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Dating, Living, and Being Your Best Self

Dating, Living, and Being Your Best Self

Dating, Living, and Being Your Best Self

    In a comment on my post last week about living your life as if you were on a date, a reader named Jean posted this comment:

    Thanks for this article! But regarding the ‘be yourself’ advice… I’ve always wondered, which self? I have a best self who is on time, considerate, well dressed, brave, follows my dreams, etc. I also have a worst self who is late, selfish, lazy, a slob, and a scaredy-cat. The rest of the time I spend climbing away from one and towards the other, but frankly I spend more of my time near the ‘worst self’ end. I used to have a long-distance boyfriend who only saw my ‘best’ self and therefore had an unrealistic view of me. I got tired out trying to keep up his good opinion of me, and the relationship crashed because I wasn’t comfortable.

    Jean raises some really interesting questions, and I thought it would be instructive to consider them in a longer form than is really practical as a blog comment.

    My immediate thought is that the goal is to be our best selves all the time. But that shouldn’t be exhausting; in fact, I think that when we are truly being our best selves, it’s invigorating. Think of that energy we get when we meet someone and fall in love – you find yourself suddenly “on the ball” throughout your life, not just the parts that you spend with this new person. Or consider the creative person’s “flow”, that state of mind and action where everything just seems to come naturally, where we lose track of time, where ideas and their execution seem to blend together into a seamless, effortless whole. What is that if not us being our best selves?

    What’s exhausting is faking that. Pretending to be our best selves. Because usually we aren’t really being our best selves, we’re being someone else’s idea of what our best self should be – or what we imagine their idea of our best self is. Think about it: if you love doing something, if doing it feeds and fulfills you on a fundamental level, how hard is it to do that thing, to be that person? Usually, it takes a serious effort to keep us from doing it!

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    This is why I hate books like The Rules, a dating guide for women that essentially smothers the best self and replaces it with a facsimile self crafted to avoid offending anyone and to secure a mate at all costs. Look at some of their “Top Ten Rules”:

    • 2. Show up to parties, dances and social events even if you do not feel like it.
    • 5. If you are in a long-distance relationship, he must visit your three times before you visit him.
    • 8. Close the deal. Rules women do not date men for more than two years.

    Frankly, that sounds exhausting to me. The constant focus on marriage (that is, living towards the future instead of living in the now), the constant self-censoring to make sure you don’t put more into your relationship than your partner, the constant denial of your own feelings and state of mind – is that your best self, or the authors’?

    I don’t know anything about Jean or about the situation with her long-distance ex, but I have to wonder: was she really being her best self or the idea she had of what her best self should be like. I know that when I first found myself in the dating pool in my early 30s, I found it exhausting all the time – wearing clothes that I wasn’t all that comfortable in because I felt they were the “right” clothes, acting a social role that I wasn’t entirely comfortable with (as a gender studies professor, traditional gender roles leave me flat), putting on an “all is well in the world” attitude when sometimes I was nervous, overworked, or even flat broke. It took me years to realize that I wasn’t doing myself, or my dates, any favors by trying to be someone other than I was – even if I somehow managed to impress them, it wasn’t really me they were impressed by but some other guy whose part was played by me.

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    My own dating life took off when I started being as honest as possible about who I am, what I want, and where I wanted things to go. I dress nice, but I don’t dress out of character. I do those “chivalrous” things because I feel like it, not because it’s expected – and I expect the same kind of small considerations from my date, or I let her know that I’m really not the right kind of guy for her. I share my goals and aspirations, my values and beliefs, even my feelings on religion and politics (oh no!) freely, and encourage the same openness from my date.

    I’m not saying Jean or anyone else should be their “worst self”, on a date or anywhere else. I’m saying that there’s a good chance Jean’s strengths and the weaknesses she describes go hand in hand. For instance, she talks about being a “scaredy-cat” – but we’re all scared, to be honest. Not just in dating, but throughout our lives. What’s exhausting is to pretend we’re not, or to live our lives avoiding the things that scare us. Being our best selves doesn’t mean not being afraid, it means being honest about being scared, accepting that fear, and forging forward in spite of it. Jean talks about being lazy – but we’re often lazy out of fear, fear of failure, fear of being imperfect, fear of letting people (including ourselves) down. I’m not saying “be lazy”, I’m saying that laziness can easily arise out of a desire to do well by ourselves and by others and the worry that we can’t live up to that desire. When we open up to others in a real, honest way, those fears often dissipate – or at least become things we can deal with rather than things that control us.

    Do you see what I’m saying? When I say “be yourself”, I don’t mean cave in to your worst impulses, I mean put your real strengths on display while being honest – with yourself, especially – about how those strengths and your weaknesses fit together. Or more to the point: let yourself be human.

