Dating is rough for a lot of people. I am no exception. There is so much stress, drama and awkwardness. And a lot of that stress we bring on ourselves due to our own expectations, values and assumptions. One of those assumptions that complicates dating is based on an otherwise very useful rational thought:

“If something is not working, then you need to change what you are doing.”

Trial and error for short. If we want something to work, then we keep trying until we make it work. This results in persistence, problem solving, adaptability and a whole host of useful character traits. It is the way we should approach most problems in our lives. However, I find that this attitude is often a cause of problems when it comes to dating and relationships.

Now, please bear in mind that like most pieces of wisdom, this one is not a 100% rule, but just a part of the puzzle to keep in mind. Of course relationships take work, persistence and adaptability. However, my point here is that people get so focused on making relationships work they sometimes forget to ask if they should be making it work. A sign of healthy relationships is that they make you a better person. But if you have to change or hide fundamental aspects of who you are, then maybe you are not in the right relationship.

Let me just go ahead and share my experience. I was a nerdy teen in the 90’s before sci-fi and video games were as mainstream as they are now. Back then, “nerd” and “geek” used to be far more of an insult than a description of your taste in media. I was also distinctly under the impression that most girls did not like those things at all. It doesn’t matter if that belief was right or wrong, it still limited me. And so I thought, if I want to find a girlfriend, then I need to hide those things about me to improve my chances of finding a girl. Sure, writing about those assumptions and conclusions now sounds ridiculous, but it seemed so rational at the time. I wanted to broaden my appeal to have better odds at success, so I hid what I thought was undesirable. I think that is a common attitude.

And then one day, I went on a trip to California and spent a few days with my female, adult cousin and her family. While I was there, they showed me their board game closet. I perused their sci-fi movies and heard stories about their weekly Dungeons and Dragons games with friends. This was the first time I realized that there were girls out there who not only put up with those hobbies, but loved them just as much as guys did. And that completely changed the way I thought about dating.

Before, I had thought that finding a girlfriend was like most problems in the world. Make changes to increase your chance of success. But now I realized that dating was like a lock and a key. If the key does not fit in the lock, it does not mean there is something wrong with the key and you need to change the key. That key just does not fit with that lock. I did not need to change myself to fit with what I assumed most girls wanted, I needed to unabashedly put myself out there, making clear what I liked and what I valued. Even if it turns off 99% of the people, it will attract the 1% that I fit with best. This was not an odds game, this was a matching game.

In fact, there more clear you are about who you are, the faster and easier the process will be. We mistake rejection in relationships to mean that something is wrong with us, when in reality it is just the process of elimination to find the right fit. Again, to clarify, if you are cruel, paranoid, have trust issues or other baggage, we all need to continually work on self-improvement. But if you are worried that your desire for a serious relationship, your religion, your politics, your values or your interests will turn people off, then realize, it only turns off the people who are not right for you.

At the end of the day, what almost everyone truly is looking for is a relationship with someone who knows the real you, intimately, good and bad, and loves you anyway. You won’t find that by changing who you are.