“How can I make this work?”: Forcing vs allowing

Letter from a reader:
Hi Dr. Ali,
Thank you for the wisdom you share – beyond giving me insights into relationships, you’ve helped me to be more satisfied with where I am.  Now, I’d love to get your advice about a specific situation.
I met a man in college a few years ago. We dated for a summer, but I got the impression (which I’ve since realized was wrong) that he wasn’t interested in a relationship, so I suggested that we just be friends. We did become friends, but we also ended up dating very casually for another year or so. However, in 2007 I moved to Boston and he to NYC, at which point things fizzled out, and we’ve only barely kept in touch. Through this process, I realized that he’s a wonderful guy – even according to your criteria! – and fell for him, but between the logistics, the confused progression of the relationship, and our both being pretty immature, it just didn’t work.
Since then, we each had a 2-3 year relationship with someone else, and we’ve each recently broken up with those people. We reconnected one night recently, and I’d like to try to make the relationship work this time – I think it’s a good one, and I’m moving to NYC in 6-12 months anyway (I know how you feel about long distance). The guy has historically been very independent and wary of commitment, but when we recently caught up, he let me know that he’s starting to think about marriage. With the casual relationship in our past – which we naturally fall back into whenever we see each other – I’m not sure how to change the pattern we’re in and try to develop a real relationship, especially given the long distance right now and how independent he likes to feel. How can I make this work? Thanks so much, Jenni

Great letter Jenni!  Thanks for sharing. For some reason, it reminds me of one of the greatest works of Eastern wisdom, T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, from which I will proceed to quote liberally.  “In my beginning is my end,” starts East Coker, the second section of the poem, so we’ll make my beginning your end by starting with the last sentence of your letter:

How can I make this work?

This, my dear, is an excellent example of asking the wrong question.  Why?  Because you have no idea whether you even want this to work.

“Huh?”, you say.  “But he’s a great guy — even by Dr Ali B standards, as put forth in the formidable words of The Tao of Dating.  I should do everything I can to nab this one.  Right?”

Well, Jenni, it’s really not about him at all.  It’s about you, and the approach you’ve chosen.  ‘How can I make this work’ implies an attempt to force things — as if somehow, by exercising your intellect or using special techniques, you can make this turn out right — ‘right’ being another thing you don’t have access to.

In fact, you’ve already tried to force things before in this relationship.  That summer way back, you assumed that he wasn’t interested in a relationship.  You then suggested that you should just be friends (whatever that means), thereby depriving yourself of the very thing that you both wanted.

This is the opposite of following the Tao, which is more about allowing than forcing.  I refer you to this passage from East Coker:

I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.

So you’re moving to New York City in 6-12 months.  Is it 6 months, or more like 12?  And what if something comes up, and you get a fantastic job in San Francisco, or London, or Paris, where you’ve always wanted to live?  What then?

Let’s say you do end up moving to NYC.  What if, between now and your departure date, you hit it off with another amazing guy and you have the time of your life with him?  What then?

What if in NYC, a city notorious for having 200,000 more single women than men, where it’s a buyer’s market for men and sexual mores are relaxed, he has a revolving retinue of women and has no time for you?  What then?  What if he still likes you and asks you to be one of his 4 girlfriends?  What then?  What if you want to have 4 boyfriends and he doesn’t even figure to be one of them?

The point is that there are an infinite number of scenarios out there for what could happen with you and this guy, and you are focused on just one: to get more serious with him, get him to commit and get on the path to marriage.

For the sake of simplicity, let’s say there are 100,000 possible scenarios and you’re dead-set on exactly one of them.  What are the chances that that one scenario is the best one for you?

That’s easy: it’s 1 in 100,000.  There are 99,999 other scenarios, most of which you have not even imagined.  And it’s practically a certainty that at least one (or hundreds!) of those is better than what you would have chosen for yourself knowing what you know now.

The alternative is to allow the good of the universe unfold for you in its own mysterious way.  No preconceived notions.  No forcing.

Just imagine what would happen if you succeed in getting the serious relationship you think you want, and you discover that you really don’t like being married.  What then?  60% of married women in North America have arrived at that point (also known as divorce), and report that it was less fun than they thought.

So I’ve told you what not to do.  Overthinking it, scheming, plotting, forcing, struggling are out.  What’s left?

Everything else! If ‘how can I make this work’ is the wrong question, then here are some right questions: How can I have more fun with this? How is this a great opportunity for me to learn about loving and living?

So he’s a wonderful guy, and you guys get along, and I’m guessing the makeout sessions are hot.  Fantastic!  How about you enjoy each other’s company when you can?  Think of him as this amazing 5-star restaurant in New York that lets you in ahead of the monthlong reservation list every time you visit: “Why, Ms Jenni — what a pleasure.  Your table’s right here.”  What a deal!

In the meantime, do you go starving, refusing to eat at local restaurants because this 5-star restaurant exists hundreds of miles away?  No — you keep on enjoying life.  And because you know this restaurant exists and its doors are open to you anytime you visit, you have a little bit more discernment and power when you’re at other restaurants.

I’m guessing you’re about 26 or 27 now.  This means you’re at the height of your womanly charms, and you’ve got all kinds of time.  It also means you’ve still got a lot to learn, so — go forth and learn!  Each person we meet is an opportunity to practice being loving.

What you may have not noticed is that The Tao of Dating is like a training manual.  There are real skills in there that you will only get better at by practicing.

Do you know how to tiptoe the tightrope of simultaneously tantalizing a man and gratifying him such as to always leave him wanting more?

Do you know how to let the man feel as if he’s leading while you’re also getting your needs met?

Do you know how to embody the goddess, day in and day out, living as the light of the world that you are?

Do you know how to listen to a man unlike anyone has listened to him before, so he finally feels understood?

Jenni — your NYC Boy is a chance to hone all these skills, as is every man who comes after him.  The art of loving is an endless practice.  And when you get good at it, not only will every man be putty in your hands — that much I guarantee — but you will glow from the inside to a degree that no man could ever give you.

And if you practice the skills in The Tao of Dating, getting a guy to go from casual to committed will be the least of your worries.  What you’ll really need is a spatula to pry off all the guys clinging onto you.

So I’ve put together a reminder of these skills — a little ebook that I’m releasing this week.  It’s called “Best Dating Advice I Ever Got”: Women Pick 20 Favorite Love Tips from The Tao of Dating.  It will be available on Amazon later this week for practically nothing.  And I would love for all of you to get a copy for yourself, and for some of your friends.  You’ve already seen some of it appear in bits and pieces in these emails and on the blog (eg ‘Tip #4 of 20″).

That’s all for now.  So, remember: be wary of seeking out a serious relationship, since last time I checked, serious was the opposite of fun.  Trust me — seriousness will find you without your having to seek it out.  In the meantime, have fun practicing being loving.  Best pastime, like, ever.

Be the light, yo

Ali B

PS: I have been told it is ‘Cyber Monday’, a fine tradition in which consumers e-stampede to their nearest computer to buy, well, stuff.  So if you’re in a shopping mood, use code CYBER to get $10 off the Tao of Dating hard copy.

2 Comments on ““How can I make this work?”: Forcing vs allowing”

  1. Raggedy Ann

    Hi Ali,

    I have been reading your blog, and I have to say I LOVE it!

    However, I was surprised to read the evaluations you make of a woman’s age. If you surmise that a reader is 26 or 27, you say she is at the height of her womanly charms. The logical converse would be that as she grows older, these charms fade away. Ali, I have to say that in my experience, I find this statement to be false. More importantly, it can be unintentionally destructive to your female readers who are past their 20s.

    Let’s take false first – women in their 20s (even the brightest) are just adorable scatter brained ditzes! Having been in my 20s at one time (I am now 32), and being a mentor to several bright and beautiful young women now, I can tell you that they have no idea who they are. They are still building themselves. Generally, they lack genuine confidence based on accomplishment. In the case of the rare ones that have too much confidence, it is usually misplaced based on beauty and not the wonderful qualities about them that will last. The most room for improvement in my mentees that I see is their ability to gauge what is really a crisis and what is just another unpleasant or annoying part of life.

    But what I know for sure is that this time will pass for them. They will get to know themselves much better. They will gain a true understanding of how valuable they are based on how they have developed themselves. They will appreciate their accomplishments, and this will give them the calmness and peace that are essential for handling difficult situations. They will dream bigger and know exactly how they will achieve their dreams. They will learn to love, and therefore attract love and friendship that will inspire them to dream yet again. Their 30s will be bright and bold and fantastic. For most of them, memories of their 20s will be like thinking about when they first learned to ride a bike – scary, exciting,and fun. But they will be glad to have the training wheels off and be able to ride into the mountains.

    Now my second point – statements like this are harmful to single women in their 30s and above who are ready to meet someone. How depressing to think that I have finally figured myself out – taken the time to make myself a person worthy of an amazing partner, and frankly have a better body because I can now afford to eat very healthy fresh food, hire a personal trainer, and splurge on regular facials and massages – only to find out that I am past the height of my womanly charms. This is the type of mentality that makes women in their 30s neurotic. I have female friends who are wonderful people – bright and gorgeous and kind – but are slowly giving up on the hope of finding someone because of this horrible notion that women time out on our marketability. It’s simply not true. The ONLY way in which women are limited is our ability to physically give birth to children with our own bodies. But science is extending our timing on this. We also have fantastic options like freezing our eggs, surrogacy, and adoption.

    I think that you are in a great position to encourage the view that we as women, and the men who love us or want to date us, should appreciate the confidence and wisdom that can only be enjoyed after the training wheels of our 20s come off.

    Take care,

    Raggedy Ann