Dating is a serious process and has a different meaning and purpose for us (Basha and Gail) than it does for people who view it from a traditional perspective. In a “companion” relationship, the participants are not interested in connecting on a soul or intimate, emotional level. However, they can use many of these steps to help them find their appropriate partner.
Traditionally, most people look at dating as a means to an end. The goal is to make the dating process as short as possible, find someone they click with, and enter into a relationship. Most people go on dates with a mixture of anxiety and superficial concerns. Society encourages this approach. Think about the typical questions people ask when they hear that a friend has met someone she likes:
- What does he do for a living?
- Is he smart, funny, cute… ?
- Where does he live?
- What kind of car does he drive? Traditional dating operates in a similar realm, resulting in personality-directed questions like these:
- Should I kiss her goodnight?
- Will my friends/family think he’s successful enough?
- How sexy should I dress? Is he going to find me attractive? “Soul dating,” on the other hand, inspires us to look deeper and ask inner-directed questions like these:
- Does he/she touch my heart and soul?
- Do we share similar values?
- Is he/she concerned with my well-being?
- Do I feel like I’ve come home when I’m with him/her?
Perhaps the most significant contrast between soul dating and traditional dating involves the concept of romantic friendship. A driving force in soul dating is to seek a romantic friendship in which two people know, value, and accept everything (warts and all) about each other.
Friendship is foreign to many relationships and marriages. When describing their marriages, many men and most women complain that it’s easier to share important feelings with friends than with their spouses. The problem is that friendship isn’t a goal of traditional dating or marriage.
With soul dating, romantic friendship is one of the goals because it starts you on the path to finding a compatible partner. Romantic friendship involves achieving true emotional intimacy — in advance of sexual intimacy. When sex occurs early in a dating relationship, lust and passion can be easily mistaken for love. In the heat of the moment, we become lost in romantic illusion.
The point of romantic friendship is knowing the whole person. Too often, we only know the romantic surface of people. We become lost in the romantic illusion of love at first sight; we focus on what we want the relationship to be rather than on what it is.
Romantic friendship involves baring the soul rather than the body; it means slowly letting the other person see you warts and all from the first date. And it means accepting who you are, who the other person is, and deciding if you want to develop a romantic friendship with the other person.
Soul dating facilitates romantic friendship by grounding people in relationship reality. That doesn’t mean taking all the fun and romance out of dating. The joy and excitement of soul dating not only lasts longer (i.e., forever) but it’s far more intense and deep. It’s real. True friendship depends on having no secrets and letting people experience you as you really are. You don’t have to like everything you learn about a soul mate. You do, however, have to accept the things you don’t like and not count on anything to change.
Baring the heart, soul, and spirit rather than the body can be far more awkward and disturbing than taking off your clothes. If you haven’t accepted your idiosyncrasies, history, and dysfunctions, revealing anything will be difficult. You need to be comfortable with who you are at the emotional and soul levels before you share these things with others.
Reaching down and bringing forth your authentic self without shame or embarrassment, starting on that first date, is the goal of beginning a romantic friendship. By sharing your authentic self, you allow intimacy to develop slowly.
The payoff is finding someone with whom you connect with on all levels. It’s a transcendent experience; discovering a romantic friend makes you feel like you’ve discovered someone you’ve been searching for all your life. As you begin dating in this new way, keep in mind that not every person is going to be right for you and that love is not enough.
Don’t date desperately, allowing needy behavior to control your dating; recognize that you have something valuable to offer others and they’ll feel lucky to find you. One reason you should date is to deal with the anxieties, insecurities, and fears you harbor regarding the dating process, understanding that these concerns are not unique to you. By dating consciously and purposefully, you’ll find yourself accepting these feelings. The more you date, the less anxious you’ll feel.
Nonnegotiables are the qualities that reflect your core values and are essential if you hope to find a companion or soul mate. They reflect both personality and soul qualities. They can be as pragmatic as refusing to date someone who is a smoker, and as spiritual as desiring a partner who encourages you to reveal vulnerable parts of yourself.
Nonnegotiables are derived from what you value and what pushes your buttons. They are requirements that your head can spell out with certainty (“I will not go out with anyone who doesn’t love the outdoors”). They’re requirements that you feel in your heart and soul (“I want someone who, from the first moment, I feel like I’ve known forever”).
