Dating is a kind of factory line. You enter ground meat and you leave a sausage. We begin dating as two complete strangers, and, if all goes well, we become joined at the hip. In no other life situation is the contrast so great and the transition so dramatic. It is even more extreme than it seems, because there is something highly unique about the process of dating. Precisely because of this unusual dynamic, it is possible to get stuck along the way. In fact, it is a full-blown miracle that we do not all get stuck. The mindset with which dating begins and the attitude we are supposed to have when it concludes successfully are polar opposites.
Moving from selfish to selfless.
There is something highly paradoxical about relationships. Dating begins as a selfish act, whereby a single person is seeking their own happiness. I have so far never met someone who chose to go on a date with someone out of pity for them. We date people we have an interest in being with. We are doing this for ourself, and to benefit ourselves. We go on a date in pursuit of our own happiness, not for the sake of the other person’s happiness.
The minute we conclude that our date does not suit our preferences, we check out. We do not ask our dates for their opinion as to whether we should continue dating. Their opinion does not count, as they are out for their own interests just as we are concerned with our own interests. Everyone understands that this is what is going on. Two people looking for love to make themselves happy – that is the brutal truth.
Yet, despite dating beginning on an entirely selfish basis, if it is to culminate in a lasting commitment it must result in a selfless love of another. Somehow these two “selfish” people who are looking out for themselves need to arrive at a point where they care endlessly about the other person. Ideally, they should adore and love each other more than themselves. By the end of what could be a relatively short dating process, they are each hoping to be deeply concerned about the other person’s happiness – perhaps even more than their own.
That is some journey to go on. The same person who on the first dates could have been abandoned and never considered again – “sorry, but you are not for me” – by the final dates is regarded as inseparable. Wow, that was fast! Somehow this selfish act has to transform into a selfless relationship, in which each seeks the happiness of the other. For dating to have succeeded, we need to go from “me” to “we.”
Moving from ‘taking’ to ‘giving’.
That is not all. The idea of dating is highly ‘acquisitional’, you are trying to acquire something for yourself. Currently, your date is “on the market.” Theoretically, he or she is open to dating anyone. You go on a date with the thought that if you are interested in being with that person, you want to make him or her your very own. You want to ensure your love-interest is taken “off the market” so that only you can have that kind of relationship with them.
You are seeking exclusivity with another person. The dating individual seeks to make the other person ‘theirs’ – ‘my husband’ or ‘my wife’. In dating, you are not looking to give anything away; you are not looking to share. Rather, you are looking to secure something for yourself and not share this person with anyone else. If you think about it, it is quite aggressive. There is probably nothing else quite like this.
If you purchase a home, you most likely do not intend for it to be open to the public. You put a big lock on the front door to drive that point home. But you are very likely to invite people into your home and may derive great satisfaction in allowing people to enjoy your home with you. Marriage is the opposite. By committing to marriage, you are declaring to the whole world: hands off my man/woman. You are staking your claim of ownership over that person; you marked your territory and intend to defend it.
Yet, despite the initial focus in dating on getting what you want, it must eventually evolve into something far more tender and sensitive. By the time you complete the dating process, the idea is that that you should be deeply committed to giving to, and sharing with, this new special person in your life. As we are often told, marriage is not about give and take; it is about give and give. Somehow, all this giving emerges from a process that was characterized by taking.
We are supposed to care so much about the other person that we want what is best for them. We will put ourselves out for our chosson or kallah in ways we would not for any other person on earth. In fact, we revel in finding new things we can do for them, more ways to make them happy. Instead of trying to get what we want (the attitude with which we began dating), we are now focused on giving them what they want. This shift is dizzying. How does it happen?
The transition takes place in stages.
A proper explanation would be an article in itself, but in short, it goes like this: Human beings are capable of great love once they find the right person to give it to. The process begins with a self-serving goal, because we need to be sure that the recipient of our love is going to be a suitable fit. Otherwise, the love can easily go sour. Once we have confirmed that our date is indeed compatible, we are ready to give our all to the relationship.
