Monday, April 21, 2014

Just Be Yourself?

I've seen a lot of posts lately that boil down to lists of dating advice that "have to go." Artificial times seem to be high on all these lists, and even making a suggestion that they might be helpful sometimes doesn't go over well. Overall, I tend to agree with much of what's being offered on these lists. At the same time, they often feel like shooting fish in a barrel.

However, I found this point in DrNerdLove's current post about the advice to "Just be yourself" pretty interesting.

The problem however, is that “just be yourself” is inherently bad advice. Being authentic is one thing – that’s something we all should be doing. But “just be yourself” is about not changing, period. And sometimes, quite frankly, being yourself is the problem. It doesn’t do you any good to “just be yourself” if you suck. Being told to be yourself means refusing to change, even when your current self is what’s holding you back. I’ve lost track of how many people I’ve known whose “bad luck” with women boiled down to something about themselves – something that was well within their ability to fix.When I’d point out their issue: a shitty attitude towards women, an unrealistic expectation of relationships or just plain being a selfish asshole – they’d come back with “well, women should love me for who I am. I’m not going to change just to please people.” Then with their very next breath1 they’re back to wondering why women don’t like them.

One thing I've grown to have disdain for is how much of the general dating advice scene is about how everyone is so dysfunctional and how the path to finding love is either one of learning how to navigate through all sorts of horrible, predatory people, or it's about following someone else's supposedly "foolproof" plan. There's something really disempowering about all of that.

When I see people acting really resistant to ideas and suggestions that might actually be quite helpful, I'm reminded of my own resistance back when I was in the dating market. It's not just whether something is "good advice," but it's also how it's delivered that matters. In fact, I'd say how it's delivered matters more. And also timing.

DrNerdLove's comments point to a fair amount of this. First off, he's absolutely right that giving that kind of advice to some people is awful. Because it just reinforces their sense that the problems are outside of themselves. Secondly, his tally of men in this case, demonstrates that timing matters a lot. Even if he gave the opposite advice to these guys that they needed to drop the shitty attitude and change their behavior, odds are plenty of them wouldn't have listened. In these cases, "Just be yourself" is reinforcing what they already believe. Namely, that they're trying to navigate through a field of landmines, and mostly are getting explosions from messed up people in return.

Overall, I think DrNerdLove is rejecting "Just be yourself" because it's too vague. Which is fair. However, the subtle distinction he makes between that phrase and "Just be authentic" is probably lost on many people. I'm not really convinced that using the word "authentic" would trigger self reflection on ways someone is acting poorly or negatively. He needed an entire post himself to unpack the difference, which to me suggests it's not the particular phrase, but more that advice needs to be more specific and detailed as a general rule.

So, more to the point from my end, the biggest problem with "Just be yourself" is that who you are in the world isn't static. Telling people to just be themselves tends to reinforce the stories they have about themselves, regardless of whether they're positive or negative. Which in my opinion, isn't terribly helpful to entering into a dating situation with fresh eyes and openness not only about another person, but also who you are, and how you might be in a partnership with someone.

Along these lines, DrNerdLove says in his second post:

he concept of “You” is far more fluid and malleable than most people would think. We change who we are – who we truly are – all the time; after all, we’re not the same person we were when we were 10, or 20, or 30. We are constantly being shaped and moulded by our experiences, our beliefs, even our day-to-day experiences. A bad break up can leave us bitter and resentful and mistrustful of others while a sudden shock – a near-death experience for example – can inspire us to live life to the fullest instead of taking everything for granted.

Of course, none of this means that the goal is become chameleon-like. There are plenty of things about you that aren't going to rapidly change. Furthermore, those people who do rapidly change to try and fit in and be loved all the time are pretty awful partners. And sometimes damned scary in fact.

However, it's really helpful in my view to learn to hold everything you think about who you are and what you're about in the world a little more lightly. Because holding on too tightly to self-identity is probably one of the biggest roadblocks in dating and relationships. Which is why even if someone needs to be more authentically themselves while dating, "just be yourself" isn't terribly helpful advice.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Dating Notes from a Former Nice Guy

Photo credit: anitapeppers from

I used to be a Nice Guy. Not kind, generous, open, and honest. But "nice." The one many of the dating experts warn you about. And yet, too often, you still fall for because ... well, he's just so damned nice.

So, here's what was true about me. I was desperate to be liked. I was afraid of hurting anyone. I was friendly and agreeable. I listened well. And once I had my first girlfriend, I didn't want to be alone.

Except that, I also wanted "space" a lot of the time. I shared my thoughts and ideas, but not really what I was feeling. I was afraid of conflict, and the possibility of loosing someone as a result of conflict. If I was upset with a girlfriend, I'd stuff it until I couldn't take anymore and then would blow. Not violently, but more of an unleashing of a litany of wrongs she had done - and which I'd kept tally of, but hadn't mentioned until then. I took almost everything that happened in the relationship personally, even though often whatever it was had nothing to do with me.

I was, throughout my teens and 20s, depressed more often than not. I had no idea how to ask for what I needed, and was afraid that if I did start asking sometimes, I'd be considered "needy" and ultimately get rejected. The joke is that although I presented myself as almost selfless, and generally did give a lot - both in my relationships and in the community - I also was pretty needy emotionally. However, instead of getting those needs met directly, I'd occasionally suck energy from folks through over the top ranting, or I'd get my needs met through sideways asking that probably was more manipulating sometimes.

