The Problem: You want a relationship, but don’t know how to balance effort with patience.
The Solution: You employ “Right Effort,” putting your energy in the right place, but letting go of control of the outcome.
A few years back I went on a dating spree. Over a couple months, I went out with about twenty different people, some for one date, some for several dates, and some for a month or more. Sometimes, if I was feeling a little ambitious (or had scheduled poorly), I’d go out on 4-5 dates in a week.
There was the sportswriter, the screenwriter, the director and the entertainment lawyer (I live in LA, after all). There was the guy who refused to choose a restaurant, and made me pick both the first and second date locations. There was the cute but nerdy professor who had the unfortunate quality of sounding bored by the sound of his own voice.
There were some good dates, some bad dates, a LOT of awkward dates, and then one amazing date that turned into many amazing dates with the guy I’ve now been dating for 2+ years.
So what is Right Effort, and what does it have to do with dating anyway?
The Buddhist Concept of Right Effort
The Buddha asked the monk Sona, “Is it true that before you became a monk you were a musician?” Sona replied that it was so. The Buddha asked, “What happens if the string of your instrument is too loose?”
“When you pluck it, there will be no sound,” Sona replied.
“What happens when the string is too taut?”
“It will break.”
–Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching
In the Buddhist philosophy there is something called the Noble Eightfold Path. Right Effort, along with Right View, Right Thinking, Right Mindfulness, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Concentration and Right Livelihood, is one of the keys to following the path and reaching inner peace and enlightenment (obviously there’s a little more to reaching enlightenment, but you get the idea).
Right Effort means you avoid extremes of over-diligence on one side and inaction on the other, and instead follow a middle path. You avoid playing with a string that is too loose or too taut. Right Effort means your actions have good intention and are purposeful, yet are also joyful and not forced.
In dating, this means finding an even balance between effort and patience, and steering clear of inaction or desperate action.
The First Key of Right Effort: Try
It may seem obvious, but a lot of people who want to find a great relationship sit around waiting for it to come to them. People mistake “organic” for “passive.” How many things have you really wanted that you got without any effort? Is that how you got into college? Got a great job? Created something amazing? Why should finding a relationship be so different?
Instead of sitting at home eating Bon Bons or playing World of Warcraft, try one of these simple actions to make it easier for the universe to give you what you want:
- Sign up for Match or Plenty of Fish or Nerve or any of the online dating services. Put up a profile and send out some emails. See what happens.
- Keep your eyes open for people you might like when you’re out and about. Instead of keeping to yourself when running errands, use trips to the market, the bank, the dry cleaner, wherever – as an opportunity to start conversations with people around you. You never know what could come of it.
- Tell your friends you wouldn’t mind being set up. Maybe they know someone who knows someone you’d get along great with.
- When you go out on a date, be present with that person. Don’t jump into the future and imagine what your unborn children will look like, or wonder if she’ll sleep with you that night. Don’t make premature conclusions about where things are or aren’t going. Enjoy the date and see what happens.
You don’t know how things will play out. If you put in effort in a lot of small ways, you’ll make it much more likely that you’ll meet someone you really like and that the relationship will develop effortlessly and joyfully.
The Second Key of Right Effort: Don’t Try Too Hard.
While you want to put yourself out there, you don’t want to get caught up in “Over-Effort Syndrome.”
Over-Effort Syndrome is when your initial efforts don’t pay off as much as you want so you get frustrated and prematurely give up. It’s when you want something so badly and work for it so hard that you don’t enjoy the process. For example:
- You have one bad date and immediately think there’s no point in trying.
- You’re devastated when a person you like doesn’t call you back, and throw in the towel.
- You get annoyed when all of your Match emails are from guys 20 years older than you who live a thousand miles away, or when none of the women respond to your messages, and cancel your subscription.
I had horrifically awkward dates, had people not call me, and had an obscene number of Match emails from wildly inappropriate men (Oh, you’re 65 and live in the Netherlands? Sounds promising”). But I didn’t use these setbacks as an excuse to hole up in my apartment and eat Ben and Jerry’s while reading Eat Pray Love for the 6th time (as an aside, I do love that book).
You have to work for the best, but not be overly invested in the outcome. You have control over your actions and efforts, but not over how people react to you or what the universe has in store.
I really enjoyed my days as a prolific dater. While there were times I felt discouraged, and times I worried that things wouldn’t work out, I was able to avoid emotional extremes by gently redirecting myself back to center whenever my effort or intention felt off kilter. Dating is supposed to be fun, not traumatizing or painful.
Right Effort means that you put your energy and effort in the right place, and let the outcome play out as it will. With the right energy, the outcome usually takes care of itself.