How to turn drunken sex with strangers into intimacy.
In the frenetic pursuit of romantic partnership, I found myself swiping away on dating apps, responding to unavailable men, creating a false sense of attachment by having sex too soon, and drinking myself into oblivion on one too many first dates. I’m an attractive and insightful clinical psychologist in my early thirties. Shouldn’t I have known better?
Years of online dating yielded a cacophony of initial hopes; one-night stands that were sometimes fun, sometimes gross; encounters with men who asked questions not wanting to know the answers; and an ever-growing fear that I’d end up alone forever.
My transformation began after I left an emotionally volatile and intimately shutdown two-year relationship with a man I was living with. The floodgates of freedom flew open and I let myself go loose, becoming almost reckless in my liberation. I was reclaiming a sense of my own femininity and independence in my sexual prowl, and unabashedly dating multiple men with excitement, wonder, and sensuality. I had a new identity: single thirty-something woman in San Francisco.
It wasn’t until I started to realize that my behavior was actually becoming increasingly disparate from my purported values and intentions that I unearthed a truth; I was still shut down from intimacy. I said I wanted a long-term romantic partner, someone who I could expose my raw self to, someone who could understand and be with me in authentic vulnerability. Yet I was showing up on dates already having drunk two glasses of wine only to drink two more.
I was also having sex too soon, naively hoping that would be where undying love would be born. Upon closer inspection, these behaviors were perpetuating old fears of not being enough and an old belief that I could not be seen or held if I were authentic. So in an unconscious effort to protect myself, I dated narcissists, hid behind alcohol, and had premature sex to create what I concocted to be intimacy but was actually just drunk sex with strangers.
Therapy had been there all along, and got me through the break-up and everything leading up to it. At this stage, my therapist and I worked hard to figure out that what I most wanted was to bring myself back online, cultivate a mindful stance in dating, deepen a burgeoning spiritual practice, and stop betraying myself in the search for real love.
This was profound in its conception and implementation. Dating became more fun, less anxiety provoking, less disappointing, and unsurprisingly the caliber of men I’ve dated since has exponentially increased. Another perk has been I’ve been able to more easily and rapidly let go of those not right for me.
It’s been a fluid, dynamic, and spirit-filled journey of falling in love with who I am in the depths of my core. Only through mindfulness have I been able to come to that fully, with a trust in my own intuition, needs, and desires. Mindfulness, along with concrete behavioral strategies, has allowed me to radically shift my approach to cultivating my own sense of inherent worth. I continue to pursue my path and make conscious space for the right man to enter when the time is right.
When it comes to dating, mindfulness is a heart-based stance focused on letting the experience come and go, and not getting too attached to any specific moment, feeling, or outcome. It’s allowed me to honor myself and who I’m dating, a way of saying, “I care about myself enough to be here with you fully. I want my best self to shine through, and I want to let you see that.” If the man meets me there, wonderful! If he doesn’t, that’s okay too. What matters is that I meet myself there.
It’s far less about the person I’m dating, and far more about how I’m connected to my own sense of integrity, trust, and worth. The more I’ve cultivated this stance the more enjoyable dating has been, and the more I’m able to offer compassion to myself in the face of dating’s inevitable woes and disappointments.
What I’ve uncovered is that mindfulness in dating isn’t really about getting what I want so much as it is showing up in ways that are more likely to achieve what I want. It’s also about being with the experience and myself when it isn’t what I want. It’s about noticing and honoring the hope, faith, and pursuit, and compassionately accepting the disappointments, pain points, and confusion.
It has felt so brave to let myself experience all of that.
Dr. Rachel is an Oakland-based licensed clinical psychologist who’s influenced strongly by Buddhist psychology and philosophy as well as Western evidence-based practices. Visit her at heydrrachel.com.