“Be yourself, but less of a dick”
I had to laugh watching an old episode of First Dates on a flight recently, when the guy’s mum told him to ‘just be himself, and then his dad added, ‘yes, be yourself, but less of a dick’.
His honesty was sweet, but the advice could not be less helpful, and I want to address it because this is what so many of us are told about love and relationships.
‘Just be yourself!’ People tell us.
People need to accept you for who you are, the real you is going to come out at some point anyway, there’s no point pretending to be someone else...
Here’s why this is terrible advice.
None of us are born knowing how to relate to others. Babies scream when they need something and everything from then on is something we might be intuitive about but still have to learn - including language and social skills.
You would never start a new job and have people tell you ‘just be yourself’.
‘But doing things to make people like you sounds manipulative!’ People say. ‘That’s pretending to be something you’re not.‘
But really, do you think so?
Is me giving someone a compliment to make their day better manipulative? Smiling at someone? Dressing nicely and showering? If I am in a foreign country, is practicing to say hello and thank you somehow not being myself?
No, it’s simply practicing skills for meaningful relating which is absolutely wonderful for both sides.
Here’s the other, darker side of that advice.
When we go into a situation believing that being ourselves should be enough, if something doesn’t go the way we want, we feel it must mean there’s something wrong with us.
We must be flawed or not lovable enough.
Being able to be considerate and caring of the people in your company is relating 101. And because you care about others, doing this IS being yourself. Getting good at it is too.
So unless you have already done specific training in love and relationships (and I do not mean reading some articles or talking to friends), there is no reason you should be very good at them!
If you love life isn’t going the way you want it does not mean that there is no-one out there for you, that you’re with the wrong person, that you’re fundamentally flawed.
It means you haven’t mastered something you haven’t ever really tried to learn and surprise surprise, most of us can only get by with sheer luck for so long.
If you’ve ever had someone tell you to ‘just be yourself’ and found it completely unhelpful know you are not alone and if you want more reliable advice on all things sex, love and relationships, sign up for my newsletter or follow me on social stuff via the links below.