The Mating Dance

Finding your center in courtship

Hi! I'm Malcolm Ocean. Recently I got married and friends started asking me for advice on courtship. In those conversations, I found myself not only sharing personal experiences, but also applying insights from my years of research on non-naive trust (trust that respects and integrates distrust). I want to show people how to not gaslight themselves in romance so they can fall sanely in love, so I'm developing this online course to share the patterns & principles I've noticed.

Who is this for?

You've done enough “dating indefinitely” and want to get real about courting.

Who is this obviously for?

Your current situation: you have a person with whom there’s some mutual attraction and sense of romantic possibility. You might have just met last week, or you might be years in and talking about getting married, or you might be anywhere in between.

Your desired situation: stably mated for life. A commitment that you can tell is robust. Some of what I have to say applies to a wide variety of life paths (some even applies outside of romance!) but my intended audience is someone who is potentially excited to get married and/or have kids—given the right person to do it with.

Your conundrum: is this the right person? How can I tell? Are we moving too fast? Are we hesitating because of some generic fear of commitment or because there’s something we can sense isn’t a fit—or because one of us needs information we aren't getting? Can we resolve this conflict or will it follow us forever?

These kinds of questions are what this course will help you learn to answer for yourself. I don’t have the answers—I have an approach for finding your own answers and helping your partner find theirs.

Who is this probably for?

If you're still making sense of your last relationship, or you don't trust that you've really learned from what happened there, this can be a great context for getting perspective on that and being ready to move forward.

If you don’t have a current candidate person to fall in love with, but you broadly feel like you could meet that person and connect with them any day, and then you’d fit the description above, then come on in!

If you are married or have kids, but you feel conflicted or a sense of doom, or you resonate with the above conundrum paragraph, it might still be relevant. It’s… a lot more complicated, especially if there are kids. But I can probably help you get clarity!

Who is this not for?

If you can’t figure out how to get any mutual attraction with someone you'd plausibly want to court, you have a different challenge that this course does not address. Good luck!

If you already have a life mate and it feels simple and stable and delightful, you’re good. But reach out—I’d love to interview you about what your process was like!

If you're not interested in a life partnership, or not anytime soon, then stay away—this course is designed to help you get one.

What’s in the Mating Dance course :

How does falling in love work?

There’s a mysterious process that, when it completes, results in two people looking at each other and having a vivid shared sense of “you are my life mate” (and the shared future that implies for the two of you in particular, such as kids). I call this process a “mating dance”.

There are some common elements, such as first kisses, meeting each others' families, and clarifying a shared idea of the future. Each person needs different steps to happen in order for this to happen, and you don’t get to know them all in advance. But you can feel what matters to you, and there are signs you can look for at any given moment to tell if you’re dancing well or if you’re skipping steps or stepping on each others’ feet.

I want to help you notice your innate sense of how the dance is going, and to listen to that and refine it, so you can recenter when you get off-balance. This will ease oscillations and desperate clinging, which will move you more confidently towards both discovering “you are obviously my life mate” if that’s possible. And if it’s not possible, it will help you discover that and move on, rather than inadvertently committing anyway.

The foundation of marriage

Marriage, at its best, is a deep and unshakable foundation for the rest of life. And yet... divorce rates are high (not to mention rates of "in misery together").

Is there hope?

Well, to start: marriages are not a mass-produced product that just randomly breaks down half the time. They're all homemade.

So how do you ensure the marriage you'll create is one that you'll get to love for decades?

Do you heal your attachment wounds? Develop communication skills? Get better at following through on your commitments?

Those can help. But there's something earlier. The foundation of a wholesome marriage is that shared sense of “you are obviously my life mate”. If you commit without that—due to desperation or social pressures or whatever else—you end up with one of these two problems:

  1. You've committed to someone who, deep down, you don't want to be with. In this scenario, knowing what you want and communicating successfully are at odds with keeping the relationship alive. This means that while you're trying to keep the relationship alive, you'll need to systematically undermine your ability to do those things.
  2. You're with someone you ultimately could want, but aren't sure you do. This situation isn't as dire, but the hard part is that in the moment, you can't really tell the difference between it and the previous one! They feel the same on the inside. And if you can't tell, then it's just as undermining of the sense of your marriage being a trusty foundation.

Both of these are foundational issues that can only somewhat be solved by trying harder and communicating better. For how to navigate marital challenges, I recommend Passionate Marriage by David Schnarch. It talks about how to communicate what you need while acknowledging that the fate of the relationship depends on being able to resolve what's present for you, without making that into a threat. And even the healthiest marriages need this skill, because as you grow and change and learn, there will be conflicts to resolve.

But wouldn't you rather lay a solid foundation in the first place and not find yourself going uphill for years or decades straining to make it work with someone you never really got in sync with in the first place?

That's what this course is for: to give you the wisdom and confidence to navigate towards “you are obviously my life mate, and I am obviously yours” and settle for nothing less.

The format of the Mating Dance course

We’ll have four weekly 2h zoom calls where I’ll rotate through different course participants, addressing your situations live on the call, helping you learn to listen to your mating dance sense. Hearing stories and struggles from other participants can also give you insight into your own mating dance—or perspective into that thing you never understood about your ex! I'll also share some writing/journalling prompts via email.

Sessions will be recorded for participants who miss a session and for my reference as I develop writing or videos on the topic. By signing up for this course, you’ll have lifetime access to any such course as well, or future materials I make for another cohort-based course. (Although you won’t need mating dance advice forever!)

