Don’t date before reading this
A few years back, I was on a date with a girl who had a lot in common with me. We were both middle-class writers with degrees in marketing, we were part-time musicians who gigged locally, and we were both adamantly liberal politics junkies (in other words, probably two of the most annoying people on the planet).
To make matters worse, we were, at the time, both followers of the Church of Astrology, each of us happily snorting pseudo-scientific soundbites about our horoscopes online and regurgitating them quasi-intellectually over a glass of wine.
You know. Normal stuff.
“I’m just such a Libra,” my date said, swirling her Merlot across the hotel bar from me. “People always tell me I’m the life of the party, even when it’s to my detriment.” She laughed — so did I — before leveling her eyes at me. “And you?”
“Me? I’m a Scorpio,” I said.
Her eyes darkened. Her lip curled up on one side. She fingered the rim of her wine glass quizzically, as if deciding whether or not to dip the tip of her nail in its mulberry depths and fling the leftover residue at my pearl-white shirt.
“I see,” she replied. “So that’s why you’re so f---ed up.”
She promptly paid her bill and left. In hindsight, with the way she snarled at me, I’m surprised she didn’t throw her glass at my face before cursing my bloodline and making a grand exit.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide if we saw each other again or not.
I don’t share this story out of some masochistic desire to humiliate myself in front of strangers on the internet. Instead, I’m sharing it because I want to make sure this kind of thing never happens to anyone else again.
Dating is Hard
You see, dating is hard. It’s hard for countless reasons: there’s no instruction manual for it; your parents are bad at it; your friends, worse. Dating advice is bad, dating “gurus” are hacks. The truth is, nobody has any clue what they’re doing, which means you and I don’t, either. Consequently, neither do your dates.
Despite this, most of us espouse dating advice like we’re love masters. We know exactly who our friends belong with, and who our enemies do, too (I’m sure most of us would love to pawn an ex off to a bad-mouthed boss or horrendously backwards cousin).
But still. We know nothing.
Instead, we approach love much like monkeys do entertainment: we throw our s--- at the wall and see what sticks. In our case, our s--- is a mix of traits, values, ideals and, yes, traumas, that make us the unique, personal, s--- snowflakes that we are. Once we’re pretty certain of what kind of s--- snowflake we are, we let that s--- snowflake rain all over the heads of our prospective partners by coaxing, persuading, convincing and conniving them into believing that our special blend of personality traits somehow looks appealing when presented as a whole.
The thing is, while most of us are intimately knowledgeable — and similarly obsessed — with the kind of s--- snowflake we are (there’s a reason there’s enough self-masturbatory online personality quizzes to kill an oversized Burmese python), we’re terrible at pointing the finger at the kinds of people we should be with.
Why is that?
One word: ego.
All of us have one; it’s fine to admit that you do, too. In fact, without our egos, we wouldn’t be, well, us. Instead we’d be in a perpetual state of quasi-disillusionment, a state of unattached nirvana. And while that might sound nice on paper, it’s a rather terrible state of being to find yourself in if you’d like to actually fall in love.
(Believe me. Siddhartha Gautama was one of the most influential figures of all time, but his marriage probably crumbled not long after he gave up his identity as a well-endowed rich prince and sat beneath a tree for 49 days straight.)
Here’s the thing about our egos: while they make us who we are, they also prevent us from experiencing a whole hell of a lot of things that are good for us. That’s because role of the ego is to keep you safe — to keep you in your comfort zone and prevent you from taking risks.
In other words, are egos are us, and none of us like to look stupid, so we put a lot of stop-gaps in place to keep ourselves from looking stupid.
For instance, if we’re bad at dancing, or can’t play pool, or don’t think we’re funny, then our ego will stop us from engaging in those activities and behaviors before we can make ourselves look stupid. As a result, we won’t bust it down on the wedding floor with a stranger, we won’t say yes to a game of billiards, and we most certainly won’t crack a joke if we don’t know that it’s going to land.
Our Ego as Protection
Basically, our ego is a protection mechanism on overdrive.
