You, New and Improved

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Definitely "Be Yourself," But Make Sure That's the Best "You" You Can Be

What exactly does it mean to "be yourself"?

Dr. Rettenberg's response to my post on being yourself rather than what you think other people want you to be makes several excellent points. First, the admonition to "be yourself" is not meant to enable denial of shortcomings that you can fix. If you're rude, for instance, this is a character flaw that should be dealt with for the your sake and the sake of everyone around you, not just a potential love. Second, the self in "be yourself" does not include incidental or temporary characteristics, but elements of your core identity. Dr. Rettenberg brings up the example of unemployment, and highlights the absurdity of saying, "I'm unemployed, accept me as I am." Being unemployed is hardly part of one's essential self: at best it's a symptom of the poor economy, and at worst it's a reflection of poor character traits—and if the latter, then the person needs to work on those for himself or herself, before considered their effects on the love life.

In general, "be yourself" means be true to your core identity rather than faking a different one because you think it will be attractive to others. But we can take it one step further and say that you should also try to the best "you" that you can be, being the ideal "yourself." Let's call our rude person Al: maybe rudeness is part of who Al is and wants to be, but more likely he didn't realize he had become that rude. Maybe there are reasons (if not justifications or excuses) for his recent rudeness, but if Al does not feel he is rude by nature, he can act to change that. "That's not who I am," Al might say, and then pay more closer to his behavior to see when and where he is likely to be rude. This doesn't just benefit any future romantic partners Al might have, but also everyone else that interacts with him—and it helps Al himself be a better person, not just in general but according to who he wants to be. You want to present the best "you" to other people, so that means reflecting on who you are and who you want to be, and then working to improve that.

When I wrote about being yourself rather than trying to figure out what women or men want, I had in mind otherwise healthy (or at least harmless) character traits that might not be in the typical dating advice book, but are nonetheless part of who you are, your basic identity, and as such should not be denied. If you're not particularly self-confident by nature (though not necessarily self-loathing either), that's who you are. As a result you'll be soft-spoken and shy compared to most, but that shouldn't disqualify you from finding love; someone will like you for who you are. Myself, I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve—definitely not recommended behavior in the "dating scene" these days! But that's who I am, and I don't want to hide that just to attract a women who wants somebody different (or for all the strategic reasons that you "should" act as romantically disinterested as you might on a used car lot).

Before you decide to "be yourself," spend some time thinking about who that is, and decide whether you are living up to your best idea of who you should be—and work on it if you're not. Once you do that, you'll be ready to show that "you" to other people, and you'll do it in the spirit of honesty and authenticity—and when you find someone that likes you, you can be fairly certain he or she likes the real you.

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You can follow me on Twitter and also at the following blogs: Economics and Ethics, The Comics Professor, and The Literary Table.

You, New and Improved