Truth-Telling is Sexy
by Keith Thompson
Psychologist Susan Campbell’s research finds: Truth-telling is sexy!
“If you want to be more radiantly alive and attractive,
don’t play it so safe. Try Truth in Dating!”
(Reprinted from the Pacific Sun Magazine, Cover Story, Valentines Issue 2004)
Keith Thompson: In your research you explored the changing landscape of the singles world. What did you find?
Dr. Susan: Many people over the age of thirty-five have come to the decision that they would rather be single than “settle;” in other words they are not willing to compromise their integrity or their desires in order to have or keep a relationship. They are beginning to realize that honesty is the only hope for relationships. I also found there is a lot of fear in the dating world. It’s sad but true that most people do not feel safe about being totally honest. They fear being hurt, causing hurt, being rejected, being judged as not good enough, or being told, “I’m not interested in seeing you again.” So they enter the dating arena at a distinct disadvantage. You’re not very attractive, and you’re not really very open to loving when you’re in a fear state.
The 10 Truth Skills
1. Experiencing what is.
Distinguish between what you actually experience (see, hear, sense, feel, notice, remember) versus what you imagine (interpret, believe, assume) to be true. The statement “I see you looking at the floor’ is your own experience. The statement ‘I see you are uncomfortable’ is an interpretation. If you get caught up in believing your interpretations about another person’s behavior, you’ll be responding to your interpretation of what she did instead of what she actually did.
2. Being transparent.
To be transparent is to be willing to be seen, warts and all. Contrary to what we may think, most people become more appealing when they reveal their needs and insecurities. This doesn’t mean presenting the story of your wounds in misfortunes in vivid detail. It’s more a matter of practicing being open about your feelings, impressions, wants, and self-talk about your interaction with the person in front of you.
3. Noticing your intent.
Do you communicate to relate or to control? When your intent is to relate, you are most interested in revealing your true feelings, learning how the other feels, and connecting heart-to-heart. When your intent is to control, you are most interested in getting things to turn out a certain way – avoiding conflict, getting the person to like you, being seen as knowledgeable or helpful, etc.
4. Giving and asking for feedback.
Giving feedback is the act of verbally letting the other know how his actions affected you. Being open to receiving feedback means you are curious about and willing to hear how your actions affect other people. Most people don’t get very much valid feedback in their daily lives, and they long for it.
5. Asserting what you want and don’t want.
Many of us are afraid to ask for what we want in a dating relationship for fear or either not getting it or of having the other person give it to them out of obligation. Asking for what you want is an act of trust. You are taking a step into the unknown – not knowing how the other person will respond.
6. Taking back projections.
If some aspect of my own personality is unconscious or suppressed, I may find that I have a pattern of being attracted to men who exhibit this quality in spades. Have you ever been attracted to someone for some wonderfully appealing quality only to discover a few months down the road that this very same quality turned you off? That’s a great opportunity to take back or rediscover your own hidden qualities.
7. Revising an earlier statement.
This means giving yourself permission to revisit a particular interaction or moment in time if your feelings change or if you later connect to some deeper feelings or afterthoughts. For instance: “After I said such and such, I later realized there was more to it than that. What I now feel is ________.”
8. Holding differences or embracing multiple perspectives.
Many people fear intimacy because we fear losing ourselves in a relationship. If you know how to practice holding differences, you won’t need to fear losing yourself. This is the capacity to listen to and empathize with opinions that differ from yours without losing touch with your own perspective.
9. Sharing mixed emotions.
Sometimes we want to tell someone the truth but at the same time we are concerned about their feelings. A desire to clear the air might be accompanied by a fear of being misunderstood. If you do have mixed feelings, expressing both feelings can add depth to your communication.
10. Embracing Silence.
Authentic communication depends as much on silence as it does on words – the silences between your words and the silence you have spoken as you await the other’s response. Embracing silence encourages understanding that there are many things that cannot be known all at once or once and for all. These things emerge gradually as we get to know the other person.
From Truth in Dating: Finding Love by Getting Real by Susan M. Campbell, Ph.D.
And this is where your ten truth skills come in, right?
