Lena Mackey is a relationship coach and writer based in Perth. She believes relationships are the foundation of a good life and re-connecting to our emotions through the body is the first step towards radical self-love and beautiful, fulfilling and supportive relationships. She’s running a workshop this weekend called Dating with Soul, and we sat down with her to find out more.
What is a relationship coach? When did you decide to become one?
It is probably easier to think of what a relationship coach is not than trying to say what it is. I am not a teacher, a mentor, a psychologist, therapist or counsellor. I’m not going to tell you what to do or say, but my purpose is to hold a safe space for people who are motivated to explore deeper parts of themselves to overcome struggles or blockages in their relationships.
Coaching has been around for a long time, but has had a resurgence as a profession in the past 20-30 years. I really committed to this path at the beginning of 2018, but I have wanted to work in a coaching capacity for approximately five years when I was first exposed to it through the Soul Sister Sessions run by Amelia Harvey, a Perth based Life Coach. For me, coaching bridges that gap between psychology or therapy, and just generally wanting some guidance and support through different transitions in your life. As a relationship coach I often guide people through break ups and separations, or making that leap from being single to starting to dip their toes in the dating world. Or people who are just curious about conscious dating and understanding themselves better. Relationships are the foundation of our life.
We evolved in clans and small groups, completely dependent on our relationships for survival. But now that its possible to live alone and have your basic needs met, people forget that emotional intimacy and connection is also essential to our wellbeing.
What do you think a successful relationship entails?
When I first started calling myself a relationship coach, my Dad asked me “But you’ve never had a successful relationship before!” Hahaha and yeah, I guess it depends on how you define success. If a successful relationship is one that ends in forever and ever in love and marriage and a mortgage, which is generally the model of a successful relationship that we are sold, then I haven’t had a successful relationship. It is only the last 50 years that we have begun to see different types of relationships from the nuclear family become more accepted. I think this mould still works for some people, but definitely not for everyone. And we are confused about all the options available to us, not just in our careers and life but in our relationships.
What do you try to impart onto your clients?
As social beings, we all crave love and connection. And this is what I try and impart on my clients – whether people say they are looking for love, or ‘something fun’ or a relationship the truth is that we are all looking for the same thing – deep, expansive love and connection with other human beings. And if this is made manifest through a romantic partner, or a group of friends, the focus is on the feeling we want to create, not what it looks like.
What are the problems you see with modern dating?
Firstly, there is a myth of lost love, or that there isn’t enough to go around. On some level or another, people think ‘love’ and single, potential partners are a finite resource, especially in Perth. And I am guilty myself of thinking these things, “It’s so hard being single in Perth,” or “where are all the conscious men?” Or “Perth is such a coupled up place”. And I’m not saying these things are not true, but this is part of the story of lost love; that there isn’t enough to go around. And so as a result, people tend to dip their toes in the water by starting off on dating apps.
Why do you think people aren’t always successful using dating apps?
People tend to blame technology, but technology was created by people and so at the core of the issue, it’s still a people problem. So I don’t know if there is a ‘problem’ with modern dating as such, but there is a problem with connection. The swiping technology of dating apps makes them very addictive. Every time we get a match, we get a small release of oxytocin which is enough to keep us addicted to using Tinder, but not enough to satisfy our human need for connection.
But for me dating apps are not the problem, it’s the way we choose to use them.
People live so much in their heads, and so naturally they bring this disposition to their search for a partner. And it’s beyond the superficiality and disposability of modern dating, which dating apps and technology amplifies, to what energy we bring into the interaction. Think about it this way – you would never (or perhaps some ‘busy’ people might) go on a date with someone while on the toilet. Or when you’re just feeling bored at home. Or after you have worked 10 hours, are completely knackered, and smell like you haven’t had a shower in three days. Yet, we will swipe on Tinder or Bumble (or new on the market, the inner circle?) when we are bored, or exhausted, or on the toilet, and feeling disgusting after a long day at work. Nothing has changed about what people desire, but the way we interact has, and technology has in many ways cheapened the interaction.
Where do you think dating apps will be in five years?
Oh great question! I personally hope that dating apps have some features built into them which force people to put a bit more skin in the game. The problem with dating apps at the moment is their swiping interface turns dating into a kind of online shop and potential partners or matches become disposable.
You’re running a workshop this weekend, Dating with Soul, what does that mean?
Dating with Soul is another phrase for deeper dating or ‘conscious’ dating, which is essentially about becoming more aware of our own ‘stuff’ and how this plays out in our dating journey. When you realise that you are a direct reflection of the five people you spend the most time with, it becomes easier to take responsibility for your own actions. In my experience, the quickest way to access this understanding is through tuning into the body, not realising it in the mind. Often the parts of ourselves we are most in denial about are the qualities in other people that cause us to feel such strong emotions. When I started to focus on my own energy and emotions reactions when dating men, I came to a deeper understanding of myself, as well as the behaviour and the qualities I will look for in a partner. Rather than being a ‘waste’ of time because a date didn’t lead to a relationship, or sex, or whatever you are looking for, every date I go on now is a chance to, at the very least, learn more about myself,
What role does someone’s soul play in dictating their romantic and sexual experiences?
