Susie Ambrose in Vanity Fair

Susie Ambrose in Vanity Fair

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Having dating options; a help or a hindrance?

Suitable partners can be like buses, you spend a lifetime waiting for one and a few turn up at once and just like buses, each potential partner can take your life on a different route. With options, comes questions, what kind of journey do you want?  Where do you want to end up? Sometimes hesitations arise and in other cases, having other options can clarify the qualities that you are looking for. There has been much research on our abilities to make decisions as humans and the impact the decision-making process has on our happiness and although many of the studies have focused on economic gains or losses, some of the cognition behind the processes could be applied to the dating world.  

As discussed in the article Tough Choices: How Making Decisions Tires Your Brainby On Amir“The human mind is a remarkable device” however it has its limitations. Our executive function is not a limitless entity and “unrelated activities that tax the executive function have important lingering effects and may disrupt your ability to make such an important decision.” We can therefore limit our brains ability to make clear decisions if we increase how many choices we have to make because we strain our minds. Despite the fact that it has always been suggested that multi-tasking is beneficial to us, studies, including this article in Psychology Todaywritten by Bryan Robinson, now propose that it actually “inhibits your ability to focus and produce. It fatigues your brain and eclipses your ability to interact with others and enjoy the present moment.” This is referred to as ‘decision fatigue’ which can alter the decisions you would make if you had less options to choose between. This concept could therefore be applied to the context of dating. 

However, in order to make a decision we must first gather the relevant information. In the case of dating options, you need to gain a level of understanding about who that person is and whether you match against values, characteristics and lifestyle. Once you have ascertained those things about someone, you can then assess the alternatives and draw a conclusion, before reviewing your choice. As clinical as it may sound, we are continually evaluating the choices we make in life, whether it be what we had for lunch, to what relationship we are in and because of our ever-globalised world, our choices are multiplying and with it the decision-making process becomes harder. Research conducted by Schwartz (2004) aptly named The Paradox of Choice, found that having too many options negatively impacted the individual making the decision and “argues that the cumulative effect of choice that is causing our society substantial distress”. You could therefore presume that an increase in suitable partners would draw the same negative impact. 

There is also an aspect of what you are like as a person. This is demonstrated in the research and states that there are two key aspects; a maximizer or a satisfier. Being a maximizer suggests that “you seek and only accept the best. You exhaust all other alternatives to make sure that you know that what you’re buying is the absolute best (quality, price, etc...). You aspire to achieve a given goal and are less likely to get satisfaction out of the choices you make compared to the satisfier.” Whereas a satisfier refers that “you settle with something that is good enough and you don’t worry about the possibility that there might be something better out there.” As a result, there may be a combination of, number of choices and temperate, that effect how happy we are with the decisions we make. For example, you could have fewer options as maximizer but still feel less satisfied than a satisfier who had more choices, as it is in the nature of a maximizer to question more intensely the options they have. 

This may perhaps be further explained by the term ‘Overchoice’, which was coined by Toffler (1971). It refers to several ‘equivalent choices’ available to a person, which results in them becoming overwhelmed due to the number of potential outcomes and the fear of making the wrong choice. It therefore highlights that more may be less. However, the research also showed that it is dissatisfying if a person has no choice at all and thus a small but not limited choice set, leads to increased satisfaction and reduced regret. Consequently, it is better to have fewer, more apposite suitors than it is to have hordes of candidates. 

This can be directly linked to the dating world and the current increase in the access to thousands of potential partners we now have. With the rise of apps etc we have a flood of potentials right there on our phones but as is mentioned in the blog ‘Here’s Why Too Much Choice Is Ruining Dating’by Erica Gordon“You could get overwhelmed by the ‘options’ and suddenly feel paralyzed, not acting on any of them. Even worse, you could end up alone because the deceptive perception of something better always being around the corner can cause you to never just choose someone and stop looking.” This is where the benefit of focusing on one potential partner at a time comes into play. This is because you get to know that individual at a deeper level, which may consequently prevent you from jumping straight to another person when something may not go your way. 

