Friday, 23 October 2009

Buddhists Need Love Too: The Dharma of Dating

Dan Brodribb is a writer and stand-up comic. His misspent past also includes stints as a pro-wrestling announcer, substitute teacher, video store clerk, martial arts instructor, crisis worker, and heavy metal musician. He is a lay member of the Order of Buddhist Contemplatives. Learn more about him at

Buddhists need love too.

I mean, I realize I’m relatively new to the practice of meditation, but we can’t ALL be monks, right? Someone has to ensure the human race survives.

That doesn’t mean I don’t take training seriously. I’m always looking for ways to reduce suffering in my life while training myself to be a more compassionate, equanimous person.

Enter online dating. Or any kind of dating at all, come to think of it.

There's no question in my mind: dating is dharma in action. I remember reading a Buddhist book and thinking, “You know, you could substitute the word ‘dating’ for the word ‘meditation’ and you could have pretty much the same book.”

You learn surprising things about yourself when you go out with people. You are tested. And if you’re lucky, you get to practice some righteous smooching (Not to be confused with Right Smooching which isn’t part of the eightfold path, but at times I think should be).

But online dating comes with it’s own challenges, especially if you’re new to it or returning to the dating world following a long term relationship. It’s easy to get frustrated, either with the people out there, the LACK of people out there, or even yourself.

Love is a roller coaster ride. Here are four ways Buddhist training can help with the ups and downs.

1 - Stay Present
At first with online dating, it’s easy to get discouraged. happens. A clever, funny message appears in your inbox. You go back and forth a couple times, and have a couple of nice exchanges. Suddenly, you start thinking of the future. You imagine what he or she will be like when you meet in person. The next thing you know you’re flashing forward to a wedding, kids, growing old together…

Then you meet in person and are devastated to discover that not only is there no chemistry, they have horrible taste in shoes.

On the other hand, it’s equally easy to get caught up in all the things that went wrong on previous dates and in previous relationships. Some of us are tempted to relive every dating mistake we’ve ever made in our mind, or worse, pay bitterness from a former relationship forward to the next people we meet.

But that’s unfair to the other person. It’s also unfair to ourselves.

Be where you are. Live here, not some imaginary future. Pay attention to the person you‘re with, instead of comparing them to the person in your mind.

2 - Equanimity
Dating is an emotional business. There‘s exhilaration, there‘s despair, and there's everything in between. These feelings are normal. They also aren’t worth getting worked about because they will change.

In fact, even when you’re in a relationship, feelings are transitory. Sure, at first, it feels like your love is unshakeable and everlasting. Four months later, you are shocked to find yourself wanting to smother him with a pillow because you can’t stand the way he grinds his teeth when he sleeps. But fear not, that feeling too will pass.

In fact, this would be a good time to remind you that…

3 - Everything Changes
Sometimes, when you’re feeling single and frustrated and miserable, it feels like you’ll be that way forever. But situations change. Even feelings change. In fact, we've all heard the story about people finding peace with singleness (Singlitude? Singularity?)--and then meeting someone, throwing their entire world into disarray.

As one friend told me. "I can't fall in love with somebody now. I have too much STUFF to do!"

Romance reminds me of a quote by screenwriter William Goldman: “Nobody knows anything.”

Might as well get used to it.

4 - Actions have consequences
Dating is cruel, but fair. I’m not saying that people DESERVE to have bad dates, but there are folks out there entertaining the mistaken idea that the world owes them a boy- or girlfriend.

It doesn’t work like that.

If you treat people like they are out for themselves and will betray you at the first available opportunity…you will probably find what you are looking for. If you expect the best from people while being clear about what those expectations are, you have a better than even chance of finding someone who can meet them.

Tired of dating jerks? Learn to notice the warning signs and stop going out with them. Wondering why women never call you back after the first date? Time to take a look in the mirror and see what you‘re putting out there.

Dating is scary because rejection feels so personal. But that‘s an illusion. I‘ve never met anyone who WANTED to hurt other people. I know from experience one of the hardest things to do in dating is to stay true to yourself while minimizing the damage you do to other people. Sometimes people make mistakes. But it is never personal. Try not to take it that way.

