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.