Two recent essays reveal the challenge in living honestly while searching for true love: we are all afraid of being rejected for our deepest personal beliefs and thoughts.
Behind door numero uno, we have a BuzzFeed piece on “Dating While Christian.” In it, Katherine Myers writes about living in urban centers of intellectual liberalism, where she feels obligated to hide her Christianity out of fear of being mocked or marginalized. Myers writes:
In the expensively educated, ambitiously employed, liberal urban circles I’ve run in since graduating from prep school outside Washington, D.C., coming out as a Christian feels more fraught than coming out as gay. Non-straight sexual identity is assumed, accepted, or embraced. We’ve moved on, cheers. But genuine religious belief? Who does that?
While coming out as gay is still beyond fraught in many places and the comparison feels absolutely tone-deaf (as does much of the rest of the piece), I’ll kindly set that aside for the sake of Myers’ intended point, which ultimately reveals an unease with the fact that she needs religion—to deal with her brother’s drug addiction, to give herself time and space to “think about the hard things”—and how that plays out in her ability to feel worthwhile, or lovable.
And rather than simply being open about this—she’s a person who believes in God, it comforts her, what of it?—she hides her Bible under the jacket copy of the latest fiction and pretends she just got out of Pilates on Sunday when she runs late to meet friends for brunch. Myers describes her dating life:
Dating, however, was touch and go. Classy lady that I am, I waited until the second or third date to discuss my faith. The right guys got it and saw the appeal; a good guy at least thought it was kind of interesting.
Once, eating takeout and watching TV with a lovely, kinda boring guy, I got annoyed by one of Bill Maher’s atheist tirades. It made all spiritual people sound like idiots and assholes.
“Oh, shit,” my date said. He removed his arm from around me. “You were being serious about church?”
Many more guys balked and told me, in so many words, that religion was pretty much a deal breaker for them.
Myers gets why—she used to balk at Christians, too, and certainly understands the stereotype of uneducated Republican pro-lifer. But the striking aspect here to me is not her Christianity—surely even in the cold, calculating metropolis there are loads of other liberal believers just like her—but rather the embarrassment, the sense that it must be revealed as a flaw you hope someone has the generosity of spirit to not reject you for. This isn’t an STD or a secret family—it’s a deeply personal belief about the higher order of things, and really, one woman’s Jesus is another’s astrology, ghosts, or reality TV.
And yet, isn’t this ultimately how everyone feels about dating or the search for love? That even totally common maladies like depression, difficult families or less-than-stellar credit are, in fact, terrible secrets we should bury deep within ourselves, or confess as if seeking forgiveness?
But if Myers piece is about the perils of Dating While Secretly Pious, then the latest “Ask Polly” over at The Cut is about Dating While Secretly Moody. The letter writer wonders when it will be OK to show her dark side to a guy she likes, wondering too whether, like a secret Christian, she’ll always be rejected for it.
Describing herself as “a worrier, a thinker, a darker soul in the body of a girl who appears outgoing and maybe not so serious,” she says she’s had perfectly good luck dating in NYC, is a bit of a perfectionist, and has finally met someone she could get close to. The first dates are easy, but as things get more serious, she’s reached the same point as Myers where she feels the need to “come out” as her truer self, and the panic has set in. She writes:
I feel like he is inching closer, trying to open the door into my heart and mind and I’m trying so hard to shut it. I’m so scared that maybe he won’t like what’s behind that door — a more serious, pensive, dark, moody girl. Who doubts herself, who has to remember to love herself, who isn’t perfect.
I know I have to love that girl first, and I am trying. I don’t know why it’s so hard. I am someone who is so forgiving of other people’s faults, yet I can’t seem to allow myself to have my own.
What if I do allow him to see what’s behind that door? And what if he’s the one who runs?
Polly’s answer in its entirety is a golden nugget of truth, but this part pretty much nails it:
He is a lover of complexity or he isn’t. He understands darkness or he doesn’t. He is thrilled to see that you have weaknesses and that you’ll admit to them, because he has weaknesses that he’d like to admit to, too. Or, he’s disgusted by vulnerability because he won’t admit to his own flaws and he never has.
This answer also applies to Katherine Myers. People will or won’t accept you for who you are, and while that may feel like a platitude, it isn’t. It should remind us all to roll into dating situations with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. (Which is not to say that you shouldn’t see yourself as a work in progress rather than a goddess who simply can’t be tamed).
It’s more that our beliefs and ways of looking at the world are the very thing that make us interesting—I can’t fathom not wanting to trot this stuff out first thing, because how else are you going to find out if you’re dealing with someone who gets you?
Yes, there is room for all sorts of deep disclosure later, but the very framework that sustains you—whether it soars up to embrace the holy or plunges down to swim in the bog—are not dark secrets to reveal, but attitudes to wear on your sleeve. Being “gotten” is the entire point of being in love. Otherwise you’re just signing up for a very long acting job.