My mother asked me how my internet search for a relationship was going. “Terrible,” I told her. “I’ve been doing this for years and it’s a complete failure.”
“Years?” she asked.
“10 years! No, 15!” I said. 15 years was a nice round number and added just the right amount of dramatic spice to my pessimism.
But I knew I was lying to my mother (and myself). Here’s what flicked on the light bulb in my dim brain:
I’d just finished reading a book entirely unrelated to the search for romance. The book, Fluent Fantasy, is about how to study a foreign language and make it feel like you’re playing a thrilling, addictive video game. The author shares his own personal journey to becoming fluent in Japanese. He fashioned his study in the image of a hero’s quest to save the world.
I’m not currently studying a foreign language, but the book inspired me to look at how we approach any challenge in life, especially those that take years of daily practice, commitment, and struggle.
The author of Fluent Fantasy points out that we falsely measure the time we spend on a challenging journey:
“You studied for 1 year, then stopped for 1 year. Now you’re back for six months. So how long have you been questing? You may be tempted to say 2 1/2 years, but this is an inflation of the amount of time you actually studied the language. The worst feeling in the world to a hero is to think ‘I’ve been on my quest for this huge number of years, and I’m still nowhere.’”
Fluent Fantasy reminded me that my measurement of time was a soul crusher. I’d told my mother that I’ve searched for true love for 15 years, but that’s absurd.
I filled those years with writing, hiking and traveling. I took classes in dance, screenwriting, stand-up comedy, drawing, and fencing. I spent lots of time with family and friends. I taught a college class for 8 of those years. I saw hundreds of clients in my psychotherapy practice.
I was living a life that was fun and rewarding. In whining to my mother, I had distorted my journey.
Fluent Fantasy advises: “You must change your formulation of your quest time. Don’t ask yourself, How long have I studied for? Instead, try this: How long have I seriously and passionately studied for?”
How long have I seriously and passionately devoted myself to meeting a life partner? (And don’t get me started on that old myth – When you stop looking you’ll find him.)
This time around, I’d been seriously and passionately looking to meet someone new for an entire a month and a half, since my revelation in Old Quebec City.
And before that? Through all those years of being single, I never tried internet dating for more than a couple of months at a time before taking a break that lasted a year or more.
Why all those long, long breaks? I found the internet process artificial and discouraging. Now that I’m doing it again, I’m reminded of why I always quit. (See picture below)
Anything worth doing, such as becoming fluent in a foreign language, mastering finger-painting, or learning to write, takes years of daily practice and patience. The only quick reward you can expect is the daily satisfaction you get from showing up every day. You put one foot in front of the other on your lifelong journey.
I’ve seen people get discouraged when they restrict their calorie intake for a few weeks and don’t lose those 40 pounds. When they do daily weight training for two weeks and aren’t a runner up for Mr. America.
Or when they try internet dating for a couple of months and throw their glass slipper against the wall when Prince Charming doesn’t appear.
What are the words of wisdom that keep you on the path of a long and grueling adventure?