Monthly Archives: August 2016

How to dream loves come true

Do you feel that you can truly be yourself with your partner, or are you always hiding something? Do you fear that if your partner knew what was going on in all corners of your mind that your relationship would end?

One of the most frequently quoted lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet is uttered by the somewhat laughable (though tragic) character Polonius: “This above all: to thine own self be true.” New research from Yi Nan Wang at Beijing Normal University shows that this advice is wise, but that being true to yourself shouldn’t come at the cost of stepping over your partner’s needs. Showing your true self can, in some cases, mean expressing views that your partner would find offensive or upsetting. In balanced authenticity, you reach that optimal level of taking the feelings of your partner into account while still allowing your true self to shine through.

The presidential election is one conceivable area of contention between you and your intimate partner. Maybe you can’t stand the candidate your partner favors and struggle to suppress the urge to express exactly what bothers you about this person. Every time you see a story that portrays your partner’s candidate in an unfavorable light, you want to use it to show your partner just why he or she would be a terrible president. However, if you speak your mind, you run the risk of sounding harsh and judgmental to your partner.

People in a close relationship often agree with each other on important social or political issues, but they can also come at the same topic from completely different perspectives—even while still loving each other very much. How can you feel true to your own values but also, while still expressing them, keep your relationship strong? Wang’s research provides clues on how you can achieve balanced authenticity without threatening a relationship.

According to Wang, people risk their relationship when their desire for agency (a focus only on the self) isn’t in harmony with their desire for communion (focusing on others to the exclusion of the self). You can’t follow your own pursuit of truth, the theory goes, unless you also recognize that other people have needs and ideas as well. By the same token, you don’t want to be so directed by others that you lose touch with your own values and principles. Even with your closest partner—or perhaps especially so—you want to find an ideal, middle ground.

Wang initially developed a 17-item scale to assess “Authenticity in Relationships” (known as the AIRS) which she tested on several samples of Chinese adults. Her primary focus was examining the relationship between AIRS scores and measures of well-being, based on the premise that the balanced authenticity she was testing would be related to higher levels of personal satisfaction. The 17 items were statistically boiled down to 3 scales, each with 3 items.

See how you would answer these 9 items below, and then I’ll explain what the scores mean.

Rate each item from 1 to 5, or from disagree to agree strongly:

  1. I always hide my true thoughts for fear of others’ disapproval.
  2. I usually try to cater to others.
  3. I do not dare to tell others the truth due to caring for their feelings.
  4. I am fully aware of when to insist on myself and when to compromise.
  5. I always find ways to reconcile my need and other’s requirements.
  6. I would neither give up the real me nor make others hard to accept.
  7. I usually tell the truth without concern about how others will think of me.
  8. I just speak my mind without taking care of others’ feelings.
  9. I always offend people by speaking frankly.

Each set of 3 items corresponds to one of the 3 types of authenticity:

  • Items 1-3 represent other-distorted authenticity, in which you give up your feelings for those of others.
  • Items 4-6 represent balanced authenticity, or the ability to express yourself while taking the views and needs of others into account.
  • Items 7-9 represent egocentric authenticity, or the tendency to place a value on expressing yourself even though you might hurt or offend others.

The benefit to have an old friend

If you search online, you’ll see articles about the difficulties of making new friends after age 30 or so, and advice about joining groups to help you meet new people.

Many of us struggle with loneliness at different stages in their lives—maybe you’ve moved to a new area, lost a spouse or parent, or left a sociable job. I used to work in an office with people I’d known for years and conduct phone interviews most of the day. It was fun. Now I’m working at home and much of my research is online.

More of us now work remotely or spend our time on emails, rather than meeting people in person or talking on the phone. As many as 15-30 percent of the people around us chronically feel lonely.

But as I’ve turned 55, I’ve noticed a happy tendency I didn’t expect—reunions with lost friends from the past. 

Don’t underestimate the importance of friendship: Philosophers and artists have historically valued friendship as our most prized and significant relationship. “Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born,” said Anais Nin. Such a world can be re-born, as well.

In just a few years, I’m newly in touch with at least six people after years of silence. The old friendship chemistry is there, but deepened by our experiences in between. And I also feel the romance of a new bond.

We shouldn’t underestimate the grief of losing a friend. When a friend cuts you off, you are “losing a self,” writes the philosopher Alexander Nehamas in “On Friendship.” That self can return, and be harmonized with your other selves.

We may need a catalyst—a death, retirement, or a child reaching a milestone. If you parted with a friend because of anger, you (or they) might now feel more forgiving.

One friend I knew when we were 13 and I spent an intense year before her family moved away. She found me through Facebook when her stepdaughter turned 13, saying she kept remembering herself at that age. She had become a psychologist, and I write about psychology. There was plenty to keep us connected.

Another childhood friend found me in her thirties when she married. I attended the wedding and we’ve been in touch for the last 20 years.

A friend in her fifties called me out of the blue, crying, when her mother died.

You might think you’ve lost friends because you’ve made mistakes, and decide you’re a social misfit—boring, too needy, too long-winded, too quiet, too something. We think that we lack the charm or perceptiveness required to attract company.

Rekindling old friendships can help soothe those fears.

Loneliness can make you doubt your social skills, but it’s more likely that you’re suffering from performance anxiety, some research has concluded. A lost friend may have become anxious, too. Maybe you built up a career while your friend emphasized family. Maybe you’re both nervous about being judged. Maybe she’s worried she’s boring. Maybe you think she sees you as incomplete because you didn’t have kids or marry.

Break the impasse. Being able to laugh again with someone who knew you at 12 or 22 can go a long way to help you accept your life.

If you’re thinking about reaching out—or someone contacts you—think about the reasons you drifted apart, but don’t dwell on conflicts, blaming yourself or your friend.

If you do get together, try to talk through any rough history—eventually. You don’t have to do so right away. When you’re making an overture to a lost friend, it’s fine to start with a casual Facebook message or text, and judge your friend’s willingness to open up.

When you talk, you might well find it wasn’t about you after all—or that it wasn’t about you in the way you think. I’m always amazed at how communication can feel like a miracle, changing my world in an hour. Small things make big differences.

Especially if you’re grieving, rekindling old friendships can deepen your sense of personal history. You’ve lost a daily presence—a mother or husband—and a witness to many years of memories. Your friend may not become a daily presence again. But she can be a witness to the past you shared together, recalling your wedding or your mother’s odd collection of bathrobes.

Your health and happiness will both benefit from reconnecting and staying connected. In areview of studies over 34 years, researchers concluded that feeling isolated or lonely upped your chances of dying young by about 30 percent, for both men and women. It also increases your risk for dementia, depression and heart disease.

One of my dear friends, who is nearly 70, often talks about two friends of his, one he’d known since high school, the other since college. I assumed they’d remained in touch for all that time. But when I told him I was thinking of writing this post, he confided to me that both of those friends came back into his life in his mid-50s after a long silence. Those rekindled friendships can really last!

Don’t expect too much. You may never spend the time together you once did. But don’t expect too little. Love can always surprise you, again.