Anne Cushman goes undercover in the Buddhist branch of the online dating world.
This article is included in our e-book, Tricycle Teachings: Love & Relationships. For more articles on love, relationships, and sometimes a little heartbreak, become a Supporting or Sustaining Member and get the e-book for free.
THE IDEA FIRST COMES up as a joke between me and my Tricycle editor: As a newly single Buddhist mom, why don’t I post my profile on a couple of the new online “dharma dating” sites, and write about my experiences?
I find the notion both intriguing and horrifying. For years I’ve mocked the idea of shopping for a mate the way you’d shop for a book on Amazon.com (“Add This Man to My Cart!”). Once, while browsing for a used couch on Craigslist, I popped over to the Men Seeking Women section for a look, and the ads all ran together in my mind: 6-foot divorced sofa, 45, brown hair/blue eyes, overstuffed cushions, slightly cat-clawed, wants to spank you. . . .
But lately, several of my friends have met partners online; several others have had fun just going out for dinners, movies, and hikes with people they’d never have met without the Internet. According to Business Week Online, almost 5 percent of the U.S. population is now listed on Match.com. Arranging dates through Buddhist sites promises something novel: a wide assortment of potential friends, all of them single and interested in connection, and all sharing a primary interest in spiritual practice. And as a mating strategy, it probably beats cruising a Vipassana retreat.
The only problem is, I’ve never really dated.
In my mid-thirties, I married my college sweetheart, with whom I’d been best friends and off-and-on partners since I was seventeen. In my twenties and early thirties, during the long periods when he and I weren’t a couple, I had explored a series of relationships with some wonderfully offbeat men: A Brazilian massage therapist who was paying for his master’s in somatic psychology by programming computers for a 900-line in Las Vegas. A French Zen student who baked a tarte aux pommes for my birthday and offered me bouquets of homegrown chard. A yogi who invited me to a clothing-optional “love and intimacy” workshop at his Santa Cruz home that culminated in a talent show where a seventy-three-year-old woman belly-danced wearing nothing but a denim apron.
None of the connections, however, involved anything that you might call dating. We met while adjusting each other in Downward Dog, or squabbling over unwashed dishes in the kitchen of a collective house. We migrated easily back and forth across the boundary between friendship and romance. I’m still good friends with virtually everyone I’ve paired up with in the past twenty years.
After my marriage went down in flames, romance was initially the last thing on my mind. (Perhaps this had something to do with the fact that I was still wearing nursing bras.) And at this point, I’ve been around long enough to know that a romantic partner is not a guaranteed ticket to a dukkha-free life. Love, it seems to me, is a combination of serendipity and hard work. Wouldn’t I be better off using my time and energy rooting out the cause of suffering—craving—at its source? Instead of dating, shouldn’t I volunteer at a soup kitchen? Shouldn’t I focus on contemplating emptiness and interdependence to the point where I’d get just as much joy from an evening alone sorting socks as from a night making passionate love in front of a fire to Indian sitar music?
Oh, who am I kidding? “Sure,” I tell my editor. “I’ll check it out.”