Life is often a balance between who we once were, who we are now, and who we would like to become. Nowhere else is this more apparent than in dating. Certainly your past relationships shaped you in many ways. Certainly your present relationship or dating adventures impact who you are now. The hope is, in the end, to be happy with the choices you made and where you wound up in life.
We all bring baggage into our relationships. If we were cheated on, we often have trust issues. If our ex’s were addicts, we fear too much alcohol and partying. If our ex’s were abusive, we fear the “too good to be true” scenario. We all have this fear in our relationships. It is normal.
Every time we leave a relationship, we leave something behind. I wouldn’t say you lose it, but you leave it. Every person you love leaves an impression on your heart. This can be good, and it can be bad. We all take and leave from every relationship; it is part of sharing yourself with someone else.
No one is immune to this. Before there was ‘Mr. Right’ there was ‘Prince Charming’. After a chance encounter with Prince Charming, I have discovered that I am still not immune to him and the insecurities he brought out in me. I still start every relationship with the fear that he will leave. (Prince Charming rode off into the sunset and moved to Texas.) I’m very happy with Mr. Right, but I am not immune to my past. No one is. We often bury it, we try to leave it behind. It is almost as if we try to leave it on the baggage claim, we try to forget about it. But eventually, through a chance encounter, it finds you.
Erving Goffman explains,
“Approved attributes and their relation to face make every man his own jailer; this is a fundamental social constraint even though each man may like his cell.”
By this Goffman means that the attributes we see in ourselves, both positive and negative, are used to create our own cells. We build walls to protect ourselves. We hide behind our ‘face’ or outward projection to the world. We keep our true selves hidden behind this outward projection. The funny thing about these negative attributes, according to Goffman, is that we often make a bigger deal about them then what they are. We all practice impression management. We want the world to know about the good things, while we try to hide the bad. But, as we all know, this only lasts so long.
In fact studies have shown that the more accurate our ‘face’, our representation of our self is, the more successful one is in dating. Much of the work of The Relationship Academic is helping individuals find their core ‘self’ and build a face that is an accurate representation of that self; both good and bad. It is a delicate balance between impression management and the accurate representation of the self.
The important decisions have to do with when and how we portray these aspects, this baggage. It is all in the art of impression management. Think about a job interview. They always ask you to tell them something negative about yourself. The goal of the interviewee to turn a negative into a positive. This is what we must do with our negative attributes and baggage. We must find a way to be honest, but to put that positive spin on it. Instead of being OCD, you are a perfectionist. Instead of being a commitment-phobe, your are cautious in love. All attributes are relative to how we frame them.
I often hear people say, ‘well I don’t want them to know that…’. The funny thing is they care far less about these things than you do. We hide behind our flaws, we obsess over past mistakes, we over-think impression management. Some people feel the opposite, they throw all the baggage out there at once. This isn’t always the answer either. Remember you are managing impression. You do want them to know the truth, but you have to frame it correctly.
The truth is we build these walls, these obstacles that we expect people to climb. Now Goffman isn’t advocating tearing them down, we build them for a reason. But just remember we are the builders of walls. We are the builders of our own cells. Our own partners learn to overlook these things, or to even find them quirky. When your partner knows your true self, they love you for your self.
As for my chance encounter with Prince Charming, I’m not immune to the insecurities that he brings out in me. I was so insecure, I ran and hid. Goffman would have said that instead, I should have practiced impression management. I should have said “Hello, funny to see you here.” Then I should have focused on my impression management, of showing my ‘self’ today. Happy and in love with ‘Mr. Right’. You see, we build our own cells, even the experts. We are our own jailers. But those who love us find them quirky. When I told Mr. Right, he laughed. And I’m not afraid of him leaving. Well, without me anyway.