing random kindness have excess energy that should either be used for closer, more troublesome connections or that should be channeled into long term, more useful projects. I am not against kindness, but rather the random kind; I am for connected kindness or channeled kindness.
Unfortunately for Michelle, she was doing all this supporting of Cat, and no one was coming along to help her. Instead she was just being dragged down, ultimately souring her view of the universe and its goodness. She was trying hard to help others, but nothing or no one was helping her.
Like many of Michelle’s earlier relationships, Cat talked about the great things she was going to do, but never did them. She would offer to do projects around Michelle’s rundown house, but all she ever did was start a project and never finish it. For example, once Cat tore out a concrete walkway with the idea of putting in a stone walkway, but she never finished the project. All she did was tear out the walkway, which left Michelle with a moat around her house whenever it rained. This did not get fixed for another two years.
Cat also continually talked about getting another job, but the one time she did get one, she was fired within the month. This meant Michelle ended up paying for Cat’s food and housing for a year and had to run up a big credit card debt to do it. Finally Michelle realized things were not going to change and she kicked Cat out of the house. After Cat picked a fight calling Michelle terrible names in front of her neighbors just after Michelle had bought Cat a concert ticket, Michelle stopped talking to her altogether.
After her relationship with Cat, Michelle became depressed and apathetic as she was convinced there was little likelihood she would ever meet anyone decent because the universe was cruel and unfair. She saw no reason to try to get better as she felt nothing she did would make any difference. This overall negative attitude manifested in the daily things in her life: for example, her house had big holes in the walls and squirrels running all around the attic, but she did nothing to fix it. She also continually ran up credit card debt as she saw no reason to even bother trying to be fiscally responsible as she was going to end up in debt anyway. And she stopped taking care of herself and would eat and drink whatever she wanted even when it made her sick.
Principles of Positive Romantic Relationships
The First Guideline: It’s About Your Connections
About two years after Michelle’s last relationship had ended, Michelle still had not been on another date and had no interest in going on one again. She also had not gotten out of the debt she had accumulated from that time. She would often talk to me about her troubles in relationships, but did not like my message of how she must have the same qualities of the people she had been in relationship with.
After some time thinking about it, Michelle said that when she looked at her past romantic relationships, she could see it was a group of women who were selfish, judgmental, manipulative and insensitive, but in her mind there were always reasons excusing their actions. In the first relationship, Michelle said it was the other woman’s drinking that made her like this. In her second relationship, she said it was the woman’s childhood from a broken home that made her like this. In the third relationship, she told herself it was because her partner had been abused. In the last relationship, her partner just could not catch a break.
I kept telling her that she had to face up to how she was like the girlfriends she was attracting to herself. I would tell her my view was also optimistic in that it said positive things would happen to her if she changed: either she would meet someone else or something else would come along to fill that void in her life. Michelle, though, saw no reason for optimism: the universe was just messed up and unfair, and realistic people simply faced it. It wasn’t that Michelle wanted to see the universe that way; it seemed to her the evidence forced her to think of it that way.
We were only able to change her attitude when she understood my view of connections. Michelle had worked hard for the universe, and it seemed a negative universe because it did not give back to her. I said she was mistaken in thinking that we give out random kindness and that good energy comes back. If we give out to people we have no connection to, that energy is probably wasted and never comes back to us (and probably is not even really helping people).
Instead, in the connections view, there are a relatively small number of people we are connected to, and if we give the right amount of energy to them, that energy would come back to us. I told her to consider her relationship with me: she was a complaining, whining person that was negative to be around, but I kept talking to her because she had done many concrete things for me in the past that I benefitted from. For example, she had written a four hundred page reader for my philosophy courses that I use almost every class, she edits all my writings, she shops for me and does other errands and tasks that helped me immensely.
I told her that she had built up a great karmic storehouse of good energy with me, so I kept trying to help her. But if she had not done these things for me, I would have stopped talking to her a long time ago as she was often unpleasant.