As long as you’re vague about what your nonnegotiables are, you won’t find what you want. To deny one nonnegotiable is to deny a major part of who you are. To ignore one quality means that you’re willing to settle for someone who will fall short in some way. Without clarity, it’s easy for romantic illusion to take hold.
The steps in this article are designed to help you define your personality and soul nonnegotiables and reflect with absolute clarity on the qualities that you’ll need in a partner to support your relationship choice — whether you’re looking for a companion or soul mate.
Recognize Parental Influence
What do you really want and need from a partner? The first thing that comes to mind may not be what’s in your heart and soul. On the surface, creating a list of nonnegotiables may seem easy. But anyone who isn’t conscious and doesn’t follow the soul dating steps is likely to produce an incomplete or even inaccurate list.
Consider this scenario: you meet someone who sweeps you off your feet. The attraction is immediate and intense. Sooner or later, however, you realize you couldn’t have made a worse choice. In fact, you may have made this same type of bad choice in other failed relationships.
Your inclination may be to beat yourself up over what you seem to want in a partner. Don’t. Most of us make mistakes like this. It’s not uncommon to create a false mental picture of an “ideal” partner. Our family histories and other factors make it likely that we’ll do so. Nonnegotiables help us create a true picture. When we identify the external and internal qualities to which we resonate, that picture starts to come into focus.
We can’t define our nonnegotiables without considering the impact our parents have on this definition. Some of us find it difficult to define what we want in a partner because we were taught as children that our needs weren’t important. Some of us specify nonnegotiables that would please our parents; others list traits that would outrage them. All of our nonnegotiables, to a lesser or greater extent, have been shaped by early family relationships.
We need to become aware of our parents’ beliefs versus our own. It may be that they’re one and the same: they want you to marry a Catholic and you want to marry a Catholic. It could be that your personality nonnegotiables are similar to what your parents would have wanted, while your soul nonnegotiables are quite different.
You can’t know what you really want in a partner until you identify what your parents wanted (or might have wanted, given their beliefs) for you.
Picture the kind of person your parents would have chosen for you. What emotional/spiritual/physical/financial and other characteristics would your partner have? Write a paragraph or list ten to fifteen of these qualities. Consider both the spoken and unspoken messages that were relayed to you.
I acknowledge my parents’ vision of my life partner and believe that their intent was loving and meant to support me. I need to discover, however, my own vision of my life partner.
Understand Societal Influence
What we may think we want and need in a partner is also influenced by societal messages regarding gender. Social norms may cause us to search for men who are “the strong, silent type” or women who are sweet and compliant. We believe we want these “ideals” because society tells us we should want them. Depending on your age and sex, you may be under the sway of other socially desirable gender types: the sensitive, caring male or the superwoman. Complicating matters is the struggle between the sexes. Many of us have been brought up to believe that the differences between men and women are irreconcilable. We’ve been bombarded with mesmessages suggesting that the differences are so great that it’s difficult to find common ground. Instead of learning to understand and appreciate the differences between men and women, we let the differences cloud our perceptions. When we try and create our list of nonnegotiables, we are hampered by these erroneous beliefs and generalities.
We can work on separating societal messages from our own true needs and desires by completing the following exercise. Read the list below of some common societal messages about gender. Which ones are familiar? Which ones influence you? What other societal messages affect how you view your and the opposite sex?
- Men are smarter than women.
- Women are overly emotional.
- Men shouldn’t cry.
- Women nag.
- Women are naturally nurturing.
- Men are more ambitious and serious about their careers.
- Women care more about relationships than men do.
- Men should be the ultimate breadwinners.
- A woman should never call a man.
- Men should always pay for women on dates.
- Women all want to be married.
- Men don’t want to commit.
- Women want to have sex less often than men.
- All men want is sex.
- Men and women are in competition.
I respect the differences between men and women. I continue to expand my admiration and appreciation of the opposite sex.
Determine Your Needs and Values
Once you understand the impact of parents and society on the people you’re drawn to, you’re ready to confront your own needs and values. Think about what a happy, single life would look like; seeing yourself only in relation to another person transfers much of the power for your happiness to someone else. You need to be certain of your identity and life plan before adding another partner to your life. Unless you’re clear about who you are from both soul and personality perspectives, you’re unlikely to find a partner that supports you. Some people have difficulty conducting this self-exploration when they’re single; they put their lives on hold, waiting to find someone to love. Not only do they refuse to take vacations, buy nice furniture, or take part in certain social activities, but they avoid contemplating what’s meaningful to them, who they really are, and what motivates them. All this represents needy behavior.
