Special Episode: Mindful Dating

The following is the transcript for this podcast episode.:

Jodi: Hi! Thank you so much for tuning into this episode. What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you hear the word “mindful”? My hunch is that it’s not the word “dating.” But that may change when you hear what my guest this episode has to say.

Dr. Marie Thouin is the founder of Love Insight, a Mindful Dating coaching practice, where she helps people of all ages, genders and sexual relationship orientations navigate the path of intimate love.

As a psychology researcher and online dating expert, she assists her clients in developing personalized winning strategies for today’s dating landscape. Her holistic toolbox encompasses sound practical advice with the ability to support her clients into deep inquiry and grow. Through her own dating journey, Marie gained the ability to live with a heart wide open. This process revealed her mission to help others navigate the path of modern love and relationships and led her to the gorgeous man, both inside and out who became her husband.

Marie earned her MBA from Golden Gate University and her PhD from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, where she studied sexuality and romantic relationships.

Her research was featured in Elle and Common Ground magazines. And I’m thrilled to say that she is a Featured Contributor for our First Date Stories Blog, where you can find articles that she’s written on a whole wide variety of topics, including such important subjects, as “How to Overcome Shame,” “How to Turn Rejection into a Catalyst for Love” and “How to Say No to Someone Else from the Heart.”

Marie, It is wonderful to have you as a part of the First Date Stories Featured Contributor community and I have so been looking forward to this conversation.

Marie: Oh, thank you for having me, Jodi.

Jodi: Let’s get right into it. So, as I understand it, your decision to become a Mindful Dating coach was really an outgrowth of your own personal dating journey. So, given that, please tell us about that journey and what you learned.

Marie: Yes. My journey with dating was always so educational. That is the first word I think about when I think about my own dating life. I went on so many dates with so many different people from different backgrounds and each one of those dates revealed something new about myself and something new about humanity.

Like there’s not many ways in our society where we can have access to so many different people and just get a little bite of humanity on a regular basis. And not only that, but dating has always been such a mirror, including like when getting into a relationship and seeing what happens to us, then all the emotions that come up and it’s just been such a great way to understand myself.

Jodi: That is a wonderful way to we’ll look at dating. It seems like a very healthy way to look at dating and one that I share and have shared  during my dating years. You need to draw from within as well as take in from other people.

Marie: Absolutely!

Jodi: So you call your approach “Mindful Dating.” What is Mindful Dating?

Can you share more about that and probably start with what mindfulness is for those listeners who aren’t quite sure? And then we can switch into what exactly Mindful Dating is.

Marie: Yeah, absolutely. Mindfulness is a word that refers primarily to equality of self-awareness. It’s the ability to be present with ourselves in our bodies and in our minds and in our hearts as we’re going through life.

Rather than being somewhere in the future or somewhere in the past, we want to live a mindful life because it allows us to be in the present fully engaged with that experience. So Mindful Dating is actually the engagement with dating from a place of presence and awareness, rather than just a place of goal-oriented action that is simply like, “I want to nail down this person into a relationship.”

Mindful Dating doesn’t mean we don’t get into a relationship, but we use that process of dating as a tool. To know ourselves better and disentangle the things that we’ve learned from our past, from society, from the media and who we really are and what we really want from love.

Mindful Dating

Jodi: Is this an approach to dating that you developed?

Marie: I’m not the first person to talk about Mindful Dating. One of the main dating coaches and psychologists out there who already talked about Mindful Dating is Dr. Ken Page. And he wrote a book called Deeper Dating. He also takes that approach to dating. It’s a more spiritual or more growth-oriented approach to dating.

So I wouldn’t say I invented Mindful Dating. But I would say to them, I’m one of the only Mindful Dating coaches that I know out there who take that radical approach. Most dating coaches are there or more of the spirit of, “okay, let’s get you in a relationship in six weeks or eight weeks or. Let’s teach you how to play the game more successfully, the game of seduction, et cetera.”

And I think a more radical approach that says like, “no, let’s use that process to really understand who you are and what you want and allow you to live with a more open heart. And from there, the relationships that you will create will be of a higher caliber.”