I was not talking to her because of anything she had done for the universe, but because of what she had done for me and what she continued to do for me. It was the same with her relationships with other people. If you treat your connections well, they will generally give you back good energy. If you mistreat them, you are much more likely to get negative energy returned. But if you randomly give your energy out to other people because you think you are helping the universe, you are probably wasting your energy. More importantly, you are almost assuredly not building good karma with your personal connections.
She started to see the main point about there being certain connections she had to relate to well. She saw it was not about giving out energy to the universe in general and getting back energy from the universe in general; it was relating to her specific connections and giving good energy to them and getting good energy back from them.
Moreover, for the first time she was open to thinking she had the same negative qualities as the people she was meeting.
Second Guideline: See how you are like the bothersome people in your life and change
After realizing the connections viewpoint, Michelle still did not see how she was as selfish, manipulative, insensitive or any of the other qualities of her four lesbian partners. She said her co-workers and casual friends constantly told her how kind and giving she was, so how could this be true? I said she might be kind and giving in casual relationships, but people often are different in casual relationships than more intimate ones. Casual relationships are by definition casual, and so they do not bring up our deepest problems about the way we relate to our most intimate connections. That made sense to Michelle.
Michelle started realized that she had to look more deeply at her problems. From the beginning I had encouraged her to make lists of what these people were like and then try to see how she was like that too. Now Michelle started making these lists. She could see how she was like some of these qualities on the list, but she kept qualifying it by saying, “I used to be like that” or “I am only a little like that.” But she dropped this view when I said that if she still had continuing karma or effects from the problems with these types of people, then she must still be like them.
Her old view of her innocence gave away even more after a revelation about how manipulative her last partner was. When we probed in detail the relationship as a whole, we discovered something that Michelle had totally forgotten: an important reason she had started dating this women was because this woman said she was an expert in fixing houses and Michelle had needed help fixing up her house. Michelle said that she had a deep intuition that this woman was not someone she wanted to date, but one reason she did it anyways was because she wanted to get things from this woman. Because Michelle was manipulative, she unconsciously attracted another manipulative person to herself.
After seeing this, Michelle started thinking more deeply about her tendency to be manipulative. She saw that she was manipulative because she wanted things her way and thought she could make them turn out that way. I asked her why she had such a high opinion of her ability to bend things her way instead of realizing the currents of our rivers have much greater power than we do, and we should go with them? I said my philosophy was like a modern Taoism, where we go with the flow of our current, and not like the worldview of people like Rhonda Byrne or Deepak Chopra where we create our reality through our thoughts and desires. Michelle took that in. She could see her way of trying to bend the currents of the river to her wants did not work and only ended up in heartache and negative relationships with other manipulative people.
After four years of moaning, moping, whining and bitching, Michelle finally stopped complaining about the universe and its unfairness, and stared into the mirror of her relationships. She finally said to herself: “I am just like them.” She saw how self-centered she had been in these relationships and how they ended up so badly. She saw how much she over-promised and never pulled through and how that wrecked her relationships. She could see how she was like these women she had dated and how these negative personality traits had attracted to herself people just like her. She did not want these kinds of people in her life, so she realized that she had to change her way of relating.
Michelle became a much better person; she became genuinely concerned about what others needed and was much more pleasant to be around. Many people noticed how much she had changed and complimented her on it. I noticed the changes too. When she visited my house, for the first time I felt totally relaxed with her. Before I felt that she was primarily centered on what she could get and only tangentially interested in what I needed or wanted. Now she was a much different person and was deeply concerned for what I needed.
Guideline Three: Changing deep-seated personality patterns is an ongoing process, not a one-time event
Because she had changed so much, I pushed Michelle to start dating again. She had been dating women for nine years. During this time, she occasionally wondered if she would ever date men again and even developed little crushes on some men, but she never did anything about it. During her last relationship, she noticed that her crushes on males were getting stronger. Michelle now realized she must be bisexual, and decided to start dating men as she now felt more attracted to them.