Being single becomes an excuse for not taking control of their inner and outer lives. They turn into observers rather than fully engaged participants. When they identify their real interests, goals, and needs, however, they can enjoy rich and satisfying lives. The fact that this self-awareness leads them to their partner is simply a wonderful bonus.
1. Write a paragraph describing the life that supports who and what you are.
2. Are your dreams and desires being fulfilled? If not, what practical things could you do to fulfill your desires?
I will consider all possible options open to me that will enrich my life, increase my possibilities, and create new opportunities. I will turn my realistic wants and needs into reality.
Partner Requirements: A First Look
Translating what you desire in your life to what you require in a partner demands some inner work. You need to make the connection between how your life aspirations affect what you require in a partner. At first, you may find that you can only create a hazy picture. That’s fine. Getting to know yourself is a gradual process. Give yourself the time and patience that this process deserves. Later you’ll have the opportunity to create a more detailed “portrait” of your partner.
Go back to the previous soul datework exercise and revisit the things in life that you deemed important to you. Ask yourself “What kind of partner would I need to support this lifestyle?” Think about both personality and soul traits you desire in a partner and create a list.
I am beginning to visualize the qualities that I must seek in a partner.
Partner Requirements: A More Serious Look Now you’re ready to take your first crack at a nonnegotiable list. Nonnegotiables are your soul and personality requirements for a partner, and they evolve from what you value.
This isn’t an easy step. We’re often vague about what we really want in a partner. When we create a nonnegotiable list of generalized traits — “a nice person,” “successful,” and “friendly” — we won’t attract or recognize the specific partner we need.
Clarity is critical. When we clearly define the type of person we want, we’re much more likely to recognize that person when we meet him or her. Similarly, clear nonnegotiables help eliminate people who don’t meet our specific requirements. From a spiritual standpoint, clear intention becomes energy that attracts like energy. Once we define and refine our nonnegotiable list, the right people start showing up in our lives.
In contrast, vague nonnegotiables give romantic illusion a foothold. Because we haven’t clearly defined what we want and need, we’re susceptible to the myths. When we’re not specific about nonnegotiables, we substitute Hollywood and romance novel images. Because we’re not sure who it is we want in a partner, we borrow the “tall, dark, and handsome” image or convince ourselves that it’s love at first sight.
Nonnegotiables are serious stuff. They’re not about creating a wish list of trivial traits and seeing if someone measures up: they identify the soul and personality characteristics you can’t do without in a partner. There are no right or wrong characteristics. Your list will necessarily be idiosyncratic: your uniqueness demands that it be. You may also include qualities that strike others as silly or unimportant. “He must love my two cats and my dog” might seem ridiculous to someone who doesn’t give a hoot about animals. To another, however, it represents a core value. Don’t be swayed by what others consider important. Understand what your particular nonnegotiables are and don’t settle for less. If you give up a nonnegotiable, you’re giving up a vital part of who you are.
It’s also important to consider both personality and soul traits. Most people begin their lists focusing on personality: on external qualities such as appearance, career, and hobbies of a partner. Society pushes us in this direction, and it’s also easier to compile a list of external traits than internal ones. But don’t neglect your emotional and spiritual sides! More so than personality qualities, these are the ones that will lead you to your soul mate.
If you’re uncertain whether a nonnegotiable is a personality or a soul trait, put it to the “why test.” In other words, ask why it’s important to you. If the answer is an external (“I want someone who loves going to plays, gallery openings, and the opera because I enjoy being part of the social scene”), then it’s grounded in personality. If the answer is an internal (“I want someone who loves going to plays, gallery openings, and the opera because my love of art defines who I am”), then it’s related to the soul.
Your nonnegotiables may need to be refined several times as you encounter new people and evolve in your spiritual growth.
1. Review the nonnegotiable categories. Think about which traits under each subhead you’ll need to find in a life partner. Use your first list of partner essentials to get yourself started. Are all the things you mentioned in your first list really nonnegotiables? Have you struck a balance between soul and personality nonnegotiables? Do they reflect your relationship choice: companion or soul mate?
Using the nonnegotiable subheads as a guide, delete traits that are not true necessities and add qualities you may not have previously considered.
