Most of us were taught that we should be happy if we find a nice mate, one that is usually kind and considerate, who brushes their teeth regularly, brings home a paycheck, and pays the electric bill on time… What is this “species” stuff?
The old dating mentality became part of our social framework hundreds of years ago when marriage was based on survival. Partnering up helped us with the intense physical effort of feeding and clothing ourselves, fitting into societal/religious expectations, and tracking the dozen or so kids we’d need to raise to help run the farm. “Back then,” there weren’t generally a lot of people to pick from. In a small town or village you might have 2 or 3 possible mates, a dozen if you were lucky, but partner up you must. Learning to be accommodating and being able to put up with serious mismatches in personality helped you survive (or at least made it less likely you’d kill your mate). And cultural “rules” reinforced that you stayed together no matter how bad a fit you were for one another.
In the last two centuries, more has changed about culture and relationships than Oprah or Dr. Phil could ever cover! From gender roles to the average age people get married, to cohabitation before marriage to how people meet and court one another, today’s relationship landscape is NOTHING like our founding forefathers’… Yet, our dating and mating practices, and the ideas behind them, remain the same.
Most of us today have access to thousands, if not millions of potential mates (Thanks big cities and thanks Internet!). Partnership is no longer about survival (though it can feel that way sometimes), and social/religious pressures have lessened. We’re not necessarily limited to one mate for a lifetime, or even one at a time… And the reasons we stay in a relationship are different now.
How we interphase with dating, sex and relationships are long overdue for an upgrade, one that hasn’t come yet.
Date Your Species
Dating can be daunting when you’re looking at that many possibilities. It’s wonderful to choose partners based on attraction, but that doesn’t guarantee a good match. Ever dated someone you were super attracted to who also drove you nuts?! What if there were a way to upgrade your dating “operating system” and identify the people who would be easy to be in relationship with? Who were your species?
Let’s make music an analogy for relationships. Culturally speaking, we all went to Conservatory and we’re all taught that classical music is THE music. It’s the best bar none, everything else is just not music. All around you, Chopin, Bach, Beethoven are played constantly. Your friends and family are so happy, they can’t get enough of classical. They think, eat and breathe everything classical, never questioning it’s awesomeness. Maybe you’re good at classical music but not as happy as you see others being. You wonder, “Why am I not as happy as everyone else? Am I broken? I will devote myself harder to classical and, maybe, I will finally have the epiphany I need and I’ll be happy like everyone else!”
You set yourself to tough it out until you get it and something shifts. But you have that gnawing feeling of unfulfillment and worry in your gut…
Then one night, in a depressed fit, you go out and you stumble into your very first jazz bar and your world changes forever. You realize, “Ah! Jazz! I’m a jazz musician!” Jazz is your version of how the music of love, intimacy and relationships expresses itself through you. But Culture doesn’t teach us that that’s how we should look at relationships. We were never taught that we had options and given permission to seek out what kind of relationships make us sing.
Some of us do figure this out, but we settle on playing other people’s music because we were taught that Classical is the “right” music to play. We never figure out the 2nd step…
There are other jazz musicians out there.
Once we give ourselves permission to figure out what music makes us happiest, we need to seek out people for whom our music is also their music. Once you find them, then you start auditioning them to join your band (i.e. dating)! Don’t try creating some Country Music/German-Death Metal hybrid. Those bands always break up over “creative differences.”
And just because you two share the same tastes in music doesn’t mean you’re a good fit for the type of band that makes you happiest.
We’re not taught that relationships can look lots of different ways and we’re not given the cultural permission break away from “classical music,” so we end up starting a band with the drummer in high school because they’re the only kid in town who has a drum set!
- What kind of music (relationship) makes you happiest
- Who loves playing that same music (Look where people like that gather – their “watering holes”)
- Is the kind of “band” you want to start a good fit with the band they want to start?
If you were choosing a workout/activity buddy, and you hated bowling, you probably wouldn’t choose the guy who LIVES for bowling, who constantly focuses on where they’re going to put their next bowling trophy, and who thinks any other sport is stupid. What would be the sense of that?
