A few years back, a group of friends and I were invited on a twenty-mile overnight kayaking trip down the Colorado River. Now, I grew up in Colorado, but I am by no means the outdoorsiest of humans.  For an HSP, the wilderness presents all sorts of potential overstimulation: mosquitos, blazing sun, uncooperative gear, you name it. But in this instance, my sensation-seeking side won out, and so I enthusiastically signed up.

Cut to the weekend of the trip, and I’m psyched I’ve made this choice.  The friends in attendance are a blast: goofy, trading stories and jokes, but also content to gape in awe at the natural wonders around us.  The moon is full and glittering on the water, the wildflowers are in bloom, and the breeze is warm and gentle. I even discover that, despite my worry, I’m not a terrible kayaker — well, at least the current is strong enough that I don’t have to do much but kick back and relax.  

Our guide, an experienced river rat, describes our landing point in vivid detail, with the stern warning that, if we miss it, it’s another seventeen miles of crowded waterway to the next pick-up point.  As morning dawns, my small crew of four has all but forgotten her directions, happily caught up in quoting comedy movies and trading snacks. We’re running on no sleep, but we don’t care.

Suddenly, though, I notice the oddly-shaped rock our guide has attempted to burn into our brains as the place to turn — but it’s BEHIND us! OH CRAP.  I stand up quickly, nearly overturning my partner’s and my kayak, and start shouting, “Paddle! Paddle!” The others spring into action, but the current at this point is stronger, moving us further and further from the break in the reeds where our van awaits.

I’ll tell you, I never thought my (minimal at best) biceps would feel as if they were actually catching fire — but in those tense moments, fighting our way upstream, with powerboats and waterskiiers in our itty-bitty wake, I learned otherwise.  That quarter-mile of river felt like eternity, and I was sore for days afterward, but we finally made it into the safety of the cove, pride and knuckles bruised.

Today I was laughing as I reflected back on that trip – because, you know, canoeing is a pretty fantastic metaphor for making changes in our dating lives.  Most of the time, we float in blissful ignorance along with the current that is our learned programming – our beliefs, our patterns, our comfort zones. We date the same type of partners, we have the same unmet needs, we go on the same ho-hum coffee dates. And that’s just fine, unless we realize that that river may not be taking us where we want to go.  

In that moment of awareness that our programming doesn’t serve us anymore, it’s as if we are making the choice to dig in our oars and turn the canoe around.  However, pointing upstream, we’re still powerless against the current, with muscles we’ve never used before, and we keep getting swept downward.

With time, effort, and energy, though, we get stronger, and learn to paddle upstream, toward whatever destination we choose.  It isn’t easy, and it’s not always fun, but the reward when we reach our goals is immense. And we aren’t stuck amongst the traffic around us that can keep us frazzled and frustrated.

That’s not to say that we won’t have days where we’re tired, or sunburnt, or just plain old stubborn and we give in to the current’s direction.  And maybe when we arrive at the cove, we discover it’s not what we wanted at all, and we change course yet again. It’s all a natural part of life.  

So be kind to yourself.  By choosing to make changes to your way of seeking a relationship, you’re making a brave and worthwhile effort.  You didn’t decide where the river’s current came from, so why blame yourself for your programming? All you can do is decide to keep paddling and see what kind of love appears on the shore.

If the idea of turning the canoe around appeals to you, but you’re not sure how, or you feel totally stuck in the reeds of today’s dating world, I’d love to help.  Contact me for a free mini-session and I’ll help you identify a new and easier way of paddling through your love life.

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