Buddhist teacher Susan Piver shares her advice for entering the online dating world.
The March 2019 Lion’s Roar magazine features “Right Swiping,” in which Lindsay Kyte follows a friend’s adventures in online dating — and explores the advice of Buddhist teachers who discuss relationships along the way. Meditation teacher Susan Piver, certainly, is one such teacher, having written The Wisdom of a Broken Heart, and a new book, The Four Noble Truths of Love. As Lindsay and her friend set out to investigate the dharma of online dating, Susan chimed with some ideas.
In online dating, we are taking our vulnerable parts and putting it all out there for people who could be the flakiest people ever. How do we navigate that and not take it personally?
There is no way to not take all of it personally. This is the most personal space, period. If anyone is looking for a way to not be hurt by pain, I would say that the Buddhist view is not the place to look. Pain hurts. Joy uplifts. There is no way to be vulnerable and safe at the same time.
Relationships are not for everyone. They require an ongoing willingness to not-know, to be open, to be thrilled, bored, confounded delighted… to take chances and put it all on the line. If you are willing to do that, it would be good to cultivate skills like presence, patience, kindness, insight, and true wisdom. If you are not, that is a totally reasonable choice. Have love affairs. Have sex. But don’t pretend those are the same thing as a relationship or that they will somehow magically turn into one—because movies and songs.
What practices/life preparation would you suggest for preparing yourself to go out into the online dating world?
Meditation is a really good preparation!
How do we disrupt stories we are telling ourselves and actually be present with what is?
The same way you do when you are meditating, which is nothing more or less than the practice of releasing our story to return to the present. In meditation, the object of attention is the breath. When we are distracted by story, we let go and return to it. On a date, the object of attention is the other person and your inner experience from moment to moment. When you are distracted by story (this is going well/poorly/i love life/i hate life), let go and return to the chosen objects: the other person. And yourself.
How does one “mindfully swipe”—being considerate of others in saying no and also not inventing fantasies about people you haven’t actually met?
The same way you would mindfully do anything, unless one thinks that “mindful” means “without emotion/everything works out perfectly.”
How is one supposed to navigate online dating as a Buddhist if we are supposed to, as a famous lojong slogan says, abandon hope?
You could begin by abandoning the hope that you would abandon hope.
What role should hope play?
Hope is completely human, of course. The only trouble comes in when we think hope is a problem or that our hopes should be fulfilled. Instead, you could look at hope as evidence of your deep longing to give and receive love—and afford it a place of honor in your heart.
You are the author of The Four Noble Truths of Love. How do Buddhism’s four noble truths apply here?
- The truth: Dating is uncomfortable. Period. When it goes poorly, it’s uncomfortable (“I’m a loser/they are a loser/dating sucks.”). When it goes, well, it’s uncomfortable (“Where is this going/do they like me/what’s next?”).
- The cause: Thinking that dating will be comfortable creates the discomfort
- The cessation: Riding the moments of connection and disconnection with equal presence and full-on feeling (barring dates that include abuse and/or addiction or cause fear)
- The way: First, establish the foundation by being skillfully honest (which first means knowing what is true) and exhibiting good manners. If there is no honesty and no thoughtfulness, there is no foundation. Then, expand by opening your heart to the other person as having equal importance to yourself on the date. Finally, magnetize magic by being willing to work with what arises to deepen your capacity to love.
How do we work with trust in the terribly artificial and potentially unsafe environment of online dating?
You can’t know what is going to happen, ever, online or off. You can only trust yourself and your intuition. And in the meantime, you could suit up with gentleness, fierceness, and confidence in your indestructible worth (and the indestructible worth of your date, whether you like them or not).
How can we be authentic in this terribly artificial and unsafe environment?
The same way we are authentic everywhere: by remaining connected to ourselves and the environment and seeing what happens. The moment we try to apply a strategy for authenticity, we’ve already taken ourselves out of the game.