Jodi: It’s so interesting that you call that “radical” because for a person to really, truly fall in love with another person and a love that will last ongoing, that person really needs to be in love with themself. Right? You need to look inward first and you’re framing that as radical and win it many ways. Should be natural. And yet you are right on, we live in a world where we are moving forward, fast, fast, fast swipe, swipe, swipe, next, next, next, right?

All that speed and….find that person! We feel there’s pressure to get that new person in our life, what have you, when it seems so logical to take the time to look inward and, and be present and figure out what makes sense for ourselves and then find that right person.

Marie: Yeah. It is interesting that it is so radical. And what’s interesting too, is that so many people who actually are into mindfulness and have a spiritual practice of some sort still have so many blind spots when it comes to dating and sexuality and romantic love.

And that’s oftentimes the part that creates a bottleneck in their lives, where it feels like the conditioning we receive in that area is thicker and more intense than really any other areas of our lives. So it’s sort of a bottleneck for many people. It’s the area that feels sometimes the most confusing or the hardest where the healing is the most difficult.

Jodi: Are there approaches or techniques that you feel comfortable sharing that you utilize with clients who are experiencing those bottlenecks?

Marie: Well, it depends on what the bottleneck is and that will be different for every client. So there’s not the universal, like, okay, this is what you have to do if you want to do Mindful Dating and get unstuck. People oftentimes have trouble just even trusting themselves and trusting their own inner compass to be able to magnetize a great partner into their lives.

Oftentimes, the work is about refining one’s own inner compass. And we can work together on the intuition process. Like how do you know inside your body, how you feel about a person? How do you know when you feel safe and when your heart feels good with a person? So that is one of the main, main things that I work with my clients.

Sometimes it’s about really visioning and knowing like, oh, okay, like this is the kind of person that I think would be compatible with me versus not. Yeah, there’s a lot.

Jodi: There is a lot, it’s very broad in scope. And yet you tailor it to the needs and the challenges and the bottlenecks and the desires of the people who you are working with.

Marie: Right.

Jodi: So how do you think our cultural context supports or doesn’t support mindfulness?

Marie: Well, unfortunately I think that there’s very little support for Mindful Dating. We’re still in a historical period where there’s a lot of traditional conservative or just ingrained values. And I’m not putting any value judgment on any specific values, but I would say that in the realm of sexuality and gender roles, we have inherited so much baggage, so many beliefs about what is the role of a man? What is the role of a woman? How should they interact? How should they form a relationship? What does a committed relationship even mean? And if someone dares to go outside of those parameters, oftentimes they face a lot of backlash.

Like if someone dares to question the nuclear family model, for example, or question gender roles or question things like cohabitation or sleeping in the same bedroom, or all of those things, they will have to face anywhere from just like people questioning them and questioning their integrity to sometimes being actually persecuted. So it can be a risky road to really becoming yourself without fear.

Jodi: Yes, that is unfortunately true in too many places I will say. But there’s work to be done that people can do to help themselves date in a mindful manner. Right?

Marie: Oh yeah, absolutely.

Jodi: Let’s talk online dating. Online dating is very prevalent now. And a lot of people like it, and a lot of people are uncomfortable with it for a variety of reasons. So re-imagining online. Dating is exciting idea for many folks, I’m sure. Do you have any advice on how to go about re-imagining online dating and help people like wipe away the cynicism, if they have it and improve their outcomes?

Marie: Absolutely. That is one of the biggest topics that I work with my clients. And it starts usually with just writing a really authentic and bold online dating profile. So instead of hiding behind a generic profile with generic statements, daring to really be ourselves and really saying what we’re there for who we are, what’s in our heart.

And having photos that really represent us in their best possible light. So coming out of hiding is usually a really meaningful process for people while they’re doing online dating and it can change their entire experience.

And then there’s a way that people then select who they are going to go on dates with or who they’re even going to interact with. So the selection process can be really interesting to look at from a mindful lens. Like how are you saying yes to some people and no to some people? And from what part of you are you doing that?

