Most people think that navigating the dating game is exactly that – a game. Swipe left, swipe right, often through photos that are 15 years old in the hope of attracting Mr or Mrs Right. This kind of approach never works, says LA-based relationship expert Bella Maree Lane.
“I know from experience this is a losing strategy,” says Bella, who helps people on the path to creating healthier relationships. “Nobody enjoys the experience of being deceived, whether you are the one doing the deceiving or on the receiving end of deceit.”
In the simplest terms, one of Bella’s specialities is helping men and women successfully date again. While the ‘game’ can often be playful and interesting, she says, it can also be filled with challenges and triggers from past relationships and unhealed trauma which needs to be resolved first.
“I feel it is imperative that when we have gone through a difficult or traumatic experience – a painful divorce, betrayal, or losing a partner perhaps – that we look at and process any residual pain and unhealthy beliefs before moving on,” she says.
Rejoining the fray can be confronting. “I see the world of dating and relating as part of your personal growth journey and yes it can be fun, exciting, playful, and full of new possibilities, and whilst that is true, the quest to find love is also the most fertile ground for our personal growth. The journey is full of twists and turns and knowing how to navigate these makes the experience positive, regardless of the short-term outcome.”
Relationships are here to help us grow, says Bella, not merely to make us happy. “I also know that is not what everybody wants to hear. People want a magic key or magic wand but real life does not work that way,” she says.
The heart wound healer
Bella has learned her craft largely through healing from her own traumatic experiences – which have shockingly included domestic abuse, being stalked, raped and kidnapped, and surviving a life-threatening car accident.
Yet while her past has undeniably informed her abilities to counsel and help others heal, she strongly refuses to be cast in the role of victim. It’s also why she’s a strong believer that learning to love oneself is the first step to finding love with another.
“In my experience, the universe brings us different people and experiences to show us where we still get triggered and our triggers expose the part of us that is not yet healed. This is the gold and gift inside all relationships. Our willingness to look at ourselves and our ability to develop insight is key to expanding and attracting healthier relationships. If we don’t heal our heart wounds we are destined to repeat unhappy, destructive love and relationship patterns,” she says.
Solo to soulmate
For those who have consciously given up on dating altogether, she encourages that they contemplate their reasons. “It’s important to consider why, and it might simply be what you really want. If so, that’s perfect. However, if it’s in reaction to having been hurt, and is coming from a place of self protection and not necessarily what you want, and is simply what you feel safest in doing, then this is where your healing journey begins. This decision, whilst understandable, is often quite unconscious”.
Having helped counsel and heal over 1000 clients, Bella has just launched her new program for those looking to successfully navigate the dating game. The 5-week course, ‘Solo to Soulmate – the Path to Authentic Love’ approaches the art of dating with modules guiding people through steps to successfully enter or re-enter the dating arena.
Her new program covers healing the past, self-love, authenticity, dealing with divorce and rejection, defining your values, creating your dating profile, and identifying and changing destructive relationship patterns.
The first and most important step is Bella’s key area of expertise – ‘heart wound healing’. Her program’s first module Emotional Clean Up covers past relationships, family dynamics, and clearing techniques. Bella feels that being willing to take a look at past relationships and any possible residual pain, disappointment, and anger offers a stronger foundation on which to move forward. The second step, she says, is understanding the significance of values and commonality.
For anyone having undergone a relationship break-up, it’s all too easy to blame the other party.
“That’s not going to help,” she says. “You really have to look at your side of the street first. Then we can move forward to questions like what kind of people you want to date? Getting clear on your values, and making sure that you understand other people’s values and what’s important to them.”
Her advice is to start by identifying your own top 5 values, then consider chemistry and commonality, before moving on to explore the science of attraction.
Bella fully understands that it’s a big step to put yourself out there if you’ve been hurt, and it can be even more daunting given the importance of social media and dating apps. Authenticity is crucial, she emphasizes.
She’s also keenly aware that most people’s primary fear when entering or re-entering the dating game is one of rejection. This extends beyond the fear of being rejected to the awkwardness of having to reject another.
Bella stresses the importance of dating with integrity, not only knowing how to cope with potential rejection but also learning how to let others down gently. “Saying something like, ‘I really appreciate your time. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel that special little romantic click I’m seeking’. I encourage my clients to never criticize or make the other person feel wrong.”
The fourth module of her program, Creating Connections, also includes an invaluable segment on spotting a narcissist – by looking out for signs of covert, grandiose, or vulnerable narcissistic behaviors.
Build healthier relationships
Finally, Bella advises that it’s important for you to have your own stamp of authenticity. “You need to be willing to forgive and respect yourself before you can build healthy, nourishing relationships with others,” she says. Once you are in a place where you’re content with yourself, she adds you’re in a much better place to successfully move forward.
“Awareness is the first thing that I try to help people develop – awareness of self and awareness of others. It is also about learning to understand and define your boundaries and set healthy limits. Towards the end of my program, we discuss creating your own personal brand. The final step is feeling inspired and confident that you now have the necessary skills to attract and keep that someone special, and above all stay true to yourself.”