January 29, 2015
(+++) LIFE HAPPENS – AGAIN
Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love after the Big Breakup. By Susan J. Elliott. Da Capo. $14.99.
The underlying assumption of Getting Back Out There is that readers are already familiar with Susan Elliott’s previous book, Getting Past Your Breakup, and/or her ongoing blog on the same subject. Readers who do not know Elliott’s other work will not get far here – Elliott says at the start that this book is a sequel, and it is peppered with comments such as, “If you have done the GPYB life inventory, review your work.” It is theoretically possible to read Getting Back Out There as a standalone book, but its value will be much diminished on that basis. It is really an extension of what came before – in which sense it is much like some post-breakup relationships.
Elliott, an attorney and certified grief counselor who gives seminars and motivational speeches, sets out to create something that goes well beyond the traditional “just throw yourself back out there” approach to dating and hopefully finding love after a breakup. Her underlying point is nothing new: we bring ourselves, all of ourselves, to all our relationships, which means that we need to understand why we choose certain kinds of unsatisfactory partners again and again if we are going to break out of a negative pattern. This is the stuff of psychology and psychoanalysis, not relationship-advice books, and Elliott does not delve very deeply into it, although she does give some rather superficial examples of how the past – dating back to one’s childhood – can and does influence one’s adult relationship behavior.
The main point of Getting Back Out There, though, is to find ways to get over the past and forge a new and better future. Again, this is nothing new or unusual, but Elliott creates a structure that she says can help people reentering the dating scene. This is essentially a combination of understanding the past by making extensive notes about it (she uses the word “inventory” in several contexts) and deciding what you want the future to be (which involves, among other things, some rather surface-level notions, such as writing daily affirmations). One chapter subhead, “How Early Experiences Cloud Adult Experiences,” really stands for what the entire book is about. “Being real instead of putting on a show is a very difficult change to make,” Elliott writes in a chapter on sex, but the comment actually applies throughout the book.
Elliott takes readers through “the five Rs” of rebuilding (which would be a sixth R) after a breakup. They are Readiness (“make a proactive and conscious decision that you are ready to date”); Rejection (“taking a new view of rejection as something that is beneficial is important”); Recycling (“you feel as if you just broke up yesterday and all the emotions of loss come flooding in”); Rebounding (“going into another relationship right out of the old one without working through a breakup”); and Retreating (“moving back to the cocoon that you left to peek outside and see what was happening”). Elliott quotes various people, of many ages, describing how these stages feel: a large part of Getting Back Out There focuses on telling readers they are not alone by offering them comments from many other post-breakup men and women. Another large part involves frequently reminding readers that their needs, wants and desires will change over time – for example, “being ready means different things to different people, and the first question to ask is, What does it mean to me at this particular time? Your answer to this question can, and should, evolve over time.”
Elliott tries hard to provide practical solutions for post-breakup people, approaches to move life forward after analyzing what went wrong in the past. But not everyone will find her suggestions comfortable outside a protective therapeutic environment. For example, she recommends creating a sexual inventory that includes seven stages of recollection and analysis. Just one of them is: “For your last partner, write about any sexual act you performed that made you uncomfortable. Think back on other partners and list all such experiences.” Clearly some people, based partly on their age and partly on how outgoing and/or familiar with therapy they are, will find this sort of written self-inventory, sexual or otherwise, more comfortable and useful than others will. Also, Getting Back Out There is so filled with “sometimes” and “it’s okay” statements that readers seeking any sort of overt guidance will not find it here: Elliott’s whole point is to guide yourself to new relationships (or a new relationship), and that is a laudable goal. But it is not nearly as easy to reach in a careful and systematic way as Elliott suggests. For instance, she briefly discusses “emotional unavailability in both men and women” and can only say, “If you’re hanging in there with someone who has commitment issues, revisit your life inventory to see if this is a pattern and decide if it needs to change.” She does discuss the possibility of giving a commitment-phobe an ultimatum, but this gets confusing when she says “do not deliver one if you’re not ready to act” and also says “don’t deliver an ultimatum that is merely a line in the sand.”
Elliott deserves credit for tackling so many issues involved in post-breakup life and for handling them in a plainspoken way. Her repeated advice to “accept it, change it, or leave” certainly makes theoretical sense, however difficult it can be to implement while in the throes of a relationship. Her willingness to discuss everything from specific sexual issues to the right time to introduce children to a new partner is admirable. On balance, her statement that “this is a different kind of dating book” is accurate, and Getting Back Out There is a useful counterbalance to more-superficial books about dating and mating. Its heavy reliance on self-knowledge and self-exploration, however, makes it more difficult to read, and its suggestions more difficult to implement, than Elliott acknowledges. There is, after all, a reason that so many people with personal difficulties and confusions, including relationship-oriented ones, seek professional counseling instead of trying to figure things out entirely on their own.