Seeing Your Love Search As A “Quest”

If the dating game's starting to feel like an existential crisis, maybe it's time for a fresh perspective. Try thinking of it as a heroic journey in pursuit of the ultimate prize: meeting The One.

By Theo Pauline Nestor

mpatience and the dating game often go hand in hand. It's easy to start thinking that all your dates that didn't pan out and all your hopes that proved false were just a big, existential waste of time. But what if you reframed how you saw your search for love? What if, instead of seeing it as a long aggravating struggle, you viewed your time in
The questing dater is afraid while still being willing to face his or her fears.
the dating world as a quest — or "a hero's journey," as Joseph Campbell might say? In an essay titled "Original Campbell," Joseph Campbell Foundation scholar Stephen Gerringer notes that in his groundbreaking book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell demonstrated how the hero's threefold journey — consisting of departure, initiation and return — can be applied as "a template for real life." This journey is, in fact, a model that helps us to see just how our ordinary struggles (such as dating) are a part of a greater journey.

Using the hero's journey as a template for real life
If you've ever seen a Disney movie from start to finish, you're already familiar with the three-part story structure comprised of departure, initiation and return, which Campbell dubbed the "monomyth" (a term he borrowed from Irish writer James Joyce). In that monomyth, the hero is asked to go on a mission that takes him away from the ordinary world. Upon entering the extraordinary world, the hero faces a series of challenges and obstacles until the struggle culminates in him reaching his goal and obtaining the golden chalice. Once victory is achieved, the hero then returns to his "ordinary world" a changed man armed with new knowledge.

While other scholars before Campbell recognized the hero's journey as being an integral part of cross-cultural storytelling, Gerringer points out that Campbell's contribution showed how the monomyth's story structure "can be consciously adopted as a model for living a life (which in itself is a series of initiations)." So let's look at how this "model for living" can help you make sense of your initiation into — and journey through — the dating labyrinth.

Part One: Entering the "special world of dating"
In this initial phase of the journey that Campbell called "Departure," you've departed from your "ordinary world" and daily life and entered into a "Special World." But are you off to find treasure or slay dragons? Not quite; in this case, you're entering the special world of dating with its own unique customs, mores, rituals and language. Separated from the safety of your predictable life with its reassuring routines, you'll now spend more
Yes, it's the very stuff that defines life for most ordinary couples.
time than you ever imagined cropping photos for your online profile and exchanging emails with strangers.

If you initially balked at the idea of posting an online dating profile, you were simply going through the phase that Campbell dubbed "Refusal of the Call" — much like the heroes in legends and myths from around the world who also initially resisted the challenge of the journey that lay ahead of them. But upon committing to the quest itself, the hero often receives "supernatural aid" from an older man or woman (maybe a married friend who's already been through the dating scene?) while journeying "beyond the veil of the known into the unknown," as described by Campbell. Like legendary heroes of yore, the questing dater is afraid while still being willing to face his or her fears in the hope of reaching the ultimate goal: meeting someone special.

Part Two: Obstacles, challenges, and changing your perspective
This second phase of the journey — dubbed "Initiation" by Campbell — begins with "The Road of Trials." Campbell wrote that, "Once having traversed the threshold, the hero moves in a dream landscape of curiously fluid, ambiguous forms, where [he/she] must survive a succession of trials." Sounds a lot like dating, doesn't it? Who among us hasn't endured such challenges as false starts, rejection, bad dates, dreamboats who turn out to be leaky ships in disguise, dates who don't return your calls and unexpected breakups?

In real life, it's all too easy to get discouraged by these issues and start despairing that you'll never meet anyone, thinking: "What's the use?" But what if you were to see yourself as a hero who endures and learns from these challenges instead? What if you were to think of each date that didn't pan out as another chance for you to learn more about what you're really looking for in a partner? What if you saw each relationship that ended as an opportunity to gain a more complete vision of how your ideal relationship should feel? What if you generally saw these dating setbacks as expected challenges instead of being indicators of doom and your own failure? It's not about you; dating is challenging in and of itself. In fact, dating is a quest. And the story doesn't end once you finally meet that special someone, which is what Campbell would call "The Ultimate Boon" — the achievement of the goal of the quest.

Part Three: Mission accomplished; let the work begin!
"The returning hero, to complete his adventure, must survive the impact of the world," Campbell wrote. In the final phase of the story, the hero returns to the ordinary world as a changed person. In this phase, the heroic dater leaves the single life behind by entering a new relationship, making a commitment and facing the challenge of integrating that relationship into a real-world life that the couple, as now-partners, must forge together. In reference to this particular phase of the hero's journey, "many failures attest to the difficulties of this life-affirmative threshold," wrote Campbell. "The first problem of the returning hero is to accept as real, after an experience of the soul-satisfying vision of fulfillment, the passing joys and sorrows, banalities and noisy obscenities of life." Ah, the banalities of ordinary life! Yes, it's the very stuff that defines life for most ordinary couples. However, making your relationship work in the real world might be a whole lot more fun than the challenges you faced while finding each other. After all, the two of you will now be facing those challenges together.

Theo Pauline Nestor is the author of How to Sleep Alone in King-Size Bed: A Memoir of Starting Over and a regular contributor to Happen magazine.
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