Joy and Pain…

…Sunshine and Rain

Last night, one of my best guy friends messaged me for some advice on his current dating situation. Through multiple text messages and lots of pep talk, he said, “I’m happy with myself,  but when someone comes into my life and then out again, that’s where I get depressed….”

But that’s dating.  When you meet someone, you both have lots of assessments to make (ok, that’s the nurse in me right there).  You assess not only your fit together as people, but also lifestyle, fundamental beliefs, how clean you keep your house…just as a start.  The beginnings are the best. There’s the butterflies, the anticipation, everything is new and you are constantly learning about each other.  There is a renewed sense of hope.  An optimism that comes with a beginning. A new potential for it all to work out differently than the times before.

Obviously, not everyone sticks around.  The exit of a potential partner can cause sadness and a sense of loss.  Even if there were things about that partner that were “red flags” or perhaps, not a great fit, the loss can cause a wavering of hope or a feeling of “here we go again…”  These “failures” while dating can take a toll.

I wanted to tell my friend that he should “get to know himself” and “be good on his own” and all those cliches, “it’s not you it’s them”. But faced with recent studies on the ill effects of loneliness and being alone have on your health, I did not know what to say.  My fear is that this research, will encourage the single people of the world to settle for a less than ideal situation, so as not to die early from loneliness or social isolation.

One of the most popular TED Talks was done by Robert Waldinger in November of 2015, entitled “What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness”.  The results presented in this TED Talk, and various articles based on this research, are from a 75-year Harvard Study on what makes people, well men, happy and what constitutes a good life?  According to this study, the most significant finding is that the only thing that matters in life are relationships.  Social connection.  Without supportive, loving relationships, nothing else matters.  Connection and close relationships, especially as we age, are vital to our well-being and health.

In the TED Talk, Waldinger, specifies that they have learned 3 important lessons from this study about relationships:

1.Social connections are good for us and loneliness kills.  Specifically:

People who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected. And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.

2. You can be lonely anywhere, even in a relationship or marriage.  It’s not the number of friends you have, or the length of your marriage, or the fact that you are in a relationship, but it’s the quality of that relationship.  High-conflict relationships, lacking in support, affection, or love, are bad for our health, worse than leaving the situation.  This supports the DO NOT SETTLE theory!

3. Finally, good, caring, supportive, nurturing, loving relationships not only protect our physical health, but also our brain health.

It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective, that the people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper longer. And the people in relationships where they feel they really can’t count on the other one, those are the people who experience earlier memory decline.

Given all of this information about the benefits…or rather the necessity…of finding and being in a close, collaborative, supportive relationship with a loving partner, how was I to reassure my friend over his latest loss? First of all, we are great friends, so we are socially connected and when the chips are down, we have each other’s backs.  That counts for something.

That feeling of hope when you meet someone new…the joy…that is what we need to remember and seek.  Not the pain or the sense of loss.  Hope belongs to me, it can not be taken away by anyone, unless I let them.  I used to give my hope away at the end of another failed dating attempt.  It would disappear with my would be suitor.  It’s normal to take the end of a dating experience personally, especially when you are not the one to initiate the ending. Often I find myself so caught up in trying to figure out the fit, or even make it fit, that I forget that I get a say in it too.  I forget that I am also examining the fit of the other person into my established life.

In the end, the most authentic words I could offer my friend were don’t give up.  Don’t give up your hope, don’t give up your optimism, don’t give up your openness to inviting someone into your life.  Dating will suck and it will be glorious and everything in between.  And since I have an affinity for lyrics….it will bring you “joy and pain, sunshine and rain” and hopefully, someone will be a great fit and stick around and even hold the umbrella.

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