This is also where matchmaking can be of assistance, instead of decreasing your satisfaction by swiping your way through countless people, take a focused approach. Matchmaking can help you whittle down the options to maximise time and effort on relationships that have a chance of going the distance. Of course, as we’ve seen, it is beneficial to have a few options, but it is still important to remember that a successful relationship will only flourish if you focus on each potential relationship at one time. Knowing that you have gathered all the relevant information and had the freedom of feeling like you really want to be with that person will speak volumes and in turn gives a loving relationship a chance to grow.  Focus drives clarity and with clarity you can have peace of mind that the decisions that you are making are coming from a place of clearness and true feelings. 

Another issue that can arise if we do not focus on a particular potential partner at a time, is that rather than concentrating on what that person can bring to the table, we start to pick and choose attributes from multiple people on what we are looking for. As discussed in my previous blog‘The art of self-sabotage, too scared to find what you are looking for?’though it is great that we can build an understanding of what we are looking for, it can also limit us because “when we do come across a potential partner, they are held to these unrealistic criteria. In doing this, we are essentially sabotaging any chance of a healthy, balanced, successful relationship. We may tell ourselves that we will only be content if we have A, B and C fulfilled and as a result refuse to see the persons endearing and positive qualities.” It is therefore important to consider that if you have multiple potentials in mind, you may be muddying the waters, making your perfect person less and less clear by posing such strict preferences on your goals. 

So, to answer the question, are having dating options; a help or a hinderance? We can express that there needs to be an element of balance. Too many and you become confused and unsatisfied, constantly thinking is the grass greener and too little you wind up thinking whether you have settled and are discontented. Focus on each person individually and learning to understand everything about them and you will find that you are closer to finding a long lasting and successful relationship. 

 

References

Schwartz, B. (2004). The paradox of choice: Why less is more. New York: Ecco.

Toffler, A. (1971). Future shock. Bantam.

Is Love an Addiction?

You are in love. You don’t eat, you don’t sleep, you can’t do anything but think of the person. Are you addicted to love?

Ever since the beginning of time love has been described as an excruciating passion. We see it everywhere; in movies, in books, in songs. Almost two thousand years ago, Ovidsaid: “I can’t live with or without you” (Amores III, xi, 39) – a sentence that was made famous by Irish band U2 song. Other musicians sang about this too; legendary Led Zeppelinin their “I can’t Quit You Baby” as well as Ke$ha in her catchy song"Your Love Is My Drug." Similar feeling is expressed in the famous movie Brokeback Mountain by the character Jack Twist who said“I wish I knew how to quit you.”

It is far from true that only artists and poets feel this way as our everyday speech is full of such expressions. We often hear those in love saying: “I need you” and “I am addicted to you”. It seems like when we are in love, we experience a tremendous attraction towards another person and that attraction is persistent and often times impossible to ignore. 

Love is often thrilling but it can sometimes be dangerous. If our feelings are returned, we are in a state of euphoria. However, other times we might follow love’s pull to the point of suffering. It is hard to disagree with the fact that lovers sometimes become confused, unreasonable, unpredictable or even self-destructive. When relationships end in an undesirable way, lovers feel pain, grief and loss. 

These patterns of alternating euphoria and despair, frantic longing and harmful thoughts and behaviours that might occur after a relationship ends are strikingly similar to phenomena we see within ‘typical’ addictions to drugs, alcohol, nicotine or gambling. For example, a gambler might feel euphoric during the initial rush and excitement that comes along placing a bet and winning. When an unwanted loss occurs, the gambler feels desperate and often behaves in a destructive way – for example they may increase the bet with money that he or she is not in the position to spend. Nevertheless, while we often borrow phrases from the language of addiction when referring to love, there is at least one distinction between love and conventional addiction; while nobody desires to become addicted to alcohol, nearly everyone yearns to be in love. Is it therefore absurd to claim that there is a true resemblance between love and addiction?

