What is “inside out dating”? It is living from the inside (one’s internal adult self and unique creative soul) and bringing this internal flow outward to others. It is mindful living in practice, which if you are single, like many of my clients are, directly applies to dating. In fact dating, with all the internal emotions it stirs up, can be a great opportunity for learning about our emotions, and paying attention to our feelings about ourselves and other people.
There are two main goals of “inside out dating.” The first goal is to present our genuine self, unimpeded by self-critical inhibition, past hurt/, or resentment. The second goal is to see the person one is dating in a clear, non-judgmental manner, so one can see their true essence and spirit (not viewing them through the cloudy lens of our emotions and judgments).
Let me say at first that “inside out dating” is not an ideal, or a skill that one perfects, but more of a roadmap, a guide that points out the path in dating.
Before we can understand what “inside out dating” means in practice, let’s look at “typical” dating- otherwise known as “outside in dating”.Living from the “outside in” means a large part one’s internal identity/ self worth is determined by the external situations. You evaluate yourself (again not 100% but a large part) by how much status, power, friends, and money the other person has. Your self evaluation is dependent on the social status, or the “stature” of the person you are dating.
Sounds bad, doesn’t it. You may say to yourself, with conviction, that this description does not, or barely fits you at all- “I am not that superficial.” This can be true; however, reactivity to others occurs on much subtler levels It might show up in the nervousness and awkwardness that can seem to be catching on dates; you might notice how you are tending to mimic the voice tone, mood, and friendliness level of those around you; or how open and revealing you become- and the impact this has on others. To this note, I have a friend, happily married, who, when he went out on a first date with his soon to be wife, was so nervous he spilled a drink on her. Instead of becoming upset or feeling uncomfortable with his nervousness, she took it with a warm sense of humor that relaxed them both!
Internal dialogue (our thoughts, and exchanges of thoughts in our mind) of the “outside in” dater focuses on external surroundings. Such thoughts can be: self- critical (what a dumb joke I told, it went over like a bomb, they must think I’m stupid); worries/fears (Do they like me- do I look good enough); or indicating a need for acceptance and approval (How can I impress them, make them think I’m cool). Thoughts can also be judgmental of others: (I can’t believe they wore sweatpants to a date!);( Wow, he isn’t good looking enough, confident enough; she is a “Plain Jane.”); (Where are the sparks? I’ll check the e-mail on Match when I get home). Often, for many people there is a combination of the above. And in all honesty, who here has not had one of these thoughts occur at one time or another, or more than one time or another.
“Inside out daters” have these same thoughts! The difference between the “inside out dater”, and the ‘outside in dater’ is NOT in the thoughts themselves BUT in how these thoughts are dealt with. Living (and dating) from the “inside out” is about BREAKING the process of reactive thinking and feeling in response to the external situation- reactions that can influence our attitude, perspective, and behavior, no matter how subtle.
“Inside out dating” is about being mindful of our self first. What does this mean? First this means taking a personal inventory of the emotional baggage we bring to the dating process. This baggage may include the hurts, wounds, resentments, and disappointments we carry around either consciously or unconsciously.
Before the date, the “inside out dater” takes a quick personal inventory: where am I at right now? What I am I feeling (anxious, worried, excited, stressed??) Do I have expectations of how the date will go? What will happen afterward? As many excellent writers and dating coaches have suggested- the key is “to keep our side of the street clean.” In other words, instead of seeking to control or influence others, we are true to our highest self. If we are aware of and are able to cope with what arises within us in the present moment, we can be truly present with others. When we remove our own emotions and prejudices we can see the other person for who they truly are in the present moment - not through our cloudy lens of past baggage and expectations.
Before and after the date, there is an inner awareness of one’s thoughts. For some people it is easy to recognize their internal dialogue, for others this requires a far greater effort. It is an effort, in my opinion, that is very richly rewarded! We ask ourselves who is talking here? Are we being self critical, critical of others? Do we have expectations? Are we nervous, worried about what to say? Do we feel cynical, feeling that there are no good men/ women out there? It is most important to self monitor our thoughts and feelings on the date itself. We check in with ourselves to see how we feel and how we are acting. Are we being genuine? Withdrawing? Nervous? Trying to impress? Having a great time?
In listening, and being aware of our thoughts and feelings, no matter how “strange” or “out there” they may sound, we develop the ability to accept, love, and care about ourselves. This kindness toward ourselves helps us cope with how we feel, and brings us back to be present with the other person. Kindness and acceptance of ourselves also leads to kindness and acceptance of others. Such a process allows us to avoid looking for dates to fill the emptiness within us and meet all of our needs; instead we can look for partners and companions. Being in the present moment with kindness to ourselves leads to our feeling “enoughness” within ourselves and abundance. Instead of looking to others for magic and romantic intensity, we are open to experience and enjoying the other person for who they are.
Sounds simple……… in reality that can mean an ongoing commitment to spiritual growth and development. Incidentally, the process I have outlined for dating, becomes even more beneficial as we develop and deepen serious intimate relationships! And using this appraoch at work, or riding the bus wouldn’t hurt either
Ken Burnstein LCSW is a clinical social worker in the Chicagoland area. He works with older adolescents, adults, and families. One of Ken's interests is using the wisdom found in the Jewish and Buddist traditions in combination with traditional psychotherapy to help clients develop a practice of mindful living on a daily basis.