Editor's Note: While this article is written for those involved in dating, its information is also very appropriate and insightful for any of us in established relationships.
Truth in Dating is about using honesty as a "practice." A practice is a discipline that you take on intentionally in order to expand your awareness and enhance your capacity to experience life to the fullest.
Have you ever:
• said yes to someone when you wanted to say no?
• lied to someone in order to protect his or her feelings?
• wondered how the person you're dating feels about you, but didn't want to ask for fear of appearing insecure, needy, or pushy?
• had your feelings hurt but didn't admit it?
• felt angry but acted like everything was fine?
• been jealous about your date's attention to another person, but acted cool?
• pretended to like someone more than you really did?
• pretended to like someone less than you really did?
• wanted to be physically affectionate, but didn't want to appear too eager, easy, or horny?
• wanted to express appreciation, but held yourself back?
• pretended to be more sexually turned on than you really were?
• had sex with someone in order to avoid conflict or confrontation?
• agreed to go out with someone and then called later to break the date?
• felt nervous or inhibited with someone you're especially attracted to?
• wished you could be more spontaneous and natural with someone you're just getting to know?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, rest assured that you are not alone. In my workshops and conversations with research participants, almost everyone answered yes to most of them.
Telling the truth is not easy. Yet when you allow yourself to be real and spontaneous, you're more radiant, alive, and attractive.
Sharing Self-Talk Right Away
In my Truth in Dating seminars, I'll frequently encourage two people who have never met to simply share "what I was thinking as I noticed you from across the room." I call this inner conversation "self-talk." When they share these thoughts, they become delightfully spontaneous, interesting, and funny. It is amazing how a person who at first may seem shy or inhibited suddenly comes alive when he stops trying to do things right and simply shows up real.
In a recent seminar, I asked Ted, one of the men in the group, to pick out a woman he found attractive and then whisper to me the thoughts he was having as he noticed her across the room. He said, "I'm thinking that someone as cute as her would probably not be interested in me." So I asked him, "What if you were to go up to her and tell her that you noticed her and then tell her what you just told me? Would you be willing to try that?"
He accepted the challenge, walked over to where she was seated, and told her, "I have been watching you for a while, and I wanted to come over and say that I think you're really cute... and I was also thinking to myself that someone as cute as you would probably not be interested in someone like me ...but then again, who knows?" The other workshop participants who were watching cracked up!
Then I coached the woman, Cherie, to tell me what she was thinking to herself at this point: "I've never been approached quite like that before. I'd like to be able to say I'm attracted to Ted, but at this point, I'm not. . . . And yet, because he was so open and funny, he certainly got my attention. I like how spontaneous he is, and I think I'd like to spend more time getting to know him." After only a slight bit of encouragement, she was able to share all of this with him. And again, the audience got a real charge out of it — as did Ted!
Several of those watching the interaction commented about how radiant the two of them became as they were sharing what they were really feeling and thinking. One witness remarked, "As they got more spontaneous, once they got going, they seemed to shine more brightly. It looked like they were lit up by some inner source of energy. It was amazing!"
I have observed this phenomenon myself many times. When people take risks and show up real, they get lighter, brighter, more radiant, and more magnetically attractive. I imagine it has something to do with the fact that when you are not trying to hide or impress, you are more relaxed, and the life force moves through you more easily. This is one of the rewards of practicing Truth in Dating.
What's at Stake?
Why can't we be more relaxed and free? What are we afraid of? What danger do we seek to protect ourselves from? From my research conversations, I have found that most singles give entirely too much weight or meaning to the outcome of each dating interaction.
Ron was wildly attracted to Maya. On the second date, Maya told Ron, "I like you as a person, but I'm not sexually attracted to you." What Ron concluded from this was: "I'll never have what I want. I'm just not that attractive. The ones I really like never feel the same about me." This is sad, but typical. One disappointing conversation gets magnified and becomes a sweeping generalization about "the way my life is going to be forevermore."
Harvey had been talking with Maureen at a party for about fifteen minutes when she confessed to him, "I'd really like to take you home to meet my mother. I think she'd like you as much as I do." Since he already knew that he was not very attracted to Maureen, he immediately panicked, thinking to himself, "Oh my God, now I have to act like I feel the same about her. And she'll get the wrong idea . . . and I'll be trapped and unable to say no to her. I just can't stand hurting a woman."
In the above two examples, both Ron and Harvey had an automatic fear reaction to what the woman said to them. Instead of simply being present in the moment, their minds went racing off into the future in an unconscious, patterned way.
Why can't we be more relaxed and free? Most singles give entirely too much weight or meaning to the outcome of each dating interaction.
