The Lies We Tell Ourselves

funny-dating-memesI don’t often feel the lack of a man in my life, but occasionally, in the few spare minutes I have here and there, I realize that I really would like a partner. In these moments, I typically pull up the Bumble app.. Maybe there are other venues that work better, but as I said, I don’t want it quite enough to lay money down for it, and Bumble is free. So in these moments of weakness, I open up the app, and–let’s be honest–I go man shopping.

There are so very many problems with this. For one, my ambivalence to the idea of a relationship probably means it’s doomed before it ever begins. The fact that it really does feel like shopping…well, that’s just kind of sad and wrong. And, perhaps the biggest problem of all, is the fact that all you have to go on to find your next potential soulmate is a bunch of pictures and a postage-stamp sized bio… it’s pretty much inevitable that this becomes an exercise in lookism. And let’s be honest. No matter how good I might (or might not) look at 42, I can’t (at least in my head) compete with the bright, shiny new penny 20 somethings.

I am a confident, funny, and interesting woman in person. On paper…well, it’s hard to do myself justice. But online dating is just the way of the world these days. How else are we supposed to meet someone? I teach at a high school. Not like there are a lot of options there for obvious reasons. I go to a small church that seems to be comprised of 75% women and 25% married men. Again, no dating pool.

meet cuteI never was into the bar scene, and any guy my age who still is into the bar scene…well, let’s just say, I want a man not a boy and they are not to be found there. So, unless I’m one of the lucky ones to meet my soulmate at Whole Foods as we ponder which melon to buy and reach for the same melon at the same time… I’m stuck with an app.–despite all it’s shortcomings.

On Bumble, despite my education, experience, and general awesomeness, I am reduced to a picture. And let’s be honest, that is a cesspool of insecurity right there.

As if aging alone didn’t stir up enough phantom doubts of faded beauty, I have the lovely memories of past failure to spar with on a regular basis. As a woman who was cheated on, lied to, and eventually dumped, I often find my mind a battlefield. Luckily, as a professor of Psychology, I usually know how to win this battle.

how-to-practice-positive-self-talkI have long understood the concept of self-talk, aka. the narratives we tell ourselves in our heads. Because of this, when I catch a stray hurtful, self-defeating thought flitting through my brain, I pin it down, confront it with truth, and make sure that my emotions aren’t the ones fueling my self-concept, that truth is. I understood this long before I became a counselor or Psychology professor so, needless to say, at this point, I’ve gotten really good at it.

Despite this, I have struggled with my sense of self. Often times, I find myself wrestling with my worth based on my perceived worth in the eyes of others. Just a few days ago, I found myself feeling really cruddy as a result of this very thing.

online jokeThis weekend, in one of my rare “wouldn’t it be nice to have a man to talk to and who cared about me” moments, I pulled up the Bumble app.. As is too often the case, I was mostly underwhelmed. Let’s just say the dating pool looks more like a stagnant pond at this point of my life: the good ones are married, the newly divorced good ones are in some sort of midlife crisis and want to date a series of empty-headed, big-busted twenty year olds, which leaves mostly the socially awkward, unmotivated, and just plain scary candidates for the rather amazing single forty year old women out there. Typically, this is where I half-heartedly swipe right on a couple of guys who don’t look “too bad,” but leave me feeling no real enthusiasm in what has become an all too familiar routine of ennui.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve gone on dates. Quite a number of them. There even have been a couple guys who made it to a second date, mainly because I convinced myself that, though I still felt zero enthusiasm, they were “nice” and maybe, after warming up to them a bit, I might somehow grow some enthusiasm. Yep, I’m a die-hard optimist, but so far that optimism hasn’t panned out.

This weekend was a bit different. Every once in a while, I’ll run across a guy who I feel some enthusiasm for. Like any self respecting woman, I have my list of non-negotiables as well as preferences, and this guy seemed like we might actually have a shot at interesting if not soul mate.

bumble-vs-tinderSo, I swiped right, and sure enough…Boom! Match! He had swiped right on me too. I pondered a moment for a decent opening line, typed it out and hit send. And then I waited.

And waited…

And waited…

Guys only have 24 hours to respond on Bumble before the match disappears. And as the time ticked away, and there was no response, I found myself with a big question mark.

