When it comes to dating, you probably have your own mental dialogue which is French for "arguing with yourself." Just kidding, it is actually from the Greek διάλογος (dialogos, conversation) with the roots being διά (dia: through) and λόγος (logos: speech, reason). Basically, a mental dialogue is an inner conversation in which you work through a topic. So what conversations have you had with yourself about dating? Has it become a chore you push through, or a game you play to pass the time?
Perhaps approaching dating as if it were a game, or sport, might help (no, I don't mean playing the game or being a player yourself). Here are three lessons from my sport/bobsled career that can teach us about how to win at dating, or at least enjoy the activity a bit more.
1. Cognitive Memory - When an athlete steps onto the field (or ice in my case) for a big competition, it is natural to experience some butterflies in the stomach. A mild level of anxiety is actually helpful for a competitor as it heightens the senses and energizes the body through adrenaline. The problem is that when an abundance of fears (fear of failure, fear of getting hurt, fear of making a mistake) take over, that level kicks into overdrive and produces an abundance of hormones that make it difficult for the athlete to stay relaxed and perform well. When an athlete is "in the zone", they are playing from a relaxed, confident state where their body reacts to the techniques and movements of their sport based on cognitive memory. Cognitive memory is the result of practicing a kick or a swing or a drive down the bobsled track time after time during training so that when the competition comes around it is simply muscle memory in action (if the anxiety doesn't take over, that is).
The problem is if an athlete thinks he or she is going to fail or fall short or lose the game, they won't want to play anymore or their efforts become half-hearted.
Are you dating half-heartedly right now? Have you been burned so many times or rejected too often or betrayed or lied to or just plain disappointed so much that you've lost confidence that you can "win" (i.e. find a lasting loving relationship)? In sports this is known as learned helplessness. For example, if a baseball player strikes out every time at bat for five games straight, they may develop learned helplessness which is a state of belief that they will fail again. The problem is, that mindset can affect their performance to a degree that they actually make their feared failure become reality.
If you feel that you've had too many bad experiences (or "loses") then you may approach dating with an "I can't win" mentality. You anticipate heartache or rejection or "never finding love", when in reality you actually make those things happen through your attitude, reactions to situations or by not seeing a potential relationship for what it could be: you see it as what you fear it will always be instead. I find that evidences of this state of mind are apparent when a girl says, "All guys are jerks!" or a guy says, "All girls are players!"
So your cognitive memory, the way you've trained your mind, heart and body to react to dating, has become negative and instead of guiding you towards "victory" (happiness, joy and love), your actions, thoughts and patterns lead you towards disappointment. But not to worry! Just as we can all learn bad habits over time, we can learn more productive ones to help us achieve the desired relationship goals we hold on to.
Think about the last good date you went on or the last time you were excited to see someone. Be careful, don't let your jaded self do the talking. Allow yourself to be vulnerable for a moment and really admit that the last time you had a fun time with someone was...? Now hold that memory in your mind. Picture the persons face, hear their laughter, smell the food at the restaurant or even the popcorn at the movie theater. Its ok to be a bit sad that they are no longer in your life, but find strength in the joy you experienced with them because that means that it IS possible and that fact alone means that you can find it again with someone else!
Basic rule in sports: practice to win and use imagery to visualize that victory. If your cognitive memory is negative then your performance will be as well, but if you focus on the positive and visualize the achievement of your dreams then your performance will lead to that outcome. I admit that that can be tough when you've had a string of bad dates, or no dates, or even experienced rejection time after time, but just like trying for the Olympics takes work (a lot of that is mental work), so too does trying for a lasting, deep, fulfilling relationship.
2. The Fundamental Shift - Over the past five years I have been hearing more and more (and feeling it myself) that there is something off about the "dating world" as we LDS midsingles know it. Not the social scene, mind you, that is alive and thriving. I could list the usual suspects/reasons: guys don't ask out/girls expect expensive dates; guys only want the physical/girls only want someone with money; he's still stuck on his ex/she is too jaded from her ex; he's a player/she's a big flirt; he doesn't want to settle down/she only wants attention from many guys, etc. etc. etc. Yes, that is a pessimistic list, but we've all experienced it in one form or another. And no, it by no means represents the dating experience as a whole since there are plenty of amazing people that we have all gone out with and know and perhaps secretly want to date seriously.
