BUDDHIST IN THE TRENCHES
To protect the anonymity of people I met while online dating, I have changed their usernames and attempted to avoid identifying characteristics.
The experiences outlined in this article are entirely my own karmic perceptions and projections. Any resemblance to actual people, places and events is purely coincidental.
I said I would never do it. In fact, I occasionally made my disdain for online dating known, complaining about the shallowness of the internet age and the resultant loss of basic human connection.
But whenever the words, “I will never …” leave my mouth, that’s a sure sign the activity mentioned is imminent. So it was with only mild surprise that I found myself typing o-k-c-u-p-i-d-.-c-o-m into my browser one day in January and signing up. I wanted to widen my social circles beyond the Buddhist community in which I had worked, studied, practiced and taught for the previous eight years. I wanted to overcome some deep inner fear. And I wanted to see if all I knew about practice could be taken into the real world, where people had no idea I was supposed to be practicing at all.
Step 1: Create a profile
An online dating profile is a window into a mind and a life. It can be a work of art, a brash advertisement, a dispassionate report. First and foremost, it is a marketing tool for the self. My online dating practice threw me right into the deep end of the wisdom pool: describe this self accurately and even intriguingly, without becoming trapped in some notion of its inherent solidity. Write down the characteristics, but don’t define your “self” by them. Who am I? What am I doing with my life? What am I good at? What six things could I not do without? What is the most private thing I’m willing to admit?
Then suddenly, the deep end of the method pool. Which sentient beings do I want to meet and who am I willing to exclude (drop down menus and checklists helped me choose). Am I interested in friendship? Long-term romance? Casual sex? Which sentient beings should dare to send me private messages?
Step 2: Upload a photo
In a fit of irony, I posted a photo of my reflection in a mirror. Yeah, I know: Eastern philosophy nerd humor that no one else will get. But hey, if you can’t amuse yourself, how can you amuse others, right?
Step 3: Who are you really?
Hurray! More opportunities to grasp at the self! OKCupid requested that I answer questions and gave me the opportunity to take personality tests that measured everything from my dating and sexual styles, to my intelligence, general knowledge and ethics, to Enneagram and Kinsey Scale numbers, to whether I am more like Calvin or Hobbes, how long I’ll survive the zombie apocalypse, what house at Hogwarts I’d be sorted into, and what biblical villain/dog breed/motorcycle/chemical element/vampire/classic movie starlet/fruit I most resemble.
OKCupid offers more than 4,000 questions and 83,000 personality tests. Internet addicts and procrastinators, be warned.
Step 4: Finding matches
The OKCupid Robot used my answers and test results to determine my compatibility, or match percentage, with every other OKCupid member. The Robot also determined precisely how much of a friend and enemy each person was for me (81% match, 75% friend, 18% enemy). How much equanimity meditation do you need to do before you’re confused by that? Not much.
Then the Robot began sending me profiles of people it considered good matches for me. If I was sufficiently intrigued, I could message the person (and people could message me). If that went well, tea or happy hour almost invariably followed. If that went well, dinner. If that went well, movies, hikes, readings, shows, etc., etc., etc.
OKCupid provides advice on how to engage in safe online dating – advice that protects money and body and life. A week or so into this practice, I realized I needed some rules of my own, rules that would protect the hearts and minds of myself and anyone else I encountered.
Sarah’s Ground Rules for Online Dating
- Answer all messages in a kind and prompt manner (even those from men of questionable morals looking for online sex talk, and from people with whom I have nothing in common).
- Don’t get caught up in the swarm of attention/inattention my profile randomly generates.
- Be honest in every way. That includes kindly informing someone when I feel things are not working out (rather than just disappearing – a common practice in online dating culture).
- Be aware of fantasies and projections. Remember they are not reliable or accurate. Don’t bind others with deluded expectations, but endeavor to see and accept them as they are.
- Attempt to eliminate attachment and its symptoms (anger, disappointment, also see #4) and cultivate unconditional loving-kindness in its place.
- Attempt to take all things, even great pleasure or great disappointment, as mere experience.
- Remember that the other person is seeking happiness and, within reason, try to provide it.
- Accept all invitations to meet in person, within reason (i.e., engage with the practice).
- Enjoy all things, or at least take them as a good teaching.
