In the course of trying to get better at dating, there will inevitably be times where someone in your life is going to give you what is possibly the most useless dating advice ever: “Just be yourself”. After all, presumably you want someone who wants you for you and not whatever dubious achievements you may have or your material possessions. Besides, Studly Goodnight over there got his girlfriend by just being himself, so shit’s gotta work, right?
The problem is that “just be yourself” is a cop-out, handed out so freely that it’s become what we say when we don’t have anything else to offer. It’s so broad as to be functionally meaningless. After all, if you’re swallowing your ego and going to people asking for advice on attracting women or men, it’s a pretty damn good sign that whatever you’re doing already isn’t working.
But then again… they’re not entirely wrong either.
The Value of Authenticity
Too often when people are trying to get better at dating, they spend a lot of time trying to be something other than who we are. They may spend a lot of time trying to portray ourselves as “high status” even when they aren’t. They play the value game, trying to demonstrate their higher value – DHVs in PUA lingo – by taking on outward trappings of what they assume high-value people are like. They will stretch the truth about their jobs in an attempt to look more glamorous – implying that they’re a professional poker player for example or that work as an AR scout for a record label when in reality they place the orders for their local Barnes and Noble1. They may dress like MMA fighters when they can’t throw a punch or rockstars despite having never so much as touched a musical instrument since their parents quit taking them to piano lessons in the 2nd grade. They will tell stories about their stripper ex-girlfriends who got crazy jealous or talk about the model they used to date. They may pool their money for bottle service at a club and try to create the image that they’re high-rollers.
They may try the common tactic of trying to show interest in women while looking like they could care less; after all, a “high-value” man wouldn’t tip his hand and show how invested he is in one particular woman. Many may use lines and pre-scripted routines from well-thumbed copies of The Game or PUA forums to create the impression that they’re cooler, funnier and more confident than they really are – borrowing from the idea that if you can’t dazzle them with your scintillating wit and charm, you can always baffle them with your bullshit.
Women, on the other hand, may try to play down their actual intelligence or be less assertive in order to avoid intimidating men. They may experiment with the presentation of their sexuality – dialing it back to create the image of being more innocent or pretending to be more sexually forward than they are – in order to conform to the perception of how women are “supposed” to be. Some may tease the idea that they are bisexual in order to titillate men while others will downplay their sexual experience for fear of being thought of as “slutty”.
The problem with these tactics is that they’re an attempt to portray yourself as something other than who you really are. You may be able to fake the outward trappings of someone else’s identity, but you’re still you inside… and that will always end up coming to the forefront. The multitude of tiny little signals and cues to your real identity will always overpower whatever canned material you use and create a cognative dissonance between your words and your actions. Your made up identity will be incongruous with who you are inside and no amount of gimmicks or playing to stereotypes will overcome that.
Trying to maintain that false persona is mentally exhausting and – more importantly – fundamentally dishonest. The best you can hope for is a short-term gain that evaporates like Manti Teo’s girlfriend as soon as anyone starts to look too closely.
That having been said: just because you’re authentically you doesn’t mean that you’re home free.
Sometimes “You” Are Holding Yourself Back
It’s an unfortunate truth that sometimes the “You” that is presented to the world isn’t exactly the most attractive version that you could be putting forward. This is not to say that it’s a matter of winning the genetic lottery for facial symmetry or embracing the Paleo diet and performing two hundred crunches every morning. Humans are complex, layered beings and attractiveness is more than just a matter of physical looks; you can have Jake Gyllenhaal’s face and Ryan Reynold’s abs and still finding out the hard way that Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week because you’re a relentlessly negative asshole that people can’t stand to be around.
A person’s identity is more than just what’s on the surface… and so are the issues that may be hindering you in your dating life.
Some issues are strictly ones of presentation – a bad hair cut, for example, or ugly, ill-fitting clothes will tell people that you’re someone who doesn’t care about themselves and will only serve to highlight whatever flaws you have. Poor hygiene will drive people away from even the most attractive face and figure.
Other issues lie just below the surface: a lack of social experience for example, that means you may have the best of intentions but you end up creeping people out by accident. These are often matters of ignorance – problematic, but correctable with time and practice.
Other problems, however, lie deeper still. Being your authentic self isn’t going to help if you’re angry and resentful because you aren’t being handed the sex you think you’re “owed” by virtue of being a Nice Guy. If you’re a relentlessly negative person, people aren’t going to want to spend much time in your company. If you’re the sort of person who likes to “keep it real” by being blunt and rude to others, no matter how witty you think you are, you are going to have a harder time making friends and finding lovers than someone who knows how to help other people have fun and genuinely appreciates their company. House and Sherlock are only sexy to people on Tumblr because they don’t have to deal with them on a daily basis. Anyone who had to interact with them in the real world would think they’re just creepy assholes.
In addition, your lifestyle is a part of who you are as much as your looks or personality. You may be a great person, but if your daily life is just to hang around the house playing Xbox and watching cat videos… well, your actions will be screening out 99% of the population of available singles.
“You” Are A Fluid Concept
This isn’t to say that you’re doomed to be Forever Alone because of who you are. The concept of “You” is far more fluid and malleable than most people would think. We change who we are – who we truly are – all the time; after all, we’re not the same person we were when we were 10, or 20, or 30. We are constantly being shaped and moulded by our experiences, our beliefs, even our day-to-day experiences. A bad break up can leave us bitter and resentful and mistrustful of others while a sudden shock – a near-death experience for example – can inspire us to live life to the fullest instead of taking everything for granted.
