What does it mean to be authentic?
‘Oh, but you just have to know yourself and love yourself, and all the rest flows from there’, a friend told me when I explained the Dating course I was developing to her. Just work on your own wellbeing and you will find love. Society tells us to ‘be authentic’, it screams, ‘just be yourself, and all will be well’. But it isn’t, is it? And being authentic is dangerous ground to be on, because it so often borders on plain selfishness at best.
The other day I read an article about how most of us should better not be authentic, unless we’re Oprah. Being authentic also means showing your nasty bits and pieces, the character traits you’re not particularly proud of but that are very you. For example, I’m a terribly impatient person. If I would be authentic at work, nine times out of ten I would be a terrible counsellor. I need to pace myself and stay at the things my clients tell me instead of jumping to conclusions and solutions for them.
Alongside this call for authenticity in dating often comes this imperative of being a mentally healthy and stable person before you start dating. And of course, it helps to have figured out most of your own mental health issues before you add them to a relationship, because they will complicate things. But no, you do not need to be perfect before you start dating. More importantly, you shouldn’t think you’re perfect when you start dating, because you will fall into the pitfall of looking for a perfect other, looking for ‘the One’.
Now I believe ‘the One’ doesn’t exist. Shock and awe. ‘The One’ is a myth that has always been part of human history and is richly fed by Hollywood. Movies end at the first kiss, or maybe at some fairytale wedding, but never at the first fight during the honeymoon. Never when things get real, relationships get real and love is tested for all it’s really worth. Which is a big shame, because that is where it really gets interesting!
Turn the myth around. Are you ‘the one?’ If you are looking for ‘the One’, what happens when you have found him or her and it turns out you are not as perfect as you thought you were? What happens when you marry the one and they have a bad day, or a bad week, or, God forbid, a bad month? Because they’re ill, or work sucks, or things just turn out to be very different in reality than in all of your long treasured daydreams as a single?
I absolutely love the book ‘The Mystery of Marriage’ by Mike Mason. It’s an almost poetic book on the realities of marriage. Mr. Mason does such an amazing job of describing how in marriage your are confronted with the really real you. How nothing is more shaping your character than being in a close and intimate relationship.
You see, the reality of prepping yourself for dating, however valuable that can be, is that nothing can really prepare yourself for the reality of being married. The brutal honesty of waking up next to another human being and thinking ‘I hardly know you, and now I’m going to share the rest of my life with you’. That is so scary, and so good at the same time.
As a single you have these escapes from yourself. You can stay home and watch movies or play games and eat bad stuff on a bad day. You can avoid facing the world. And there is deep, deep loneliness in those days, but also a comfort in being able to hide from the face of other people. To be spared the shame of having to face a loved one and saying: I’m just having a terrible day today. And yes, if you manage to find someone good they will eventually embrace you on such a day, which is much better than the loneliness you felt as a single, but getting there is hard and asks of you to humble yourself and admit to the parts of you you don’t like.
Are you willing to face the real you? That is the challenging question dating asks you. Are you willing to admit to who you really are, both the good, the bad and the ugly? Those are questions to ask yourself in the process of looking for a date and potentially a mate.
More questions, and options on how to deal with the answers are to be found in chapter 2 of Dare to date. Enjoy reading! Take yourself out on a date and take time to reflect upon such questions. You will find yourself better prepared for your ultimate goal of being in more intimate relationships (not necessarily a marriage!).