It’s not unusual for women to begin my relationship-coaching program in a somewhat fretful state. Having spent years devoted to their careers, they eventually came to see the lack of balance in their lives.
Some name what they feel as an inner emptiness. Others describe their lives as not having enough meaning, beyond what they contribute professionally or philanthropically. Even those with good friendships report something is missing.
Because these women are so results-oriented professionally, they suspect a romantic relationship may cure their dissatisfaction. So they decide to make that the goal.
What they come to learn is that finding someone “out there” (or online) is not where the relationship coaching process begins. It starts with the connection with your self.
Begin the Journey
As a relationship coach (and marriage therapist), I heartily believe that having good relationships with friends and family – and for most of us, being in a successful, long-term romantic one – are super important components of a good life.
Yet the true basis of a fulfilling life is the relationship we have with ourselves. Being our own best friend.
Regardless of circumstance, this means giving ourselves the time and attention to figure out what we need and want, optimally before we start looking for a mate.
I can say from experience that it is the most rewarding (and at times, admittedly, the hardest) journey of our lives.
We start the trek by taking the attention off the nameless partner we hope will complete us. Instead, we put the focus on ourselves. Once we’ve gotten to know ourselves better, “warts and all,” as they say, we can build a life that feels enriching and complete, whether we get partnered or remain single.
One very practical way to befriend ourselves is to participate in activities that bring us joy.
I remember when I was newly divorced and single, it seemed as if all I did was work, take care of my two young children, volunteer at school and go on an occasional date. Given how small my life had become, I was absolutely desperate for a relationship. I was convinced a partner would fix what was wrong with my life.
So I started seeing a relationship coach to find “the guy.” Instead, my coach started me on a process to find myself. Defining what I needed and wanted from a future relationship, I came to learn, was a bit further down the line.
What I needed, he said, was a richer and more fun life as a single mom. But I didn’t have a clue what might bring that about.
Not long after, I went on a date that turned out to be life-changing. But it wasn’t the guy. Him I dumped. But swing dancing? I was in love!
It was fun and freeing – and it was something I could do by myself. I started going to clubs to dance, took lessons and before you know it, I had made new friends and expanded my world considerably. My life felt balanced – and I felt satisfied and proud for finding a hobby I adored. Most surprising of all? I didn’t feel desperate for a guy anymore.
It was from that place of balance and satisfaction that I got clear about the type of partner I was looking for.
Try It, You May Like It!
Some of my coaching clients have been so wrapped up in their careers (or single moms with their children) that they have no idea what activities might be fun for them. If you fall in that camp, ask yourself these questions:
- What did I like to do as a kid?
- Have I ever said, “Someday I want to try ____?” If so, what was that thing?
- What makes me laugh and feel joyful?
- What do I do that feels enjoyable – even if I think of it as a part of everyday life?
Your interests and passions may be buried, but they’re inside you. The good thing about exploring this aspect of yourself is that there’s virtually no way to go wrong. If you don’t have a bona fide passion, try something that sounds interesting. Test your hypothesis. If that first choice isn’t satisfying, move on to something else.
Let’s say you’ve always admired your neighbor’s garden. You could take a class at your local botanical garden or sign up for a plot in a community garden. Sure – you might find out you don’t like the idea of getting dirt under your fingernails, but you could just as easily end up with a basket of edibles and a few new friends!
Or, if you once liked crafting, stroll through a hobby store and see if any materials catch your eye or evoke a happy memory.
Another super low-cost and low-risk way to explore happiness-producing pastimes is to attend a Meetup on a topic of interest in your city. A single Google search for “Meetups in Chicago,” my hometown, produced multiple pages of results on activities from hiking to harmonica hoe-downs!
The goal here is not to become an expert. You’re simply aiming to activate your feelings of pleasure and enjoyment. Fun activities add value to your life. In time, you’ll start to feel satisfied, accomplished and connected…to yourself.
And that’s the point. Engaging in a hobby you love encourages you to create space and time for yourself. You’ll then come to get curious about what else you want in your life. Making yourself a priority also puts the responsibility for your happiness squarely where it belongs…with you.
When you find and nurture inner contentment, my hunch is the “hole” you now think is the lack of a partner will start to fill with self-regard and, eventually, self-love.
The biggest bonus of all is that once you’re personally fulfilled, you’ll probably feel a lot less pressure once you do start dating in earnest. Finding a partner will simply be an added blessing to a life you already love.