Michelle met a fun and attractive guy at a speed dating event, so she asked him out. He arranged the whole date. First he took her to the Minneapolis Art Museum, but only the free parts of it (even though he seemed to have money). He walked around showing her the things he liked, but was disinterested in the things she liked; it was so bad he would walk away from a piece of art whenever Michelle starting talking about it. Dinner was even worse: he took her to a cheap family restaurant chain. It was one of his favorite places to eat, and he didn’t bother to ask Michelle where she might like to go. To continue the pattern of his behavior, he spent the whole time talking about himself.
At the end of the date, he wanted to kiss her and show her his rock collection at his house. But Michelle had been treated so badly the whole night that she did not want to have anything more to do with him. Later he called and wanted another date, but Michelle was completely uninterested and turned him down.
When she later discussed her problems with me, I felt the guy was so dumb and shortsighted. He wanted the date to continue, and Michelle was a very attractive woman. But he had such a poor relationship style that Michelle had not wanted to continue the relationship. She agreed she would have done more if he had been better at exchanging: if he had taken her to a nice restaurant she liked, and let her talk more about what she was interested in, she would have kissed him and probably would have gone on another date with him. If he had looked at the whole experience from a less-self centered angle, he would have realized that he needed to make sure that Michelle was having a good time in order for him to get what he wanted. But he was so centered on himself and how much fun he was having that he didn’t bother to make sure she was having any fun.
Considering the succession of selfish women she had been dating and then right away meeting another self-centered man, I told her she must still have the same selfish tendencies.
It is not surprising that she still had some of these negative qualities. A person does not totally change deep personality qualities at all at once; they will still have them, but to a lesser degree, for quite awhile, maybe even the rest of their life. This is a different view than overly optimistic people like the popular life coach Tony Robbins. Robbins says that in his workshops, you will make realizations and your past karma will melt away like snow in a furnace. Maybe it is true for some phobias or anxieties that they will never affect you again, but for deeper personality traits like self-centeredness, they do not stop affecting you so quickly. One does not just see something and then never have these traits again. Often times, they will keep to showing up for many years and decades, but to a lesser degree if you continue to work on them.
The key is to be aware that the tendency is part of your personality and to be constantly on the lookout for it. But even if you are on the lookout, it is highly likely you still will sometimes succumb to these negative traits. The good news though, is that if you stay vigilant, you can much more quickly see that it is these qualities that are causing trouble in your relationships, and thus have even more incentive to change them. Then you build a positive cycle of reinforcing change, instead of a negative cycle of despair and hopelessness.
Unlike before, Michelle did not fight me for years when I said she was like the self-centered person she was meeting. She had stopped blaming other people or the universe and was willing to take some responsibility herself. So she immediately looked at her tendencies to selfishness and focusing exclusively on what she wanted instead of exchanging well with other people.
Guideline Four: If you are really changing, evidence of this will show up in your life
The second guy Michelle was attracted to was a cool, laid back bartender at a club where she was a dominatrix. He flirted with her, and seemed interested in dating her, but Michelle immediately realized he was like the earlier lesbians she had dated: like these women he had an addictive personality, was selfish and had a constant need for attention. Previously, Michelle would have ignored these things or thought she was somehow connected to him because they were alike, and so she should try to help him. But after her earlier relationships with people like this had never worked out, Michelle had changed enough to realize this relationship would never work and decided to end the flirting.
Around the same time she met Cameroon, a man who had just been hired at her day job. The first time she saw Cameroon, she thought he was handsome: tall and lean with a good, snarky sense of humor and a positive energy. She clicked with him, and Michelle wanted to date him but he never asked her out; he would flirt and come close to it, but he never actually came out and asked. This made Michelle worry he was a wimp, and thus he could never keep her happy. Michelle was a dominatrix and she needed a stronger man to turn her on instead of a passive-seeming guy she could crush like a bug. Nor did it help that he seemed to have some of the personality traits of her old romantic partners such as being needy and leaning on Michelle to do his work for him. (Michelle later found out that he was neither of these things; he had become smitten with her at first sight because he thought she was very special. So he set up needless meetings just to see her.) While, they continued to flirt by e-mail, it would take Michelle five more months to realize that he was her first real love.
