We’ve all been there. You had a killer first date and he texted you back, but you’re calculating the minutes, seconds, and deep breaths until it’s “socially acceptable” to reply. Then, when you’ve held out until you’re practically squirming, you run into your flatmate’s room and draft your response together, strategizing over periods, exclamation points, and the comparative advantages of a wink-y face versus a classic smiley. Reality check: he probably wrote back whatever he felt like, whenever he felt like it, and the only thing he’s checking in with his buddies about is the score of the game.
Then there’s the hook-up you’ve been seeing on and off for a few weeks. Each meet-up is a calculated rundown of who booty-called who the last time and what time of the night would seem less obvious, less desperate. Since when did life become a strategy? Since when did we start cowering behind punctuation marks and emoticons, utterly terrified of the rejection we might receive if we admit we’ve actually found someone we want to focus on for more than thirty seconds? When the next catch is just a scroll, swipe, click, or poke away, the most humiliating defeat would be to be caught exposed when there’s piles of “options” to bury our real feelings under.
A few weeks ago I also caught myself red-handed, guilty to all of the above, sitting in a war room with my iPhone and my best friend, banging my head against the wall over wording when it was as simple as asking for a second date. Finally she puts down the phone, sighs, and says, “Do the only thing you can do. Just be your genuine self.” And it was probably the most trite piece of advice I had ever received.
But the timing was impeccable and her message rang with a simple, oft-forgotten truth: just do what you would do. Speak your mind. Have the self-respect and confidence to embrace your raw feelings and genuine interest in another human being and communicate with authenticity. In a day and age when everything is covered in glossy screens and spoken in code, stop over-thinking and just be. Just do. Speak. Love. Engage. Fail. Embarrass yourself. Survive. Move on. This is the good stuff. No one else can dictate to you how to do it.
If we don’t stop processing and start being human, we will wind up in relationships, friendships, and even jobs where the whole chain of events that led us to the present moment has been a carefully, collaboratively, socially-endorsed game of Battleship played on the defense. We cannot live our lives being petrified of making the first move, of being shot down for making mistakes or acting with the irrational passions that make us warm flesh and blood. We have to be our genuine selves or we risk becoming a composite image of everything and everyone around us instead of our own, humble, imperfect, courageous, stand-alone portraits.