I've been thinking a lot lately about the way we communicate, particularly as it pertains to dating -- a relatively new world for me after a decade of serial monogamy, including a marriage.
I've been mired in conversation with friends about the texts and dating app messages and phone calls that get exchanged during this seemingly oh-so-delicate dance we call dating.
The careful selection of punctuation marks (periods are often too serious, exclamations too enthused, no punctuation too lackadaisical), the waiting hours to reply to appear busy or cool or appropriately aloof, the excruciating dissection of -- and hanging on to -- each and every word -- is exhausting. And then of course there's the lack of communication altogether, the silence a breeding ground for making up truths that aren't true.
But what relentlessly surfaces -- along with the frustration and impatience and over-analysis and questions (Will he reach out? Is her reply lukewarm?) -- is the most profound undercurrent of fear.
What if we actually showed someone that we like them? Or told them? What if we were open about what we need and want?
The thought of straight up honesty, for most everyone, is terrifying.
There's this overwhelming fear that if we show our true enthusiasm for someone, we'll lose our power. That if we ask for what we need, we'll be rejected. That if we show our true colors, we won't be liked.
And the withholding and passive-aggressiveness and game-playing that results from not just being ourselves is epidemic. And the attempt to hide our true selves endemic.
A good friend of mine ascribes quite seriously to the notion that as a girl, she should never initiate a text message. Ever.
She thinks it's a game-winning strategy. I think it's the easiest way for her to hide out and avoid any vulnerability.
"Guys are the pursuers," she explains, a fact that I concede to be true for masculine-energy men, "so they come to you. You don't have to do anything at all. You really shouldn't. Never, ever reach out," she tells me -- advice that feels more like an ominous command than a loving tip.
But wait -- this gets better. Her policy continues: "Once a text thread is initiated, the girl should only mirror the guy's behavior." For example, a girl must keep within the subject raised by the guy, and "ask him only the same questions he's asked you."
Over drinks last weekend, I shared this (asinine) policy with a guy friend. "Well, I guess that's an awesome way to manipulate someone," he replied. "I can imagine it'd create this constant fear and wondering and wanting more. But," he continued, "if your friend ever wants to have a real deep connection with someone, that's certainly not the way to do it."
Another guy friend concurred."When a girl doesn't text me," he said, "her silence tells me something. It's tells me: I don't like you."
So, it seems, in his case, the girl is sitting there wondering why the guy isn't texting, and the guy is sitting there wondering why the girl isn't texting.
Clearly, the dating game calls for a heaping dose of authenticity. And some guts.
While it seems not everything needs to be said - we don't need to gush everything right away or have intense "talks" from the get go -- we would do well to just be real. Refreshingly honest and forthcoming, in a way that invites others to do the same.
"This game playing is ridiculous," my mom has said, on repeat. She has had the distinct honor (i.e. misfortune) of listening in on a conversation or two (or 100) amongst my girl friends and is appalled at the level of spinning and strategizing that goes on.
"Just do what feels right, listen to your intuition," she counsels. "You want to send a text, send it. You want to say hello, do it."
I hate to admit that despite my better judgment and good intentions -- and my mom's pretty spot-on advice -- I found myself straying a few weeks ago. I guarded against potential vulnerability by acting out of alignment with how I really felt. In other words, I sent texts that I just wish I hadn't. And though I attempted to backpedal and just be myself, what was done was done. Alas, there isn't an "undo" button on a text message.
I felt awful.
I'm very clear now that acting against my authentic self actually feels way worse than the rejection or disappointment that may have come my way. Because I know that the reward could have been way greater than the risk.
Fundamentally, dating should be all about love and desire and fun, right? But it's so obvious that we won't really fully get that outcome if we don't have the courage to put our real selves out there. We will only truly experience meaningful connection with another when we're just our raw, real, totally vulnerable selves.
Yes, it's hard to move beyond the ego trip and the push and shove of the dating world, the fear of rejection and hurt and some inevitable disappointment.
But what is being inauthentic costing you?
Here's my suggestion.
Decide what you want. Know what you deserve. Figure out what you can't live without, how you want to be treated and who you want to be as a partner. Stand fully in yourself and your truth, and trust that the right people will come, and the others will fall away. Be the person you want to date. And be brave -- because this whole dating scene takes serious courage. But it's not nearly as overwhelming or difficult once you know and honor your truest, most wonderfully lovable self.
Alexis is the host of Borrowed Wisdom for Love -- an interview series featuring top dating, love and relationship experts. Check it out at www.borrowedwisdom.com