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The inner and outer journey to love

“What I was looking for back then isn’t what I’m looking for now”, a 40-something coaching client said recently as she updated me on her dating progress. So true, I thought. As we mature, our wants, needs, hopes and dreams change.

In my 20s and early 30s, I had incredibly rigid ideas about the sort of man I thought I wanted to end up with. He had to have a certain look, a certain career and be of a certain type.

More worryingly, my younger self was drawn to instability, spontaneity and adrenaline highs. Anything else felt boring. I was attracted to men who were unavailable in some way – emotionally, physically or geographically – and to guys who kept me guessing or who didn’t treat me very well.

Then, as I matured and as I healed the inner wounds that had led me into dysfunctional relationships, I started to find stability and calm much more attractive – in myself and in romantic partners. As my values changed, I was drawn to qualities like reliability, kindness and gentleness. The man I married four months ago (at the age of 48) embodies those traits.

I also let go of my fixed ideas about the kind of partner I was looking for and became open to different types. My husband bears little resemblance to the person I thought I’d marry – and I’ve heard other men and women say the same about their long-term partner.

Finally, my vision for my future changed as I came to terms with the choices I’d made and the life I’d lived to date. At 43, I stopped holding out for that elusive man who could help me to construct a white picket fence and produce 2.4 children. Instead, I accepted my age and stage, as well as my ambivalence about motherhood, and prioritised finding someone who would walk by my side for the rest of my life.

If I hadn’t transformed from the inside out, if I hadn’t developed and matured and if I hadn’t attained some degree of acceptance, I’d still be stuck in the same self-defeating, futile and harmful patterns, chasing the same types and holding out for something or someone that doesn’t exist.

That’s why I believe the journey to love, for many of us, requires both inner and outer work.

The outer work is easy to explain. It’s the dating – dating online and offline; expanding our social circles; pursuing sociable hobbies that we love; and investing the same time and energy in dating and romance that we invest in other important areas of our life, such as our careers (and as a workaholic, I know how hard this is!).

The inner work is more difficult to pin down and will be different for each of us. It involves stepping inside – exploring and sometimes changing our relationship patterns; removing any blocks; healing any wounds; praying; meditating; journaling; and sharing our stories with others who’ll understand, support and challenge us and help us to grow.

From my experience, the inner and outer work must go hand-in-hand, or we’ll remain on the same merry-go-round for years, decades even, wondering why we can’t meet Mr or Mrs Right or why our relationships never last. We’ll spend lots of time and money on the outer work, only to end up exhausted, confused, disappointed and depressed.

So if the outer work of dating isn’t producing the desired results, can I suggest you try stepping inside, if you haven’t done so already. And if you have, can I suggest that you peer even deeper and/or ask God and another person to gaze into your heart with you? Sometimes others can see things that we are blind to.

You’ll have heard the expression that finding love, for many people, is a numbers game – that we need to date lots of men or women before we find the person who’s right for us. This is sound advice for those who sit on the sidelines, too afraid to try – for those who send winks and waves or hundreds of messages to potential dates, but never take the risk of meeting face-to-face.

“We’re too busy; our schedules are too packed,” we argue, and then we lose interest, or the other party does.

But the notion of the numbers game will be a red herring for some of us. We’ll date and date, trying this website, that app and that meet-up group, but to no avail. Until we realise that we are the common denominator in all our dates and all our relationships – until we muster the courage to step inside and do the difficult but incredibly rewarding inner work.

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