For 90% of people dating today, the soul plays little to no role in dictating their romantic and sexual experiences. This is because people are too caught up consuming what other people’s relationships look like. Whether it is their parents or friends’ relationships, or couple photos on social media, people try to jump from how they feel currently as a single person, to the feeling they see as only possible when with a partner. Most people are simply downloading what they have seen in relationships, rather than getting real with themselves and following the feeling. When you can start to listen to your ‘soul’, or the heart voice as I like to call it, the heart knows who is good for you, and who is not. The key to soulful dating is learning to trust this voice, not the voice in our heads which we have become so identified with being right all the time.
You advocate surrender, being raw, being vulnerable….these things are hard to do! What do you mean by this and why is it important?
Hahaha I love this question because the first thing that comes to mind is how shit the age old advice ‘just be yourself! The right person will come along’ is. Although, this is partly true because of course, if you are looking for a particular person you will eventually find them, whether you are aware of why you chose them or not. In another way its such a load of bullshit because most of us have no idea who we really are because we have just downloaded off other people’s lives and advice, and so how are we supposed to know how to just ‘be ourselves’?
The reason why I advocate surrender, rawness and vulnerability is because it is a REQUIREMENT for a deeply fulfilling life. The extent to which you surrender to your emotional pain, grief, anger, frustration is the depth to which you will experience joy, happiness and love. It requires a deep level of vulnerability just to feel your emotional body, so to reach this depth of love and joy with another person we need to go to an even deeper place to show our vulnerability. It sounds hard, and scary, and it can be, but this is what coaches are for! To hold the space for people to explore these unknown terrains of themselves.
When we can let go of our expectations of relationships and what they “should” look like, and learnt to fully surrender to the unknown perhaps something better than you could ever imagine could happen…
You also have written about how being single is not a liminal stage in your life…do you think there is pressure, particularly for women, to be in a relationship to be ‘complete’?
I think there is more pressure for women because of the elusive ‘body clock’ if they decide they want children. But I also know plenty of men who are asking themselves the same questions, who also have a deep desire to be in a conscious, loving relationship. So its not just women. Most people I know are looking for someone to save them from themselves, and by this I mean, someone else to focus on so they don’t have to face their own stuff. I did this in my last relationship and never felt complete, I just felt resentful. There is so much to be excited about when you are single and starting to date other people. For me, it’s been a chance to really understand what I want in a partner, as well as come to a deeper understanding of who I am, what turns me on without worrying about what the other person will think.
What about pressure around the concept of sexuality?
Exploring our own sexuality and what turns us on, particularly as women, is so taboo. And when we are in relationships, often we shy away from having these discussions with our partner because we are worried we will emasculate them, or offend them if we ask for what we want in bed. But what if being single was a chance to really explore this and then, when you meet someone, just tell them what you want straight up? Being single has helped me to define my boundaries not just around sex and intimacy, but in what behaviour I will and won’t accept. And if you really take the time to be joyfully alone, and choose to feel those times when you are lonely rather than push them away and focus on another person, or work, or social media, or food, or whatever you use to numb yourself with, you are putting yourself in the best possible position to find a partner who is good for you.
Alain de Botton discusses whether love is a kind of illusion, and I am still not sure. Part of me wants to believe that you can be in a relationship with someone where both people completely own their own stuff, and where there is no blindspots about that person. But I think that to be “in love” does require a sense of illusion, of blinding to someone’s less-than attractive qualities. But ask me in a couple of years and I might have a different answer!
A lot of your writing is sharing some deeply personal and intimate stories…is this terrifying on such a public platform like Instagram? Why do you do it?
It’s always terrifying the moment before I hit publish, but if I let that stop me then people wouldn’t be getting the same value out of my content. It’s also a kind of screening because the people who come and want to work with me know that we will be going into some deep stuff. I’m not going to sit there and tell them the reason they haven’t found a partner has nothing to do with them. They kind of know what they are getting into.
I think social media is starting to shift more towards this raw vulnerability. People are sick of the surface-level connection, there is so much of that out there already. They are craving the honesty, that sense of not feeling alone and that there are other people dealing with the same shit. And this is what I advocate for in dating, so in a way I need to kind of walk the talk.
Lena is running a workshop this weekend, Dating With Soul, and there still are a handful of tickets left. You can find out more about the workshop here, and you can check out her website or follow Lena on Instagram or Facebook. You can follow Karyn Clements and Clements and Fox here.
Bridget Rumball & Katie McAllister