Our culture allows competition to be ingrained in our brains. Joanne Deck illuminates the flame of self esteem and suggests removing competition from love.
Many of us value the emotional intimacy just as much as the physical intimacy. To become emotionally intimate with someone, the first person we have to know deeply is ourselves. But that “look within” isn’t always uplifting. As singles, we’re given lots of advice about how we should be—funny, confident, attractive, smart and thoughtful—the list is quite long. How does one measure up to such standards? Can we like ourselves enough to risk becoming emotionally intimate with another?
The desire to achieve some idealized image affects both men and women, but not necessarily in the same way. In our American culture, competition is ubiquitous, extending far beyond the economy and the sports arena. Combine an unrealistic standard and our drive to compete, and we find people looking outside themselves for validation when the look inside isn’t as pleasing as they had hoped. This is most common with men, who feel the pressure to compete most acutely. Those seeking external validation tend to feel good about themselves only if they feel superior to those around them, including the person they’d like to be intimate with.
First dates turn into interviews as couples engage in comparing themselves to their potential partner in every area they deem important—and that list can be long. They’ll size themselves up against their potential partner’s income, job title, education, athletic ability of every kind, intelligence and possessions.
Let’s consider this for a moment: Does it really matter if she drives a stick and he’s never learned? Does she actually think less of him if she bowls better? How many women are with a man because of his bowling ability?
When men perceive that they’re ahead on their personal score sheet, they feel good about themselves. But what if they don’t come out on top? This is often the case, given how extensive their list is. They come away feeling dejected, which reinforces their poor self-image even more. Typically, they decide to reject the other person and look for someone else with whom they can compete successfully. Sadly, this pattern can go on for years.
What about the women in this scenario? The rejected women often wonder what they’ve done wrong. Many have no idea the problem wasn’t that they weren’t good enough, but quite the opposite.
It turns out our grandmothers’ advice may have been right. For years women were cautioned not to win or appear too smart around men, because it was too damaging to the male ego. The well-intended advice women were given was essentially to dim their lights, so their partners’ lights would appear brighter. Note that the operative word here is “appear.” Our lights shine as brightly as we allow them to. Her throwing off her bowling game does not raise his score. The problem is that when women intentionally play small, they’re being dishonest and untrue to themselves, making genuine emotional intimacy impossible.
The sad thing is there’s no need for women to misrepresent themselves. Men are wonderful just as they are, and winning a competition does not make this truer. And all of this gamesmanship can’t possibly lead to strong, healthy relationships or the emotional intimacy both men and women long for.
What single men and women need to understand to engage with each other mindfully is that their lights come from within. We each control the intensity of our own lights. To shine brighter, we don’t need to worry about finding dimmer lights for companionship. To do so is living an illusion, like having a self-image based on smoke and mirrors, where we’re only as good as our ability to excel over the people with us at that time. How exhausting that must be.
Let’s stop the comparisons and end the worry about how others see us. Instead, let’s get to know ourselves as unique and marvelous creations. As we come to know ourselves, the more powerful and free we become.
So ladies and gentlemen, be your best and let your lights shine. Self-esteem is an inside job. Take the time and have the courage to know yourself better. Discover how magnificent you really are and let the world see it. Then you’ll be able to find true emotional intimacy with your partner.
[image via Oleh Slobodeniuk on flickr]