Girls Night In

the blog for single, over-40 women

The Relationship Between Stress and Dating

on November 18, 2015
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image courtesy of Stuart Miles/freedigitalphotos.net

Autumn is a season that seems made for shared mugs of hot cider, snuggling together on the couch and strolling together through the mall. Yet I am not in a relationship, or looking to be in a relationship right now.

It is not that I am taking time between dating cycles to regain my equilibrium, it is, rather, that I want to focus on the intense changes occurring in other areas of my life. I have decided to be alone, for a season, so I can focus. I have decided I will no longer allow my desire for a relationship to divert my attention away from the significant matters I need to deal with.

My usual modus operandi is to indulge my seeking heart’s every whim. Instead of getting started writing that big paper, I’d rather spend the day writing a long note to some man, or chatting with some potential love interest on the phone. Instead of working on a feasible budget, I’d rather open my Pinterest app and browse beautiful wedding gowns as I imagine my own someday wedding.

But this season, I have managed to put a stop to my diversionary tactics and have been confronting the heavy stuff in my life that needs to be confronted straight on. I decided to forgo two (or three or five) months of searching for and being in some degree of love, to concentrate on walking down the path that is before me.

I have been so pleased with myself and my disciplined approach to things.

I thought of this recently when a friend shared that her daughter, an Olympic hopeful, has been lamenting lately that she is single at 25. All of her friends are pairing off, and she wants to be in a relationship too. She wonders if she is wasting time with so much training when she should be going out and dating instead. What is the point of the Olympics, when it could be costing her the love of her life (potentially)?

Unsurprisingly, she has a competition coming up in a few weeks.

Hearing about this 25-year-old elite female athlete made me realize I am not the only one who longs for a relationship more strongly than ever during those times when pressure begins to mount.

Thinking about her, though, caused my perspective to shift. Far from feeling she needed to just buckle down and focus on the amazing journey she’s undertaking, I began to think someone like her ought to be gentle with herself and accept her desire for connection for what it was.

It occurred to me that while I might respond to my own relationship wants with logic, reason and pragmatic solutionizing—telling myself to leave love alone and focus, focus, focus—I would never be so glib to a 25-year-old facing tremendous pressure. Instead, I would tell her something like this:

“Perhaps the increased longing you feel to be with a man right now when you are dealing with high levels of stress is not merely a diversion and coping mechanism. Perhaps it is the expression of a deeply felt need to have someone with whom to share your worry; to be with someone who understands you, someone who holds you close and comforts you. Maybe if your need for loving, supportive, bodily closeness was satisfied, it would give you new freedom to boldly go forward into the new and scary places you are moving into.”

I would tell her it is okay, healthy even, to desire support and connection right now. I would encourage her to try to look to her non-romantic relationships, and see if she might find some comfort and support there. Maybe to ask her Dad for a hug, or to ask her Mom to tell her happy stories about how she was as a kid.

“Remind me of who I am,” she might say. “Remind me that I am safe. I am not alone. I am deeply loved.”

Why is it so much easier to offer to a stranger a kind of gentleness and understanding I would never offer to myself?

Lord, teach me to love like you love—even me.

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