Yes, there is a way to make intimacy feel safer. It involves learning and practicing ten “truth skills.” These skills help you speak your truth more skillfully and compassionately while at the same time lightening up on your need for others’ approval. The truth skills are designed to bring you more into the present moment as you speak and listen to others. When your attention is in the present, you’re going to feel safer because you are grounded in your own experience. You’re less focused on trying to control the outcome. Just “being present” is an antidote for fear. More and more people are realizing that putting so much of your attention on what may or may not happen in the future—like will he want to see me again?—keeps you in a state of fear. When you’re in fear, you’re closed down and tight. You’re trying too hard. When you’re open to the moment with all its wonderful possibilities, you’re more relaxed and more available to love.
Do you really expect people to DO this? To tell the truth, even with someone they’re just getting to know?
Many people laugh when they first hear the phrase “Truth in Dating.” They chuckle, “Yeah, right, like I’m going to tell a woman I’m seeing that I’m attracted to her best friend,” or “You think I’m going to tell a man that I’m turned off by how he laughs or talks?” Honesty can be difficult and it can trigger pain, but if it does, this old buried pain needs to come to the surface so it can be seen, felt, and healed. You see, we all enter relationships with painful baggage from our past. So there’s always buried pain waiting to be triggered. This is why people fear being truthful. They fear that the truth will hurt. And often it will. That’s why singles need a recovery program. We need to learn how to heal the past in our adult relationships. And we need a reliable way to help each other heal. Truth in Dating is a way for two people to enter into an agreement that they will help each other heal by giving each other honest feedback.
But our culture teaches us to be nice and not hurt peoples’ feelings. And maybe for good reason.
Most of us are trying to find someone who will make us feel okay. We think we’ll feel better when we have someone who loves us. Relationships are a wonderful vehicle for healing and transformation, but they are not about finding someone who will never push your buttons. Practicing this brand of truth telling in relationships shows us how to stay in our hearts when old fears are triggered by admitting it when we’re having a painful reaction.
No doubt – but it doesn’t sound like what passes for dating most of the time. My focus on the first date has always been to make a good impression. Yet I also want to be myself. That’s the conflict.
I can tell you a great many singles of all ages feel caught in that same tension. They start out trying to make a good impression. As a result, tensions rise and enjoyment falls. Then they try even harder and the mood and authenticity deteriorate further. But when you shift your intent in dating from trying to impress to showing up real and transparent, you become more radiantly alive and juicy. I see it in my workshops. I’ll invite two people who have never met to share their self-talk or “what I was thinking as I noticed you from across the room.” When they share these thoughts, they become delightfully spontaneous, interesting, and funny. They come across as more alive, sexier. I imagine this has something to do with the fact that when you are not trying to impress, you are more relaxed, and the life force moves through you more easily. In a recent seminar, I asked Ted, one of the men in the group, to pick out a woman he found attractive and then whisper to me the thoughts he was having as he noticed her across the room. He said, “I’m thinking that someone as cute as her would probably not be interested in me.” So I asked Ted, “What if you were to go up to her and tell her that you noticed her and then tell her what you just told me?” He accepted the challenge, walked over to where the woman was seated, and told her the thoughts that were going on in his head when he saw her walk into the room. Then I coached the woman, Cherie, to tell me what she was thinking to herself at that point: “I’ve never been approached quite like that before. I’d like to be able to say I’m attracted to Ted at this point, but I’m not. And yet, because he was so open and funny, he certainly got my attention. I like how spontaneous he is, and I think I’d like to spend more time getting to know him.”
That’s a terrific story. It’s hard to relax when you’re focused on trying to make something happen, or keep something from happening.
It’s really sobering when we come to realize how much dating energy is devoted to controlling outcomes or simply controlling your own anxiety about not feeling in control. So we adopt various “control patterns,” strategies for appearing more on top of the situation that you really feel. What many people do not realize is you’re more attractive and loveable when you’re admitting “I don’t know what to do right now,” or “I’m feeling a bit nervous right now.” It’s not how cool we appear that binds people to us. It’s how real we are.
You also mention in the book that truth-telling can help you overcome your fears of intimacy.
When you make honesty your conscious intent, it gets easier to notice when you’re not being truthful on a date, and you can ask yourself, “What belief am I unconsciously harboring about how safe it is to be close to people? What am I afraid of?”
Amazing how fast rejection and criticism pop into mind.
It’s possible to get to a place where you feel the pain of rejection and criticism, but you are no longer dominated by your need to avoid these experiences. I have found, for example, that I can express a feeling of hurt or anger toward someone, and if I do so with the intent of “being transparent,” I immediately feel more connected and loving toward this other person. I get over it, and come back to being present and available.
