Dating has become more accessible than ever. The majority of single people have many options when it comes to dating due to the increasing popularity of dating websites and apps as well as people in large cities waiting longer to settle down and get married. However, with the higher accessibility, and therefore frequency in dates, it is becoming increasingly more difficult to stay authentic to who you are and what you are looking for when your dating pool seems to have an endless amount of options. Many of my clients who are in individual therapy struggle with dating because they receive so many unhelpful messages from society about how to date and how to act when you date. When we aren’t our authentic selves when dating, this can cause issues down the line in long-term relationships and marriages. Relationships are healthier and more successful when we are ourselves and authentic from the beginning.
I often hear clients refer to the “dating game” or “dating rules” when discussing being single and some of the hurdles they face. They discuss feeling pressure to act a certain way or “play it cool” when it comes to dating and meeting someone new. They have internalized rules and messages about waiting a certain amount of hours or days before responding to someone’s phone call or text message, and believe that you have to be distant in the courtship phase in order to maintain interest. These rules are ridiculous, outdated, and rarely have successful outcomes. Dating rules that are so often discussed in the media and by our society are not a “one size fits all” and should not be treated as such.
I have noticed in my work that this is a struggle for heterosexual women in particular. Women are given so many mixed messages about how to be and act while dating. We may read in one article that we should wait for the man to approach us and be distant in the beginning, and may read somewhere else that we need to shower the man with attention to make him feel appreciated and cared for. How is anyone supposed to navigate dating when we have so many mixed messages surrounding us? The best way to navigate dating is to be open to new experiences and meeting new people while also maintaining your identity and your values.
I encourage my clients to be as authentic to who they are as possible when dating, starting from date number one. The sooner you present yourself as genuinely and authentically as possible, the sooner you’ll have a better understanding of who is going to be a good fit for you or not. I have had clients describe stories to me where they have lied on a date about something they like or don’t like to appease the person they are out with. This is definitely a common occurrence and is often portrayed in movies and TV shows (when a man or woman pretends to enjoy a certain activity or pretends to have a hobby they don’t in order to show more commonalities with their date). While this is often portrayed in a humorous way, the reality of it can sometimes be harmful.
Many daters think they have to adjust their personality and interests to come across as in a way that seems more appealing to potential partners. If you end up being in a relationship with this person, the truth will come out eventually. While many times this may be harmless and end up being a funny story to tell to friends later, in some circumstances, it can have a detrimental impact on your relationship when one person feels mislead or “duped”. I have worked with couples in couples therapy who describe their courtship period as being notably different than the rest of their relationship because one or both acted so differently in order to appease or impress the other. I will sometimes hear a frustrated partner say, “You were so spontaneous and open-minded when we were dating, I wish we had some of that now”, in which the other partner may respond saying, “I actually felt really anxious when we were dating, and just acted that way because I thought you’d like me more.” It can feel really upsetting and confusing to hear something like this from you current partner.
Generally, it’s positive and helpful to be open-minded to new experiences and getting out of your comfort zone when dating. However, when you start to take on qualities and traits that are vastly different than your own, you are no longer being authentic to your true self, which can be misleading to the people you are going out with. Healthy relationships can flourish when both people are being true to who they are, which can also mean that they appreciate the differences you have as well.