After all, right smooching might not be on the Eightfold Path, but with the right person, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.


  1. Interesting parallel. I don't know though. Smooching and more with the one special person might very well be exactly the Eightfold Path. It's as close to nirvana a human being will get as far as I can tell.

  2. I am very curious to think of what Buddhists think of monogamy. To me, as a wannabe Buddhist, it seems like it is a system erected around circumventing our jealousy rather than dealing with it. Why do we make exceptions for our jealous behavior just because sex is involved?

  3. Expecting people to be decent to you is like reading THE SECRET and expecting a check in the mail because you "put it out there to the universe." It doesn't work like that, as you are fond of saying. I've expected the best. In school I'm known as funny, good-looking, decent (feeds stray cats daily, etc.) yet every ATTRACTIVE woman I've met prefers beer chugging borderline retards, literal drug dealers, etc. Of course, when they dry up and no one "exciting" wants them anymore, they suddenly become "spiritual" and realize what a catch I thanks. I have no choice in the matter really as they are then unattractive to me. Who you give your best to you should also give the rest to. I'm truly dedicated to minimizing suffering for all beings,but I'm also dedicated to calling them like I see them. There's a REASON why spiritual traditions advocate CELIBACY. Romance, etc. is illusory: attractive women have been willingly reduced to commodities like everything else in this materialistic world. But they are not usually victims either but quite predatory. (:

  4. I can't speak for every Buddhist, but I've found myself a lot happier when I stopped worrying about what kind of relationship is the "best" (monogamy, celibacy, polyamory, etc)and focused instead on what works best for me and whoever else happens to be involved at any point in time.


  5. Pay attention to the person you‘re with, instead of comparing them to the person in your mind!

  6. Dude...Relationship/desire = attachment != buddhist path. Don't be a hypocrite and don't preach this as buddhism. You are free to do what you want. Just don't interpret someone else's philosophy.

  7. I've also found myself a lot happier when I stopped worrying about what kind of relationship is the "best" and focused instead on fully experiencing the present point in time.

  8. We ALL need, deserve and (most of us) desire Love. Going out in search for it can be daunting. Why not meditate to magnetize the perfect Love/Lover to you. The Universe responds in kind when the time is perfect. Often when we least expect it.
    And not to squabble about details, but I sometimes struggle with being partnered because of non-atachment and dualistic thinking.

    NOT that I don't want a partner... I DO!

    Violet @ Revolution ~ Evolution

  9. Nice Article! Thanks for sharing with us.

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  10. Great read! Thanks for sharing.

  11. Beautiful, thought provoking post, Thank you!

  12. Buddhist, moslim, Jew it doesn't matter. Before any philosophy, you're a mammal and us mammals need warmth. Desire through conditioned gratification is one thing. By all means learn to cope but when we pretend our inherent desires are not there we are running from the way things are as opposed to working with them as is. So enjoy your lusts and pursuits of love just do it responsibly with the middle way in mind.

  13. Taoist weigh-in: Don't over-embellish the worth of any two people. We are animals in form. If you want the life drained out of you- entertain a woman who is between 25 and 40 years old. If you want "love" and "forever" you CAN forge your own despair with 13-25 year old women.

    The path towards peace and understanding is lonely, make no mistake. If you truly want to join their world, go to Christian church. They NEED people, and are conservative enough that if you found a wife, she might stay.... Personally, I dislike living in a lie. If one of the three one-night stands I have in any given year can get attached to me then I encourage them to do so. . . I recommend that routine. Get to know them well before you sleep with them. After you've slept with them, if you still like them, congratulations- you're screwed. You can only play along and hope they catch feelings, because "clingy-buddhist" is just an outright oxymoron. I've found that you can talk about monogamy and when it's right- but only before sex. (And as the guy, you'll likely know how you feel AFTER sex.) Try to "leave the door open" for the ones you like to come back to you. But don't expect them to.

    "Buddhist" carries enough unwarranted stigma in America. If you're not a monk, a soldier, or an external alchemist; I don't recommend self-identifying as a minority. (Of any kind, really.)

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