I like to suggest to people, to my clients, that they ritualize online dating. So rather than in the middle of the day, distractingly picking up their phone and swiping left and right and doing it kind of mindlessly, to create a safe container, to maybe light a couple candles and do some breathing and then to do what I would call Mindful Swiping, which is to get into a more embodied state of attention.

And then look at people with compassion. Look at people who are on the other side of those profiles with more of an intuitive and more of a hard base perception so that you cannot just be there to judge people and see what’s wrong with them, but to try to connect and to try to viscerally experience where they’re at and whether they might have compatibility with you and send them love and send them goodness. So that’s one way to re enchant online dating.

Jodi: I love this idea of Mindful Swiping! I love it because for so many people swiping is just a rote activity. You’re waiting for your Uber, you just start swiping. If you’re busy doing other things, you’re not truly present. And you’re certainly not extending compassion or trying to get a sense of connection with that person who you’re staring at on your phone.

What you’re talking about is really prioritizing this as something that you do regularly at an appointed time, in a very thoughtful way to really beckon in opportunity, I guess.

Marie: Right! And observe yourself while you’re doing it to like, observe like, oh, how do you feel what’s coming up when you see a certain type of person? When you experience a sense of disappointment or frustration and, and why are those things coming up? And to just breathe into them and to let them exist, but to try to use that experience, to release some of it and find compassion as well.

Jodi: What you’re saying sounds fabulous. It does require someone to be hyper aware of their emotions and their reactions as they’re living them. Do you suggest people have a journal nearby when they’re doing this or some other tools…paper, pencil, whatever…to capture how they’re feeling as they go through this process.

Marie: I think that’s a great idea. I don’t know that everyone is a journaler. It really works well for some people and not so much for others. Some people just want to be in the moment without writing it down. So I think it depends on what really works for a person.

Jodi: Dating comes with a lot of wonderful life affirming connections with people, and it opens doors to new experiences, lots of positivity, and ultimately hopefully leaves to love and companionship. But it also comes along the way often, usually with rejection, disappointment, discouragement, fear. It’s a lot of heavy duty stuff. These are tough emotions. What mindset do you think people should adopt to deal with all of this?

Marie: Number one is self-care and self-love. Because when confronted with that pain with those emotions of, oh wow. Like I’m being rejected, I’m feeling discouraged.

I’m feeling fearful that I’ll stay alone or be alone forever. We have to find solace in a deeper part of ourselves. That is our own friendship and our own resilience within ourselves. So building that resilience. Form of really taking care of ourselves physically, you know, through great habits, exercise, great food, great taking care of our bodies in a way that feels pleasurable and nurturing.

And then also cultivating social networks that give us love that feed our soul on a regular basis. So I always will talk to my clients about what other loving relationships are they cultivating in their lives. Because if you’re completely alone and feeling isolated and you’re dating, you might just put so much more weight on each person that you’re dating because they are more likely to then just come into that slot of “they need to take care of my needs, all my needs” in your mind when you’re meeting them and you like them. And that can lead to disappointment very, very fast.

So having a great network, having alignment also with one’s purpose and sense of value. If it’s not in your primary career, how can you bring love and bring value in your environment, maybe doing some volunteer work. Doing some activities where you feel like you are generating value from who you are.

All of that will help you build more resilience when those emotions, that discouragement, that pain or rejection comes. So I take a very holistic approach to dating coaching also because of those emotions that are so strong. And if we make ourselves resilient to them, then our entire life becomes better and we become better partners too when we get into those relationships.

Jodi: So true! One hundred percent agree with you. I know from reading a lot about this, that people who have social networks, not necessarily, of a partner, but social networks, friends, deep friendships, they live happier lives and they live longer lives.

It’s so important to do what you can to develop meaningful connections with others, even just one or two close friends can kick-in and create that social connection and that social network that you’re describing. You talked about building resilience through all of this. Aren’t you also building perspective?

Marie: That is such a good point. Yes. Resilience and also perspective. And that’s also where the mindfulness comes in. It’s the ability to observe our emotions and not just give them the first kind of instinctual meaning that is conditioned into us.

