Awakening the authentic self

We have probably all had the experience of feeling disconnected from our selves in some way.   This is usually triggered by something – a life event which challenged your self-concept, advertisements that condition you to live and think in a particular way, not to mention the self-promotion and impression management that is the world of social media.  Once we feel this disconnection we lose focus and energy and feel a sense of being lost or ‘off track’.  

This subsequently can lead to feelings of envy or put us at risk of comparing ourselves and our lives negatively to that of others – the cognitive distortion knows as ‘compare and despair’.  Sometimes, reflecting on what we envy in others can give us insight into our desires and what is missing from our own lives.  However, continual comparison simply blocks us from getting back in touch with our authentic self.

Being your authentic self is important not just for your own well-being and happiness, but also because when you are not in accord with your true self, your relationships will be affected.  The best and healthiest relationships depend on the individuals themselves being in balance and at peace with themselves.  As Specialist Matchmakers, one of the most common requirements we hear from our members in a potential partner is that they are ‘comfortable in their own skin’.  So how do we create that harmonious state?

Develop self-knowledge

The first step is to know yourself and build self-knowledge.  It is easy in this busy world to have your attention focused externally, without ever asking yourself the important questions in life.  This is why coaching can be so enlightening as it challenges people and forces them to engage with different perspectives and sides of themselves to develop this self-knowledge.  In the words of Shakespeare, “to thine own self be true” but preceding this is the requirement to know yourself in the first place.

Develop self-acceptance

From self-knowledge comes self-acceptance.  It is common to feel the need to prove yourself to others or to match an illusion created in your head through years of absorbing societal and cultural ideals.  The less you feel you have to prove the more in touch you will be with what matters to you without being pulled in different directions.  In essence, don’t censor yourself, accept yourself.

Develop self-compassion

The internationally recognised lead on self-compassion, Dr Kristin Neff draws a distinction between self-kindness and self-judgement.  Self-compassion encompasses being kind to ourselves when we are upset or failing rather than becoming self-critical, punitive or ignoring our pain.  Self-compassionate takes as a starting point the truth that life is inevitably full of difficulties and people need to allow themselves to be vulnerable.  The warm and compassionate treatment of the self in these situations allows the individual to re-connect with their authentic self. 

The forgotten art of courtship – putting the purpose back into dating

In these heady times of innumerable dating apps and high divorce rates, it is easy to come away with the impression that finding that special someone is largely a question of luck, probability or chance. Given the dizzying array of options open to us in our search for a partner, it is notable that the ultimate aim of meeting people is often overlooked, and that the qualities we would expect in our spouse and parent of our children take a back-seat to other more immediate considerations. With our growing expertise in deciding who we don’t like, by finger-swiping or speed-dating, we run the risk of getting caught up in perpetual spiral of dating and think less and less in terms of a long term partner, which is where the art of courtship comes into play.

Turning the clock back and giving a cursory spin of the globe, it is evident that there is endless variety in how two people establish if they wish to spend their lives together and the decision itself is influenced by a considerable amount of factors and circumstances. It would seem though that the length of time people generally spend together before committing, as well as the amount of ingenuity, imagination and effort involved has decreased steadily over the centuries and significantly so in the last one. In many ways we are more liberated and empowered to assert our choices and able to meet people from a far greater number of backgrounds and social settings than ever before.

Which brings us to an important distinction between courtship and dating. The former conjures associations of tradition, ritual, and formality as opposed to the latter’s modern, social and liberal vibe. Courtship has always had as its aim the proper selection of one’s partner for life and sufficient time and occasion was given to ensuring a potential spouse’s suitability. There was also the lingering presence of authority and the sense of someone overseeing and approving the union as societal and cultural factors meant that a family’s reputation was of prime importance and that there was more at stake than the fulfilment of romantic aspirations. Dating, conversely, has the approach of meeting multiple people over time and determining who would be best for a relationship, with the focus on  finding the right person than deciding if someone is right for you or not.

Inevitably there has always been a genetic element to courtship which is typified by the abundance of examples derived from the animal kingdom, where demonstrations of physical prowess, displays of colour and beauty as well as highly ritualised performances are the norm. From colourful displays by tropical birds to equestrian fistfights to elaborate dance routines, the amount of effort, creativity and exhibition involved is staggering and is a good indication of what may be lacking in the modern approach – not just in terms of seeing if a partner is suitable, but in proactively showing a potential partner that we are attracted to them, that they are important to us and that we are someone they would want to be with.

It is important then, to think not just about who we are looking for but what we are looking for too and build our approach to and evaluation of our encounters with suitors or dates around our relationship goals as well as our romantic aspirations. By being proactive about making our wishes reality and putting our best foot forward, showing off a little and demonstrating our beauty and qualities we can ensure we are more attractive to potential partners and show that they are important to us and worth the effort. Having the advice and support of established matchmakers as well as enlisting the help and opinions of friends and family can help shape a well-rounded and more informed perception of a possible life partner and our journey towards relationship fulfilment. 