Perhaps not. First, there is a resemblance between love and drugs even before an addiction develops. For instance, scientists suggestthat on a physiological level, falling in love and smoking crack cocaine are incredibly similar processes! This not to be confused with that slightly buzzed sensation you might feel after a glass or two of wine; it is rather the overwhelmingly euphoric and exciting feeling that follows the intake of crack cocaine that is similar to falling in love. So, if you are looking for a legal way to get high, perhaps consider falling in love.

What is really happening when we fall in love?  We start by experiencing a rush of emotions.  Some like to call it magic, others prefer the term ‘fate’, I like to say that I’m being love-struck. Whatever term we use, from a biological perspective, being in love causes a range of chemical reactions in your brain; neurotransmitters called oxytocin and dopamine get released. These chemical reactions affect your brain and produce the euphoric feeling that we experience during the initial stages of a relationship. 

The chemistry behind falling in love has been extensively studied and written about. However, many of us are not too concerned about that – we simply like the way it feels. Also, even without reading articles, many of us know that this overwhelming rush of feelings will fade away at some point. There is nothing wrong with that. The initial first weeks or months should help us build a solid foundation with the person we are in love with and hopefully form a relationship that goes beyond just a chemical reaction. Nevertheless, for some people this chemical reaction, this euphoric state is what they become addictedto and keep looking for even when it is over. This is then another similarity between love and addiction; just like drug addicts desire to feel the high cocaine gives them and are unable to resist it, love addicts have a hard time letting go of that initial rush. 

If at this point you feel like you are definitely a love addict, please bear in mind that almost everyone can relate to that initial rush experienced during the early stage of a relationship. We’ve all been there; the other person’s existence provides us with constant emotional excitement and distraction. However, most people acknowledge that healthy relationships will inevitably develop into something less exciting but more profound in the long run.

While the similarity between falling in love and taking a drug is there, being in love evolves into a healthy, happy relationship whereas compulsively taking a drug can develop into an addiction therefore it appears that there is a distinction between the two. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. In the same way that drug addicts cannot resist the urge to get the high, love addicts choose to rely on the neurochemical rush. When the rush fades away (whether induced by love or drug), the addict feels pain and disappointment and compulsively seeks the rush again.

But what is the rush in love addition? Unlike the typical addiction, we can’t point into something physical such as pills, cigarettes or slot machines. There are, however, clear symptomsthat manifest in a person’s behaviour and might signal love addiction.

One of the most common signs of love addiction is assigning too much importance to the new love. Of course, we all feel a little obsessed about the person we fell in love with but only love addicts would do whatever it takes in order to keep the high; they jeopardise work, friendships and even family and prioritise the new person in their life. Furthermore, they neglect responsibilities in their life in order to chase relationship dreams. Once the new person becomes the centre of their world, love addicts tend to believe that he or she can fix everything. As a result, instead of the relationship enhancing their life goals, their lives become all about the relationship. Ultimately, love addicts find themselves in relationships driven by feelings of incompleteness and insufficiency and find it difficult to feel ‘whole’ without their partner. 

These feelings, however, vary from person to person. That said, even if you exhibit all of these behaviours you might not be an addict, as everyone is different what makes someone addicted might be perfectly fine for someone else, in the same way that drugs don’t make everyone addicted to the same degree. In any case, there is advice for everyone who experiences the love addiction signs. In his book ‘How to Break Your Addiction to a Person’, Howard Halpern describes techniquesthat might help in breaking or preventing the addiction to a person

1.    Keep a Relationship Diary

Log the events and happening of your relationship in as much detail as possible. Most importantly, be honest, express your thoughts and feelings openly. Doing this may help you understand your feelings better and the way they relate to your actions. For instance, you might spot that every time you feel bad, you reach out for your phone and text your partner. When you are more aware of the situation, coming up with solutions becomes easier.

2.    Connect with others

Try and reconnect with your friends and family. The value of this network can be precious and those addicted to love often neglect it. Although it might seem that only your partner can provide support and understanding, you will be surprised to see that sharing your thoughts and feelings with your friends or family can be equally comforting.