Old Tapes and Buttons
Generally, most of us are not very good at simply being in the present moment — since we're quite vulnerable to automatic fear reactions. When I notice such reactions in myself or others, I see them as evidence that an old fear has been triggered. Metaphorically speaking, a button has been pushed. Ron walks around with an "I'm not good enough" button always there waiting to be pushed. When Maya said what she said, the tape that played in his mind was, "I'm not good enough to ever have what I want." Harvey lives constantly with a fear of "the woman's" reaction. When Maureen said what she said, his "it's not safe to say no to a woman" button was triggered.
Buttons are those little things we wear around our heart and solar plexus area. If someone pushes one of these buttons, a familiar tape begins to play. Your date calls at the last minute and says he's too tired to come over, and the tape that plays in your mind is, "He's losing interest. This is the beginning of the end. I'd better start withdrawing in order to protect myself."
A person you've just met, but are hoping to connect more intimately with, tells you "I'm not looking for long-term intimacy. I just want to get to know you as a friend." The tape that plays in your head is, "If I were more attractive, she wouldn't be saying that. That's a rejection if I ever heard one!"
One reason we can't be present in dating interactions is because we still have unfinished business or baggage from our past. We may wish this were not the case, but it is. You can make it your aim to be present or "in the now," but it's impossible to be present if you are "under the influence" of an unconscious fear reaction. When this happens, our best shot at being present is to notice that we are not. This noticing will, in itself, bring about a degree of present-time awareness.
We all use certain thinking or behavior patterns to avoid discomfort or control anxiety. In a dating situation, our anxiety might be about not knowing where we stand, not getting what we want, or just generally not being in control.
Ron doesn't know what the future of this relationship will be, but instead of simply feeling his discomfort about that one thing, he reacts automatically, making a prediction about how his whole life is going to be. This is one of the patterned ways he deals with feeling not in control. Somehow, pretending to know the future gives him some semblance of control — even if the prediction is an unpleasant one.
Dating as a Journey toward Consciousness
Dating can be a journey toward consciousness and love, toward overcoming our dependence on the illusion of control to help us feel safe. Or dating can be a series of strategies to help us maintain a false sense of security and control.
To put this another way, dating can enhance our self-awareness and self-trust in facing unknown outcomes, or it can keep us on a never-ending search for the perfect partner (as a distraction from simply feeling our vulnerability to things we cannot control). Dating can expand our capacity for love and acceptance of what is, or reinforce our fears that we are not okay if things don't turn out according to our hopes and plans.
The idea behind Truth in Dating is that we don't need to wait until we get into a committed relationship to use our relationship life as a vehicle for personal and spiritual development. We can start right where we are! We can use our dating experiences as a practice.
At present, most people still seem to favor dating as a strategy for staying safe over dating as an awareness practice. But I think the tide is turning. Many people I talked with said they realize that trying to find someone who doesn't push their buttons isn't working. This is a good sign — a sign that people in general may be getting less addicted to comfort and control.
It is my hope that if we can admit that we all have automatic patterned reactions based on our unfinished business from the past, then we can enter the dating arena with the aim of becoming more conscious of when we can let go of trying to pretend to be cool or what we think is expected of us. We can stop pretending and start being more transparent. What a relief this might be — if we would stop strategizing about how to create the desired impression. Maybe then we could relax enough to be present and awake to our experience of the moment.
I have been helping singles and couples "show up real" for many years, and I know that honesty does not come easily for most people. For most of us honesty feels risky. So to Get Real, that is, to relax into just being present to whatever you are thinking or feeling, will require setting your intent to make honesty a "practice." A practice is something that you take on in order to expand your awareness, to enhance your capacity to experience life to the fullest, to express your maximum potential. So dating can be a practice for you in which you come to value noticing when you are present and when you are caught in a reaction.
Of course, you may still choose to approach dating using all the strategies you have learned during your life to help you stay in control. The choice is yours. Even if you are not completely sold on Truth in Dating, you might still find value in these pages if you have a sincere desire for more honest relationships. Learning the Truth in Dating skills will still make honest communication easier and less scary.
Truth in Dating Is Good Practice for Marriage
Not everyone wants to get into a marriage or long-term partnership. But if you do, you probably know that a marriage-type commitment cannot thrive without honesty. Your level of honesty and mutual trust will determine your level of intimacy and fulfillment. Yet, as we know, most marriages are not based on complete honesty. The main reason for this is that married people are just as unlikely to have the requisite honesty skills as single people. Practicing the truth skills while you are dating, when the stakes are presumably lower, can help you develop the tools you will need to make a future long-term committed relationship work. We all need a lot of "practice relationships" before we are ready for lasting love.
