By David Ortmann, LCSW.
What is relational generosity?
It’s not picking up the check after a sensational dinner. That part is easy. What is more complicated is paying attention to what your date is saying—both the content and its meaning to them—during the meal. The food, drinks, and atmosphere are all savory distractions, but they’re incidental. The focus of the meal, indeed of life itself, is the company we keep. Otherwise, why not just stay home? We New Yorkers are famous for being quite content with the pleasure of our own company, but dating and forming relationships is about ourselves in cooperation with others.
In therapy sessions, when my patients disclose the various communication challenges in their relationships, 99-percent of the time I hear, “I don’t feel like I am being listened to.” One-percent of the time I may hear someone say, “I don’t feel like I’m listening enough.”
What do you hear yourself saying most often?
We humans are primarily self-interested creatures, and that’s fine as long as we’re willing to stand up and be real with that. It’s always about us—our jobs, our finances, our problems, our stress level, our sleep, our aches and pains—in short, our needs. It works, too. Without the instinct for self-preservation many of us wouldn’t be successful and living in New York, right?
But, our selfishness can diminish our chances at finding the relationship, the love, the partner, or partners we talk about wanting. During your initial dates with someone, focus on listening. Practice relational generosity. By tuning in, you’ll better be able to determine if your date is paying attention when you talk. Red flag for first and second daters: If your date isn’t listening to you now, they are not going to spontaneously erupt with relational generosity or active listening skills sometime later in the relationship. They don’t have to love mythology, foreign cinema, or European football as much as you do—or like it at all—to understand what it means to you.
When we talk about relationships, we often talk about what we want. Let’s not forget our needs, but let’s shift the conversation a bit and talk, for a change, about what we want to give.
In a series of forthcoming articles for Resident magazine, I’ll be discussing strategies for finding, forming, and preserving relationships. We’ll explore finding the language to ask our partners for what we want and how to share with them what we want to offer. I’ll tell you five things you didn’t know about sex, and how to begin exploring some more erotically-adventurous landscapes.
Till next time!
David M. Ortmann, LCSW
Psychotherapist and Sex Therapist