Most people have at least one nonnegotiable under each heading. If you have fewer than 20 or 25 nonnegotiables, it means you aren’t clear about who you are and what’s important to you. If you have more than 75, you’re being unrealistic and have probably eliminated some suitable partners from consideration. Don’t get hung up on where you put a particular nonnegotiable — just get it into one of the categories.
2. Another way of determining your nonnegotiables is to create two parallel lists: the first, “Nonnegotiables,” and the second, “Preferences.” For each nonnegotiable, ask yourself, “Is this something I must have to be true to myself? Or is it something I would like but is not essential?” Those that are not essential belong on your list of preferences.
I take responsibility for my nonnegotiable list. I deserve all the qualities I’m asking for.
Expanding Your List When you create your list of nonnegotiables, be specific and descriptive. Perhaps you’ll say you want someone “successful.” But what does “successful” look like to you in the real world? In other words, what would someone need to have achieved in order for you to identify her or him as successful? What kind of lifestyle would he or she have? How much money? What kind of behaviors?
You need to challenge your assumptions and pin yourself down when you say you want someone who is “attractive” or “thoughtful.” Only when you strip away the generalities and ask yourself some probing questions can you determine what you feel is really important so you can recognize those qualities in another.
Revise your nonnegotiable list. You’ll probably want to add new traits. Think carefully about what soul qualities as well as personality traits you require. What does each nonnegotiable look like to you in the real world? Be specific and descriptive. If you had to explain what you meant to another person, how would you do it? These exercises may help.
- Make a list of your old relationships. Which parts worked? Which parts didn’t?
- Ask one or two couples who enjoy the type of relationship you’d like to have what qualities they sought in their mate that enabled them to have their current relationship.
- Consider your relationships with same- or opposite-sex friends. Are there similarities in traits that seem consistent in people you admire and with whom you relate? Which qualities do you enjoy in different people? What feels good? What doesn’t?
- Pay attention to your lifestyle. What time do you normally eat, sleep, work? Are you a day person or a night owl? Neat or messy? About which areas of your schedule are you flexible? Which aspects are carved in stone? Do you lead a balanced life with both “being” and “doing” activities?
The clearer I am about my nonnegotiables, the closer I come to finding my companion or soul mate.
Partner Requirements: Fine-Tuning Your List
You deserve to find a person who meets your nonnegotiables. You can choose not to date or enter a relationship until you have found someone who reflects your value system. Sooner or later, you’ll find your perfect partner if your nonnegotiables are detailed, descriptive, and complete.
The last step is designed to help you expand and explain the traits on your list. Use the description of past relationships from the previous soul datework exercise to refine your list. The problems and possibilities raised by past relationships are good guides for fine-tuning your nonnegotiables. You can take cues from people in your past and let what you learn shape the traits you place on your list.
Keep in mind that this list isn’t final. As you date, you’ll be given opportunities to “test” your nonnegotiables against real-world experiences. Being “in the field” (dating) is where you have a hands-on opportunity to get clarity about them.
The more specific or clear you are about your nonnegotiables, the easier it will be to find the appropriate partner. Remember, if you give up a nonnegotiable, you can never make your partner wrong for having this characteristic.
- Revise your nonnegotiable list. See if there’s anything that you’ve inadvertently forgotten to include or if you can be more specific and focused in describing certain traits.
- Go out and date using the concepts of nonnegotiables and the type of relationship that you desire (companion or soul mate) to guide you.
- As you continue to date, you’ll be adding, omitting, and refining the traits on your list. This is a process you’ll revisit many times before finalizing your list.
I have the courage to date with my nonnegotiable list as my guiding force, knowing that consciousness and clarity will direct me to my companion or soul mate.
This article has been edited and excerpted from Soul Dating to Soul Mating by Basha Kaplan and Gail Prince (Perigee Books, 1999). This book provides useful insights, exercises, and concrete steps to help you heal from your last relationship, becoming a happy and whole person. Then the authors teach you to date with a sense of purpose based on your values, beliefs, principles, and intersts in order to find and nurture the kind of relationship most of us long for: a deep connection and true (and lasting) love. Available at better bookstores, or order directly from: www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/redirect-home/divorcemagazine in the USA or www.indigo.ca/cgi-bin/gencgi/AffilTk?id=50368011 in Canada.