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“It was the best first date I’ve ever had,” he said as he asked me for a second.
I put on a white leather mini dress and added curls to my hair. Over martinis, I laughed at his jokes, making sure to tilt my head slightly as he was recounting his stories. Other times, I consciously made an effort to appear flirty and warm by touching his arm.
Fun, flirty, warm, sexy, inviting: check, check, check.
It has all the elements of a perfect textbook second date. But there wasn’t to be a third because the missing connection wasn’t between him and me.
It was the connection within me.
I had faked the whole thing, disconnecting from my body and using the rules in my head to be “chosen” by him.
Internally, I had chosen attachment over authenticity.
We may find ourselves constantly sitting on edge in relationships: am I enough? Am I too much?
We take steps to protect ourselves, relying on rules to appear not “needy,” a cultural kiss of death. We enact strategies we have learned from movies, coaches, friends, or magazines: each of them convincing us of what someone else must want or who we have to be in order to be attractive or chosen/remain chosen.
Yet rarely dial into how we feel in our bodies, our hearts, or admit the truth of how we really feel around this person. We often learn only to pseudo-connect with someone else in order to win an outcome, at the cost of disconnection from ourselves.
Well, f*ck all that!
Here’s how we can authentically relate in our relationships:
Step 1: Ditch the Rules
Authentic relating requires us to act the same way in relationships that we would with friends. We can ditch the manuals, scripts, and coaching packages and give someone else an accurate experience of being around us socially.
If we are naturally social connectors, we can be social connectors. If we double text, go for it. If we like a lot of communication between seeing another person, we can initiate it no matter what our gender.
I am a social connector: I call, text, organize things, and initiate plans. That’s just my nature—with friends, with my child, with my business and clients.
Yet not a single man I ever dated before I dated authentically would have guessed that. I was busy following social conditioning, clinging to dating rules that I learned when I was 15. I excelled at “never calling a man,” “never double texting,” and always let a man ask me out, only after he expressed interest in asking me out.
Those dating rules were pounded into my head—over and over and over again.
Ditch ’em. They are turning us into fake versions of ourselves.
Step 2: Take Note of Whether it’s Anxiety or Attraction
Authentic relating is a restful, connected, calm state. Hormonally, it’s a surge of vasopressin and oxytocin, which are bonding chemicals that make us feel safe. The sensations of those hormones feel like bonding with a baby.
We’re often confused between anxiety and attraction because we’re told that chemistry feels like sparks, excitement, or nervous energy.
In that frenzied, panicked, anxious headspace, we may feel an urgency, obsessed, achy, needy, filled with longing and fixation (the very thing videos, movies, and reality shows assure us are “love”).
We think, “Whoa, this frenetic sense means that we really like this person. And that is exciting. It’s how it’s supposed to be.”
That is a biochemical cocktail that includes dopamine, a hormone that produces cravings followed by an urge to fill it. It’s a state called limerence, and that’s not what love feels like.
We need to learn the difference.
The more stress we have in our lives, the more we need to have active practices of self-regulation and co-regulation to function as a blueprint for what it’s like to have a calm, regulated nervous system.
I have an old-school handwritten to-do list with me every day. And on the left side of my piece of paper, in block lettering handwritten with a marker, I have a list of activities such as taking a bath, reading, or going for a walk. I make sure that we do a bunch of things from that list every day.
This practice helps us identify: “this is what it feels like to nurture myself. This is what it feels like to be safe in my body.”
Only when we are connected to ourselves in this way can we identify the sensations we want to embody in a dynamic with another person.
Authenticity is not anxiety or amplification.
Step 3: Share our Feelings Rather than Pretending
Inauthentic relating, we need to sit in our bodies and assess: “okay, what is happening here?”
Put words to the body sensations and emotions, then go to the other person and share our feelings.
We are often so afraid of being rejected that we reject our own authenticity.
Most of us hide our authentic selves because we think: “If I say that, s/he’s not going to want me,” or “I’m going to seem needy.” And we repress or deny our needs or feelings.
Without this kind of open communication, we have to guess, respond or react without the other person’s reaction to our feelings. We fill in the information gap by going into our heads, making up stories, and responding to coping mechanisms and triggers.
In doing so, we’re blocking the relationship from expanding, and we are blocking the energetic connection to ourselves.
A good, positive connection is somebody with whom we can share our feelings or speak through a micro-trigger.
This means we can say, “I’m feeling a little anxious about this,” or “I prefer if we talk about that after we know one another a bit more deeply.”
I haven’t had any experiences where somebody replies to this by saying, “Oh, my God, you’re so needy. What’s wrong with you?”
Being authentic does not guarantee an outcome: someone else may not be able to meet our needs, meet us in conversation or have the capacity.
But it does guarantee that we have presented the other person with the opportunity for a genuine response, and from there, we can then take action on their response instead of our guess, trigger, or coping mechanism.
As I stood in my bedroom, light-headed from disconnection, I peeled off my leather dress that night, taking with it my trained “date self” and dropping it on the floor.
I decided to ditch the anxious, traumatized, walled-off relationships.
And to say f*ck it to fake.