Why? What changed? Why did a guy, who thought I was a Match, change his mind?

But the thing was, there were no answers, not even potential answers, there were just questions.

The problem with this is that the brain is a meaning making machine. In the absence of answers, our brain makes up it’s own, and too often, it’s our insecurities that rule these narratives. And I am certainly no exception to this.

Woman-mirror-600x300I’ve been feeling a bit frumpy lately. I’ve gained a few pounds, I’ve gained a few wrinkles, and I got a haircut that makes me feel, well, kind of blah. So my insecurities piped up with their version of events:

It’s that picture you added–the full length one. Clearly, you must look fat. I mean, look at those arms! Tall works if you’re lean, but you’re clearly not lean, and that is all that comes across in that photo–very, very un-lean. Delete the picture. Hide yourself. You do better in person.”

negative self talkAll it took was that whisper through my brain, and my brain ran away with it. I found myself eyeing my figure in the mirror, noticing every ounce I’ve gained, every little soft spot. I found myself ditching my heels for flats, though I love my heels. Why accent my height, when my height is already so noticeable? I found myself changing my outfit–not once, but often several times–because I “looked fat.”

All because my insecurities wrote the script of their version of events and my brain which wanted meaning said, “Sure! That works! Makes sense. That must be the reason.”

But I literally have no clue what the real reason was.

Perhaps it was a busy week at work, and he was too distracted to worry about Bumble….

Perhaps he didn’t get the notification at all and so has no clue that we even matched…

Perhaps he just started dating someone and he wants to see what happens before he deletes the app….

Perhaps he’s really married, and his wife has gotten suspicious, and so he’s decided to lay low for a while…

Perhaps he doesn’t like educated women…

Perhaps…You get the idea.

the lies we tell ourselvesI literally have no idea why he didn’t respond, and the vast number of the possibilities have nothing to do with how I did, or didn’t, look in that dress.

And yet, I was so convinced that it was the picture, that I sent it to a guy friend asking for his reassurance that I didn’t “look fat.”

When this happened, I didn’t really see it for what it was. It was only as I was reading Brene’ Brown’s book, “Rising Strong” yesterday that I began to see this situation clearly.

Though I have a good handle on my inner self-talk, I have allowed what Jonathan Gottschall, a writer and English Professor, calls confabulation to act as a runaway train in my mind. He explains that there’s growing evidence that “ordinary, mentally healthy people are strikingly prone to confabulate in everyday situations.”

Okay, so what does that even mean?

Confabulation is a term often applied to individuals who have dementia or a brain injury. When these individuals have a “hole” in their story, they fill it with something that they decide is true, but is, in actuality, false. There is a growing pile of evidence that suggests that this is not a problem isolated to those with memory or brain trauma–it is an issue for all of us–on an ongoing basis.

Brene’ Brown goes so far as to call these stories we tell ourselves “conspiracy theories,” and I believe that is a fitting descriptor. A conspiracy theory, by definition is a story that is based on limited real data and imagined data that is blended together into a coherent and emotionally satisfying version of reality…isn’t that exactly what I did with the lack of a response and the picture? I had extremely limited, circumstantial at best, evidence. And yet it “made sense” if I bought into the validity of my insecurities…

I think if you are honest with yourself, you can quickly see where you have done the very same thing.

Perhaps it was a fight with your spouse. You interpret his reaction as unloving because you are convinced he doesn’t love you anymore…

Perhaps it was the “indifference” of your wife because she no longer finds you “sexually attractive” because you are feeling insecure about those love handles…

Perhaps it’s that your best friend doesn’t think your friendship is “important enough” to respond to your message because you are feeling like no one cares…

Perhaps it’s that old classmate who “pretended” not to see you at Target…

Perhaps it’s that you didn’t get the promotion because your boss “doesn’t respect women…”

stories

Could any and all of these be true? Possibly. But are they? Or are you allowing the 

runaway train of your insecurities to script the incomplete stories of your life? Are you buying into self-created conspiracies that confirm your doubts?

I think you should start taking a closer look at these scripts and asking yourself what parts are true, and what parts are conjecture.

I know I’m going to start paying a whole lot more attention to these stories. I want my stories to be based on truth, not fear and doubt. And, as we are learning, what we think is so often the truth we make.

