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Why It’s Good to be “Messy” Early in a Relationship

Dating was hard pre-pandemic, and for many of us, it may feel impossible now — meeting anyone at all is a challenge, let alone the “right” person. We may feel like we don’t want to take any chances; if we do finally meet someone who feels like they could be a good fit, we want to make sure we don’t do anything to “mess it up.”

Counterintuitively, our desire to avoid being “messy” or “scaring them away” might actually be something that’s hurting our relationships — here’s why.

Transparency will weed out the wrong people for you

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All of us try to put our best foot forward and showcase the best version of ourselves while dating — and that’s normal. It’s not a bad instinct; in healthy and strong relationships, you will feel like the best version of yourself around your partner. However, sometimes, this desire is rooted in an unconscious belief that if anyone really gets to know us and understands how “bad“ and unlovable we are, they’ll abandon us or won’t want to be in our life anymore.

The truth is that we’re thinking that part with our emotional brains; when we bring a rational brain into the conversation, we are able to do the math and know that anybody who doesn’t want to be in our life when they get to know us in a full and authentic way isn’t somebody who we should pursue things with, because they won’t be able to meet our needs. 

We don’t need to think of dating as a game show, where we’re weeding out the weakest contestants, and it’s good to walk into things with an open mind and open heart. However, it’s also important to remember that our goal in dating is not to be the best liked or have the most “successful” dates possible; our goal is finding a partner who is a healthy, affirming and authentic match for us, and with whom we can build the kind of life that we want. We want to learn as much about the other person as we can on a first date — and let them learn about us in a genuine way. In the end, being as authentic as possible in your dating interactions will help ensure that the people that you really do make connections with match that description.

Authentic relationships are stronger relationships

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If being on your best behavior and making the effort to be the best version of yourself at all possible times works out and turns into a relationship, you’ve then created a situation where you feel ongoing pressure to remain in that idealized state indefinitely. If you initially felt like your partner might not be interested in you if they knew your full authentic self, you’ll also feel that it’s likely your partner will leave anytime you let them find out about it.

Part of the ongoing trajectory and growth of any relationship is that emotional intimacy should steadily grow and deepen. Over time, you become more comfortable letting your partner into emotional or vulnerable places in your life; this is what begins to transition you to a serious relationship as opposed to a newer, beginning one. 

However, if you feel as though your relationship stability is predicated on never sharing the vulnerable parts of yourself with your partner — because those are usually the parts that end up feeling “messy,” difficult, or uncomfortable — then truly reaching a stable, serious and emotionally intimate place as your relationship continues may become challenging or impossible.

On the other hand, a relationship where you commit to intentionally and thoughtfully sharing the parts of yourself that you find difficult or imagine make you less lovable is one that is set up for healthy and thoughtful growth towards greater emotional intimacy. While you don’t need to overshare or offer more trust or intimacy than is earned by your partner, choosing to lean into being vulnerable and being honest with your partner about what you’re thinking and feeling even when it’s not something you necessarily feel proud of is a good way to start building the muscles your relationship will need for true emotional intimacy.

Vulnerability is the best thing for your relationships, but also for you

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We know that being vulnerable is good for your relationships, and the promise of improving our relationship health or intimacy might be a reason why many of us work to become more vulnerable. However the most important thing is that choosing a practice of radical emotional openness and refusing to feel shame about your emotions or sense of self is a powerful way to improve your quality of life, your emotional and psychological well-being, and your relationship with yourself.

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