The next guy who was interested in Michelle was a contractor who was remodeling her house. Michelle thought this guy was fun and somewhat interesting, but there was no spark. He must not have felt the same way though because he called to ask her out. He wanted to take her to a Minnesota Wild game, which was the National Hockey League team in town. Growing up an outsider with her four brothers who only ever cared about sports, Michelle was totally disinterested in sports and wasn’t even interested in this guy in general, so she turned him down.
Michelle had met another self-centered person who was only caring about the things he liked to do instead of being concerned about what she was interested in. On the plus side, the event he invited her to was somewhat expensive, so at least Michelle had moved up some from the selfish guy who took her to the free museum and cheap chain restaurant.
When you are really changing, you often meet people with the same negative qualities as your earlier relationships, but their impact on your life is significantly less than it used to be. Instead of these people disrupting your life and causing you misery, they barely affect you. So when her first male date took Michelle to a free museum and his favorite cheap restaurant while keeping the conversation totally focused on himself, it did not affect Michelle much; it was a wasted night, but nothing more than that. When she flirted with the second guy (the bartender) and was asked out by the fourth guy (the contractor), she could see she was still attracting people with the old negative qualities. But, even though she was very lonely, she just gracefully floated away from these men instead of getting involved.
I think of this as being on the positive side of the problem; you still have negative personality qualities, so you attract people to yourself with those same qualities. But now you have these qualities to a much lesser degree. So instead of suffering yourself because of having these qualities, you only have to watch others suffer for having them. This is a very good sign that you have changed as it shows you are no longer being pulled out of your current by these enticements and temptations.
So while some people may see it as a negative sign if they keep meeting the same kind of negative people, if they no longer affect your life much, it is really a positive sign that you are improving. So do not despair if it takes longer than you want to stop attracting these same kind of negative people to yourself. If people with the same type of negative qualities show up and you don’t get dragged into the old mess, that is a very positive sign of good changes on your part. Even if you get dragged into a mess to a lesser degree, that is actually a good sign. Changing deep-seated personality qualities takes a long time, and wise people face up to that instead of being unrealistic and thinking change happens instantly and completely.
Guideline Five: Looking at unrelated, bothersome things can offer big clues to your long-term problem
When one is dealing with a major problem that lasts for years, oftentimes an important piece of the puzzle will reveal itself in some seemingly unrelated but very bothersome matter. This bothersome matter will often seem just a little thing, but it might annoy you tremendously. (Chapter thirteen is focused on this issue and explains the philosophy underlying this outlook.) This situation now happened to Michelle.
One night she called me sobbing because she had just missed an opportunity to make a very easy thousand dollars. There was a medical study involving hair that Michelle had heard about at work on the previous Friday. This study paid a thousand dollars for people to come in and get their hair checked once a month for nine months. It took very little time or effort, but the key thing was that only a few people qualified for it and Michelle was one of the people that qualified. Michelle had heard about the study on Friday but had not paid much attention to all the details. When she called about it on Monday, she found out she fit every qualification except she had just dyed her hair the night before and this little thing totally disqualified her.
She was understandably upset over the whole thing. If she had just not dyed her hair Sunday night or if she had investigated the study more on Friday and found out she should not dye her hair, she could have made an easy thousand dollars, money she needed to fix her decrepit house. Most people would have just dismissed her misfortune as bad luck. But I saw it as a case of her being insensitive to where her larger current was taking her. If she had totally been attuned to her larger current, she would have gotten an intuition or urge not to dye her hair that night.
The positive thing was that Michelle was no longer whining about how the universe was horrible. After understanding the connections model and seeing how she was partially responsible for negative relationships, she was much more open to the idea that she was in some way partially involved in bringing this situation about. So rather than waiting weeks or months, she immediately got proactive and tried to figure out what she had done wrong by asking me for help at the first possible opportunity.
Michelle was all worried that she had made a mistake not investigating the study more on Friday. I very much doubted this was her problem as from my experience a close miss of such a nice situation was usually the result of a major psychological problem. This problem pulled Michelle out of her life’s current, the same way a rope onshore with a hook on the end of it can latch onto a real canoe and pull it out of a river’s current and to the shore.
Michelle, though, was convinced her troubles were caused by some mistake she had made on Friday when she first heard about the study. So we reviewed how she had heard about the study and why she did not take it seriously earlier. She had two good reasons not to trust this study was real on Friday. The first was that the co-worker who told her about it was flaky and often exaggerated things. The second was that she thought it was just something on the internet and thus there was no reason to think it was real. We agreed that she had no reason to put much energy into investigating these things on Friday. It was understandable she only heard more about the study on Monday morning when her co-worker told her more about it.
As the one thing that kept her from being in the study, and thus getting the thousand dollars, was dying her hair on Sunday night, we focused on that incident. It seemed like a very little thing, but to pull her away from getting an easy thousand dollars, it was almost assuredly the result of a major psychological issue. Michelle said she had been really tired that night after fixing the house all weekend but she forced herself to dye her hair. I asked her what motivated her to do it? She blurted out that she felt so ugly and dyed her hair to make herself feel prettier. She started sobbing deeply. In between her crying, she said that she never had a date when she was in high school or the first three years of college and whatever reason could there be besides she was ugly? She sobbed for quite awhile, while she continued to say how ugly she was.
From my experience, it is easier for people to blame their physical appearance for their dating troubles, rather than their personality. It is easier to focus on the physical level rather than the deeper personality level as changing your personality requires giving up some behaviors the person really enjoys. I knew Michelle was very attractive, so I said there might be other reasons why she never got a date, like she was a very intelligent, outgoing, aggressive personality that sometimes bubbled over with negativity, and Midwestern sexist men might have trouble with that. However, she could not really listen to me through all her tears.
As she kept crying, it was obvious that this feeling that she was ugly was a very deep, very upsetting feeling. It was clearly the kind of deep personality issue that would pull someone out of the possibility of getting a thousand dollars. I thought about telling her that this insight alone was worth the thousand dollars, as it would help us get somewhere on her problems, but I knew that she would never believe me. It turned out that I was very much right about the importance of the insight.
Guideline six: Face the deep personal issues, guilt and anxiety
In the next two months, we probed her feelings of ugliness and soon found they were connected to even deeper feelings that something was radically wrong with her. These feelings involved complicated things such as her family dynamics when she was young, always being an outsider in school, periodic extremely vivid dreams of having been involved in rituals with cannibalism and sex, and a promise she made when she was eight to become a Catholic nun if she was not pregnant after she had been caught fooling around sexually with some boys.
Michelle also revealed that she always felt deeply anxious and guilty whenever she kissed someone or was sexually active, or even when she just flirted. She never had a natural feeling kiss or sexual encounter; instead, they were all suffused with a deep anxiety that made it so she could not enjoy them.
We talked about many of the issues around these things and processed some of them. There is no reason to share these things, though, as they are so specific to her they would not help anyone else, and I have no special methods of helping with these types of issues that we have not already addressed in this book.
While we were doing this processing, another car hit her car while she was waiting at a light. She was not hurt in the slightest or even shaken up, but the other car’s insurance company was concerned about whiplash, so she was given free visits to a chiropractor. Finally, the insurance company, in exchange for her waiving all future liability, gave her a thousand dollar check.
Guideline seven: Enjoy the benefits of having improved your ways of relating to other people
During this time, she had continued to occasionally flirt by e-mail with Cameroon, the attractive man mentioned earlier who worked at another location in her large company. For the last five months there had been the continual possibility of them going on a date, but nothing had come of it. After dealing with all her deep fears, she saw him in person for the first time in a couple months. Now, seeing him again made her all fluttery. So she invited him to dinner.
But after inviting him out, she became very anxious about it. Two days before the date she e-mailed me that she worried it was a bad idea to date him. She was not sure if it was related to promising God she would become a nun or something else, but she definitely felt guilty and anxious and thought it would only get worse if she ever did kiss him. I encouraged her to ignore her worries, as it might turn out okay, and she had done a great job facing her problems.