An important skill that you'll need if you intend to be in a long-term relationship is the ability to navigate change. Otherwise, you may outgrow your relationship. The best way to learn about dealing with the reality of constant change in relationships is by communicating honestly at all times, especially when it's risky.
Honest risk-taking teaches you how to deal with the unknown, an essential skill for going through changes with another person. When you are honest, you never know for sure what the other's reaction will be. It's as if you are stepping into the unknown together. As you get more comfortable and skillful at moving into the unknown, your capacity for navigating change grows, as individuals and as partners.
Here's another way truth-telling can help you learn to cope with constant change: it gives you plenty of experience with the almost universal phenomenon that after you fully express a feeling, it changes. Shining the light of consciousness onto a once hidden feeling brings you to a new relationship with this feeling. Here is an example: Let's say I feel anger at my boyfriend for something he did. I express my anger to him — as a self-disclosure, not as a control strategy. And in the next moment, we are laughing and hugging again. My anger is gone. If it comes back, I'll express it again when it does; and once again, it'll probably change.
Expressing feelings freely in the interest of transparency allows us to experience the natural fluidity, the ebb and flow, of life. Life is change. So it's healthy to allow your inner state to change rather than holding rigidly to a position.
The more truthful we are on the dating journey, the better we will be prepared for a long-term relationship. Truth in Dating teaches us how to be skillfully honest; it teaches us how to surf the waves of change; and it allows us to get more mileage out of our dating relationship. If dating is preparation for longer-term intimacy, it's good to have more rather than less experience.
Truth in Dating Adds Meaning and Purpose
Truth in Dating is a personal awareness practice and a spiritual practice, as well as a way to be more juicy and attractive. As a practice, it's like doing yoga -- a yoga of communication. People practice yoga to expand their capacity for feeling and experiencing life. It hurts sometimes, but the pain is good for you. It's meaningful pain. It's not masochistic.
The practice of Truth in Dating can give your dating activities a purpose beyond finding a mate — that of finding love, the kind of love that resides in your own being. This love is something that you can enjoy whether you are partnered or single. It's something that no one can ever take away from you. The subtitle of this book, Finding Love by Getting Real, has a double meaning: finding others to love and be loved by; and the higher purpose of rediscovering our essential nature, which I believe is love.
The journey home to our natural capacity for loving is the mythical hero's journey. Our ability to let down our defenses will be tested each time we experience hurt, disappointment, or betrayal; every time we meet someone we don't care to spend time with, every time someone tries to dominate or control us. These are some of the hurdles we will inevitably encounter on the hero's path. That path, the path of being consciously human, offers us a chance to peel away the layers of social and family conditioning; to burst the illusions that dictate our attempts to be socially acceptable, to be right, to play it safe, and to appear in control; and above all, to free ourselves of the illusions that create our dependency on someone else's love or acceptance in order to feel okay.
As we learn to let down our guard and show up real, whether others love us for our realness or not, we become higher order human beings. We have nothing to prove, nothing to hide, and nothing to defend against. We risk losing favor with others, but in the process discover the love for self and others that has always been at our core.
If this seems like a lofty aim, it is also quite a hedonistic one. Life feels better — we experience more pleasure and less frustration — when we stop controlling so much. It feels good to love, to tell the truth, and to operate according to the principle of mutual benefit.
If you conduct your dating and friendship relationships with an eye toward spotting the addictions and control patterns that cloud your ability to be open and loving, you will eventually find your way home to that inner peace that is beyond understanding. On the other hand, if you persist in trying to get life to agree to your terms, the experiences of love and trust that you long for will probably elude you.
• Truth in Dating is both a way to become more conscious and present and a way to develop deeper self-trust.
• When people take a risk and enter "the unknown" together, it is a bonding experience. And they often appear lighter and more radiant.
• Most people are vulnerable to having old fears restimulated in new relationships, but when this occurs, it allows us to notice our automatic reactions so we can heal them.
• Truth in Dating is a practice for overcoming our illusions about life and relationships — particularly the illusion that being in control will make us safe and secure. Control is an illusion.
• Truth in Dating is a journey toward greater consciousness. It offers a chance to peel away the layers of social and family conditioning so we can relate to others from our essential being — that is, so we can be real with one another.
• If honesty is necessary to make a marriage-type relationship work, then Truth in Dating gives you the skills you'll be needing in the future. It's good practice!
About the Author
Psychologist Susan Campbell has worked as a teamwork consultant to Fortune 500 companies, a professional speaker, and, for over 35 years, as a dating and relationship coach. She is author of several other books, including her ground-breaking The Couples Journey (over 100,000 sold) which introduced the idea into the mainstream of using intimate relationships as a spiritual practice. Her website is www.susancampbell.com.