One of the most important parts of a relationship is the beginning. You create inside jokes, you learn each other’s likes and dislikes, and you establish who will satisfy which roles in the relationship. Who will be the person that protects the other when watching a scary movie? Who kills the spiders? Who finds the restaurant that you’ll eat at so you can avoid the “no YOU pick” conversation? Of course love grows as a relationship grows, but so much of the foundational details are laid at the beginning. If the beginning of the relationship is crucial to its success then why are we taught to lie, flirt, and embellish in order to start a relationship?
Maybe no one would date you unless you pretend to share all of their interests. On one hand we’re told to be ourselves and that the romance will come when “we’re not looking for it”. The flip side is much more impatient but probably more successful. Magazine after magazine tells us that we have to be ourselves at 110% in order to catch someone’s interest. We all have to be “Jennifer Lawrence cool girls”. We have to be laid back but put together all at the same time. We have to enjoy social drinking while not being party girls. We have to look nice but not care about our looks. No one can live this contradiction. No one can be both them true selves while in their “cool girl” costume. No person can be Jennifer Lawrence. (Is JLaw even as JLaw as she lets on?)
Falling in love happens later in the relationship. But as we fall in like with one another how do we separate what’s real from what’s a flirting tip out of Cosmo? Is this something we can even start to understand when we’re still blinded by the honeymoon phase? It seems that we don’t learn our partner’s true self until much later.
In the luckiest of cases couples can ditch the meticulously planned outfits for sweatpants with little adjustment. In relationships we slowly learn that certain mannerisms aren’t as cute as they used to be. His recipe for pepperoni calzones might seem charming at first, but you’ll grow to resent it when you find out it’s the only thing he can cook. And maybe what makes this tricky adjustment easier is that only the insignificant parts of the relationship are changing. These little things, like whether or not you replace the toilet paper role, don’t jeopardize the success of the entire relationship. But what is the fate of the relationship if we embellish the more serious parts of our relationships? Take our personalities for example. But why might we fib about our personalities? It’s all we’re told to do.
I can easily think of an example of when this strategic flirting went horribly wrong. (SPOILERS AHEAD) In Gillian Flynn’s book Gone Girl (that was adapted into movie in 2014) Amy Elliot plays Nick Dunne like a game of chess. She becomes his perfect “cool girl”. “Cool girl” Amy and unsuspecting Nick fall in like, fall in love, and get married. And five years later when Nick doesn’t realize that “cool girl” was only Amy’s temporary flirting persona she punishes him for making her be the naggy wife she never wanted to be. Who’s more to blame? Nick for not realizing that they were bound to change as people and as a couple? Or Amy for initiating the relationship as a fake, cooler version of herself only to change drastically in marriage?
While I hope none of our relationship adjustments end in the same drama of Gone Girl, the troubles of their relationship aren’t that hard to understand. There’s no perfect cool girl. Try to be you from the beginning and if not you could always fake your disappearance a la Gone Girl. Simply put, pick someone and love them.
“If you want love, just pick a guy and love him…”