How do I sign up? Registration is closed for now but if you sign up for my newsletter then you'll also get to see more of my writing on the topic. Or just put your email in this interest form if you want to be emailed about future sessions and nothing else.

Another option is to work with me 1-on-1 (or 1-on-2, with both halves of a couple/courtship) for which you can book me here.

Here's a one-question form if you're interested:


I joined the course to help me navigate my new 5-month relationship and my questioning of compatibility with my partner. The structure of the calls were a bit impromptu but there was always a nugget of information to be discovered. In general, the course takes quite a brainy approach to mating, which was good (as that is how my brain is often stuck), but also needs some distancing after course in order to become useful (i.e., less rationalizing and more experiencing).

All in all, I left the course with a toolkit of new ideas and frameworks to evaluate my dilemmas with (e.g., don’t discard any of your wants; let them all step on the scale), as well as some sense of community and reassurance as I heard other’s stories which were either very similar to or completely not relevant to mine.

— D K

I'm still collecting testimonials from course participants, but in the meantime here's a quote from a friend:

Your framework just made so much sense and helped me see how I’d fallen into a place of believing I didn’t have agency to choose how my relationship was progressing. It gave me permission to see the situation I was in with fresh eyes rather than shaming myself for not being able to “make it work”

— Lawrence

And a quote from a client:

I've rarely had the opportunity to talk with someone with the combination of empathy, vulnerability, and insightfulness that Malcolm brings to his coaching sessions. Within a very small amount of time, Malcolm helped me to find a reframing of a situation in my life which has opened up a lot of space for contemplating, growth, and a feeling of new possibilities.

— coaching client, anonymous

Also here's a quote from my friend Visa that's not specific to the "falling in love" part of mating dances per se but is relevant:

I’ve had Malcolm sit in for me as a mediator in a conflict in an important personal relationship, helping me and my partner see each other’s perspectives better, trust each other better, relate to each other better, in a way that I think made a permanent positive difference. It’s not inaccurate to describe Malcolm as a “trust doctor”, and he approaches it in a very ecological way, rather than mechanically going through a checklist.

— Visakan Veerasamy

Questions & Answers

Can me and my partner both sign up?

Absolutely! Let me know, if you do.

Also if you’re stoked about this approach and they aren’t, that's some evidence you’re not a fit. Not that they have to want to sign up for my course in order for it to be a good match—that'd be a silly thing to say. But if you’re like “yes! I want to do this backing up in order to stay enough” thing and they’re like “that's not how relationships work”, you may find yourself having to say “well, it seems to me that I want my relationships to work like that.”

Is this relevant if I’m polyamorous?

Yes, especially if you’re looking for someone to have kids with. Mating dancing is involved in any process of getting clarity on whether to make a big commitment. If you plan to relationship anarchy your whole life then this is not the course for you. I spent

Is this relevant if I’m queer?

Absolutely. I have one or two general notions about ways in which male & female mating dances tend to differ in the context of straight couples, but those are very minor points and not central to what the course is about. Again: I'm here to help you listen to your own sense of how your dance is going, not tell you how it's supposed to go or tell you specifically what you can do to attract the kinds of people you're looking for.

Can I get a refund if I don't like it?

Of course! (within 30 days)

It's not literally "no questions asked", because I would ask you to share why it wasn't a fit so that I can learn (or improve my marketing so it's more clear who the course is for). But whatever the reason, I don't want your money if you don't feel you got what you paid for.

What if I can't make it to the sessions?

As I said, they'll be recorded, and you can still engage with the content via email etc. If you want to find out about future cohorts, you can sign up for my newsletter and then you'll also get to see more of my writing on the topic. Or fill out this interest form if you only care about the course.

Another option is to work with me 1-on-1 (or 1-on-2, with you and your partner at the same time) for which you can book me here.

What's your story?

Here are three pieces of my background that lead me to feel like I've got things worth saying on the topic of courtship.

  1. I had a committed relationship where despite some known issues, a few aspects of the connection were so compelling that we convinced ourselves to commit anyway. This is what I call “falling madly in love”. We thought it was sane at the time, but in retrospect we were both rationalizing away real concerns, rather than taking them seriously as potential dealbreakers. I’ve also noticed subtler versions of the same structures in other relationships, including non-romantic ones. We tried so hard to make it work, and while we learned a lot, it was all work and no play.
  2. I’m now in an amazing marriage that feels beautiful and simple and where the challenges feel so obviously worth it. Part of why this relationship is amazing is because we’re a much better fit, but it's also because we know we're a better fit. We took a sane approach to falling in love, based on previous messes we’ve each gone through. It’s this wisdom I’m hoping to share with you here, so that you can learn from my mistakes rather than spending so many years making your own.
  3. I have spent a lot of time staring at relational trust in general, and how it gets built and ways in which fake trust sometimes gets built instead which ends up resulting in trust breakdowns which could have been avoided if people weren’t building fake trust in the first place. Falling in love is a central case of a domain where almost everybody is looking for deep robust embodied trust at least to some degree. If you're curious about this, you can read about my Non-Naive Trust Dance framework.

I want to be very clear that while I wouldn't be putting this out if I didn't think it were valuable, I don't have a substantial track record. I can't point to successful courtships I can take credit for helping, and I've only been developing and testing these ideas for about a year, so even if some of my wisdom will eventually turn out to help some marriages thrive for decades, it's too soon to tell either way. I have my own very-new happy marriage and some friends & coaching clients who I've helped get clarity at various stages. I have my mistakes that I've worked hard to learn from. And I have a lot of not-romance-specific insight on how to not gaslight yourself.