Have you ever caught yourself or someone you care about describing this scenario: When you’re in a relationship you have to put your authentic life agenda aside, and be the “relationship you,” until you can’t stand it anymore and you get out of the relationship so you can go back to being the “real you” for a while? This way you can “focus on yourself” and be creative and do the things you love; which works until you want a relationship again, for sex or companionship or both, but to get there you have to lose yourself and sacrifice what you consider the most important.There are lots of versions of this scenario, which I call a split-self or hemisphere effect. The two sides of the brain act like different people with different needs, and both sides can’t get their needs met at once. Another example is having intimate friendships with people, but after a while wanting to be closer than those permit, so you find a “relationship”; then the other friendships, even if not directly sexual, must end once you’re in a relationship. Inside the relationship, you start to feel confined and want your other contacts, but various insecurities or the rules of appropriateness (yours or those of your partner) seem to prohibit that. Then you feel confined and have to sacrifice the relationship in order to have your more “normal friendships.”
We bring these tendencies right into our dating experiences, thus perpetuating them. In those early encounters we introduce prospective partners to our publicist, who looks a lot like us but presents information strategically to ensure that we’re acceptable to this other person who doesn’t know us and is sure to think we’re a total freak if we let on the truth. Typically when we do this we forget two things: the truth will eventually come out, and the other person probably has some surprises waiting for us. Dating is an interesting thing: It’s like a mock friendship. You might act like friends, and spend time together like friends, and say you’re friends, but the actual trust and familiarity are not there. It’s like they are on credit.
Meanwhile, many people don’t have sex with their friends so they don’t “ruin the friendship.” Hence, this thing we call dating—the certified path to a relationship—takes place with someone other than a friend, such as an acquaintance, a stranger, a sex partner, or, as it turns out too often, an enemy.
In the dating process, we’re supposed to do everything we can to present ourselves as acceptable to the other person, conceal all weaknesses and fears, present ourselves as impeccably monogamous, as successful and in perfect health; not mention opposite-sex friends, bisexuality, or our cross-dressing bondage fetish. We all know how judgmental many people are, and more to the point, we know how judgmental we are. Question for you: How long is your list of turn-offs? How long is your list of requirements for a suitable suitor? That will give you an idea.
It’s no wonder why we’re so terrified to be ourselves. There’s one other reason, too, which comes wrapped in a paradox. Most “unpartnered” people you meet are cruising for The One. We’re not seeking “casual” relationships or casual sex; those are allegedly insincere and unfulfilling. We want the supposedly Real Thing, which precludes hanging loose and being real. So instead, we polish up the relationship résumé and put on our most authentic air. The contradiction is that if we’re really looking for The One and not the dreaded, evil, scandalous, disease-laden friendship with benefits, The One is presumably The One who will accept us for who we are; and in that case, no gloss would be necessary.
Characterizing the typically backward, upside-down thinking of the world, you could say that our search for a relationship is often driven by the desire to avoid relationships. The whole process is so laden with unquestioned habits, values, and presumptions, including the presumption that it’s acceptable to lie, it’s amazing that anyone ever gets to know anyone else. But try as we may to avoid it, we do get to know one another, as the old saying goes, for better or for worse.
Then we wonder why our relationships are such a struggle; why we can go so long without a partner; why it so often feels like we’ll never have sex again; why we have to make so many compromises once we’re involved in a relationship.