The Case Against Fakin' It

I wish that I could have advised my younger self that it's better to get out of a relationship than to change yourself to stay in one.

Dec 29, 2011 at 6:00pm | Leave a comment

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I'm curious. For those of you in relationships, I have a question for you: How often do you fake it?

I don't mean orgasms, and I don't mean the faking that we all do when our partners need us to shut our mouths rather than say "I told you so," but the deeper, darker stuff of faking compatibility and contentment with the person you're dating. What percentage of your relationship is you doing that fake smile that looks like a grimace, hoping things will settle in at some point? How many of you are changing or restricting certain parts of yourselves in an effort to please somebody else?

For example: I am friends with a guy who has slowly been squashed into a shape that is most pleasing to his girlfriend.  She doesn't like it when he is loud and boisterous, so at parties and social gatherings he sits quietly, occasionally rubbing her back.

They look happy enough, but to anyone who has seen him before and after the relationship, it appears his personality has changed dramatically. To be clear, she never demanded that he change, she just made it known that she was displeased with certain aspects of his personality, and he slowly changed himself in order to keep her happy. He wants to be with her forever, but as a casual observer, I can tell he's acting.

Then I thought about my own past relationships.

I was with a guy for years who I liked very much -- he was smart, silly, and had a gentle lovely spirit, but we just weren't that compatible. I "powered through," or overlooked his radically different values, I nodded agreement when he decided that "kissing was overrated," I agreed to move to a new city because he wanted to move, and I kept plugging along, clinging to the parts of our relationship that did work.

It took me a few years of being with him to realize that it wasn't a matter of endurance, of me holding my breath in this relationship until some shadowy endpoint -- this could have been the rest of my life. So I got out.

When I was younger and dating for the sake of dating, I wasn't looking for someone I'd want to eat breakfast with forever. I was looking for someone who had good qualities I could scoop out and savor, and ignorable bad qualities. I was looking to ride it out as long as it was good and convenient.

The problem is that as I got older and looked for committment, I didn't change my tactics. The philosophy of "Welp, let's just enjoy what we can and pretend to enjoy what we don't" is hard to shake, and it leads to unhappy marriages where one spouse snaps after 7 years of faking, screaming "I don't feel like myself around you!" into an empty apartment. Of course you don't feel like yourself -- you reformatted your personality  to accomodate a relationship.

I wish that I could have advised my younger self that it's better to get out of a relationship than to change yourself to stay in one.

If you're thinking secret resentful thoughts, ignoring red flags, or overhauling/suppressing like 30% of your personality (and I'm being subjective, of course, but also very generous with that number), take a step back and think about if this is how you want to spend your time, let alone the rest of your life.

The best relationships are ones where you don't have to hold your breath or act, afraid that your real opinions and feelings will disappoint or scare the other person off.

If you're insecure, or the type of person who sees a partner as a project (it happens to the best of us), know that the best relationships are also not the ones where you find someone you semi-enjoy, or someone you're tolerating or who is tolerating you.

If you can't accept the person you're with at face value, or if you can't accept yourself when you're with your partner, do everyone a favor, and redirect the effort you're putting into faking it into the hard work of being honest. It's rough, but it sure beats a divorce.