EvolvEd intern Annie Wang sits down for a conversation with dating and relationship coach Varsha Mathur. Varsha uses an ontological method of coaching to unpack deep-rooted beliefs and automatic behaviors which empower her clients in their pursuit of love. Read about her thoughts on finding your ideal match, dating apps, dating shows, and what coaching looks like on EvolvEd!
AW: Why did you decide to become a dating and relationship coach?
VM: I really found that women especially were being forced to make decisions for themselves based on what was happening in society and what people tell them and all the different things you hear you have to be like. I found myself in the same position, and I just wanted to create a space for people to actually feel empowered to be themselves authentically and to find people that really click with them and not feel like they have to settle. And same goes for people in relationships already, like really creating a happy, healthy relationship where they can really be themselves and they can also ask of their partner what they need to ask and also connect with their partners in a way that is not just empowering but also good for both people.
AW: I saw on your profile that you used to be a lawyer. I was wondering if you worked with couples in that work as well?
VM: I did do a little stint in family court as a clerk, but what I draw from the most is my work as a mediator in the foreclosure mediations where families would come in, and we would discuss a lot of their personal stuff that was going on financially. And mediation skills are probably some of the things that I’ve used in my personal life as well, just being able to sit down with a person or a couple and get really deep into what’s going on and what the issues are, what the stops and challenges are. Not many people are willing to have conversations that really need to be had in order to really break up the cycles and start something new and create something more for yourself.
AW: I agree with that. I think sometimes I’ll see certain situations happen and it’ll be resolved on the surface, but I feel like it’s always one of those patchwork, sweep-under-the-rug solutions, and I know the issue’s probably going to resurface in a couple of months in just a different problem.
VM: Yeah, and what I love about coaching. It isn’t just the stuff that’s going to solve today’s problem. It’s real transformational work that is for you to have forever that can really create everything you want in all aspects of life.
AW: What do you think are some hallmark qualities of a healthy relationship?
VM: Number one is communication. Being willing to say what’s needed but also being willing to listen to what needs to be said by the other person. And then trust and respect which I think go hand in hand. If you trust someone, you will respect them and if you respect someone, you will trust them. And finally, just really seeing people for their greatness. Even when someone is at their worst, there is something inside them that is beautiful and powerful, and that is really what you’re there to connect with. And to not let circumstances interfere with that.
AW: That makes me think of the phrase “If you can’t handle me at my worst then you don’t deserve me at my best.”
VM: Well, what I’m actually proposing is that even at your worst you can be your best. That really resonates with me.
AW: Is there a typical demographic that you work with, whether it’s couples of a certain age, gender, background?
VM: I like to say that anyone who is willing to be in love and stay in love is who I work with. But I typically see people who are in their late twenties all the way into their sixties. Just because at various stages in your life, things happen. Whether you’re single or you’re in a relationship. I find that people in their twenties are experiencing one thing and then in the middle of your marriage there’s something else and when you’re empty nesters there’s yet another thing. And so it is kind of broad who I can work with but within each stage of your life, there are typical things that I tend to see. I know a lot of South Asians do resonate with my personal story just because I’m divorced and remarried and I like to shoot down a lot of stigmas and taboos that society puts on people, especially women. I am really passionate about working with women so that they feel like they can have everything that they want and be everything that they want.
AW: What do you think is the greatest challenge to finding love in the modern age of dating apps like Tinder and online dating?
VM: The greatest challenge is two-fold. One is to not let the last person that you had a bad experience with affect the next person. And the next thing is the “Oh there could be something better” syndrome which is affecting everyone because there are so many apps and so many profiles. The opportunity to just be like “Ehh this person is not clicking with me, let me just see if anyone else in my area to go jump and have a quick drink with.” It prevents us from just getting to know anyone beyond the nerves and beyond the first impression. It’s really, in my opinion, just so unfair to judge someone on one or two dates when there’s so much more depth to every individual.
AW: I feel like a lot of people talk about the desensitization on Tinder where you’re just swiping and it just becomes very superficial when you have less and less regard for each person as a person once they become images.
VM: And the apps are designed for you to stay on them and for you to want to continue to swipe and see who you match with. That’s like a proven thing among the research on their algorithms, and so it’s a trap. It’s a really dangerous trap and if you don’t have a gameplan and you’re not very clear on who you want to be with, how you’re gonna approach your dating life, it can be a really bad cycle that just keeps going on and on, and you never end up clicking with people. That’s kind of why I’ve created my coaching program is to say “Hey, let’s stop that vicious cycle” and really create a way for you to get this ideal partner.
AW: Do you watch any dating shows such as Dating Around, Love is Blind, or The Bachelor?
VM: Yeah, I haven’t watched The Bachelor in a long time (mostly because it’s cable). I have watched Love is Blind and some of Dating Around. So yes, I have watched them. Is your next question what my opinion is on them? Because I have opinions.