Usually when we experienced rejection, the first meaning we give it is something of the kind of like, “I’m not worthy. I’m not enough. I’m always going to be alone.” Those negative imprints that so many of us have at the deep level.

And this is an opportunity to kind of try to reprogram ourselves and give those emotions new meanings, like, “Oh, I’m feeling rejected. It doesn’t mean that I’m not lovable. It means that we were not compatible. It means that we’re not meant to be together and it’s okay. I’m not meant to be with most people. And I can either choose to send this person love, maybe even develop a friendship with them if they’re open to it, if there’s room for that.” Learn how to have great boundaries from my end.

There’s so much to learn in that emotion. And there’s so much meaning that can be found outside of those negative beliefs.

Jodi: It’s a journey. Right. And all of these experiences comprise that journey and build out the personal experience and the richness that hopefully comes overall out of it.

Marie: Yeah. I mean, it’s about connection. I think I might not have emphasized that enough so far in our conversation, but connection is fun! This is like the most fun we can have as human beings is through just discovering other human beings and seeing ourselves reflected through them. And dating offers us that opportunity, even when a certain connection doesn’t lead to the long-term relationship that ultimately you want, the experiences of it can be really enjoyable.

Jodi: What are your thoughts about finding love in midlife?

Marie: I think it’s such a great time to be looking for love and finding love because by the time someone is in midlife, they have learned so much already about themselves and about what works for them, what doesn’t work for them, what they’re willing to put up with what they’re not.

And just like that level of self-knowledge, allows us to show up more authentically. And I think these are my favorite clients who fall in midlife or beyond who have already done that kind of work on themselves and are just ready for a more, more true, more radical kind of love. It’s not so much about appearances anymore.

It’s not about just exploring, all kinds of different people. It’s more about really being intimate and being real. So I think there’s a lot of people who would think, “oh, it’s, it’s so late to be dating. It’s so late to be finding love,” but I think it’s the best possible time.

Jodi: It is really awesome to live life in a more real manner when you’re at midlife than earlier on where you really weren’t quite sure about a lot of things. Not that you’re entirely sure about everything at this point in life, but you got a lot better sense. There’s a lot of history that helps you get there.

Marie: Yeah. You have more information under your belt.

Jodi: Absolutely! So Mindful Dating during the pandemic. Things are better now. But I’m just curious, because there are folks understandably who are still dipping their toe into the dating scene and some are still doing virtual dating. How does one go about virtual dating mindfully?

Marie: Well to come back to the online dating mindset of re-inventing the virtual world, part of it is not forgetting that there’s another sensitive and complex human being on the other end, just like you.

So, whether you’re doing online, dating on apps or virtual speed dating, which is a really great way to meet people, or just meeting people virtually through a meetup to really exercise presence. To not just kind of dismiss it as… these are just people on a screen and they’re two dimensional, but to actually get into your body as you’re doing it and to get into your heart and through really feel and remember that this is a real connection that even though you’re not right next to them, you can still experience intimacy and wonderful communication and wonderful meaning through those connections.

And then of course, the COVID environment forces us to talk about boundaries and about safety right away with people that we’re considering meetings. So it’s forced a lot of people to find more authenticity around what they want and what they don’t want, and to communicate about something really intimate right away, which is how do I make another person feel safe, physically? What do I need from that other person to feel safe myself?

Jodi: You work with a lot of different people who have a lot of different concerns and challenges. When you work with them, when you coach these clients, what’s your goal? What are you hoping they’ll come out of the experience with?

Marie: So first I want people to feel like there is some magic to be found in dating. Often times I’ll work with clients who are already at a point of feeling discouraged or feeling like, okay, I’ve been dating, I’ve been trying and nothing is happening.

And it’s a very disenchanted view of love and dating. So the first order of business is to bring back some enchantment and some hope and some positivity and some fun into that process. Just think about online dating…what an amazing tool we have to meet people not only in our neighborhood who share our exact same activities, but to meet people who might live a little further away, that we know we would not normally have met without it.

So to look at how blessed really we are with the kind of freedom that we have to date people and to use the process to discover more of who we are and to build more intimacy with ourselves.