Now, the thing is that despite all of that, I was fairly well liked. I had a good circle of friends, got along well with co-workers and classmates (when I was in school), and generally was a productive, engaged member of society. But something was off. I wasn't quite real or authentic. And as a result, many of my relationships and dating experiences weren't so great.

What happened? Well, a lot of things. I began a serious yoga and Zen meditation practice. I had a long term relationship crumble in a way that exposed many of my "Nice Guy" flaws. I decided that I'd use my online dating experiences as opportunities to take risks. And eventually, I committed to being myself, and letting the chips fall as they may.

Let's consider the Nice Guy in more detail now. Here's a good list of traits, from an article exploring the nice guy stereotype.

They believe that if they are good, giving, and caring, that they will get happiness, love and fulfillment in return.
They offer to do things for a girl they hardly know that they wouldn’t normally do for just anybody else they know.
They avoid conflict by withholding their opinions or even become agreeable with her when they don’t actually agree.
They try to fix and take care of her problems, they are drawn to trying to help.
They seek approval from others.
They try to hide their perceived flaws and mistakes.
They are always looking for the “right” way to do things.
They tend to analyze rather than feel.
They have difficulty making their needs a priority.
They are often emotionally dependent on their partner.

Now, say you're out on a first or second date. And perhaps you're wondering how to discern the difference between a mature, kind man and a Nice Guy.

Here are some questions to consider.

What happens if you disagree with him on something? Does he rush to agree with you?

Does he seem "too perfect"?

Is he overly quick to offer to help you with some issue that no other person who barely knows you would? Or is he overly giving right off the bat?

Is most of your conversation about ideas and intellectual interests?

Does he seem to be seeking approval from you a fair amount of the time?

These are all questions based on the traits above. Here are a few more, based upon how I used to be.

Does he paint himself as the underdog much of the time, in order to seek sympathy?

Does he struggle to make eye contact with you when talking about anything more serious?

Does he shut down, go quiet, or change the subject when emotional topics are brought up?

Of course, none of these alone mean a whole lot. But if you've got someone who fits several of the patterns these questions are getting at, then chances are you're dealing with a Nice Guy.

I could say more, but I'll stop there. Thoughts? Anything to add?

Monday, April 7, 2014

How Your Dating Conflicts Are Sometimes Mirrors from Your "Distant" Past

Photo credit: click from

The issue of communication in a relationship is often tricky. Each person has their own style and needs, which sometimes conflict. However, sometimes the conflicts are about something deeper than just basic differences, such as in this post from a yoga practitioner who's blog I've been reading for awhile now:

I've been unhappy with the lack of communication I had with the bf. We barely interacted besides funny cat pictures he occasionally sent me, so last week I decided to tell him that either we see each other more often, or he calls more often, or I wouldn't see him this weekend.

Worst. strategy. ever. He got furious, started listing everything that I have ever done wrong, how I stress him out, and now it's zero communication.

I realized we probably already interact more than he's comfortable with, which is ridiculously little by any normal standards (we might as well be in a long-distance relationship even though we live in the same city). I started browsing through a thousand articles about men and why they stonewall women and how to get them to communicate more and stuff. I already tried to mentally prepare myself for the worst case scenario - our break up, but it was still very painful.

Now, this situation doesn't sound terribly promising in my view. She's thinking that he's at his limit in terms of contact, and yet in between seeing each other, they're only sharing cat pics? Seriously, not good, no matter how you slice it. However, there are some details missing that might make an assessment easier. Such as how often they see each other, and also how long they've been dating. So, let's move on.

The most interesting piece to me is in this additional paragraph:

My dad also has a style of rarely talking or discussing things, but it suited my mom because she likes to have complete control over the family and he lets her shove him. She treats him like a small child: she tells him when he needs to put on more clothes; she decided that he should retire early and we should move to North America; she signed me up for all sorts of extracurricular activities without ever discussing with me or even informing me beforehand and made him drive me to these classes while I was young. He put up with all this and never complained much.

Over the years, I've noticed how I have attracted dates and partners that reflect traits of my parents. Sometimes, this is a positive thing, such as finding someone who has my mother's general optimism about life. Other times, though, it's been a major source of conflict, like in the situation above. The unresolved difficulties you had/have with a parent can be mirrored in the person you're dating, giving you yet another chance to face and resolve things, or get tripped up by them.

How we communicate and connect with each other are often driven by old patterns from our formative years. It takes a lot of deliberate focus and effort to overturn such patterns, and to operate from your own ground, as opposed to that which allowed you to handle your childhood years.

My own pattern of heavy self criticism around mistakes, given to me by both of my parents to some degree, needed to be shaken out of me over and over again. In terms of dating, I was prone to finding other perfectionists who triggered my sense of internalized shame around screwing up, even in the most minor of circumstances. It really wasn't until a few years ago, when I dated someone who's streak was so strong that after a month or so of going back and forth between fighting with her and going along with whatever to not upset her, I realized this was old, old stuff. That I would never be "good enough" for her because she didn't think she was good enough herself. All the controlling, endless analyzing of any situation that didn't go well, or how she wanted it to - all of that was just a variation of what I was prone to doing.

Needless to say, that relationship didn't last much longer, but ever since then, I've found it easier to identify the "not good enough" narrative and let it go.

How about you? Have you seen these kinds of issues in your relationships?