And because it’s on overdrive, occasionally that protection mechanism keeps us from finding love. It keeps us from seeing people who might actually be beneficial for us. After all, if your ego’s job is to protect you, then it’s going to perceive people who are different from you as a threat.
That’s why we’re so bad at picking partners. Because a lot of the people who’d actually be great for us initially come off as different, weird, scary, strange or threatening to our egos (and no, this doesn’t mean that you should saunter off and go on a blind date with a serial killer — hang with me for just another minute, and I’ll explain myself).
Here’s how our ego sabotages us and keeps us from finding love. Let’s say you’re dating someone who’s smarter than you. Your instinct is to dump ‘em; after all, they’ll make you look stupid in front of your friends. On a date with someone whose political affiliations don’t mirror yours? They’re going to challenge your beliefs, and you don’t want to confront the fact that you might be wrong, so you should dump ‘em.
Found someone very Type A, and you’re very Type B? Well, of course that’ll never work.
See how it works? Your ego, while important for defining who you are, can sometimes go overkill on people who might actually be an amazing fit for you. Despite this, your ego picks out unfamiliar traits in others — new qualities that you’re not used to experiencing — and labels them as threats before you can decide if you actually dislike those traits.
Why is that bad, you ask? For starters, it’s never good to dismiss something as bad before you’ve even taken the time to consider if it’s good. That’s like being a kid who hates vegetables: they don’t taste like candy, so they’ve gotta be bad for you, right?
On a larger, deeper, level, you’ve also got to consider what someone different can bring to a relationship. After all, what’s the point in dating someone who’s a carbon copy of you? You already know who you are, and you’re not going to learn anything about yourself or the world by dating your clone.
That doesn’t mean you need to date someone who’s a total foil. After all, I’d be hard pressed to believe a six-time medal-earning Olympic athlete who’s training for another shot at the gold is going to get along well with a professional couch potato whose primary job responsibilities include frequent bong-ripping and sleeping past 4 PM.
There are limits, people.
But what you should consider, however, is dispensing with some of the superficial bulls--- that’s keeping you from committing to someone who might be amazing. Or, let me put it this way: if you’re a writer-musician-astrology-worshiping-liberal like me, you might not get along at all with another writer-musician-astrology-worshiping-liberal.
Why? Because even if someone shares a lot of common interests with you, their deeper values might be totally wack. You could have the same favorite band, the same style, the same pastimes, the same strange coin collection you’ve been keeping in your upper dresser drawer since 2004…
But if your deeper values aren’t aligned, it’s not gonna work.
Deep values are things that run beyond the superficial. They include your sense of humor, your appetite for tension versus your desire for harmony, your concept of family, the scope and size of your aspirations, your goals, your preferred method of arguing (yes, I’m not messing with you, this is important)… the list goes on.
The cool thing about letting go of your ego is that it opens up a lot of dating doors. If you feel like you’ve been swiping right on your doppelganger for the past six months, you might feel a sense of relief when you realize you can date someone who comes from a different background — only to find that, deep down, you two are more aligned than you think.
Of course, it’s going to feel weird at first. Your ego alarm bells are going to ring. Your date might start talking about an interest that you know nothing about, and your ego will scream, “Holy s---. I don’t know how to contribute something clever to this conversation. They’re going to think I’m an idiot!”
When your ego tells you these things, your job is to say, “So what?”
So what if you fail? What’ll happen? You’ll learn something. Even if the worst thing happens, and you get rejected, you’ll still be learning things about yourself and others (and believe me, getting rejected is not that bad, especially if it’s coming from someone who can’t accept that their date doesn’t have the exact same skills or interests as they do).
What I’m saying is, it’s okay to tell your ego to shut up sometimes.
Sometimes, you can just go along for the ride. Who knows? Maybe the person you least expected to be compatible with you actually is.
And hey — at the very least, you won’t end up like me: stuck chasing down astrology people who tell you you’re full of it because you were born six days after them.
If anything, you won’t have to worry about getting wine tossed in your face.