When I express anger or hurt “in the interest of transparency,” this means I am doing so with the intent to reveal myself, not with the intent to change you or make you feel bad or wrong. As long as I am “relating,” instead of “controlling,” people will tend to trust me more because they can sense that I’m not running a hidden agenda. They feel safer around me. I graduated high school without getting even ten minutes of instruction about how to communicate or solve problems in a close relationship. Talk about sobering.
Truth in dating is ultimately a practice that requires agreement between two people to make this their conscious practice. By consciously practicing truth-telling, we get to see our unconscious beliefs and control patterns—the things that take us out of the present moment, out of our hearts and into our fears about the future. Control patterns arise whenever a person feels fearful about being rejected, controlled, attacked, criticized, abandoned, judged, ignored, frustrated, or shamed. An example of a control pattern would be jumping to conclusions about what someone means and basing your response on that assumption, instead of inquiring about what they mean. For example, Lisa and Tom are on a first date, and he makes a statement that begins with the words, “At your age…” Lisa hears nothing else after that. She gets her “fear of rejection” button pushed and to protect herself from pain, she goes into her control pattern of “filling in the blanks,” assuming that he sees her as “too old for him.” So she decides then and there that she and Tom will only have a platonic friendship. She doesn’t ask him what he meant or how he feels about her. She controls her fear of the unknown by making up a “known.” Now what if Tom really likes her? She’ll never allow for this possibility because of her self-protective control pattern.
You write about the importance of staying on “your own side of the net.” What do you mean?
This means speaking only about your own feelings and thoughts and refraining from telling others what they are feeling. Say you notice your date is not looking at you when she speaks. You might be tempted to say something like, “I can see you’re uncomfortable with this topic.” That’s an interpretation, and it involves telling your date what she is feeling. Imagine this instead: “I notice you are looking at the floor as you speak, and I’m thinking that maybe you’re feeling uncomfortable with this topic….Are you?” When we get caught up in believing our interpretations about another person, this interferes with our ability to experience and respond to what actually occurred.
The early stages of a new relationship seems like a good time to get on the same page about how honest both people want to be.
Very true, the initial stages of dating bring up a lot of anxiety because things are so uncertain. This is an excellent time to begin the practice of truth-telling--this helps us keep from getting ahead of ourselves. One question that you can address right away is “How important is honesty to each of us?” For most people, Truth in Dating will be a radical concept. Here’s the real choice. Do you want to start out the relationship by being true to your own values? Or would you rather play it safe and make sure your behavior stays within the other person’s comfort zone? Are you ready to break out of the widely held belief that you have to be careful not to upset other people? By making Truth in Dating your awareness practice, you will come to see how many unconscious patterns you have that reinforce the belief that the world is a scary and unfriendly place.
Is there such a thing as too much reality in a relationship?
Personaly I want all the reality I can get. But this practice is not for the faint-hearted! It’s up to the two of you to define the type of honesty that you both want. This involves getting clear how you each define “honesty.” Does it mean sharing the the details of your previous relationships? Does it include sharing your psychological histories? Does it mean telling her that you’re turned off by how she dresses, or telling him that you don’t like the way he kisses? My own definition of truth-telling is this: I want our conversations to be mostly present-centered—talking about what we are feeling, wanting, or thinking here and now with one another as opposed to spending a lot of time on past relationships. I want to be free to talk about things that might be difficult. I want us both to feel free to ask for what we want. I will answer any sincere question honestly. I will ask about anything I’m curious about, but I can accept it if the other person does not feel like talking about this. And I like sharing personal stories. I think this is an excellent way to get to know each other.
At the risk of spoiling Valentines Day, there’s also the question of endings.
Let’s face it, most dating relationships end at some point, and most people do not do endings skillfully. If you end things in an unconscious way, you will carry the unfinished business from this relationship into your future. If you end things consciously, you won’t be afraid of running into this person in the supermarket or at the next singles mixer, and you will be more ready to move on without baggage. So I devote two whole chapters of my book to “how to end things consciously.” It’s a topic that’s very near and dear to my heart, since I tend to be a serial monogamist.
You seem pretty optimistic about the possibilities in dating.
What I am optimistic about is the real possibility of changing the rules of the dating game. I think many of us are just too old, and maybe even a little bit too wise, to keep engaging in inauthentic relationships. It’s time to call one another out to a higher standard of relating. A lot of people are just waiting for someone else to make the first move. Whenever I “go first” and speak my truth, I generally find that my partner is right there with me.