15 Sep What’s love got to do with it?
“I meet a lot of people and believe me I’m not afraid of dating, but there are so few men who I’m compatible with- it’s pathetic!” Those were the pained, frustrated words of a young woman seated across from me in my office during her second therapy session. Outgoing, attractive, intelligent and kind – she seemed to have all the attributes of someone’s ideal mate. And she wanted to find love; she devoted ample time and energy to it. I felt for her. But I knew from my professional experience, that her frustration didn’t stem from something external. We needed to look inside.
Ok, Cupid, is this a match?
Artwork by Banksy
We all have the sense that finding intimacy and love defies logic and planning. But so much of the advice out there seems to employ just that. Take matching sites. Millions of Americans, more than 11%, use on-line dating services. All of these sites promote their unique approaches to matching and the logic of compatibility. Match.com the most popular site, makes the claim in its name. OkCupid advertises that their “matching algorithm” does the trick, and eHarmony promotes its “29 dimensions of compatibility.” Not that compatibility doesn’t matter, sharing a sense of values and vision for life is an important base for relating, but contrary to popular belief, compatibility is not a major factor in successful relationships. And what’s more, true compatibility isn’t something that happens or can be surmised from an on-line profile, but is created and nurtured over time. In fact, matching can set up unreasonable expectations and causes people to obsess over how they present themselves- how they look, how they describe their histories, interests and activities. Flirting, dating and even sex become performances to mask insecurity, raising anxiety and sinking the likelihood of making a real connection.
Mandy Len Catron in her New York Times’ modern love essay eschews matching and performing, and takes a plunge into created intimacy (and falls in love) using a straightforward psychological technique. Rather than assuming that love is something that happens to us she finds that love is actually something we make happen. Adapting a method used in a psychological experiment on intimacy, she discovers that love follows intimacy and intimacy can be built through fairly straightforward interactions-experiences of mutual vulnerability foster deeper intimacy.
Over time, my frustrated young patient and I explored her intense fear of vulnerability, which she, like many, dealt with by asserting control. Control over her body, her emotions and her interactions with the men she met. Psychological capabilities such as trust, empathy, commitment, and the capacity to give and receive support, essential to developing and maintaining intimacy don’t develop through assertions of control. But here is the good news: Committing to personal, internal change makes a difference. Getting in touch with fears, working through shame, finding a greater sense of internal safety, and loosening control together create a solid foundation for intimacy and love. Maybe we need to create a new dating site…call it “vulnerability.com.”
Bart Magee, Ph.D.
Founder & Executive Director