Keeping It Real

Dr. Alyson Nerenberg, Psy.D., CSAT-S offers advice on keeping it real in a relationship.As a psychologist specializing in addictions and relationships, I need to make a full disclosure: I met my husband in a bar.  It was 26 years ago when we first locked eyes at Rock Lobster, a popular outdoor restaurant/bar on Delaware Avenue in Philadelphia.  We had an easy banter and although we had never met before we quickly realized that we had several friends in common.  He was a handsome young lawyer with a warm smile.

On our first date he disclosed to me how tough his last year had been.  He shared that he had recently failed the Bar Exam and was subsequently fired from his job.  He told me how ashamed he was and described a painful experience of going out to the holiday party with his whole office staff right after he received his test results, and how no one talked to him the entire night.  The following day he was fired.  Subsequently he retook the Bar exam, passed with flying colors and was hired at a firm that felt like a better fit for him. Hearing his story helped me to quickly develop compassion and empathy for him. His disclosure displayed honesty and a sense of vulnerability that attracted me. It also encouraged me to share some of my own moments of failure as well as success and we forged a deeper bond.  Before dating him I had been in a relationship with a charismatic man who frequently lied or “stretched the truth to what he wanted it to be.”

Honesty, authenticity and vulnerability were essential qualities for what I wanted to have in my life. Twenty-six years later we still strive to keep those qualities at the center of our relationship.  Some days it is easier than others. In a world where many people edit their versions of the truth, I strongly advocate for “keeping it real.” For my recovering patients, I encourage sharing about their addiction history early on in their dating experiences. If someone is turned off, then he or she is not the right one.

Life gives us many forks in the road: moments when we have a decision to make whether to show the glossy “perfect” view of ourselves or the unflinchingly honest and real version.  I unequivocally advocate for honesty.  Perfection is both overrated and boring.  Honesty, vulnerability and risks lead to greater depths in our relationships as well as to more peace within ourselves.