I have a pathetic dating history. I’ll be 35 years old soon, and I’ve only been in one serious relationship. It was 10 years ago and lasted less than two years. I’ve dated some women since, but just for a few dates at a time. I’m in good shape, I’m reasonably attractive, and I have a career that I love. However, I suffer from periods of feeling worthless and unattractive to the point that I’ve almost given up trying to improve socially. I grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father and have heard this could be the root of the problem. I’ve tried to keep my mind off the issue by immersing myself in my career, hobbies and travel. I’ve also tried Al-Anon and have found that I leave more depressed than when I entered. Any advice?
Yes, stop judging yourself so harshly. Pop culture perpetuates the idea that by our mid-30s we should have enough discarded dates and relationships to fill an apartment complex or two. Don’t measure yourself by that cynical standard. Here’s your unique story: You are 34, have had one serious relationship and feel ready for another. You are uncertain whether unresolved childhood issues affect your dating experiences, but you are willing to tackle that issue. Isn’t that a more open-minded perspective?
It’s good to feel attractive and be engaged in an enjoyable career, but, as you discovered, those experiences are not a guaranteed magnet for romance. Perhaps the periodic bouts of feeling unattractive and worthless contribute to the problem. Those cycles reveal that you are not convinced of your beauty or value.
It seems that your life rolls along, contentedly, until a thought enters your mind that says you should be dating. Rather than considering it an invitation to see if you feel ready for dating, you accept the thought as a put-down. Like an alcoholic with an open tab, you drink the negativity until you are drunk on self-abuse. Even if the thoughts that arise about you are negative, you must do the work of discarding the nastiness and determining whether something underneath merits your attention. If the mind has learned to gain notice through negativity, then it will use that. It’s not your job to believe the darkness. It is your job to consider its significance for you.
I am a high-school student. My parents are divorced. I don’t get along with my dad and don’t like to spend time with him. He is a drug addict, but he now goes to Alcoholics Anonymous and says he is sober. He doesn’t seem any different to me. My mom says that if I don’t have a good relationship with him, I won’t have a good relationship with my husband when I marry. Is that true?
If you invest time in getting to know yourself, you can eventually make healthy choices in relationships. Practices such as Buddhist meditation can develop the inner observer, which allows you to see yourself more honestly. Travel, particularly to developing countries for the purpose of serving the poor, builds self-understanding and compassion. Contemplative practices such as structured journal-writing exercises; quiet time in nature; and certain athletic activities such as yoga, tai chi, hiking, mountain climbing and surfing can develop an inner stillness. This reservoir of silence allows us to hear the reality of who we are at our best and worst and therefore make adjustments as necessary. That is vital for having good relationships with others. It is also helpful to develop a friendship with an older adult male, perhaps an uncle, teacher or neighbor. In time, you also must forgive your father for not being the dad you desire and accept that he loves poorly. Don’t repeat that pattern.