The initial stages of dating are focused on establishing compatibility, whereas the latter stages turn to bonding. Bonding is only possible once the person is willing to let go, and for them to do this, they need to be satisfied that the basis is sound. The first date and the last are vastly different in how the couple relate to each other as explained, but the transformation does not happen for most people in a single moment. Rather, the dating process – even one that is not prolonged – takes the individuals through various stages through which the caterpillar turns into a butterfly. People can get stuck at any one of these stages.
- The first stage is “interest”. Is there basic attraction? A multitude of factors will be considered, mostly below consciousness, from the sound of their voice to their communication style. Each person will give more significance to the aspects that most matter to them. You may be drawn in by her smile, or you may be put off if he arrives late.
- The second stage is “fact-finding”. Is there compatibility? You want to gather as much basic information about their life, goals and values to assess whether you are a good fit.
- The third stage is “bonding”. Are there feelings? You may be convinced there is a good match, but is there a sufficiently strong emotional connection? You can judge that in a variety of ways, such as whether you think about them a lot.
- The fourth stage is “commitment”. Are you ready to say “this is the one”? You will need to resolve significant reservations, overcome lingering doubts, and feel satisfied that there will be no regrets.
Sometimes there are snags along the way.
While this briefest of explanations clears up why we have this vast contrast from the first stage to the last stage of dating, it does not change the reality that the dating process incorporates two vastly opposite dynamics. Someone on this journey has to be ready to quite quickly transition through the gears. The potential clearly exists for the system to jam.
If anywhere along the way there is a bottleneck, the process will get stuck. Where there is a blockage it could result in a halt to the progress of the relationship, or worse it could end in its breakdown. When the people involved are aware of the blockage, it usually can be resolved – sometimes quite easily. However, when this awareness is lacking, the relationship may face a crisis.
Most people find that the gears work fine. As they continue dating, the gradual transition from “me” to “we” occurs. Eventually, they make the switch completely and the couple is ready for marriage. Some people, however, repeatedly get caught on something. They may struggle to let go of the control they have over their own lives; they are finding it hard to accept that they would give up on having sole jurisdiction over their lives.
Others may struggle with truly being open about themselves, fearing that they will get hurt if they share themselves fully. Some people have a difficult time believing that someone can truly love them unreservedly, secretly believing (although never admitting it) that they are unworthy of the unlimited devotion of another person. In short, there are quite a number of reasons why someone could get stuck. It should therefore come as no surprise that it happens often.
Here is the kicker: most people who get stuck do not realize. The problem is not that people may struggle at one stage or another of the progression from “me” to “we”. The problem is that they have no idea that this is even happening. For the vast majority of people who are having some difficulty in transitioning from one stage to another on the me-we spectrum, the problem is always the person they are dating. Something about them is the matter.
There is something they ostensibly do not like, or there is some aspect of their lives that is incompatible. It almost never occurs to them that the real issue may be the complexity and difficulty of this transition. So, when we hit a snag, we are liable to shoot back to the “me” frame of mind: “My date will not make me happy, so I need to find someone else.” It rarely occurs to people that what could be amiss is their ability to snap into the “we” frame of mind.
Are you Getting Stuck somewhere in the transition?
Do you find that you are regularly getting yourself into this predicament? You find someone you like, but then somewhere along the way you keep backing off. You need to ask yourself whether you are having problems with the me-we process. Of course, it is entirely possible that in the course of dating you have discovered that your date is not a suitable marriage partner. But, it is also possible that you are getting stuck (again) and do not know it.
If this is the first time this has happened, there is no need to second-guess yourself. Try again and hope for a better outcome. But if this keeps happening, you need to understand that the possibility that something not adding up is significant. Rather than keep going around in circles, you need to at least ask the question of whether you are blaming all the wrong things for why the dating is not resulting in the desired goal. You need to be open to the idea that something is breaking down in the way your mind deals with the highly unusual relationship process, instead of jumping to the conclusion that you need to find someone else to date.
The problem is that whomever you may date next, one thing is for sure: you are going to be on that date! If you are not working properly, nothing is going to change. The journey from “me” to “we” is not a simple transition, and it is liable to going awry. Be aware of this, and be conscious that this could be the real reason you are still single.