It’s not about dating apps
Dating apps convince you that you are doing a relationship, but that is quite a different thing from being in a relationship.
Being in relationship
We will take a few steps back and look at everything it takes to be in a relationship with others. Maybe you can dump the apps and start living a life where you nurture your relationship with yourself first, and every other relationship flows from that.
Take a few more steps back to see the moment you were born. Yeah, that moment. The only relationship you had was with your mother from the inside to the outside. All sorts of stuff can kick off there. You are ripe for abandonment, neglect, abuse or being hurt. Maybe you were lucky and got a lovely big dose of care and attention, and then a bit further down the line, it all went a bit weird. Yeah, I can’t seem to write even one sentence with a fairytale ending.
Whatever you had to go through was your relationship training ground. Every cell in your body grew in childhood and took on patterns and relationships from your environment.
Childhood is your training ground for relationships
My family were not touchy-feely. My parents restricted physical contact to functionality. A boil on the bum meant I could lie across my mum’s lap while she took a needle to it. Being a bit pathetic at drying myself after a bath meant I got a good roughing up with a towel.
I needed touch then, and I still need it now. Do those strategies born of neediness still creep into every relationship? You bet they do.
What have you dragged from your childhood into every adult relationship?
Do all your romantic partners start out wonderful and then begin to metamorphose into someone with many similar characteristics to one or both of your parents?
Lots of things are going on here. Your childhood is your training ground for relationships. You learn how to interpret and live with your emotions in connection with those around you as a child.
When you move into independent adulthood, you are naturally drawn to relationships that reflect your relationship with your parents and family. You feel safe there. It is familiar. You have spent almost 20 years surviving in a particular relational environment. All your responses, habits and behaviour patterns have been integrated into your body/mind as a safe and sensible approach to life.
One of my survival techniques or patterns was to be the peacemaker, keep a low profile, and be calm in the face of chaos. This is a handy set of characteristics when growing up in a large, noisy and mildly dysfunctional family. It is quite an attractive characteristic; as an adult, it has drawn many people to me.
But what is the downside?
What am I missing out on ?
What am I dragging into all relationships as a result?
Recognising the relational baggage you carry
There are different approaches to this task depending on your processing style.
- Thinkers: Look at your thoughts around relationships. What do you believe about yourself? What do you believe about others?
- Feelers: Visualise interactions with a parent when you were a child. What do you feel as you negotiate these moments in time? Do you recognise these feelings in current relationships in the workplace or in your social life?
- Action takers: List the times in childhood when you could not take action, were frozen or took yourself away from situations that immobilised you. Do you now avoid similar problems, or have you begun to face them?
- Seekers: Imagine you are carrying a large backpack on a long journey. You set it down, take out each item in the pack, and lay it in front of you. Explore what each item represents.
Whatever your baggage, your current relationships are influenced by what you carry.
I can’t advise you what to do next.
You have recognised a belief or an obstacle, a recurring feeling of discomfort or a symbolic item you brought with you from childhood into your life as an adult.
Now is your opportunity to transform that, and only you know how. It may be that by simply recognising the thought, feeling, obstacle or symbol, you can acknowledge the echo from the past and decide whether it is helpful to you now in the present.
You may need to start by going through a process where you develop a stronger, more loving relationship with yourself. Notice when you judge yourself, regard yourself in a negative light, or behave in a way that does not reflect your true self.
I recognise and acknowledge that my relationship with myself is where all other relationships begin or fail.
My ongoing challenges and how I meet them
I often find myself in communication, where my automatic response is to keep the peace. I walk away from challenging conversations and avoid confronting bad practices or behaviour. I resign rather than negotiate further. I give in rather than argue.
I am now noticing my responses, but instead of shutting down or stepping away, I acknowledge what I am feeling to myself. This is often enough. If I am feeling threatened or attacked, acknowledging the feeling is enough to stop me from reacting in my usual way. I can stay in the conversation. I can gather my thoughts and find ways to express myself that connect me to that person rather than create a wall.
Whatever your relationship challenge, dating apps will not solve it. Focus on your relationship with yourself, and maybe dating apps will be a useful tool to get you out there and practise your new skill of being in relationship.
If you need more help, get in touch
First published in Medium September 2022