I’ve been writing this column for 11 months. It’s been wildly interesting talking to people about the issues that they have experienced with dating, both real and perceived.
While everyone’s experiences are drastically different, there are a few complaints I hear consistently. So we’re going to talk it out like adults. I’ve heard from women that the men are flighty, distracted and allergic to commitment. Men tell me women are commitment-obsessed, jealous and overly sensitive.
Although this seems to be polarizing, it actually shows that both men and women are reacting to the same fundamental issue. So don’t worry. It’s all going to be okay.
It’s all just a big miscommunication.
And I actually don’t think it’s a gendered issue (although for the purpose of this article I will talk about it that way). Many of the women I meet are playing the field and “keeping their dance card filled.” They enjoy the chase more than the relationship, and that “R” word sends them running. Similarly, many men are more interested in a partnership than the partner themselves. Either way, our relationships have become reactionary – and that is problematic. We are missing out on great opportunities to build powerful relationships, and not giving awesome people a chance to naturally settle into a healthy relationship.
So I want to diffuse this situation. Because that’s what I do.
This is the real problem:
We have muddled the ideas of “commitment” and “connection.”
You see, the two things can often look and feel very similar. Whenever there are two humans hanging out and sharing common interests, a physical chemistry and a willingness to open up the weirdness of their life to another person, that is connection. Sometimes it can happen between two people who want to spend years getting to know each other and supporting each other in a committed relationship. But the same thing can happen in a 10-minute conversation in an Uber between the Westin and the Blue Spoon.
Connection is a basic human need. We absolutely need it to survive. If we didn’t have a true animalistic craving for connection, we all would have given up on the absurd world of dating after our first heartache. But we don’t have a choice. We look for it in all areas of our life: community, friendships, allies at work and in amazing relationships. At the core, what we need is to feel like we’re not alone, like someone “gets” us and has our back, that’s connection and it’s awesome.
The problem seems to start when one person’s search for connection is misinterpreted as a desperation for commitment.
Here is a common and sort of generic example: On a typical third date, just past the interview phase of a relationship, the questions you ask tend to be more intimate. What is your relationship with your family like? Where do you want to be in five years? Are you always going to be living in Portland?
These types of questions build intimacy and connection. You want to get to know not only what a person does, but WHY they do it. Some people who aren’t ready to get into a relationship might misinterpret these questions as too commitment-focused. They avoid answering in detail and become defensively disinterested to make sure the relationship moves at their prescribed pace. This usually sends the asker into an uncomfortable panic wondering what they missed or what the person is trying to hide. Instead of allowing them the space to not answer intimate questions, they lean into the issue and push the other person further away. So starts the quintessential Portland on-again, off-again relationship.
Even if both people are equally interested in the relationship and there is no reason for them not to fall into mad love, their inner dialogues have convinced them otherwise and drive them apart. There is a pile of perceived expectations, a breakdown of communication and an inevitably difficult push and pull of psuedo-commitment.
You see, in an ideal world, one often leads to the other, connection comes first and when we feel safe and trusted, we can easily commit. The problem is, we have reversed the order. And there is no one specifically to blame, it is a chicken and egg type of problem.
Luckily, there is an easy way to fix all of this. But it means as men and women, (Masculine and Feminine. Defensive and Pushy. Eager and Resistant. Type A and Artiste) that we have to take responsibility for contributing to the cycle of miscommunication and possible do something that’s slightly uncomfortable.
It starts with being aware of the two things: connection and commitment. And the fact that some people may want one, or the other, or both. And we need to know what we want. And then we can put them back in order.
Next week will be a follow-up in exactly how to change your perspective and how we can get this crazy train of Portland dating back on the rails.