3.    Become Aware of Your Body

Our minds are deeply connected to our bodies. The way we feel is related to our body functioning and it is therefore important to be aware of that relationship. Become aware of your body; it can be something as simple as focusing on your breathing. This will enhance the feeling that there is a central core within you and that you are actually the one who has control over it.

4.    Allow Multiple Attachments

Just like we can connect with people, we can also connect to something more timeless. Go out in nature, read books, listen to music – the world is full of things to explore. In a way, whereas people come and go, these things will always be around. This is not to say that we should not connect with people because one day they might not be there, but rather that we should get the best out of everything that is out there be it people, places or things. 

So, is it love or is it addiction? Probably it is a little bit of both. While some dose of addiction can be nice and poetic, in its essence, addiction is not about enjoying something but rather having a hard time staying away from something that gives you pleasure. Therefore, just like with everything in life, the best would be to find the balance between the two and enjoy a happy relationship. 

References:

Dr Kurt Smith. Yes, it is Possible to Be Addicted to Love. Retrieved from: https://www.beliefnet.com/wellness/yes-it-is-possible-to-be-addicted-to-love.aspx

Earp, B. D., Wudarczyk, O. A., Foddy, B., & Savulescu, J. (2017). Addicted to love: What is love addiction and when should it be treated?. Philosophy, psychiatry, & psychology: PPP, 24(1), 77.

Fisher, H., & Holt, H. (2004). The brain in love. SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN.

Halpern, H. M. (2003). How to break your addiction to a person. Bantam.

What men and women do wrong on first dates and how to improve!

You’re over the first hurdle, you’ve got a date in the diary, a venue picked out and a time etched so clearly in your mind all other activities work around it, your first date with the potential man or woman of your dreams. First dates are important milestones in our relationships with others, or should I say potential relationships. The likelihood is you have spoken with this individual for a short while, messaging or calling and now is the time you meet face to face. It is at this point the chemistry is exposed, the marrying of body language, as discussed by Kendra Cherry, and linguistics, laying bare the potential of the person in front of you. You would think it a simple task, to sit in front of another and tell them just enough about yourself to peak their interest but listen sufficiently to understand whether this person is right for you.  Yet things go wrong and quite often we are left scratching our heads wondering why. 

Men and women both make mistakes but often differ on their reoccurring errors. When it comes to first dates and women, there is an overwhelming over-analysis of the situation, before, during and after.  As a result, women read into situations and come out with a multitude of meanings, none of which may be correct. However, rather than expressing any concerns or asking for clarification on specific points women often seek external advice after the date. The focus on details can reduce the overall date to one small failure, when in fact the date, as a whole, was a huge success. The scrutiny put on the details, such as what drink he ordered etc, can result in an opportunity missed and a potential relationship unexplored. In order to overcome this, see the individual as a whole, a collection of the facts and stories that they tell you. What does the big picture show you, what is the overarching feeling you get when you are with this person?  Putting emphasis on this rather than focusing on the minute facts will increase your chances of finding a successful relationship.  

Further to that, once women know how they feel about someone on a first date they often want to know what will happen in the immediate future. Most women, if they are interested in their date will seek the confirmation of a second as soon as possible. As mentioned in the article ‘Here's What Men (And Women) Are Actually Thinking On A First Date’by DeAnna Lorraine, women tend to look ahead but should demonstrate an understanding that men may be going at a slower pace than them, so women should try to stay in the moment and take things one step at a time rather than planning their next 10 years together on the first date. Despite this, women are often unclear in demonstrating their wants to a date. What they believe to be up front behaviour can come across subtly and could simply be missed by a man. Take solace in knowing that if your date is interested in you they will let you know but there is no harm in making it easier for them by showing them how you feel. If it concerns you enough, then simply ask them if they would like to meet again or if you are looking for them to take the lead then perhaps say how much you have enjoyed yourself or talk about an activity or place you want to try in the near future. 

