Master the art of “assertive dating” so no one is left wondering where they stand, what you want out of the relationship and if stability is an option.
When I’m in the early stages of a promising romantic connection, “assertion” isn’t a word that generally comes to mind. When I’m thinking about the relationship’s prospects I usually go for language like compatibility, fun and chemistry. And don’t forget all of those fuzzy buzzwords like passion, destiny and soulmate, that indulge my sense of “meant-to-be-ness.” In the first few dates it’s good to feel giddy with possibility, to write our names together on paper and to re-live magic moments like when we first leaned in to each other and felt the flash of belonging. It’s also easy to roll right past any warning signs that are flashing gently by the side of the road.
The thing about romance is that it doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. ‘Romance’ even has different meanings in the dictionary. Here’s what I found when I looked it up:
- a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love;
- love, esp. when sentimental or idealized;
- an exciting, enjoyable love affair, esp. one that is not serious or long-lasting;
- wild exaggeration; picturesque falsehood;
- a work of fiction dealing with events remote from real life
Given that the very definition of romance has its own range of interpretation and meaning, it only makes sense that we’d each define it differently too. So, if your date’s way of showing interest only goes as far as opening doors and complimenting your clothes, it doesn’t mean you’ve been rejected if all you get at the end of the evening is a wink and a smile. On the other hand, if your idea of romance looks more like gazing across a candle lit table while discussing your compatibility as travel partners in some remote corner of the world, that’s another story.
Unlike our varying notions about romance, the definition of romantic assertion is clear: it’s the act of making your feelings and intentions known. Assertive dating requires clarity and authority; it removes the guesswork for you both. And to the mindful dater, being clear and present is the end goal in any situation. Who needs mystery, confusion and ambiguity when clarity is so much… clearer?
In case you’re feeling a twinge of resistance to the idea of asserting yourself romantically, rest assured that, even for as uncomfortable as it may seem, it’s a skill well worth acquiring. It will also save you lots of heartbreak and frustration down the road.
Many years ago, I dated a guy we’ll call Joe. Joe was a good man. He was polite, funny, intelligent and kind. He was in his thirties and I was in my early twenties at the time and woefully unprepared for anything approaching serious commitment. I equated Joe’s niceness with all things boring. Stability and maturity? Yawn. He was planning for his future. He was measured and moderate where I was explosive and anxious. He’s fine, I said, for now. I wasn’t dating anyone else at the time, so Joe was a solid bet on my Friday nights—unless someone more exciting (ie. noncommittal, unresponsive, bad) came along.
In an attempt to keep my options open, I strung Joe along with vague details of my whereabouts, making plans I sometimes broke whenever there was a whiff of something better out there, and so on. Even as we enjoyed each other’s company, I knew Joe wanted more of a commitment than I was willing to offer. But because he never asserted himself, I relied on his silence and continued to be vague on the subject. Joe kept indulging my bad behavior—right up until the day he stopped.
No two ways about it: being clear about your romantic intentions makes you vulnerable to rejection. It also opens you to an authentic experience. The last time I saw Joe was the night he dropped me. He told me very clearly that he wanted a serious relationship with someone who was available in every way and that he didn’t need any more friends. I really like you, Kriste, he said, but I have to move on. Joe was classy and direct, and he did us both a favor in the process.
Being involved in a poorly defined relationship of any sort is neither fun nor rewarding. Communication is murky, feelings get hurt, and opportunities for real connection slip right past us when we don’t make our intentions known. The next time you find yourself in murky dating waters and needing to assert your romantic feelings to your partner, take a page from Joe’s book and learn to trust your heart enough to lay it on the line. You’ll be glad you did.
Here are a few important reminders to keep close when asserting yourself, romantically or otherwise:
Keep it kind.
No matter how difficult it may seem to be kind—especially if you’re feeling nervous and not used to making your needs and desires known—don’t hide behind the facade of being too cool for school or disinterested in your date. Keep in mind how much validation we all get from simple kindnesses. Put simply, being nice feels good. Whether or not you find yourself wanting to build a deeper romantic bond with the person, expressing kindness only works in your favor. Plus, it’s a great aphrodisiac.
Have you ever found yourself at a major crossroads in a relationship only to realize all of the signs you missed along the way? The compliments we deflected, the things we said and didn’t, and the embraces we offered or withheld. It all connects to how well or poorly we were aligned with our inner knowing. Learning to listen deeply to our innate wisdom is a skill, and it grows weak the less we use it. Perhaps we tell ourselves we won’t repeat the same mistakes again, or, conversely, we congratulate ourselves on some choice we made long ago in the name of love. Either way, bringing ourselves to the moment is what helps us tap into our highest guidance—now. In the dating game especially, listening to our partners, as well as ourselves, can teach us plenty about healthy romantic assertion.
There are no shortcuts to developing intimacy, whether it’s with ourselves or with others. It takes practice to listen, to be kind, and to stay open. As Joe demonstrated so assertively—and compassionately—for me all those years ago, knowing how to get real and say no for the sake of his own love life was a tremendous act of self-respect and empowerment. A wise philosopher once said, ‘To know your self is to assert yourself.‘ When assertive dating is done with class and presence, what could be a more loving act than that?
[Image: via Derek Key on flickr]