When they collide
Relationship seekers today have access to a virtual smorgasbord of potential partner options. And they are using them in ever-increasing explorations. Yet, despite those vast opportunities, they often report feeling less able to find long-lasting quality partners.
Most reach out with carefully composed written profiles. These snapshot glimpses must be simultaneously socially desirable presentations and accurate representations of who the people truly are who submit them.
Some people create these personality and behavioral presentations on their own. Others ask friends and family for input. Many now are even using professional writers, hoping that someone more objective can make these endeavors more successful. Whatever way they end up constructed, a profile’s goals are the same; to sell the writer to unknown and unpredictable recipients, hoping somehow that a quality match will ensue.
Unfortunately, dating profiles cannot possibly convey the core of who people truly are when they are more fully known. By necessity, they are written to make the relationship-seeker appear at his or her best. The limitation of space and the two-dimensional presentation leave little room to share deeper and more profound knowledge.
What happens, then, when potential partners, both presented in this mutually shared abbreviation of self, meet and begin the process of actually knowing each other? How do they reconcile what they’ve advertised with what they ultimately have to sell?
I have been a relationship therapist for over four decades and can attest that many people are becoming more concerned about how they are going to make that potential collision less likely.
These are examples of concern-statements I am currently hearing:
“When I meet someone, do I just be who he expects from my profile?”
“When she knows the rest of me, will she be disappointed?”
“If I open up my true self to the person who is interested in my profile self, will I be seen as less valuable?
“Should I just have been more honest from the beginning and taken my chances?”
As we explore, it often becomes clear that many people are feeling deeper worries that the people they meet will be disappointed in them, especially if they have faced eventual rejection, ghosting, or outright criticism in the past.
They start asking me much more profound questions:
“Maybe what I’ve proposed is better than who I truly am?
“I wonder whether or not I really have what it takes to make a relationship work.”
“I feel like I know more people than I ever have, but don’t really know anyone at all.”
“Sometimes I feel like I’m watching myself and other people like we are all part of a movie that we didn’t write.”
“I find myself telling others what I’ve done or what I’m going to do, but I am afraid to tell them how lonely I feel sometimes, or asking for what I truly need.”
“If I’m not telling the whole truth, then it’s probably true that everyone else is doing the same thing.”
These comments may be revealing something more worrisome. As failed relationship attempts pile up, they may begin to not only doubt their own authenticity, but wondering if others are feeling the same way.
Why is this happening more now?
These now-too-common self-doubts and insecurities were not always so prevalent. In the not-so-long-ago past, people seeking relationships were part of a crowd of friends, many of whom they had known all their lives. They found their intimate relationships from within this “tribe” and knew what to expect from them. Their friends were social witnesses who could observe when relationships worked or when they did not, and they held each other accountable.
So many people today, in contrast, are far from their origins and forever adapting to new social experiences and the challenges within them. Exposed to a dating world and people they do not have any way of truly being known, they must search for a potential partner from others that have also been edited for prime advertising.
Whether or not a person rebounds more easily when things don’t work out depends so much on his or her basic value of self. Every person’s sense of worth, beginning from childhood, is formed by the reflections in the eyes of others. As people go through each new relationship, they add another reflection that either creates or lessens their personal confidence in what they have to offer.
Those who were lucky enough to have the experiences that created those secure feelings of self-as-valuable-to-others have an easier time. In their subsequent adult relationships, they can more readily hold on to their own value no matter what others think. But, if that baseline of self-worth was not established, and continues to be re-challenged, it is far likely that they will feel more self-doubt over time.
Accepting that today’s dating environment is unlikely to change, what can relationship-seekers do about the collision of profile presentations and their authentic selves? How can they write a dating profile that more closely represent all of who they are to minimize a potential collision as the relationship evolves? Can they find a more successful way to do that?
If people are willing to take the risk of being fully authentic in their initial profiles, they might not get as many hits up-front, but those they do receive are far more likely to be successful over time.
Creating an Authentic Profile
There are three important steps to take:
One—Learning from Your Past Relationships
Imagine yourself in a room with every one you can remember who has contributed to your sense of self. Include everyone who was important in that way. Make sure to include early nurturers, long-term friends, intimate relationship partners, people you’ve worked with, and those in the media you have allowed to influence your sense of self.
Now pretend there is an inborn truth serum wafting into the room and those people you chose will each honestly and accurately describe your positive and negative traits. In your fantasy, be courageous in what you are willing to hear. Remember, you are in control of this exercise.
Pay the most attention to the comments that overlap from person to person. Though the outliers may be important, they will not represent the core truth you are seeking.
Then compare those positive and negative lists to how you view yourself. Where are they similar and where are they different? What feels authentic and real for you in terms of who you have been in the past, who you are now, and who you want to become in future relationships?
Two—Rethink Your Presentation
Instead of trying to look your most desirable, think instead of how the person you are looking for would evaluate your authentic self. In other words, if you were living in his or her heart, mind, and soul, what do you think that your relationship history, values, friendships, hopes, dreams, fears, spiritual beliefs, or any other significant attachments would mean to that person?
Now, write your description of yourself as you really are. What do you believe are your assets and your liabilities? Include what you feel about love, what you want in a partner, what you can offer in return, and what you think a great relationship is.
After reading your new presentation, ask yourself what would appeal to you if you were you reading your own profile.
Three—Honor Your Deal-Breakers up Front
No matter how many boxes get checked off as okay with a potential partner, there may be certain thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors that will ultimately be unacceptable in that relationship, no matter what kind of desirable positives it is wrapped in.
Even a relationship that seems ninety-percent great at the beginning, will falter over time if unbearable negatives emerge.
Make a list of the things you know that you could not tolerate over time. Go back into your prior relationships and remember what attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors you could accommodate early on, but became “allergic to” as time went on.
Recall how those deal-breakers gained momentum as the relationship bore their weight. Remember how long it took for you to accept them, as you continued to rationalize something you hoped would go away. And the arguments that recurred over and over again, eventually becoming cumulatively damaging to the relationship.
No matter how wonderful a relationship may seem at the beginning, it will not last if you compromise what is sacred to you and are willing to communicate that up front to your partner. That way, you may be able to negotiate or transform those potentially destructive interactions before the scarring is too great.
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Taking the risk to be totally authentic when social desirability may be lessened as a result, is a difficult premise for many people to absorb, let alone practice. We are taught from the time we are small to “put our best foot forward,” to gain the most and to lose the least. We try to impress and seduce by offering what we think will be wanted by the people we would choose.
But when people want love to prosper and grow in the depth and connection that long-term, quality intimate relationships feed upon, authenticity and honesty from the beginning is the surest way to proceed.
Dr. Randi’s free advice e-newsletter, Heroic Love, shows you how to avoid the common pitfalls that keep people from finding and keeping romantic love. Based on over 100,000 face-to-face hours counseling singles and couples over her 40-year career, you’ll learn how to zero in on the right partner, avoid the dreaded “honeymoon is over” phenomenon, and make sure your relationship never gets boring.