So to bring that frame into the process that it’s not just about like, oh, I’m going to fail or I’ve failed already because I haven’t found my person. But to bring more light and more, more versions of what would be success.

Jodi: Expand one’s thinking and approach to what this is…..really see it as an opportunity, maybe more than something to get you down and make you frustrated.

Marie: Right. And then the second thing is to help folks. Really express themselves more bold. Okay, I’m going to give you an example. I had a client who was very spiritual, like he meditated every day and he loved reading about spirituality and he was very introspective, but he never communicated that on his online dating profile, even though it was one of his main passions, like he just wrote on his online profile “Oh, I’m a very stable person. I work in banking. I like long walks on the beach or whatever.” It was a very generic profile.

I asked him “Why, why, why aren’t you writing more about what really fascinating about you? And we discovered that in his family of origin, he had been shamed and kind of rejected and laughed at for his interest in spirituality.

So he had become closeted in that way. So he felt like he had to hide that part of himself, even though that was one of his main parts really, one of his main passion. So reintegrating that into his dating profile and into his communication with people allowed him to reclaim that part of himself and then approach people from more authenticity, more of his whole self.

So oftentimes that is what I want to accomplish with my clients is for them to reclaim more of who they are and to really own it as they go out there, because that creates a bigger magnet. To the people who are really going to resonate with them. So it, it is a way to be more successful in connecting with the right people, because you’re just being yourself.

Jodi: The advice and guidance you gave this client to be more authentic went well beyond his dating life. It would have spilled over into his everyday life, his work life and, and beyond, because we’re not living in silos with these different activities that we do. Right?

Marie: My dating coaching is really holistic. I don’t intend it to just be narrow about your dating life I want it to be a positive force in people’s entire lives.

Jodi: Given what you said, I’ve just got to ask you about your coaching practice. Does it expand beyond the realm of dating? Do you offer services that go beyond that sphere?

Marie: Yes. Actually more recently I’ve expanded my dating coaching practice to include relationship coaching because some of my clients got into new relationships and there was no reason to stop coaching at that point because they just started navigating new challenges with those new found relationships.

And I think that it feels so right to call myself a dating and relationship coach at this point, because relationship is so encompassing of what really matters in our lives. Some people will also see me for a more general relationship coaching, not only at a romantic level, but also in their workplace and our family and their friendships.

So life is really about relationships. I am always delighted to support people to create better, more heartfelt, more authentic relationships. Anywhere in their life.

Jodi: That is fabulous. What a terrific sign of the success you’ve had with your clients that now you’re transitioning with them to the next stage, as they enter into relationships and want to grow and nurture those relationships successfully and in a life-affirming manner.

So for listeners who are interested in working with you, what should their next steps be?

Marie: Well, I offer 30 minutes free sessions. And I would love to speak with any of your listeners who are intrigued by my work. It’s not a salesy call at all. It’s just a sample coaching session where we talk about your situation and how you might benefit from coaching.

It’s on my website at LoveInsight-Dating.com. And there you can sign onto my newsletter and check out my Instagram and Facebook where I publish posts regularly. Please come and be part of my community and have a chat.

Jodi: Are a lot of your clients have virtual clients or do you mostly do in-person sessions?

Marie: Actually, all of my sessions are virtual over zoom. So I work with people who live anywhere, anywhere, anywhere with an internet connection. Or a phone

Jodi: Zoom will help us come together anywhere in the world!

Marie: Exactly! Exactly!

Jodi: If people want to find you on social, how and where can they find

Marie: you? Yeah, on Instagram at @love_insight_dating and on Facebook at LoveInsightDating. It’s all in one word.

Jodi: Terrific! We will put all of those links in the shownotes for this episode,

Marie, this has been so fabulous and so interesting! I have learned a great deal from you. I thank you for sharing so much wisdom with me and with listeners about Mindful Dating and how being mindful can help us get to that love we are seeking and also help us expand the love we have for ourselves.

Marie: Thank you so much for having me. I love how you wrapped it up perfectly!

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