“It’s ok to be you. Actually, it’s fantastic that you are who you are. And anyone who doesn’t see that perhaps just isn’t right for you.”
As a business psychologist, coach and hypnotherapist I do a lot of work with people one-on-one, and the most common theme my clients want to work on is ‘gaining confidence’ and ‘understanding myself better so I can make better choices’ – and underlying both of these things for many is a yearning for happiness in love.
I believe that the way to achieve all these thing boils down to one simple approach: be yourself.
You and your ideal match are looking for the same thing
It stands to reason doesn’t it? If you’re looking for someone for more than just a one night stand, then by definition you’re probably looking for someone you can make a connection with. How are you going to do that? I often hear what people are looking for in others and, once you get past the surface characteristics of an ideal type, it’s deeper characteristics like ‘honesty’, ‘reliability’, ‘an ability to commit’ and ‘an ability to make interesting conversation’ that come up. And when faced with the hypothetical choice of a dishonest, unreliable fashion model vs. an honest, reliable, regular guy/girl, I’d be surprised if anyone really serious about finding someone to form a relationship with would go for the former.
So great. You know what you’re looking for. But I find that people rarely self-reflect, as most people don’t have the luxury of time to really think about themselves, their identity, their values in life and so on. However doesn’t it stand the reason that the someone out there who might have a genuine interest in forming a relationship with you is also going to be interested in these deeper characteristics? Now of course you know that you’re a decent person but how will they know that…? And what sort of decent person are you anyway? Are you inquisitive and empathetic? Hopeful and courageous? Fun and caring?
The dating goldfish bowl
Dating takes bravery. You’ve got to face the possibility of rejection. But faced with rejection we do a very natural thing: we say what we think the other person wants to hear so that they’ll like us. Friends might even have given you advice along the same lines – “make him think he’s funny and laugh at his jokes”, “say how great she looks”. In other words ‘remember that people want to be liked so whatever your date says/ does/ looks like – lie if you need to’! And liking them gets us liked back, right? Social affirmation isn’t just about Facebook buttons.
I’m not saying not to compliment people though! There’s a difference between being genuine and being unexpectedly frank about your date’s hair. Following certain social conventions is a good thing. Social conventions exist because we need easy ways of making talking to strangers comfortable and something that smooths the way ahead for deeper and more meaningful conversation. Besides, maybe it’s just your nerves getting in the way of seeing the funny side of that joke.
But dating, chatting online, or being randomly introduced to someone, are like being in a social goldfish bowl: everything is magnified. It can feel even more important to put on a good show, say the right things and be perfectly-behaved. But I think these things can get in the way.
If you’re still thinking “what’s the appropriate thing to say here…?” by the time the main arrives, then it might be time for a rethink. A meaningful connection with someone can only really come from meaningful conversation. Meaningful conversation requires ditching the cosmetic listening. In other words you’ve got to stop just listening to enough of what’s being said to be able to work out a reasonably appropriate response and stop saving most of your headspace to calculate what impressive thing you can say about yourself next. Interesting, meaningful conversation isn’t a game of trumps. You don’t have to plan in advance want you’re going to say. You’ve just got to be yourself. So if that main has arrived and you’re still thinking about the conversation, rather than having the conversation, try something different. Listen well. And open up a little.
Admittedly, you’ve got to trust someone enough to reveal things about yourself. So being authentic doesn’t mean disclosing your life history on a first date, reeling off a list of your bad habits, or going out of your way to point out a rash on your shoulder that you can’t seem to get rid of. Aim to exchange information about each other, and at a pace, and to a degree that feels right. And look for opportunities to talk about the stuff that expresses who you are, rather than just the stuff that you think others like to hear. Maybe that day trip to Bognor that you hated as a kid is an experience that you share? Perhaps crocheting is a hobby his sister has taken up? Could be that you’re both terrible spellers. Perhaps one of her clients is in film production and it wouldn’t seem that geeky to her if you mention Superman V Batman. Embrace your flaws, love your imperfections and take pride in your quirkiness. If you do, they will.
Now of course they’re not necessarily going to have a personal interest in everything you mention. But what’s interest*ing* to people is when they get to talk to someone who’s talking about real stuff. Different stuff. The stuff that’s unique to you and makes you stand out.
We all have an ideal self. There’s a self that we would like to be if we could wave a magic wand. And it can be an alluring idea to try and present the idealised version of ourselves, or at least what we think an ideal person looks like. But that’s not very alluring for anyone else. Sure, some people like the idea of ‘the chase’ – and some people like the idea of ‘playing hard to get’ – but mostly that’s a boring waste of time. If you present the real you to the world, then straight away people can relate to you. If people are trying to connect with the idealised version of yourself – a projection, an illusion – then no-one can ever be satisfied with the relationship. You’ve got to connect at some point, so why not try to do that from the start? And it takes a huge amount of emotional and psychological energy – let alone time – to be someone you’re not.
The alternative is to try to ‘keep everyone happy all of the time’. It’s doable. You just have to be prepared to lie, to keep apart all those people who know you and might compare notes behind your back, oh, and be prepared to feel very lonely. And even with all that effort people tend to smell insincerity a mile off. And assuming that you’re not attracted to insincerity, then why would anyone be attracted to that in you?
So who are you? Invest some time working that out. There’s something about someone who knows themselves and who’s comfortable in their own skin, that makes it incredibly easy to be around them – and incredibly sexy when there’s even a hint of physical attraction too. Are you an inquisitive and empathetic guy? Does that come across or can you tend to show off when in the goldfish bowl? Are you a hopeful and courageous woman? Does that come across or do you slip into moaning about the economy when in the goldfish bowl? Or are you fun and caring? Does that come across or do you become obsessed with how your hair looks when in the goldfish bowl?
Be yourself! Not everyone will get you. But then, you only need find one person to love you. So do you want to spend a lot of time and energy getting as many strangers as possible to think that you’re ‘ok’? Or just be yourself and make it easy for that someone out there to spot you more easily and fall in love with you? The irony is, you’ll probably have a lot more fun in the meantime too. Authenticity attracts.
Nigel is a qualified business psychologist, coach and hypnotherapist with over 15 years of success in the field of people development. For more information visit his site Peppermint Giraffe.