Get ready for your perfect relationship!

There is so much written about what we need to do, be or feel in order to attract the right relationship and be the perfect partner.  What we often fail to realise is that if the match is right, all those strategies and games won’t be necessary.  Relationships mirror our inner world, which is why when a significant shift occurs in ourselves we often find ourselves with different people in our lives.  Therefore, being ready for a romantic relationship is all about developing the relationship and knowledge we have with ourselves in the first instance.  Are you ready for a new relationship?

Are you in an emotionally healthy place?

If you seek a relationship when you are unhappy or stressed you will attract the wrong person for you.  Like attracts like so if you want a relationship with a sound and healthy partner you need to cultivate this in yourself.  Similarly, if you have scars from previous relationships (such as trust issues for example), be sure you have learned and moved on from these so you don’t carry these issues into your next relationship.  Nobody wants to pay for someone else’s mistakes.

Do you treat yourself like a lover?

There is a strong correlation between how we treat ourselves and how others treat us.  If you want to be loved, spoiled and cherished then this is the way to treat yourself.  The people in your life will follow suit.  Also remember when it comes to others, nobody can treat you in any way that you don’t allow yourself to be treated.

Do you know your boundaries?

Past relationships teach us so much about ourselves, our needs and what’s acceptable for us in relationships.  Most people’s top requirements in new partners are based directly on what was significantly wrong in previous relationships.  Therefore, take the time to consider what you have learned and what you will and will not accept in relationships, and always have the self-respect to hold yourself to these boundaries. 

Do you put yourself in new situations?

People develop due to experiences.  The more experiences you have, whether though dating or socialising, the more feedback you will get on yourself and the more you will grow.  People have a tendency to hibernate between relationships, which deprives them of the opportunity to learn about themselves and develop through interaction with others.  Therefore, take every opportunity of trying new things and meeting new people.

“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line”  Lucille Ball

Only when we get the relationship with ourselves right do we attract the perfect partner. 

Will Cupid’s arrow find you this Valentine?

There are perhaps, few other dates in the calendar that arouse such contrasting emotions as that of February the fourteenth. For some a time of celebration or opportunity: for others a time of dread and despondency. Though its eponymous saint sacrificed his life for Christianity, its comparatively recent podgy poster boy very much represents the romantic and carnal facet of this thing called love. Cupid’s counterpart Eros has been around since the Greeks were mythologizing, perhaps a thousand years before the priest Valentinus was arrested for clandestinely marrying Christian couples and then beaten and beheaded for attempting to convert the Emperor Claudius. However, it was only once Chaucer’s poem Parlement of Foules made the association between St. Valentine’s day and courtship in the fourteenth century, that the cherubic Cupid began to emerge as the endearing icon of the international day of romantic love.

In Roman times, the plump pin-up was known as Cupido which translates from Latin as ‘desire’, making him the embodiment of erotic sentiment and physical attraction, unsurprising given that his mother Venus was the goddess of love and his father Mars, the god of war. We tend to think of desire as a strong and intense want or wish that is at least corporeal, quite often sexual and at times apparently uncontrollable and this is, for better or worse, quite fitting for February fourteenth as it is often a time when we set our sights on the object of our affections or a reaffirmation of the initial intensity and passion of newfound love. In today’s highly sexualised society, image and appearance are often overvalued at the expense of integrity and substance, nonetheless St. Valentine’s is a timely reminder of what is a crucial aspect of romantic relationships and lasting love.

The idea of a chubby boy, bewinged and brandishing a bow and arrow, though blindfolded is perhaps not the most convincing portrait of desire, but he is upon closer inspection, reassuringly symbolic. His youth represents the innocent, uninhibited and occasionally irrational nature of attraction. His wings to the flighty and fickle aspect of love, ungrounded and capricious. The bow and arrow he holds point to the deep and piercing wounds that love can leave, his torch to the fiery and inflammatory essence of passion and his blindfold to the somewhat random and incidental choice of targets. Though the most striking aspect of Cupid’s persona is his ability to instil this desire in the recipient of his golden-tipped arrows, be they humans or gods; they are powerless to overcome the intensity of the desire and the potency of the passion awoken within them, the spark of love’s flame.

So this Valentine’s day, whether you’re looking for love, looking to rekindle it, to keep it burning or to make it burn brighter; keep in mind that we are dealing with something precious yet volatile, something we do not understand and cannot control. It is often the case that we are too grounded and practical in our approach to romance, too specific about what we want yet not passionate and committed enough to truly seize it. We may not always know who is best for us or who is not and are perhaps more likely to find and keep our Valentine by letting Cupid, the original and ultimate matchmaker, do what he has always done. As the ancient Roman poet Virgil put it, ‘Love conquers all, and so let us surrender ourselves to Love’.