Two nights later Michelle and Cameroon went to one of the fanciest restaurants in St. Paul. Michelle was really nervous, but he seemed totally confident and really relaxed. He was easy to talk with and asked about her. He was charming, and he insisted on paying for the meal. At the end of the date, Michelle had to make all the moves; if she reached out for him (like to hold his hand), he was very receptive, but he didn’t initiate anything. Michelle gave him a hug goodbye, and he finally made his move and kissed her. When they kissed, it did not make her feel anxious or nervous at all – it felt very natural, which had never happened to her before.
They had another date two days later. Because Michelle’s downstairs was being remodeled, the only place to hang out was her bedroom. She took him there, and she was lying on her bed facing him, but he made no moves on her at all. Michelle was completely irritated at his passivity, but she also really wanted to kiss him. So she decided to man up. Michelle is really strong (she used to be a Girl Scout trip leader and can still portage a seventy pound canoe by herself for long distances), and she just grabbed him and literally pulled him on top of her. Michelle felt it was almost like he was resisting, and for a moment, she was horrified that the date was going to end terribly. But then he totally took control, and they made out for hours!
Michelle was completely smitten with him by now. She did not in the least feel anxious or guilty. For the first time ever she just enjoyed the kissing as she had no underground emotional anxieties getting in the way. Within ten days, they had a great relationship and friends were teasing her that she was in love for the first time in her life. There was lots of hot sex, but more importantly, he was a kind, sensitive man who communicated his feelings well. It turned out that he knew she was really special when he first met her five months ago, and was really attracted to her. But he had never asked her out because Michelle had continually toyed with him and teased him. Michelle could have had this great relationship much earlier, but her inability to see that he was her first positive romantic connection, along with her negative ways of relating to other people, got in the way.
Michelle is a good testament to the power of facing up to the problems in your way of relating to other people. It took her a lot of sobbing and difficult soul-searching, but she changed, became a better person and got her first good romantic relationship when she was thirty eight.
Michelle’s problems are obviously specific to her, but the way she dealt with these problems are much more general. They can help you make your relationships better. If you use the chapter’s guidelines to improve the way you relate to others, you will make it more likely you will meet someone and have a good romantic relationship with him or her.
After this book is written, I am hoping to get it published. It would be helpful if you tell me any questions you may have or any parts that you have found helpful. If you have sections that you do not understand or you think are stupid or misguided, I would very much appreciate if you tell me. It is much better to hear these comments now, when I can easily change things, then later, after I have published a book. I will reflectively consider your concerns and, if warranted, I will change things to incorporate your concerns into the book. You can email me at email@example.com. Please put “About Connections,” into the subject heading of the email.
This book was written by Joseph Waligore with the help of Michelle Stage. Joseph teaches philosophy and religious studies at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. More information about him can be found at his MySpace profile or his Facebook profile. Michelle works in a bank in St. Paul, Minnesota as a learning consultant and in a Minneapolis night club as a dominatrix.
This website is one of four websites I have. Another one, www.followingtheflow.com is for spiritually oriented people and discusses very similar ideas from a more spiritually oriented perspective. Another one, www.josephwaligore.com is for academically or intellectually oriented people. It has my writings about spiritual philosophies such as Stoicism, Socrates, the Deists, the Enlightenment period, and the rise of modern science. Another one, www.spiritualcritiques.com, has critiques of many popular spiritual teachers and spiritual teachings. It looks at teachers like Eckhart Tolle, Deepak Chopra, Ken Wilber, and Pema Chodron. It also looks at teachings like “All is One,” “The Hundredth Monkey,” and “If it Rings True, it is True.”
There is a Facebook group called Flowing. People interested in meeting other people who are interested in these ideas and/or participating in discussions about these ideas are invited to join the group.
Many people reach this site through keyword advertisements. It might be of interest that Joseph got the money for these ads through his day trading profits.