Yet, all the time we date great people who are bad fits for us and try to tough it out and make due… That’s the “old paradigm.” That’s Conservatory Thinking.
Remember that Conservatory Thinking also extends to how the music should be played, too. Maybe classical music is YOUR music, but you’re not happy playing compositions written 250 years ago. Maybe you want to write your own scores. Modern classical music is how the music of love flows through you! And maybe your orchestra needs to look different from traditional orchestras…
Scare Them Away To Find The Right Ones
Since relationships aren’t about survival anymore, and since you’ve got more access to people than you did back in “village times,” I recommend that you try to scare people away from the start. Be specific in what you’re looking for and narrow your “Google search of love.” Why? Modern dating is like a Google search: Often, the more specific you are with your search terms, the greater the chance you end up finding what you’re looking for. If someone is not a good fit for you relationship-wise, it’s better to find out now, rather than when you get attached to them. If you want kids, why date someone who knows they don’t want kids ever? If you are polyamorous and would never date someone who isn’t poly, lead with that early on. If you monogamous and aren’t okay with your partner seeing other people, don’t date someone who’s looking for an open relationship.
We often don’t want to get specific because we’re scared that we’ll never find anyone; however, we waste years dating people who’re bad fits for us. When you do the math, I think using being specific as a means of weeding people out of your search -while it might take more time and be scarier- yields more happiness over a lifetime. Would you rather be in a series of bad relationships for years on end or be single for a few more years and find someone who’s a good fit for you?
The good news: Putting what you really want out there not only scares the bad fits off, your specificity begins broadcasting to those who are looking for someone like you that YOU EXIST!
Win-Wins, Bottom Lines, Wiggle Room, 3-Strikes
Figuring out what species you isn’t as difficult as you might think. You’ve been leaving yourself clues your entire life. Like a CSI television episode, sift through your past relationships for clues as to what worked for you and what didn’t. And be honest.
Do relationships work better for you when you date someone who’s straight, gay, queer, monogamous, poly, swinger or asexual? Religious, not religious? Has kids? Has no kids? Wants kids? Is close with their family? Has lots of friends? Is extroverted? Is introverted?… Those might be some of your Win-Wins: Those things that, when present in the relationship/person, make the relationship work SO much better.
Bottom Lines are those things that automatically put an expiration date on the relationship and, if you were really honest with yourself, are not acceptable for you at all. Casual drug use for some isn’t a deal breaker. For others, it’s a no-go but they “make an exception” because it’s “not that big of a deal.” But that exception eventually leads to resentment and an inevitable end. Look at your past relationships, especially the one’s the crashed and burned horrifically… What actually ended those relationships? Those are probably Bottom Lines for you. Respect what your Bottom Lines are when you discover them and, trust me on this: Do not ever make exceptions on your Bottom Lines.
Wiggle Room… Live in a city or in the country? Likes to leave their socks on the bedroom floor versus keeps the bedroom immaculate? Things that aren’t really big deals so long as lots of Win-Wins are present… Welcome to figuring where there is “wiggle room” in your relationships.
Lastly, try to map out those things that don’t have to be perfect so long as they’re improving. They aren’t great at communication but they love communication workshops and books and courses and are rapidly improving in this area… That might fall under the 3-Strikes category: Something that, if not addressed and improved, would end the relationship eventually, but you’re willing to give space and time for it to shift. The key to 3-Strikes is to actually put a limit on it. If it doesn’t improve after a certain amount of time, you must end the relationship.
These four categories are the characteristics Darwin would have used to describe “your species.”
Doing the work to discover what your species is and using it to filter out who might be a good fit for you in love and life will add immense ease and fun into your relationships and reduce drama. You’ll still have things you need to work out, no one is a perfect fit, but a lot of the tension and conflict that many relationships encounter evaporates when you’re with someone who is your species. Relationships will always be work from time to time but that’s normal.
When you agree on the fundamental expression of love and sex, neither of you are trying to make the other person different. Feelings of being constrained, made wrong, and out of alignment all the time can evaporate. (And hey- if you’re already in a relationship with a different species, all is not lost! Sharing and acknowledging the differences and knowing that it’s going to take more work can make a big difference, too).
What species are you?