The Tao Of Dating

Has hitting a few snags in your search for love turned your inner peace into turmoil? It’s time to take a more Zen approach! Here, we’ll show you how to do just that for five common dating scenarios.

By Dave Singleton

“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”
– Robert M. Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Buddhist doctrines state that all pain in life is caused by attachment. I’d add that dating pain is caused by attachment to our preconceived
Does dating have to be yet another anxiety…
notions about what should happen when we’re going out with someone new.

There’s a way of looking at the universe as an ordered, balanced place, I thought to myself as I read a book by the Dalai Lama… and then there’s dating.

Rarely do you hear these words uttered in the same breath: an ordered, balanced universe of dating? Why not? Does dating have to be yet another anxiety-provoking addition to your already packed schedule? Not if you don’t want it to be. It’s true that dating is typically fraught with expectations, projections, and overzealous romantic hopes. But are your stressed-out reactions to typical dating situations helpful or effective? Chances are, the answer is no. Chances are, too, that your responses to challenging dating situations follow a pattern.

Looking for a way to break bad patterns and discover new coping strategies? Try incorporating the basic Zen principles of non-attachment and equanimity into your dating life. Take a deep breath, reconsider your all-too-common reactions, and summon up the Tao of dating principles to kee yourself feeling calm and in a state of Zen when you’re confronted with one of the following five dating scenarios:

Scenario #1: “My date’s very late”
Especially before a first date, you’re nervous, excited and hopeful. When your date is late, it sets off alarm bells that ring throughout your already overload nervous system. After 20 minutes, you check your phone; no text or voicemail. You try to reach the other person, but you can’t.

The all-too-common reaction: Worrisome thoughts creep into your head: My date’s not coming and isn’t excited about being with me. Your stress levels rise as your enthusiasm for the date wanes and your composure loosens a bit. When the other person finally arrives, you are completely out of sorts. Despite hearing a reasonable excuse for the tardiness and a profuse apology, you can’t shake your negative thoughts and feelings.

The Zen approach: Instead of attaching some negative assumption or meaning to your date’s lateness, choose to detach from it. Borrow from Buddhist practice and sit silently, letting your inner voice speak these calming thoughts: I left word and that’s all I can do. Assuming my date’s unavoidably detained, we stand the best chance of salvaging this date if I stay calm and preoccupy myself with something positive and productive.

Scenario #2: “I’m miserable because my date doesn’t call when promised”
Your new sweetie says he or she will call you at certain times or on specific days, but consistently doesn’t — and you feel devastated. These missed calls shoot up your internal priority list until you’re fixated on the reason why. What does the lack of communication mean? Is your honey sending you a signal of some kind?

All-too-common reaction: You give this situation too much power over your emotions; you feel sad and get down on yourself. Every time it happens, you want to call
It’s true that dating is typically fraught with expectations.
and ask why, but you’re torn. You wonder how long before you break down and dial the number anyway.

The Zen approach: Put some space between your desires and actions so you can see your attachment clearly… and then let it go. By staying emotionally attached to another person calling you, you’re giving away all the power in this relationship. When the phone finally does ring, either address your date’s lack of accountability in a calm way or move on. Do you really want to date someone who’s that unreliable?

Scenario #3: “My date seems bored or distracted when we’re together”
At the restaurant, your date’s attention keeps drifting away from you. It doesn’t matter if he or she is looking at the person sitting next to your table or at the game playing on the TV above the booths. The point is that the other person’s focus is elsewhere, despite your best efforts to engage in a mutually satisfying conversation.

All-too-common reaction: You ignore how upset you feel and try harder by bringing up new topics you think will kick-start the date. You wonder if maybe, just maybe, your company isn’t compelling enough to engage your date’s attention.

The Zen approach: Let go of people who don’t seem interested in you while staying open to more authentic connections — ones where you won’t need to compete for anybody’s attention. You can’t force someone like that to change his or her focus. Of course, this is easier said than done; you don’t have to ignore the emotions that will arise in you, but you don’t have to dwell on them, either. Instead, cut your losses. Remind yourself that a date is just a date. In a month, this one will be just another blip on your life’s screen.

Scenario #4: “My date came on like a house on fire, then vanished”
Everything was going so well. You got swept off your feet and, next thing you know, you’re talking about future plans with this person. But then he or she drops off the face of the earth and becomes a member of what my friend Rachel calls “the league of extraordinary vanishers” — those dates who disappear into the ether, never to be heard from again.

All-too-common reaction: You blame yourself. What was it about you that led to your date disappearing without an explanation?

The Zen approach: Don’t take it personally. Buddhist philosophy helps you see that when someone does something that makes you feel awful, it’s rarely because his or her goal was to hurt you. More likely, this person did what he or she thought was necessary in order to feel safer, better, and/or to minimize any feelings of anxiety.

Scenario #5: “Our relationship isn’t moving on to the next level”
You’re been dating intensely, but your new relationship reaches a plateau. Where’s the commitment signaling that this romance is built to last? Isn’t that what happens after several months?

All-too-common reaction: You internally debate whether it’s pushy of you to force a “where’s this headed?” discussion or not. If you don’t say something, you’ll resent the other person and question the relationship. If you do speak up, you risk scaring your partner off. After all, it’s only been a few months— not years — since you began dating.

The Zen approach: Don’t lose a possible future by dishonoring the present. Instead of focusing on your own projected expectations (“Isn’t that what happens after several months of intense dating?”), concentrate more on the quality of your interactions with each other. Does this relationship feel good? On your next date, concentrate on making upbeat conversation and gauging your current level of intimacy as you take any agenda you might have out of the equation for the night. After such a short time, do you need to see into the future so much? You have plenty of time to figure out if this relationship is meant to last.

Dave Singleton, an award-winning writer and columnist for since 2003, is the author of two books on dating and relationships. Send your dating questions and comments to him at
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