A mistake often made by both genders is trying to be something that they think their date wants, as opposed to just being themselves. This can transpire in women being overly demure or poised. They forget to have fun and enjoy the experience of meeting someone new. Initiating humour as well as remembering that you are both in the same boat will help eliminate the feelings of trying so hard. Remember a first date is something to be enjoyed, the first page in the novel of your relationship and that goes for both genders.

When it comes to the errors that men make on first dates, there is a resounding sense of urgency. Often seen as first date jitters, men tend to talk a lot on first dates and mostly about themselves. This is down to the fact that men want their abilities as a partner acknowledged. They are keen to establish their strengths and minimise their weaknesses. However, this can make your date feel as though you are uninterested in them and is often the case with women, can lead to them feeling misunderstood. However, as the acknowledgement of feelings is a huge part of the success women attribute to the first date, it is best to minimise this. Research by Marisa Cohen, in the article ‘It’s Not You, It’s Me…No, Actually It’s You: Perceptions of What Makes a First Date Successful or Not’has shown that the topic discussed most on successful dates is the woman. Of course, it is about both parties finding out about one another but if you are looking for triumph in dating as a man then it is best to start talking about the lady. 

However, the difficulty arises in the form of balance, as over complimenting your female date is another mistake in judgement. I hear you say but how? When over used, compliments become disingenuous and your date will become disengaged and lose faith in your credibility.  The key is to compliment your date when it feels most natural to do so and to be specific in your commendation. A compliment is worthless if you feel as though it can be applied to a multitude of people. For example, simply saying that someone is attractive could be attributed to any number of individuals. What is it about them that you find attractive, what features catch your eye, do they tell good jokes, are they a great storyteller? What do you see in that person that you don’t see in others? We discuss this topic in our podcast ‘First Dates in Relationships’

On the topic of attraction, a fatal mistake men can make on first dates is over-sexualising the conversation very early on. There is no dispute that physical chemistry should be present but it is important to recognise that this is still your first meeting and what you may be comfortable discussing, your fellow date may not. Now is the time to learn about one another on an emotional and intellectual level. Find the balance and enjoy flirting with one another but it is important that all parties feel comfortable otherwise you jeopardise your date getting to know you.  

With all of this said, sometimes we do everything that is deemed right for a first date and the date still may not go to plan. In some instances, you do everything the way you wanted and planned, and all seems to have gone well but still things don’t work out. It is important to remember that this can happen to anyone and often does and that it is not necessarily a reflection on you. The key is to mark it down as experience and keep moving forward. This is highlighted in the article ‘12 Things NOT To Do After A Bad First Date’by Kelsey Dykstra,whereby continuing to be open minded, even to a potential second date and not blaming yourself are significant ways to continue on the path to love. As is the case in lie, sometimes instant connections are made and sometimes you take time to warm up to a person or new situation. The key is to remember that when you meet someone new it could be the latter that applies to this individual. Therefore, dismissing someone simply because there isn’t an instant connection could prevent you from growing to love someone. 

Relationships are an extremely important element of our lives and first dates are the start of them. Of course, we are only human and on an occasion dates won’t go well and on others they will. Sometimes the feelings will be mutual and sometimes they will not. There needs to be an appreciation of the differences between the genders in approaching first dates and an understanding that at the end of the day you are just two individuals looking for love. By no means will every person make these mistakes but for those of you who are finding it hard to get past the first date stage perhaps it is best to reflect and ask yourself whether you may make any of these common mistakes.  Try to take an objective view and grow from your experiences. 

 

References

Marisa T. Cohen, “It’s not you, it’s me…no, actually it’s you: Perceptions of what makes a first date successful or not,” Sexuality & Culture: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly 20, no. 1 (2016): 173-191.

How to say no!

“You need to realise that in order to have the energy you need for yourself and others, you will need to say no to people on a regular basis – regardless of their reaction to you”

Dr Georgina Barnett, Counselling Psychologist

Full article at Royal Bank of Scotland private customers https://rbsprivate.contentlive.co.uk/content/how-to-say-no