- Watch the addiction to all those quirky personality tests and profiles of unusual people in far away places. ;-)
And so I met MineIsBiggerThanYours, who wasn’t interested in dating, but in comparing writing careers. I met SeductiveInterrogator, a polyamorous woman who called me angel and sweetie, touched me too intimately, treated the date like a job interview, and evaporated. I met a woman with severe physical disabilities. I met Ima_real_nice_lesbian, who really was, and cute, too. And I met several extraordinary women who gave me the gift of their friendship. They continually broaden my horizons, gently challenge me and constantly share their wisdom and their laughter.
Turning up the heat on my fear, I opened my profile to men and met HandsomeHunk, who talked about himself for an hour straight, oblivious to my glazed eyes. I met SarahsFantasyMan – sensitive, intelligent, chivalrous, elegantly good looking. I engaged in online chat with newyorkwriter, who wanted online sex talk and refused to take no for an answer (I said it eight times). I could have cut him off, stopped replying, gone about my evening. Instead, I intentionally allowed the conversation to trigger my childhood sexual abuse issues and used them to practice Mahamudra. That one was good practice (warning: do not attempt this at home without proper training and sufficient recovery!). I closed my profile to men again.
I messaged with a woman with a similar life history as mine. We met. She turned out to be a post-operative he. My mind struggled as the image I’d built of her shattered. I watched my perception shift and weave throughout the evening – seeing a man, a woman, a transsexual woman, a kind-hearted human being, eager for acceptance and affection. That one was good, too.
And I found out that online dating is a phenomenal Buddhist practice, and that a little knowledge of Buddhist practice really helps online dating. For me, Rule #7 – remembering that the person I was meeting also wanted happiness – completely eliminated pre-date nerves and made each meeting tolerable, if not downright blissful (warning: this attitude may result in others thinking you’re interested in more than you are. Use in moderation and be prepared to gently employ Rule #3 – honestly and kindly telling someone it’s not working out).
I found out that never turning away from another being (Rule #9) forced me into difficult situations that ultimately proved rewarding, if not in temporary pleasure, then in greater strength of mind.
I found out that a brief meditation on karma eliminates obsession over future possibilities (“Will she like me or toss me to the curb?”) and returns me to the pleasure of the now. When I needed instant grounding or a shift in priorities, remembering death did the trick every time.
I found out that attachment – that feeling of infatuation most people call “falling in love” – really hurts. It not only makes me wildly uncomfortable and distracted and distressed, it’s also something I would never, ever want to do to someone I care about. Thwarted attachment leads to dissatisfaction and irritation and anger – none of which helps even the most temporary relationship. And even when attachment gets what it thinks it wants, it’s a high maintenance date: it’s never satisfied for long and it’s constantly stoned. It’s one of the dullest minds I have experienced.
Defeating my attachment requires the triple whammy of Rules #4, 5 and 6: Mahamudra practice gives me some desperately needed space from the deluded fantasies and expectations (while the fantasies are fuel for the fire of the practice), and cultivating unconditional love heals my heart. The combination creates a spacious bliss that is infinitely more pleasurable than mere “falling in love” and allows infinite enjoyment of person I’m with. And – just my theory – I suspect it makes things better for my companions as well. After all, is there any being who doesn’t want to be seen and loved exactly as they are?
I’m not saying any of this is easy, because it’s damned hard work. And I’m not saying I’m always successful at this practice. I’m not. And I’m especially not saying we should lay our own needs and wants down like a wet blanket and completely succumb to the other. That’s called “co-dependence.” It’s weak, attached, neurotically self-involved, and oh, so boring. Real love (i.e., wanting the happiness of the other, and dare I add, appreciating them deeply just as they are) is powerful, strong and free. Real love nourishes lover and loved alike. We can give real love to a stranger on the street, an ant on the floor, a cat, ourselves, a friend and a romantic partner.
Normally, I would leave you with a quote from a Tibetan master or ancient Indian yogi. But … the best meditation on love I have ever heard comes from someone else. Her words may seem strange or wrong, or they may seem profound. If you like, take a moment to ponder them and decide for yourself.
“Love saves you. Love really does heal you.” – Portia de Rossi
Sarah Shifferd is a freelance writer, editor and movie subtitler. She lives in the often bizarre and continually enlightening world of Portland, Oregon.Tags: relationships, sarah shifferd