Dear James and Jonathan,
Relationships are at the heart of life. I wish I could promise you good ones –the kind of relationships that make you feel like you are home, and simultaneously that you are more vibrant than you have ever been. I can’t promise you that, but I can give you my wisdom from 25 years of marriage.
If being yourself takes courage, then being yourself in front of people who matter to you demands more. Perhaps you are only just figuring out who you are. Trying on that self in front of others can be like showing up to a party in fancy clothes when you usually wear jeans. It’s uncomfortable, and it feels like you’re playing dress up. You’re not a fraud. Be determined to show up as yourself. Don’t give up – it takes practice.
Showing up as yourself is critical if you want your significant relationships to work. Many years ago, I tried to be someone that I am not. I worked hard at it because I wanted my partner to love me, to feel he had chosen well. I wanted him to be proud of me. I deadened the parts of me that were so unlike him and polished up the bits I thought he would admire. It did not make that relationship stronger; in fact, it did the opposite. In covering those core pieces, I somehow managed almost to suffocate myself and fear took over as I began to hide more and more of who I was. What I realized is that it is impossible to have a great relationship if you are trying to conceal essential parts of who you are. Take the risk of being your authentic self in front of those critical people in your life. Some of them might walk away, but those who stay will give you the freedom to be entirely you.
If you want to create a relationship that lasts, create a safe space where both of you are free to be yourselves. Take time to listen closely and to share yourself. Be curious about the other person. Let go of the desire to fix your partner. Learn as best you can just to be present. Don’t base your relationship on what you see in movies – it’s not real. Don’t expect perfection. It doesn’t exist. Relationships take a lot of work. Good ones are worth every bit of it.