Chivalry, do we still want it?

With gender roles continually under review and an increase in the career driven woman it is open to question whether women are still looking for traditional dating practices. Chivalry derives from the system of behaviours followed by knights in the medieval period of history, with a focus on honour, courage and kindness by men towards women. In modern times these acts are often portrayed through the opening of doors, the giving up of seats and the pulling out of chairs. It has long been suggested that chivalrous behaviour is the pinnacle conduct women seek in relationships, with women often citing their preference for finding a true gentleman or their knight in shining armour.

However, it is quite often the case that women in this day in age are far more independent and this does put into question if chivalry still has a place in present day dating. This follows from the process of feminisation in the workplace which has occurred since the 20th Century and the profound impact this has had on society. The consequence of this has been an alteration in the mind-set of some women regarding their standing in romantic relationships. It has been suggested that this spur in women’s independence generally and in the workplace has modified their views towards dating. This is because there is a focus on self-sufficiency and often women do not want their independence shaken.

Nonetheless, research has shown that overall, gender stereotypic dates where men displayed chivalrous behaviour, were evaluated more positively. This is consistent with previous literature suggesting that dating behaviours remain gendered. This is again highlighted by the fact that men in counter-stereotypic dating scenarios were evaluated negatively but a man who demonstrated traditional dating behaviours was rated as more competent, warm, and appropriate. Therefore despite a continual shift in gender roles it seems as though for most women there is still an emphasis of looking for traditional dating practices. They are still seeking a man who will adopt the traditional approach to dating and someone who can look after them regardless of their own independence.

In conclusion, research has revealed that despite a change in societal views on traditional gender roles in areas such as careers, there has not been much alteration in these views in relation to dating. Women are still looking for the sincere displays of genuine romantic interest that chivalrous behaviours encompass and despite popular opinion women do in fact still want their knight in shining armour. Therefore women can still be independent in many aspects but they are still looking for a true gentleman to tackle life alongside them.


References

McCarty, M. K., & Kelly, J. R. (2015). Perceptions of dating behavior: The role of ambivalent sexism. Sex Roles72(5-6), 237-251.

Paynter, A., & Leaper, C. (2016). Heterosexual Dating Double Standards in Undergraduate Women and Men. Sex Roles, 1-14.

Make the time to make it work

Many psychological studies have tried to establish what the key factors are for successful relationships, with most emphasising communication. However what preludes communication is time. Time spent with your partner, time invested into a new relationship or an existing one. Without time or the efforts that come with it there can be no communication or growth in a relationship.

Quite often when we say we have a lack of time, we are too focused on other aspects of our life, our careers, our friends, hobbies or so on. We forget to stop and realise that the relationship we have right in front of us still takes time and effort every day. This brings to the forefront the aspect of maintenance in relationships and how this is a factor in having a successful relationship.

It is widely believed that effort and energy are only essential in the early stages of forming a relationship. That once the relationship stage has passed the honeymoon phase, the affiliation between both partners is set. However, in contrast this is where the real work begins and quite often it’s when the time we used to spend with our partner slips. Research has found that positive reassurance and task sharing activities were predictors of commitment and satisfaction in a relationship (Stafford & Canary, 1991). Here we can start to see that effective communication combined with spending time with your partner will lead to a successful relationship.

Communication is shaped by relational factors and context, both of which are associated with time and effort. It is with these factors that we can communicate effectively in our relationships allowing us to fulfil our basic human need of affection, whilst also allowing us to attain our personal goals of long lasting successful relationships.

A psychological experiment combined both daily involvement and longitudinal studies and looked at the perceived investments in relationships. What was found supported the premise that investment, with regard to time, from one partner encouraged the other partner to further commit to the relationship. These effects held even for individuals who were comparatively less satisfied with their relationships. Together, these results suggest that people feel particularly grateful for partners who have invested into the relationship, which, in turn, motivates them to further commit to the relationship.

It therefore pays off to continue spending the time needed to ensure your partner feels a sense of investment and effort from you. It can be easy to forget that we often neglect those we love the most when we are busy and stressed, as usually they are the most understanding. However this form of behaviour and understanding can only last so long and research has shown that greater commitment is found in relationships whereby your partner feels invested in. So if you feel as though you have put your relationship on the back burner or are wondering why you can’t keep hold of a relationship, ask yourself, are you making the time to make it work?

 

 

References

 Stafford, L., & Canary, D. J. (1991). Maintenance strategies and romantic relationship type, gender and relational characteristics. Journal of Social and Personal relationships, 8(2), 217-242.

Guerrero, L. K., Andersen, P. A., & Afifi, W. A. (2013). Close encounters: Communication in relationships. Sage Publications.