AW: Yeah, I’m curious because I have a couple of girlfriends who love shows in this genre. I don’t like The Bachelor as much since it titters into reality TV and competitive gameshow territory, but I watched some of Dating Around this past weekend which I was surprised by how organic they were able to make the show feel even though it is filmed. I think it’s also such a contrast to what you expect out of these shows with the amped-up drama. But I guess I wanted to hear your thoughts as someone who’s coaching dating in real life and what you think about these media portrayals of dating.
VM: I like what you said. It is more organic than the typical reality show that tries to boost the drama, but the problem with these shows is that when people do things that are disempowering, that are not useful in a dating setting, they’re actually just reinforcing those things for people who are watching by making them acceptable. Like when people are self-deprecating or when there’s people insulting people or slut-shaming or whatever–I mean there’s such a variety of what can go on in these types of shows. It makes it okay because you end up saying, “Oh well that person did it, it’s on TV so it’s okay.” Not saying that all of what these people are doing is wrong, but my concern is that showcasing those really intimate moments that people have on dates, it just–it almost makes you think “Oh was I supposed to do it that way?” and there’s no right way. So it just keeps people from being natural and organic in the moment in real life because now there’s a way you want to be because you saw your favorite person on that show being that way. I mean, there’s plenty wrong, but that’s just one thing that comes to mind.
AW: Yeah, I’ve never really thought about the potential of learned behavior with dating shows as examples.
VM: Yeah, I mean it just crushes my heart when I hear people saying, “Well that’s just dating–that’s just the game, I’m just playing the game” or “That’s just how the men are, that’s just how the women are,” and it’s like where are you getting this? And yeah, some of it is personal experience, but a lot of it is when your friends just emphasize the same story, and that’s really not healthy behavior for anyone because it really just reemphasizes the bad stuff.
AW: So you talked about this a little bit earlier with your South Asian identity, how do you think your personal experiences or perspectives might frame how you coach others.
VM: Well, I think what I’m most proud of in my life is all the transitions I’ve been through both professionally and personally. You know, changing careers now three times–all for good reasons–going from law to running a management company to now being a coach, you learn so many lessons along the way and you make so many mistakes along the way and that just makes you stronger, makes you more certain about things, and it also allows me to understand when a client is going through something similar. Not to say that everything is the same for everybody who goes through it, but to be like, “I get the uncertainty of life” and I’m willing to have a conversation around what you might need knowing that you don’t know what tomorrow might bring. And kind of the same thing with my personal life: being divorced, dating again post-divorce and all of the stigmas and taboos that come with that, having been through the online dating world no matter what stage you’re at–it’s really daunting, it’s really frustrating. I just love being able to share my personal stories with my clients so that they feel like I know where they’re coming from but also so that maybe something I did will turn on a lightbulb or maybe it will be like “Oh, I won’t do that” if she did that. In whatever way that it helps, I’m willing to share. I really wish that more people would share what they’re going through and what they’ve gone through so that we could all connect and feel that we’re not alone.
AW: I was curious about what you think of the current situation with online rhetoric of “finding love in the pandemic” and how people are either creatively approaching their new long-distance relationships or approaching meeting people without any ensured time in the future when they could actually meet up. So I was wondering how COVID-19 has impacted your work?
VM: Well, in a couple of ways it’s kind of two extremes. In one extreme people are like “Oh my gosh this is an opportunity for me to be introspective, see what’s going on, and reset my approach for dating for when I can get back in the game and things are back to normal” and then a whole other set of people are using this opportunity to take themselves out. And all that does is prevent you from meeting the right person, starting the rest of your life, because most people that come to me want a future with a long-term partner, and being able to say, “Oh well I can’t go out, so I’m just gonna put it aside” is like allowing your fear to play out and not confronting the fears and uncertainties that come with dating. I personally believe that there’s plenty of opportunity right now to meet the right person. Again, it’s all about having your approach, having your game plan.
AW: How would the structure of an EvolvEd session look like with you?
VM: Typically with me, clients work on a contract basis so we have regular conversations every week, but with EvolvEd you can just sign on for one particular subject and so what I’ve done is created specific topics and exercises that we would do during that classroom session together and that way we can tackle within that hour or an hour and a half–some of them do require an hour and a half because we’re not talking about light subjects here. Sometimes it takes me a good 15-20 minutes to understand what you want to get out of the conversation and out of the session and then we can more effectively put the exercise into use. And then some people may want to just instead of an exercise use the general coaching for a specific matter and for that my coaching has no template, it has no prescriptive measures. It is really always going to be tailored towards what you want to get out of it and what’s going to be more useful to you and what are you going to be able to walk away with that’s actually applicable in your life because what works for you may not work for someone else.
AW: What is a superpower that you would want to have?
VM: If I had a superpower, I would want it to be something that just allowed me to look someone in the eyes and allow them to feel loved. I just feel like love is so needed in this world and as a love/dating/relationship coach, it is absolutely my intention to let people know that they are worthy of the kind of love that they deserve.
Sign up for a coaching session with Varsha at evolved.live! Varsha is offering sessions for singles, couples, and life coaching.