We change. We grow. We try new things, discover that old things don’t please us or work as well as we would hope and so we discard them and move on.
In short: change is possible. I’m night-and-day different from the person I was in high-school and college. If you were to approach the me of 1999 and tell him of everything I’ve done in just the last five years, he’d laugh in your face… at least before demanding stock tips and lottery numbers. Just in case.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that deliberately changing who “you” are is easy or effortless. In fact, it can be some of the hardest things you’ve ever had to do. Surface changes – learning how to dress better and adopting more confident body language – is relatively simple. Deeper changes – working to become a more positive person, for example, or overcoming self-limiting beliefs – means trying to break the habits of years, if not a lifetime. Some issues will be easier to overcome than others. Some may require seeking out professional help. But all of it requires a willingness to examine just who you are.
Gnosthi Seauton (or: Don’t You Fucking Know What You Are?)
Being yourself – your authentic self – means that first you have to know yourself. Whether you’re happy with yourself or wish things were different, you have to be willing to examine who you are with complete honesty. This means that you have to be willing to accept responsibility for your life; you and you alone are the ultimate arbiter of how you came to be who you are.
It means that you have to be willing to acknowledge your faults, fully and honestly without trying to put the blame on others; it’s counterproductive and serves to keep you from taking complete ownership of your life. You are not too pure for this sinful world, and if you’re consistently misunderstood or overlooked… well, sometimes the only common denominator in your life is you.
But at the same time, you have to be willing to fully and honestly acknowledge your good points as well. Too many people dwell on their supposed flaws and imperfections, all the while minimizing their strengths and aptitudes as “unimportant” or “not real”. This behavior is equally as self-indulgent and unattractive as someone who’s self-image is so hyper-inflated that they think they’re the greatest thing since World War III. It can be difficult to be aware of our strengths at times; often it’s actually harder to believe we have them at all. It’s easier to be hyper-aware of the bad and undesirable in our lives than it is to appreciate the good as well.
All of us are alloys of our good and bad sides, and ignoring or pretending that either of them don’t exist is counter-productive.
“But I Shouldn’t Have To Change…”
Whenever you bring up the idea of adopting changes in one’s life, especially when it comes to a person’s identity, there will always be a certain amount of resistance. After all, we come from a culture that values rugged individualism and not bowing or bending in the face of pressure from others. And to be fair, a refusal to blindly conform to other people’s ideas of who you “should” be is admirable. There’s a lot to commend in someone who is willing to walk his or her own path regardless of what the others around them may say or do and it speaks to their inner strength of personality.
But at the same time, an obstinate refusal to change in the face of facts is neither noble or a testament to a person’s character. If being “yourself” is contributing to making yourself miserable, holding onto that identity as some sort of sense of righteousness is just shooting yourself in the metaphorical foot. Foolish consistency, to quote Emerson, is the hobgoblin of little minds, and this is equally true when dealing with your identity as it is with following rules mindlessly because it’s always been that way.
It’s a question that I’ve seen come up frequently, and one I’ve had to ask in my life – should I change part of who I am in order to be more liked/popular/accepted by others, or is that a betrayal of who I am inside? Frankly, it’s not a question with an easy answer. Every choice comes with consequences, and it’s worth examining them. It’s always a question of whether making that change – and compromising one’s sense of self – is worth the rewards and whether it brings you closer to who you want to be. In my case, I didn’t realize it at the time, but my resistance to change was equally about fear and uncertainty as it was a principled stand against the forces of conformity. I had to decide whether I was happy with who I was and whether I could accept that things weren’t going to change unless I did first.
So I always ask: “So, being yourself. How’s that working out for you so far?”
The path of finding your best self isn’t a smooth or easy one. Identity can be a tricky thing; as much as we like to think we’re all pillars of individuality and self-awareness, but no man lives in a vaccuum. We are all the sum of the influences in our lives as much as we are self-determined masters of our own fates.
Trying to find out who you really are can be a matter of trial and error; you will find yourself making a lot of false starts and stumbling into many dead ends before you begin to zero in on who you truly are and can be. You’ll find that many of your ideas of who you are and can be are bound up in other people’s ideas of who you are or what you should want.
In fact, more often than not, you’re going to find out that you only think you want to be a certain way – and the reality isn’t nearly what you expect it to be. During the beginning of my transformation, I thought I wanted to be a Player. I was convinced that I wanted to live the playboy lifestyle; a ruler of the Austin club scene, rolling with my crew past the lines and velvet ropes with nods from the bouncers and promoters into a bar that looked like the inside of Michael Bay’s head and surveying the scene like the King of the Douchebags before picking out which hottie I wanted to take home with me that evening.
It took me a while before I was willing to admit that this was not, in fact, someone I wanted to be. I didn’t care much for most of the women I was meeting2, I didn’t like the bars and clubs I was hanging out in and I despised who I was becoming. I had assumed that I wanted this identity because it was so incredibly different from who I’d been; up until I tried living it, it seemed like an unattainable dream for me. I liked what I’d learned about myself and the confidence and social skills I’d developed, but I was becoming a more manipulative, coercive and ultimately toxic person. It took a little longer to find the balance that lead to who I am today – and I can say in total honesty that I’m happier and more fulfilled than I ever had been for most of my life.
You can find your best self, the person you knew you always wanted to be but never thought you could. It may take many changes. It may take fewer than you ever realized. But with time and determination and strength of will, you can make it happen.
And then when you’re being that self, your best, most authentic self you will understand…
Sometimes “just be yourself” can be the best advice you’ve ever received.