Have you ever gone on a first or second date with someone, and just not “connected,” even though you really wanted to?
That happened to me over and over, until I finally figured out some good news and some bad news. (By the way, I’m a woman who dates women, but I think this pretty much applies to all genders and orientations.)
Here’s the bad news: What we find “out there” is pretty much always a reflection of what we’re giving.
Now, the good news: When we learn to show up with the beautiful, deep, vulnerable, self-responsible “realness” we seek, we can magically elicit that same level of authenticity from others. (No, not from everyone. But from many people – more than enough!)
Finding “truth” in dating is a hard sell for many of us. We often go reflexively into “performance mode” when we meet a new person. The more we like them, the more we perform, and the further we get from ourselves—and therefore from real connection with the person we like, too!
In contrast, if we can actually take the risk to say what we’re thinking and feeling right there and then, we can open up a whole new set of possibilities. At least, that’s what I’ve discovered.
Here’s some examples from personal experience:
Years ago, I went on a hike-date with a woman who seemed promising. She was a writer, she was smart, she was funny, and I was attracted to her.
But as we walked, she just kept talking on and on about herself. Every time I made a comment, or tried to interject something about myself, she’d launch into another story.
At first it was okay, because her stories were interesting. But as the walk went on, I started to feel (and wonder) some other things:
Does she always just go on and on like this? Is she really that conceited? Is she just nervous? Does she just not like me? What gives?
And as more time passed and the dynamic didn’t shift, I thought: If this is how it’s going to be, I don’t want to date her.
What’s wrong with her? Doesn’t she notice she’s hogging all the conversational space? Why doesn’t she know how to listen? Does she even know I’m here?
And as more time passed, a familiar litany started up in my head:
What’s wrong with me? Why do I always end up with women who don’t know how to listen? Maybe I’m too picky. Maybe I’m destined to be alone.
What was I doing on the outside while all these thoughts, fears and frustrations were going through my head? I was nodding, smiling, being polite, saying “Mmm-hmmm,” and still occasionally trying to get a word in edgewise about my own life, too.
What I was not doing was being real.
I wasn’t taking the risk to tell my date what I was thinking or feeling. That means I wasn’t even giving her a chance to go deeper with me. I was giving up at the starting gate.
And I wasn’t sharing authenticity that I longed for with her.
How many times have you found yourself in a similar situation? And how many times have you broken through it by getting more real yourself?
If your answers are “A lot” and “none,” you’re definitely not alone. Most of us simply don’t know how to get that honest, especially with someone we don’t know well.
Yet how are we ever going to get to know someone well, if we don’t get honest with them? It’s quite a conundrum! Let’s take a look at what I might have said on that date:
“You know, I’m starting to feel really confused and kind of sad, because I find you attractive, but it feels like our conversation is just going one way—and I’m really not sure why, or how to change that.”
“You’ve got a lot of great stories, but I would really like it if we could switch gears and talk about what’s going on between us right now. I’m finding myself starting to have some familiar thoughts and feelings that are keeping me from really being here with you.”
“I was really looking forward to this date, but I feel like something isn’t going quite right for me in our conversational flow, and I would love if we could talk about that together and try to change it. Would you be up for that?”
In each of these statements, I’m working hard to use “I language.” “I language” is when I try to talk about what I am feeling, rather than make accusations or assume I know what’s going on for my date. When we make “I” statements, it’s easier for someone else to hear us, and it makes it less likely that she’ll argue or get defensive.
By talking about what I feel and want, I am being vulnerable and real. I am offering my date a chance to go deeper with me, if she’s able and willing.
As I said before, some people won’t choose to take you up on that offer. But some will. For most of us, all it really takes is one.
When I met Michelle, my beloved of eight years, I can still remember a few key moments when I took these kinds of risks. She followed, and we connected much more deeply because of it.
Sometimes it was by email (which is easier for some of us). In fact, that’s how I told her I loved her for the first time!
Other times it was in person. Once, it was when we were in bed and things just weren’t working well for me. Another time, it was when I was having some doubts about whether we should keep seeing each other (I was afraid she felt more for me than I did for her.)
Every time I took the risk and told her—in an honest, vulnerable, present-moment way—what was happening inside me, she met me there.
That’s a huge part of why we just celebrated our eighth anniversary, and keep growing and going deeper together every day. It can be really challenging to be this honest. It definitely takes going against a certain kind of habituated grain, but the results make it all worthwhile.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Lizzie Kramer / Editor: Renée Picard
Photo: Debbie Sloan / Pixoto