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    Here’s the thing: in dating as in business, teaching, marketing, writing, and just about everything else, it’s good to offend people, if you come by it honestly. I don’t mean you should start swearing at strangers, of course, but that the goal is to draw to yourself the people who are actually compatible, whether as partners, business associates, audiences, or customers, and avoid the ones who simply are not. Take a lesson from Apple, whose “I’m a Mac” commercials work precisely because they offend – they offend people who would never buy a Mac, and create a sense of community among the ones who would and do.

    To bring this down to the concrete, I would wager that Jean’s relationship – like so many others – failed not because it was simply too exhausting to be her best self, but because the person she was being when she tried to be that best self wasn’t really her. Maybe the relationship itself was on shaky ground, maybe she didn’t yet have the confidence in herself necessary for a strong relationship, maybe her partner wasn’t ready to accept her as her whole self. This is speculation, of course, but I think if the “best self” Jean put forward had really been her, she would have found it energizing, not tiring.

    I don’t pretend any of this is easy. I struggle to live up to what I’m saying here every single day, and I fail about as often. But they’re instructive failures, interesting failures – and with each one I feel a little closer to my best self. Hope this helps!

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    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    The Gentle Art of Saying No

    No!

    It’s a simple fact that you can never be productive if you take on too many commitments — you simply spread yourself too thin and will not be able to get anything done, at least not well or on time.

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    But requests for your time are coming in all the time — through phone, email, IM or in person. To stay productive, and minimize stress, you have to learn the Gentle Art of Saying No — an art that many people have problems with.

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    What’s so hard about saying no? Well, to start with, it can hurt, anger or disappoint the person you’re saying “no” to, and that’s not usually a fun task. Second, if you hope to work with that person in the future, you’ll want to continue to have a good relationship with that person, and saying “no” in the wrong way can jeopardize that.

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    But it doesn’t have to be difficult or hard on your relationship. Here are the Top 10 tips for learning the Gentle Art of Saying No:

    1. Value your time. Know your commitments, and how valuable your precious time is. Then, when someone asks you to dedicate some of your time to a new commitment, you’ll know that you simply cannot do it. And tell them that: “I just can’t right now … my plate is overloaded as it is.”
    2. Know your priorities. Even if you do have some extra time (which for many of us is rare), is this new commitment really the way you want to spend that time? For myself, I know that more commitments means less time with my wife and kids, who are more important to me than anything.
    3. Practice saying no. Practice makes perfect. Saying “no” as often as you can is a great way to get better at it and more comfortable with saying the word. And sometimes, repeating the word is the only way to get a message through to extremely persistent people. When they keep insisting, just keep saying no. Eventually, they’ll get the message.
    4. Don’t apologize. A common way to start out is “I’m sorry but …” as people think that it sounds more polite. While politeness is important, apologizing just makes it sound weaker. You need to be firm, and unapologetic about guarding your time.
    5. Stop being nice. Again, it’s important to be polite, but being nice by saying yes all the time only hurts you. When you make it easy for people to grab your time (or money), they will continue to do it. But if you erect a wall, they will look for easier targets. Show them that your time is well guarded by being firm and turning down as many requests (that are not on your top priority list) as possible.
    6. Say no to your boss. Sometimes we feel that we have to say yes to our boss — they’re our boss, right? And if we say “no” then we look like we can’t handle the work — at least, that’s the common reasoning. But in fact, it’s the opposite — explain to your boss that by taking on too many commitments, you are weakening your productivity and jeopardizing your existing commitments. If your boss insists that you take on the project, go over your project or task list and ask him/her to re-prioritize, explaining that there’s only so much you can take on at one time.
    7. Pre-empting. It’s often much easier to pre-empt requests than to say “no” to them after the request has been made. If you know that requests are likely to be made, perhaps in a meeting, just say to everyone as soon as you come into the meeting, “Look guys, just to let you know, my week is booked full with some urgent projects and I won’t be able to take on any new requests.”
    8. Get back to you. Instead of providing an answer then and there, it’s often better to tell the person you’ll give their request some thought and get back to them. This will allow you to give it some consideration, and check your commitments and priorities. Then, if you can’t take on the request, simply tell them: “After giving this some thought, and checking my commitments, I won’t be able to accommodate the request at this time.” At least you gave it some consideration.
    9. Maybe later. If this is an option that you’d like to keep open, instead of just shutting the door on the person, it’s often better to just say, “This sounds like an interesting opportunity, but I just don’t have the time at the moment. Perhaps you could check back with me in [give a time frame].” Next time, when they check back with you, you might have some free time on your hands.
    10. It’s not you, it’s me. This classic dating rejection can work in other situations. Don’t be insincere about it, though. Often the person or project is a good one, but it’s just not right for you, at least not at this time. Simply say so — you can compliment the idea, the project, the person, the organization … but say that it’s not the right fit, or it’s not what you’re looking for at this time. Only say this if it’s true — people can sense insincerity.

    Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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