From The Straits Times    |

Dating has never been a walk in the park, but it’s undeniably become harder in the age of apps. Navigating the world of love and lust is Natalia Rachel, a divorced mother-of-two, trauma specialist, therapist, poet and author. As she dives into the world of dating across different continents, she writes about her experiences and observations about our current generation of singles (and some not-so-singles) finding love. In this second Dating Diaries column for Her World, she mulls over our need to cast our partner in specific roles

Dear Daters,

As a therapist, I have facilitated many women unpacking their love life. We want to cast our partner in pre-determined roles, influenced by our expectations of ‘camera-ready love’ paired with our unhealed trauma. The quest for love asks us to redefine our dating goals, and learn to show up with open hearts and clear heads.

In my personal experience, the conscious path to love has called me to a deep level of accountability, and to look at the ways I have either been blocking love, demanding it, or curating a dynamic that was so far from the kind of connection I truly crave.

Stop forcing a connection 

Anytime we craft, curate or force connection, love is lost.

In an online dating world that has curated photos, bios, and checklists, it’s hard not to fall into a totally superficial processing trap. Add in social media land – happy snaps and the rise of the couple influencers who are posing for the camera in some magical location (and quite often having a very different experience off screen), and it’s easy to start conjuring up a twisted idea of a relationship in our heads.

When we are fantasizing about taking couple selfies or introducing our pumped-up beau to our friends, it’s a sure sign we have entered la-la-land, and lost touch with what real relationships are all about. It’s then no wonder that the perfect guy seems elusive or out of reach, or we keep ending up with guys who look great on paper, or even in the flesh, but show up in ways that are unconsidered, inconsistent, uncaring, or totally vapid.

Sure, we can blame the modern male (and sometimes it’s warranted, sorry men) and we can point fingers at the ridiculousness of online dating (and I agree, this jungle of avatars, bots and boys is a hot mess right now), but most importantly we need to turn the spotlight on ourselves. 

Our relationship intentions need to get a whole lot clearer, and our actions should reflect them.

Let’s redefine our criteria for love 

This is a call to radical female accountability.

We can begin by getting clear on what we are looking for in a partner, and the kinds of behaviours that are unacceptable dealbreakers. Then, we can take a step back and ask, ‘Is this realistic?’ Too often we get caught in the trap of dreaming up a fairytale prince who is going to whisk us off our feet and save us, or worse, some kind of man slave at our beck and call, or ‘dress up’ to suit the role we want him to play. This is where our attachment trauma messes with our love life.

Let’s get grounded.

A true partner is NOT someone who’s here to rescue, be an accessory or an assistant.

If we are calling in a hero, sidekick, or server, we are not calling in love.

A true partner is an equal – someone who is there to play, collaborate, compliment, and inspire us to be our best selves. Ideally, they are going to call us out once in a while too. This kind of man is not going to be looking for a poor princess in waiting, or a bossy boots.

We need to ask ourselves: ‘Do I want a real partner, or am I casting men into various roles that make partnership impossible?’

The saviour role paradox

Every time we cast a man into a role of saviour, we disempower ourselves. This often translates into relationships where our voice is either partially lost or becomes tainted with the scent of neediness. We become the disempowered woman, discarding the work of our ancestors, and letting patriarchy live and breathe through our own romance. (I can imagine my female  ancestors rolling their eyes and asking their celestial bestie: ‘what was all our gender equity hard work for?’).

The search for a saviour often becomes the story of a captor and his prisoner.

The server role paradox

Every time we cast a man into the role of server, we disempower him. This often translates into relationships where we do not respect our partner and can’t truly yield into safety, intimacy, and softness. We become the strong, hard, controlling women who are running the show, micro-managing, coaching, and mothering our men, and getting cranky because we just want to be looked after, have our needs pre-empted and have a place to be soft, subtle, and supple once in a while. These kinds of relationships are a breeding ground for resentment, and confusion. Women become more masculine, and men lose their balls all together.

The search for a server often becomes the story of a misplaced mother and son dynamic (and that’s not so hot!).

The importance of redefining our relationship goals 

When we stop casting men into roles, we finally give ourselves an opportunity to meet the real man, rather than play out some fantasy that’s doomed from the start. 

When we stop saying yes to men who don’t match up to our values and desires, we finally become emotionally available for the right man to appear. And we may also inadvertently inspire more men to do their own healing work. As long as we are enabling men’s bad behaviour, nothing is going to change. Every time we let a guy treat us badly, we contribute to the collective feminine struggle. Love gets further away for us all.

Once we are clear about what we are seeking in a relationship, and the ways we may be creating discordant or distorted dynamics, we will be able to see, welcome and co-create with the right man, when he comes along.

As we redefine our dating goals, we keep coming back to our own healing work. When we are no longer lost in a fantasy, we can finally walk towards love.

Natalia Rachel is the founder of Illuma Health, author of Why Am I Like This, and a trauma expert