Thursday, December 8, 2011

External Validation and Its Discontents

One of the big lessons about relationships in general, romantic or otherwise, is recognizing that it only goes well when you are able to be you, without the need for external validation. This sounds pretty basic, and yet if you pay attention to your interactions with others for any extended period of time, you'll probably notice yourself saying or doing various things, primarily out of a hope that the other person will maintain their "good image" of you.

I enjoyed this post from twenty-something blogger Cali Bradshaw. She writes:

Anyone who tells you that they have never used an interaction with the opposite sex to validate themselves, is lying. Whether or not validation was the only motivation for talking/hooking up with someone, everyone at one point or another has felt better about their life because of attention from a guy or girl. It’s natural.

I, for one, am no stranger to looking to guys for validation. In fact, there was a point in my life where I was so caught up in needing guys, that I really lost who I was. Back when I was 18/19 I was insecure about everything – my looks, my intelligence, my personality. I didn’t know who I was, and I used guys’ level of interest to define me. If a guy wanted to take me home and make out with me, then I must be pretty, funny, and smart, right?

My experiences with this have been a little different, but still amount to the same thing. When I was younger, I often lapped up any extra attention women gave me. During college and even for a good long while afterward, if a woman showed romantic interest, I'd entertain the idea of dating her, even if I really wasn't interested. In fact, my first long term relationship was built on that model. She kept showing interest. I kept considering the idea, but also not feeling enough to go forward. And then, one day, there we were together and alone, and the attention I was receiving outweighed everything else.

In some respects, I was just a young guy without a lot of experience. Discerning the difference between a friendship connection and a romantic interest wasn't a skill I had much of yet.

However, it was also the case that I rarely had the guts to pursue women I was actually interested in, had been rejected by the few I had pursued, and so was generally swamped in feeling inadequate. All of that lead to situations where women like this ex-girlfriend would enter, display an interest, and something inside of me would stir. Today, I can see that what stirred was that inadequacy, that loneliness, and the hope attached to it that so and so might be "the one," if I just give her a chance.

In more recent years, I have dropped off that whole "the one" narrative, believing that there are multiple people in this world that could be potentially great partners, so worrying about missing out on "the one" isn't much of a concern anymore. And that's a hell of a relief. Because it allows you to let people pass out of your life who might be interested, but whom aren't really good matches for you.

I'd like to say that I'm completely over the who external validation bit, but that wouldn't be honest. It still gets me sometimes, when I'm feeling down or have gone a long time without having a relationship. The repeated flops of online dating sometimes have led me down that path of reconsidering anyone who shows some interest, even despite my best judgement. This winter, I went on two dates with a woman who I had some things in common with, but whom I'm found rather combative and self-centered.

The first date should have been enough. I felt exhausted after talking with her for a few hours, and although there were some things I liked about her, I couldn't imagine us actually being together. And yet, it was January. I was still feeling down about the events that led to my last relationship falling apart. And so, someone who, at any other time I would have just said "thank you and have a nice life" to after the first date became a person of interest.

We went on the second date. Had nice dinner at a Thai restaurant and then she invited me back to her place. Had it been warmer out, I would have suggested a walk or something outside. I wasn't ready for anything more than that. But I went anyway. And it was, like the rest of the time we had spent together, a decidedly mixed experience. She complained about a situation with her neighbor for a good half an hour, maybe even longer. We made out for awhile, but it felt awkward and forced. And we stayed up really late talking, but there were plenty of times during the conversation where it felt like we were talking across each other, or at each, but not really with each other.

Over the next week and a half, we sent a few e-mails back and forth, and I considered whether I wanted to see her again. Fortunately, I was participating in a meditation retreat at my zen center, and the jolt of just being there with my thoughts and feelings for several hours a day quickly made me realize that pursuing this connection was a mistake. I didn't like her for her, I liked her because she liked me. And that was no grounds for entering a relationship.

So, you might say I'm a lot quicker to catch on to this old pattern. And as such, tend to be much more willing to remain single, and enjoy being so, than to leap into something with someone just because she's interested.


  1. This is such an important thing to realize. It really is easy to fall into the trap of just falling for those who show interest.

    I was an awkward teenager and no guy ever looked at me. When that finally changed in college, I almost felt required to go out with any and every guy who expressed interest. It was a good way to get some experience, but it really didn't result in any healthy relationships!

    I guess there are a lot of people who never stop doing this, and it probably accounts for a lot of unhappy relationships.

  2. Thanks - this blog is a great find. "Validates" feelings about wanting to let go of exactly what you're talking about. Ha.

  3. I appreciate you writing this blog topic. It is an important issue that we as a society overlook. I know I benefited from your words.

    Thank you

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