So, what is to be done? As a coach when you come into a program that is stalled or struggling to get out of a rut or is even battling a losing streak the first thing you need to do is evaluate the strengths and weaknesses. What are the specific players, strategies and mindsets that are keeping progress and success at bay? Those may have to go, a concept that takes both decisive action (difficult) and continued patience (often more difficult). That isn't to say that you "throw the baby out with the bathwater"; a good coach also evaluates where the underutilized strengths are. Which talents have been neglected, which thought-patterns can be enhanced, which plays and techniques need to be brought to the forefront.
While I don't have all the cultural-sized dating problems figured out, perhaps each of us needs to take some time for honest introspection to see where our strengths and weaknesses are. What are we doing right and what can we improve on? Where are we selling ourselves short and where are we putting ourselves at risk for injury, whether emotional, mental, physical or even spiritual? Again, every player within a sports program must make these changes in order for the organization to succeed as a whole, and if some players don't change, their negative actions/performance will continue to affect their teammates. In the midsingles world, we can only improve our own sphere; that means that yes, we will still encounter those who are dating according to flawed standards, ideals or even motivations, but the good thing is we do not have to invite them to sign a contract with our own personal team. Just let them play in the minors while you shoot for a world championship ring (see what I did there?).
3. Keep Your Eye on the Prize - One of the most important skills that a bobsled pilot like myself can learn is the ability to focus on what is in front of you. When you're piloting a sled at speeds of 80-90MPH while flying through tight turns as five times the force of gravity smashes you down in your seat, you need a clear head, quick hands and the ability to see what is in front of you (both with your eyes and your imagination). You have about the same amount of time that it takes you to blink to either make the right correction with your steering or the wrong. And you can't focus on the cheering of the crowd, the cameras or their crews, the lights, or even the mistakes you made in the last turn. No, to win and even to stay right-side up you need to focus on what is coming your way and how you're going to get to that finish line.
In my opinion, many midsingles have lost that vision. Sure, we tell themselves that we "want to find someone to love", but the truth is we've been blinded by fear, by hurt, by exhaustion, by the bright lights of the ease of the social scene, and much more. That is not a judgmental statement; it is a factual one, at least for a good number of our community. Marriage is no longer the finish line, and if it still is, we have no longer made it the priority. We keep one eye on our goal while the other is on our careers, our looks, our standing in the social hierarchy, when the next party is, how much fun can be had out there, and we even hide behind the good things in life like family time, school, and my personal favorite, "taking time for myself."
Are those all bad things? No. Let me repeat that: no, they are not. So don't get offended or throw rocks at my windows or slash my tires. What I AM saying is that even the good things during a game (the cheering of the crowd, the homemade sign/poster, the cheerleader's encouragement, etc.) can all be distractions that can cause you to drop the ball. When you lose sight of your goal, it can be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to continue to head in it's direction. A bobsled's steering system is an amazing thing, but I still have to guide it where I want to go which means I need to keep my goal in mind: the finish line.
So, what distractions (even good ones) have caused you to lose focus on your goal of marriage? Is it the distraction of fear and hurt? Is it the distraction of too much fun or too much work? Is it the distraction of insecurities, apathy, or perhaps even discouragement? Is the safety of the social scene holding you back or is it lifting you up? Are the ghosts of past heartaches weighing you down or have their lessons launched you forward? Only you know you, and any good coach knows it is wise to listen to an athlete's gut instinct. And if you're not sure what may be holding you back or keeping you from having a passion for the goal of marriage again, I'd honestly suggest you pray about it. A simple answer, but countless championships have been won by sticking to the important basics.
Well, there you have it, three principles taken from sport that can help each and every one of us move forward and progress in the dating game. While dating can be the most wonderful thing, I know it can be tough. And I'm not suggesting we make it a burdensome or stressful pursuit; rather, that we eliminate the habits, thought-patterns or even people in our lives that are making it so tough. Yes, work will always be involved, and as any athlete can attest, a lost game can still suck. But even our biggest loses in life can teach us valuable lessons that move us forward in leaps and bounds.
So respect the other players in the dating game (their emotions, their hearts and their honor), even if they're not the right permanent teammate for you, and let's all decide right here and now to make dating fun again. After all, we're all on the playing field together; we can either make it a fun scrimmage or a painful gladiatorial combat.
I, for one, prefer a good game. Leave the blood and guts of drama to the high schoolers.