The advice that you have to love yourself in order to find love is a little shopworn — so oft repeated that it’s hard to feel its wisdom. But in Deeper Dating: How to Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy, psychotherapist Ken Page takes that wisdom and drills into it, helping us learn not just to love ourselves in a facile sense, but to love, respect, and use as an emotional compass our deepest selves: the places of our greatest vulnerabilities. What Page calls our “Core Gifts.”
“Core Gifts are not the same as talents or skills,” Page writes. Counterintuitively, he explains,“until we understand them, our Core Gifts are often the very qualities we are most ashamed of, the ones we keep trying to fix or hide because they make us feel so vulnerable. Yet they are also the places from which we love most fully.”
In a kind voice and with examples from his own and others’ experiences, Page teaches us that the first step to finding a soulful connection with a person who will love us for our essence is to reframe our sources of shame. Perhaps our vulnerabilities include former partners telling us we are “too intense.” Or maybe “too moody,” or “too demanding.” Perhaps we’ve heard these things again and again. Perhaps, thinking back to our childhood, we hear echoes of the same accusations. And so we have tried, again and again, to stifle or change those aspects of ourselves — all to become more palatable to romantic partners.
Perhaps what is really at the core of you, however, is passion, or deeply felt emotion, or assertiveness, or honesty. Not problems, but positive attributes.
“Through decades of practice as a psychotherapist, and from a lifetime of efforts to understand my own inner workings,” Page writes, “something surprising and inspiring gradually became clear to me: our deepest wounds surround our greatest gifts.”
There are two key questions to help you find what your gifts are. What hurts your heart the most? And, what fills your heart the most?
Approaching these questions casually won’t work. Take them lightly and you’re likely to miss the point and just keep on doing what you’re doing, which presumably isn’t working or you wouldn’t be reading a book like this. And so Page devotes the first part of the book to discussion, exercises, and meditations to help us see what our heart wants to tell us.
Page then leads us to recognize ways we might have entered relationships based on our need to shield and protect our gifts, rather than share them — what he calls attractions of pain versus attractions of love.
For example, if we’ve been told we’re too intense, do we choose relationships that force us to stifle our passions so as not to reveal this alleged weakness?
Once you’ve done all this hard work, the book continues with strategies for taking your new awareness into dating. Page provides tools and suggestions for meeting potential mates. Next, he helps us stay on course, rather than panic and pull away in the early stages of a relationship, when things start to get uncomfortably close to our Core Gifts — and, of course, their attendant old wounds. Alternatively, he helps us remain patient and open if we find ourselves discouraged in the pursuit of that special person.
Deeper Dating is a whole program, with diagrams, lists, journaling tasks, and meditations. Page recommends that you to find a partner or work with, and consult friends about patterns they’ve recognized in your relationships.
As you might imagine, you’re bound to hit some hurty spots as you start to look clear-eyed at yourself, and — perhaps most terrifying — to solicit feedback from others. But the end result, Page assures us, is learning to recognize and avoid relationships that don’t honor our deepest selves. Learning to settle for nothing less than a person who cherishes our essence.
The book is an exhaustive and somewhat exhausting program, even a little overwhelming. I can see where having a partner to work through it with would be helpful, if just to keep you accountable. But although I didn’t dive fully into the program and exercises (plus, I’m too married to date), and despite decades of rummaging around in my own psyche, Page still led me to some epiphanies about my own vulnerabilities-cum-gifts and blind spots.
Even if you don’t go all out with the program, Deeper Dating still offers compelling ways to think about yourself and your relationships.
Sophia Dembling is author of Introverts in Love: The Quiet Way to Happily Ever After.
Deeper Dating: How to Drop the Games of Seduction an Discover the Power of Intimacy
Shambhala, December 2014
Paperback, 288 pages