A patient was complaining about dating.
“It’s annoying. You have to be cheerful and upbeat. What if you’re not feeling it?”
I asked him how he really felt.
“Don’t even go there. I hate people. All they ever do is take.”
He wanted to meet a girl with whom he could actually bond, and get close. But it seemed impossible. He was looking online – it was easier, and that way he didn’t have to actually go out into the world and deal with humanity.
“What’s your online profile like?”
“The usual – just a regular guy who likes to go out for dinner and take walks in the park, blah blah blah.”
“Is that really you?”
He shrugged. “Is that really anybody?”
“So there’s your mistake. You’re not introducing yourself as you really are.”
“Who would want me as I really am?”
“You’d be surprised.”
Your first instinct, when you post a dating profile online, might be to do what everyone else does – lie. But that doesn’t help you achieve your goal of meeting an appropriate partner, it hinders it.
Many years ago, when I was single, I fell into the same trap myself – I typed up a bland, predictable online dating profile that made me out to be pretty much like everyone else. Then, at some point out of boredom or sheer frustration, I decided as an experiment to post a profile that told the truth. The result sounded something like this:
I’m Probably Not For You
I am not a “regular guy” and I won’t be right for most people reading this. I’m a bit intellectual and if you aren’t a bit intellectual too and don’t read all the time and love classical music and jazz it isn’t going to work. My perfect night out is vegetarian food followed by a classical piano recital at Carnegie Hall followed by listening to some guy play saxophone in a jazz club. I eschew discotheques and bars and don’t really “get” Madonna or Broadway. Oh, and I’m a raging atheist, a partisan Democrat, hate smoking and cars and suburban sprawl and have strong opinions across the board on most things. I kiss my dog on the lips. If this sounds right and you like my picture, go for it.
Instead of the occasional bland note I’d been receiving with my old profile, I was suddenly deluged by interested parties writing me long, detailed letters. And all I did was tell the truth.
It works with simple stuff, like sex, too. I worked with an African-American gay guy a while back who told me he had no luck with online ads on dating sites. I asked him what he was advertising for, and he said – oh, the usual – “versatile guy looking for fun.”
Then I asked him what he really wanted.
“Oh, a big daddy to top me all night.”
“Then why don’t you ask for what you want?”
“Oh, no one wants a big bottom…”
“No harm in trying.”
He posted a profile advertising (more or less) “Hungry super-bottom for fierce daddy top.”
That did the trick, so to speak. He had more offers than he could handle.
Gay or straight, or in-between, if you tell the truth – at very least, about sex – someone might be looking for what you’ve got to offer. I’ve had clients with interests in kink, or who liked to be submissive in bed – or to dominate – and nothing works better than just coming out and saying it. You can bet someone else shares your interests, or has an interest in accommodating it, but you’ll never find out unless you take the first step and tell the truth. If you want to smear her body with whipped cream, then lick it all off (or have someone do that to you) then say so! (And yes, that might entail first finding a dating site that specializing people into whipped cream, but if you look, it’s probably out there.)
In broad terms, truth-telling – direct, honest communication – is always a good first step towards establishing a healthy relationship. I’m frequently asked the question: “How can I tell someone else something difficult about myself?” My answer is always the same: directly and honestly. When you stop and think about it, isn’t the definition of a best friend “the person you can say anything to”? And that goes especially for talking about the most personal stuff of all – the stuff about yourself. A romantic partner is supposed to be your best friend, the person who can know you – and accept you – as you really are.
Forthright communication regarding who you are means you stop apologizing for yourself, and own that you are in charge of your identity, and decide who you want to be, living as best you can the life you’ve been given. That’s the very definition of charisma – feeling comfortable in your own skin.
Sometimes you might feel the urge to hide stuff you’re afraid no one can accept, as if you’ve forgotten you’re not alone in being human. I had another gay client who was 69 years old and HIV+. He wanted to date online, but was terrified to reveal the truth about his age or his HIV status. Instead, he ran a profile with no photo or details, and lied about how old he was. Predictably, no one answered, and he was crushed.
I suggested he bite the bullet and tell the truth. It took weeks to bring him around, but finally he put up a pic (he was actually a good-looking guy) and revealed both his age and status. Lo and behold! Dozens of gay men in their 60’s and 70’s started coming out of the woodwork, many of them also HIV+. It only took one person with the courage to stand up and stop apologizing for the reality of his life, and everyone else followed.
Back to that first client. We talked about possible approaches to his “truthful” profile, and came up with something along these lines:
Misanthropist Shut-in Seeks Same
I hate having to pretend to be bouncy and cheerful. I want to be authentic and present and meet someone who appreciates that and can do the same. People bug me, generally, but if people bug you, too, we might get along. I like alt-rock bands and French cooking (yes, I can make a quiche from scratch) and horror films and Ludwig Wittgenstein. I hate my job, but I’m trying to change that and right now I’m glad I have a salary. That’s pretty much it. If you’re a woman around my age who’s ready to sit down and tell the truth so we can actually get to know each other, I’m willing to meet up and give it a try.
It’s too soon to know how this profile will work, but telling the truth is a lot more efficient than beating around the bush – especially when your goal is to meet someone with whom you can get real.
The “tell the truth” rule can be extended to the planning of actual dates, too. Sure, maybe the first date should just be coffee, something quick so you can see if the chemistry is there without wasting time or making things more awkward than need be. But for the second date, why not come out of the closet a bit more?
It’s no coincidence that two of my gay clients came up in examples in this column – telling the truth about yourself has an unavoidable “coming out of the closet” aspect to it. You can open that closet door, and achieve authentic communication, not only by telling the truth about yourself in your profile, but also by planning a date that says something honest about who you are. Instead of a bland “hey, want to get together?” why not invite that special someone to a specific art opening (if you’re into art) or special dance performance (if you’re into dance) or exciting baseball game (if baseball floats your boat) or spellbinding lecture on flower-arranging (if that’s where your interests lie.) The meal can say something about you, too. If your passion is Japanese food, or Texas barbecue, or Swedish smorgasbord, then why not take your date out for some of what you love, instead of hiding your enthusiasms away in the closet?
I had a client who took women out to fancy restaurants, because he thought that was what they expected, and he always paid, for the same reason. He resented having to pay, and didn’t really like those sorts of places anyway. I suggested taking his next date someplace he actually likes – where he would go on his own, or with his friends. I also suggested maybe offering to split the tab. If he doesn’t like playing the old-fashioned “the guy has to pay the check” game, then why do it? He was skeptical, but gave it a go, and to his surprise, things went just fine, in fact better, because he felt more comfortable on the dates, more like himself.
Whoever you’re dating is going to find out who you really are eventually, at least, if they stick around. And the very stuff that makes you special, and individual and unique, also works to create that special magic, the catalyst for the “chemistry” that makes relationships work.
There are a lot of single people in the world – no shortage there. The problem is finding that needle in the haystack, the person who really “gets” you. Happily, you only need one needle, and you can save a lot of time and energy by not pretending any needle will do when we all know it won’t. People are kooky. It’s a near-miracle (a lovely near-miracle) when one needle in the haystack finds another and that certain something “clicks.” The fastest way to speed the process? Tell the truth.
Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning
And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)
My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy
I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls
in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance