The Zen of Internet Dating

 What Is Zen?

Zen is a school of Buddhism. It can be translated (albeit only vaguely) as “absorption”. Zen focuses less on external knowledge and more on direct insight into the nature of reality. The goal of Zen (if it can truly be considered to have a “goal”) is for the practitioner to gain insights into the Buddha nature of everything by mindfulness and meditation.

What Is Dating?

Dating is where two people spend time together socially, usually in order to decide how suitable they might be for each other for marriage or long-term intimate physical and/or emotional bonding. Some people have sex while they’re dating. Others wait until they’re married. Some people date forever. Others get tired of it pretty quickly and either settle for a partner or give up and live alone for the rest of their lives.

You can learn more about Zen in general here. You can learn more about dating in general here. You can find recommended sites for meeting people to date here.

The Zen of Dating

How can Zen help you date differently? How can it improve the experience for you? Does the idea of not being attached to outcomes improve the experience? How big a role should equanimity play?

Of course, Zen is all about insights that can’t be express in words anyway. Zen meditation helps your mind get to a state where it stops thinking in the way we normally think of it. The mind stops spouting words.

A lot of people hope to find a romantic partner who will solve all their problems. Such a partner doesn’t exist. Most of our problems are illusions anyway, created by our attachment to our wants and desires. In Buddhism, it’s made clear that these attachments are what cause suffering.

Applying some of the Zen approaches to the ideas of romance isn’t a bad thing. Zen practitioners aren’t emotionless Vulcans like Mr. Spock. They are able to get a little bit of distance between their immediate feelings and desires and their actions. In Alcoholics Anonymous, they refer to this as a “pause” between your feelings and the actions that you take.

Your goal with Zen isn’t to become immune to your emotions. You’re still supposed to feel everything. But you’re supposed to lose some of your attachment to those feelings. Attachment is what causes all the problems and the pain. One of the best things I ever heard at a 12 step meeting was that I should “feel the feeling”. Once you’ve felt it, you can move on and do something else.

Some ideas about how you can be more Zen-like in your dating follow:

  1. Look in the mirror.
  2. Be grateful.
  3. Stay in the now.
  4. Don’t get attached.
  5. Be yourself.

These are stated in different words at an article in Psychology Today. They also include miniature explanations of each point there, but most of them are easy enough to understand. Looking in the mirror helps you understand that your external world, even that of your dating life, are reflections of what’s going on inside you. Being grateful helps you remember how precious everything is. Staying in the now helps you avoid dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Avoiding attachment prevents disappointment. And of course, you can’t really ever be anyone but yourself, no matter how hard you try. So stop trying.

Acceptance is a big part of being Zen. I’ve seen Zen meditation described as being the practice of finding a single word to repeat over and over again, and that word means the following: No matter how much I might wish things were otherwise, things are exactly the way they are. This is another concept that AA has borrowed from one of the great spiritual traditions of the world.

How can this improve your dating life? I know a guy who can’t seem to handle rejection. He has no ability to accept it, so he doesn’t try. He’s been single all his life, and he’s almost 50 now. He’s never been in a relationship with a woman for more than a year. He rarely goes on dates because he rarely asks women out, because he wants to avoid rejection.

I explained to him that a certain amount of rejection is unavoidable. Just do the math. There are four possibilities between a man and a woman:

  1. They dig each other.
  2. Neither of them digs the other.
  3. The man digs the woman, but the woman doesn’t dig him.
  4. The woman digs the man, the the man doesn’t dig her.

So only 25% of the time is there a chance of things working out anyway. That’s just simple math. And even then, once they get to know each other, the man and the woman might change their minds. That’s cool, too.

The idea that you should resign yourself to a life of loneliness to avoid rejection is abhorrent to me.

Another mistake he’s often made is not accepting when a woman lacks interest. He thinks that if he just tries harder, she’ll change her mind. I think one woman did changer her mind–once, on a single night, and he never talked to her again. So maybe she didn’t change her mind at all. Maybe she was just drunk and horny.

In fact, that’s pretty likely, isn’t it?

But that reminds me of something, too. My friend is exactly like he is, no matter how much I might wish he were different. He might change. He might never change. I have no control over that, either.

Let’s face it, the truth is similar to what the Dudeists say:

Life is short and complicated and nobody knows what to do about it. So don’t do anything about it. Just take it easy, man.