Most people begin their dating relationships by putting their proverbial “best foot” forward. We do this to entice the other person to like us and possibly fall for us. If the relationship succeeds the courtship typically declines over time as the routine sets in. The months may turn into years and eventually one or both people may claim, “You’re not who I thought you were.” Of course not, how can we possibly know each other when we’re selectively hiding particular aspects of our being?
Putting your best foot forward makes no sense in light of the fact that over time, your true self will surface. Wouldn’t it be more sensible to present your genuine self and not worry about someone else’s judgment? When we manipulate or alter ourselves out of concern for what others will think, we abandon our authentic self-esteem and invest in what I call other-esteem. This is not only ruinous to our actual self-worth it is nonsensical in terms of the relationship itself. Two people doing a dance around authenticity doesn’t augur well for a successful relationship.
From my professional experience – as a therapist and marriage counselor – it takes as much as two years of being in a committed and emotionally intimate relationship for a couple to reasonably feel that they know one another. Yet, very often, the pledge of commitment occurs prematurely for the other shoe hasn’t yet dropped. So what are we committing to? Who we’re pretending to be? This is a prescription for disaster and accounts for a large percentage of failed or unhappy relationships down the road. In fact, emotional intimacy requires removing the masks and disguises that we wear which obscure our genuine self.
A client of mind shared the following story: He met a young woman for lunch on a prearranged blind date. He said he had a really nice time, found himself emotionally and verbally engaged and quite attracted to her. I asked him if he thought she felt similarly. He happily indicated that was the case, as far as he knew. Yet, there was something nagging at him.
There were aspects of his life that he felt she would be judgmental about. I explored this with him and helped him consider that he might be constructing a problem where none existed. His inclination was to hide those aspects of his personality and his past that she might scrutinize. I suggested that he do just the opposite. I encouraged him to reveal his true self. What did he have to lose? If his fear was justified and she disapproved of him, why delay the inevitable? Did he want her to like who he was pretending to be or who he really was?
On their next date, he freely shared stories about himself that he otherwise would have kept hidden, for fear of her scrutiny. He reported with surprise and delight, that she not only accepted the cloaked parts of his persona, but, was actually intrigued by them. When we defend against our insecurities and put our best foot forward, masking what we feel vulnerable about, we betray our authenticity and self-esteem and sabotage the future of the relationship as well. Being thoughtful, considerate and sensitive shouldn’t be confused with hiding aspects of yourself that you feel tentative about. You owe it to yourself and the future of the relationship to embrace your discomfort and reveal your genuine self.This is the wellspring of an emotionally intimate relationship.
Mel will be teaching a live, interactive videoconference series, Learning the Tools for Successful Communicating, beginning Feb. 12th. To learn more, please visit melschwartz.com/upcomingevents.html. To receive Mel’s next article in this series on communication, please join his mailing list. Mel also offers Skype, FaceTime, and telephone sessions.