The past year has been a great learning experience for me with respect to relationships. Slowly, all that has evolved into a more solidified system of thought which was sort of catalyzed by recent epiphanies... and now, I honestly believe I'm a much better person for it. Essentially, what I've learned is the secret to my own happiness amidst the chaos that is my love life, are the following four axioms.
1. Be yourself
2. Act without regret
3. Love for your own reasons
4. Be at peace
1. Be Yourself
That pretty much says it all... the first, and most important step in this process is to be exactly who you are at all times. Naturally, this is more complicated than any "just be it" phrase - you must know yourself well enough to understand your values and motivations, you must choose who you want to be, and take action to become who you want to be, and be constantly reassessing... But let's assume you already do have a solid idea of who you are, the point of me saying "Be Yourself", is that much of the time most people aren't - especially when we are worried what someone else thinks of us.
Relationships are tricky like that... if we think we like someone, we're so likely to throw "ourselves" out the window and try to strategize by being who we think that person is going to want. This is a lie. But it's like cheating on a test... you really only screw yourself in the long run.
I once cautioned a friend that she seemed to be going to the bar just a bit too often, and she told me "everyone likes me more when I'm drunk!" Unfortunately, unless she's prepared to be drunk all the time, anyone who begins dating her based on the self she presents at the bar is building a relationship on a misrepresentation... and that will fail.
No... the truth is, as cliched as it is, anyone worth being with is going to love you for exactly who you really are, and you won't have to pretend. It's important not to pretend to be someone else in part for your long term happiness of course, but also because it makes you afraid... and fear so often results in both cowardice and trying to tightly control that which is truly beyond your sphere of influence... it's no good. Being comfortable with who you are frees you up to...
2. Act without regret
So much of my life, I have acted boldly in many areas, but not always with women. I suppose this was due in part to a fear of rejection and possibly due to a fundamental lack of self-confidence. While any lack of confidence really wasn't warranted, my friend Ronen made comments back in May that really illuminated the idea that sometimes we retain these residual rejection fears from our youth - even though now we may be successful, mature adults.
Unfortunately, this has prevented me from boldly going for the metaphorical gusto in many of my interactions with women. But recently, following Ronen's advice, I did exactly that with a woman I had just met... and as a result, that sparked the series of epiphanies that led me to think and then write all this. It also made me feel fantastic!
A person's actions tend to be in line with their core beliefs... So once you have established that you know who you are, and that you are who you mean to be, acting on that should be the easy part. It certainly was for me over the past couple months...
The real beauty of this part, is that you'll never regret something you did. If you don't act boldly, you'll wind up years from now saying something like "I wish I'd kissed her!" or "why didn't I tell her what I thought?"
The worst thing that can ever happen is that she doesn't feel the same way... and that is, in my experience, sometimes only temporary. But honestly, how bad is that really?
(See #3 for why rejection should be no big deal).
Acting in this way does have it's downfalls of course. For one, most people aren't used to being dealt with in a truly straightforward manner... so sometimes it's going to freak them out a bit. But the way I figure it, anyone who is truly worth your time is going to appreciate that in your character and treat you with the same candor. If not, then perhaps that particular woman isn't ready yet... or even, isn't as worthy of your love as you thought. Usually, I think some people just need time to get over the shock of honesty, and they will or they won't but there's really nothing you can do about it either way. Once you've shown a person what they mean to you - it will be up to them to decide what to do with that information... any choice really shouldn't make too much of a difference.
So assuming that you have, in fact, judged correctly. Then...
3. Love for your own reasons
What I mean is this: Far from what is constantly parroted by movies, books, and other mass media, true love is possibly the most conditional relationship you could ever have with another person.
Ayn Rand discussed this at length, and one of my best friends mentioned something nearly identical a few weeks ago to me to this concept, all love - especially romantic love - is in reality a physical manifestation of your personal sense of self-worth. As my friend James put it; you're attracted to people who are kind of on your same level.
Unfortunately - a person's sense of self-worth is in a lot of ways independent to what their "real" worth is. Even the most accomplished men and women can still believe that they're not that great, for whatever reason. This is the kind of mentality that pushes normal women to accept abusive men and never leave... it's a shame, but the thing is, it's really important to have an accurate metaphorical mirror and be accurate about your sense of self-worth not only because it seriously affects your confidence, but also because it affects who you're ultimately attracted to.
But I digress... "Love for your own reasons" means this: Love is conditional - but because it's conditional, it makes absolutely no difference whether or not someone believes they love you back. It doesn't matter if it's one-sided.
Look at it this way - if you love someone because they are an amazing person... does that change just because they don't love you back in the way you want them to? No. Of course not... Until a person shows themselves to be unworthy, then there's no reason to be upset with them for not seeing in you what you see in them... one measure of maturity is the ability to accept that very few people will value you as you deserve to be, no matter how you treat them - and that that doesn't mean they're a terrible person, or that it's worth being upset by.
This is an important part of the Zen if you ask me, because it explicitly means that being rejected is of no consequence. There is nothing more liberating than that!
So... put it all together up to this point - following each these 3 concepts, we wind up with a person who is secure and confident about themselves, willing to act pursuant to their desires in morally respectable ways, who has no fear of rejection and is willing to put their heart and emotional core on the line for anyone who is deemed worthy... even if the feeling goes unrequited.
That's who I want to be... and who I believe, for the first time, I really am...
4. Be at peace
Really, all I mean with this one is that... sometimes your bold actions aren't going to work the way you intend. Don't have intentions. Free yourself from desire. Seek only to be true to yourself and your feelings.
Do things that you want to do because they express who you are and what you want to say to a person - not because you think they're going to get you a girlfriend or even get you laid. If you love someone, or if you think they might be worth loving... act. Show them what they mean to you... it's immaterial what you mean to them. Relationships also change over time... there have been several times in my life where a girl who wasn't interested in me at one point was later on. Just relax...
And don't worry about getting hurt! It may happen, it may not... so long as you are acting in ways you don't regret and loving for the right reasons, that hurt - in my experience - is really minimized. Conversely, if you don't put your heart into your relationships (any type of relationship) then you're just being a coward who's missing out on some of the greatest parts of life.
Finally... in keeping with the spirit of it all... To all the women I've truly loved, and all the ones who are worth loving: No matter how you feel about me. I still love you. You know who you are, I hope.
(PS. this all actually applies to friendships too...)