The Three Selves of Dating

One of the perplexing parts of dating is that your partner will sometimes reveal markedly different parts of themselves at different times during a relationship. One day you may be delighted by your partner’s charm and thoughtfulness yet the next day be devastated by their stubbornness, rigidity and inappropriate expressions of feelings. How and why does this happen? And what can conscious singles do to keep themselves emotionally safe from hurtful surprises as they traverse the stages of developing relationships?

All of us possess many different sub-personalities. Among the most common of these are three distinct selves or sub-parts of our personalities that explain the often contradictory behavior that occurs as a new relationship develops. We all need each of these parts to survive and thrive in the world, and each of these parts can express themselves in a healthy or unhealthy way. Let’s discuss each of these parts and how they interact.

The first part is the Rational, Practical Persona. This is the part that presents an appropriate mask to the world and is concerned with maintaining a certain image or status. This part thinks logically and analytically about life and relationships. It’s intelligent, thoughtful, linear, methodical, functional, practical and goal-directed. The Rational, Practical Persona never acts impulsively or irrationally.

The second part is the Alive, Loving Self. This is the part of you that feels totally alive, present and spontaneous, that genuinely wants a deep, intimate connection with others. The Alive, Loving Self is willing and able to take risks, is playful, fun-loving and bursting with energy and feelings. This part is never concerned about whether something makes ‘sense’ or is practical, and is very expansive, imaginative and visionary.

The third part is the Wounded, Fearful Self. This is the part of you which has experienced the inevitable emotional wounds, hurts and disappointments of growing up. These wounds may be mild, moderate or severe, and is the repository of inadequacies, frailties, vulnerabilities and shame. This part is limited in its capacity for growth and change without outside help, because it has developed a variety of strategies, shields and compensatory mechanisms to keep itself safe to avoid further wounding. The Wounded, Fearful Self functions as your ‘emotional thermostat’ which strives to keep your emotional life stable, similar, and familiar. In fact, it continually strives to re-create or maintain whatever emotional experiences you may have had in the past, whether they were loving, chaotic, distant or hurtful.

So how do these three parts interact and change as a dating relationship develops? Well initially, the Alive, Loving Selves come out as fully as they ever will when people first meet. They dance and play and exude aliveness and spontaneity and fun and desire closeness. Unfortunately in most relationships, this phase is temporary because the Rational, Practical Persona and the Wounded, Fearful Self quickly team up to put a lid on the Alive, Loving Self’s playtime. As more closeness develops, the alarms of the Wounded, Fearful Self go off and self-protection takes over. Intimacy = vulnerability = risk and the Wounded, Fearful Self cannot tolerate the chance of being hurt again. The Alive, Loving Self is partially or completely shut down, leaving the Rational, Practical Persona to take over and make relationship decisions. Suddenly someone who wanted to see you every day has to work late 3 nights a week, or no longer wants to talk about “the future”. Or out of the blue, you encounter anger or resistance when you want to do things to bring the relationship closer.

In most cases you fall in love with someone’s Alive, Loving Self but end up dating, living with and/or married to their Wounded, Fearful Self and Rational, Practical Persona. Thus a crucial task of conscious dating is to understand the nature of your partner’s Wounded, Fearful self. Are they aware of this part of themselves? Have they worked on healing it? How pervasive is it now in their life?

It is important to remember the work of Ken Wilber here (author of The Spectrum of Consciousness, Integral Psychology and the new, hilarious Boomeritis), who says that development in one area does not necessarily imply the same degree of development in another. Thus someone in touch with their Higher Self who has a comittment to spiritual practice can still have their emotional life dictated by their Wounded, Fearful Self. As Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield says in his wonderfully humble book A Path With Heart, his years in the ashram enabled him to perfectly clear his mind, until he resumed the life of a householder and had to deal with intimate relationships.Or as Ram Dass once said, “I’m still as neurotic as ever, I just don’t choose to hang out there anymore!”

So when dating, it’s wise to open your heart gradually, until you get a sense of all parts of your partner. Honor the needs of all parts of yourself as well as your partner. Don’t commit until you really feel you have a sense of which each of these parts is for your dating partner. These steps will help avoid any hurtful surprises and enable you to be fully present for the unique, precious journey of awakening that only the conscious dance of love can provide.

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