 

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The myth of perfection: being authentic in a photoshopped world

chris-hemsworth-thorAnyone who knows me, knows that I have a bit of a crush on Chris Hemsworth (a bit creepy I suppose being that I’m 40, but hey, we can all imagine, right?!). Blonds are actually not my typical type, but I make exceptions for the long-haired viking type. There is just something so ruggedly male about them. It’s that same quality that has me crushing on Clay Matthews from the GreenBay Packers and the vampire Erick from the Sookie Stackhouse books (something that did not carry over into the tv series sadly–no offense Alexander Skarsgard–perhaps if you were to grow your hair out it would help…). Nothing screams strong alpha male quite like a viking.

So it was with great anticipation that I went to see the new Thor movie, as much to gaze at Chris Hemsworth as for what I anticipated to be a great hero flick.

You can imagine my surprise when, for the first time, I did not find Hemsworth quite as drool worthy. It was not due to the fact that he was often portrayed unwashed and disheveled–something that can just heighten that maleness in my book. Nope, when I assessed my reaction, I realized that I found him too ripped. Yep, he had crossed over into meathead territory.

gym ratNow don’t get me wrong, I love a good representation of the male physique as much as the next girl, and some nice muscle definition is downright hot, but, there is this threshold, this crossing into the ridiculous–trying too hard category that, at least for me, makes a man far less appealing. And sadly, my crush has crossed over into that land of the unreal, fake looking land of the gym rats.

This made me think about society and our expectations of unreality in terms of ourselves and our significant others. When did we stop wanting to be, and to be with, someone who looks like a real-life human being and instead to be with a photoshopped, airbrushed, image of perfection straight off the pages of a comic book?

As a psychology professor, I often have to teach things such as self image and eating disorders. A number of years ago, I had done quite a bit of research on female self-image and eating disorders, but in prepping for a new course last year, I decided I needed to update my research and what I found surprised me.

In our modern culture, boys and men are struggling with their body image almost as much as women. The media is driving men to the same sense of being not enough as women. And the expectations are most often unrealistic and unattainable.

No where do you see it quite so obviously as the online dating world. Being a newb in terms of this new and not-so-improved dating culture, it has been quite a learning curve for me.

dating_checklistAt first I just found it very odd that so many men led with their height and weight statistics.

Then I started to find it a bit creepy how many made a point of listing just how frequently they went to the gym and for how long…

And then it started to get just downright icky as they listed their point by point preferences for a female as if they were placing an online custom order with Amazon. And of course, this always included an athletic and fit or slender woman who also wants to live in the gym and only eat healthy.

But she’s also supposed to be intelligent, independent, and have her own established career…

Hmmm…most women who hit that “intelligent, independent and established” mark are in their late thirties to early forties, and no longer have the ripped 20 year old body that so many of these men seem to expect. I think these men should maybe get really comfortable with the companionship of their Maxim magazines because last I knew, women were real and far too busy to spend the hours a day in the gym that are required to look like the airbrushed and photoshopped images found in those magazines. And if they’re not, well, they are likely as shallow and empty-headed as the hours spent in a gym would imply–or they are more interested in a sugar daddy than a real and authentic relationship.

As a woman with a more curvalicious physique, despite the societal messages trying to eat away at my sense of self, I typically feel pretty good in my own skin. Though, I have to admit, the dating scene did shake my confidence for a bit, that is, until I started to realize that, the bravado and the unrealistic expectations were often just a mask for a deep seeded insecurity.

When-youre-comfortable-in-your-own-skin...youre-beautiful.-Confidence-is-the-best-makeup-you-could-ever-wear.Yeah sure, there are some meatheads who just want some arm candy, but, most people are craving a real and authentic relationship with a real and authentic human being.

When it really comes down to it, Chris Hemsworth’s unnatural physique is far less appealing than a real man who works hard and doesn’t have the luxury of hours per day spent in the gym.

The media feeds us unreality, and when we buy what it is selling, we become dissatisfied with what is real and beautiful.

It’s time we started recognizing that authenticity is far more attractive than an unattainable perfection only achieved at the end of a plastic surgeon’s knife.

Be healthy and be you. You are unique and you are beautiful.