posted on August 18, 2016 by Joanne Rock

Do I Have to Be Myself?

By Joanne Rock

Ralph Waldo EmersonFor the sake of my writing, I read a lot about personality types, compatibility and the psychology of relationships—romantic and otherwise. I’m perpetually interested in what draws people together, whether it’s a friendship or a marriage. How and why do people connect? What makes some relationships feel comfortable and easy, and others feel challenging? What makes us remain in relationships that aren’t always comfortable?

These questions fascinate me, and there are as many answers to them as there are relationships. I think that’s why I never get tired of telling a girl-meets-boy story. Each one is unique. My thinking on this is also why I have made it a practice never to offer relationship advice. I learned early on that what applies to my relationship doesn’t work at all for yours. And one woman’s high drama relationship is another woman’s true love, so there’s no sense in imposing my own relationship lens on someone else’s HEA.

Yet a recurring theme I see in modern advice articles regarding romantic relationships is to “be yourself.” It’s an idea that I initially found a bit worrisome. Was I “myself” around my husband? Did he make me the “best version of myself” the way self-help articles insist a good partner would?

I wasn’t so certain. First of all, who’s to say what the best version of myself is? Joanne at ten years old? Joanne at 25? Joanne at 50? A Joanne I have yet to meet? I didn’t like the idea that I might not be on the right path to my best self. Furthermore, I wondered if I was really ever being myself around a man who is so vastly different from me. Ask anyone who knows us and we don’t seem like the most likely couple to end up together. I spent a lot of time early in my relationship just enjoying my husband’s larger than life personality. But self-help articles made me wonder… did that big personality overshadow the real me?

Friends who knew me in the years when I first met my husband would say I changed. That’s another sign of trouble, according to the pop culture relationship gurus. Even Ralph Waldo Emerson declared “o be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.” Was I a failure in that I lost some of my identity—for years at a time?

But then, I re-read a favorite work on the psychotherapist C.G. Jung, and this much-loved passage jumped out at me anew: “The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.” I’d read it before and thought of it in terms of a friendship. But in the era of “Be yourself!” romantic cautions, I was suddenly struck by how well this supported my own romantic relationship.

I couldn’t simply be myself once I met my husband, because there was no more singular sense of Joanne. I was in the process of being transformed. My relationship continues to fascinate me and transform me, twenty-some years after I met my highly interesting husband. It frustrates me some days. It’s exhausting on others because we are so very different and it’s a struggle to get on the same page. Beneath that, however, is a dynamic I wouldn’t trade for comfort, ease, or the knowledge that I could have the glorious freedom to simply be myself all the time.

Being challenged has not hurt me. It has made me grow and given me a broader perspective on relationships and the emotional spectrum. Not just my own, but his. I see things through different eyes. I have a new emotional wisdom. A better sense of humor. More patience and understanding for people who don’t think like me or who don’t express themselves in the same way I do. Part of that is maturity—yes. But another part of it is my unique relationship that has transformed me.

Roger-and-Jessica-RabbitI think that’s okay. I’m not the same woman I might have been without my significant other. But I’m still a version of me, a version I chose to explore and embrace. Maybe being myself means that I get to choose who I allow into my world. Whose ideas and ideals I want to influence me. Through my relationship, my emotional understanding has sharpened. My empathy is deeper for other people’s complicated relationships.

Or perhaps, all analytical psychology aside, maybe I just fell victim to the Jessica Rabbit brand of relationship wisdom. When asked why she loves Roger, she narrows it down to just this… he makes me laugh.

What life lesson has romance taught you? Sense of humor? A new appreciation of a sport or band you weren’t familiar with? More sensitivity? Share with me this week on the blog and I’ll give one random commenter a copy of my upcoming Harlequin Superromance, Whispers Under a Southern Sky!

Whispers Under a Southern SkyWHISPERS UNDER A SOUTHERN SKY

Her past…or her future?

It’s taken Amy Finley ten years, but she’s finally ready to return to her hometown of Heartache, Tennessee, and face the past. She just never expected that would include reuniting with her high school sweetheart and now town sheriff, Sam Reyes. Or that Sam’s latest case would lead right back to the darkest chapter in her life.

The attraction between Amy and Sam is definitely still there, not to mention that she’s sure she could quickly grow to love his cute baby son. But can he forgive her for keeping her secrets? Can she forgive herself?

Joanne Rock

Joanne Rock

Four-time RITA finalist Joanne Rock has never met a romance sub-genre she didn't like. The USA Today bestselling author of over eighty books enjoys writing a wide range of stories, most recently focusing on sexy contemporaries and small-town family sagas. An optimist by nature and perpetual seeker of silver linings, Joanne finds romance fits her life outlook perfectly---love is worth fighting for. A frequent speaker at regional and national writing conferences she enjoys giving back to the writing community that nurtured and inspired her early career. She has a Masters degree in Literature from the University of Louisville but credits her fiction writing skills to her intensive study with friend and fellow author Catherine Mann. When she's not writing, Joanne enjoys travel to gather new ideas.

5 thoughts on “Do I Have to Be Myself?”

  1. Avatar denise says:

    I think as women, we wear so many more hats in a relationship. We carry the emotions, face the fears, do more with raising the kids, do more than our fair share of housework (in many households), cooking, nursing family back to health, making appointments, delegating, etc…

    Romance has taught me it’s important to take time for the “couple,” because, in time, for those with kids, if you haven’t, the empty nest years are hard. Some couples break up during this time because they forgot to nurture the relationship while everything else was going on. And, on top of that, we also have to have an identity for ourselves. It changes, everything does. But it’s better to look at it as evolving, constantly changing/improving, rather than change as an obstacle. Obstacles can make us lost.

    took me a long time to figure some of this out. 🙂

  2. >took me a long time to figure some of this out. >>

    Oh, Denise, that last line made me smile. Isn’t it amazing how some of life’s most seemingly “simple” truths are the things that confound us for years at a time? It’s a matter of balance, but we can’t see it because we are so focused on doing X well that all our attention goes into X. And I think that X varies greatly. For one person– the all important variable is making a good living since we felt deprived growing up. For another, the important value is being a vital part of the kids’ lives because we felt neglected. But that self awareness of just *how* we are spinning our wheels or overcompensating can be a long time coming.

    So glad you stopped by and I appreciate your insights!

    1. Avatar denise says:

      thank you! so easy to get lost in the day to day monotony and the big picture is lost… sometimes, I still have to remind myself, too

  3. Avatar Kimberly Field says:

    I am still looking for my HEA, but I think that in dating and break ups, I have changed because of who I was at the beginning of the relationship and then who I was at the end of it. I think we do get something from everyone that we are romantically involved with whether it is an appreciation for type of show you would not normally watch or music or books or a different outlook on something. I think one of the biggest things for me was learning that it is ok to have different interests as well and that it is important to support your significant other in the things that they like to do that you might not.

    1. So wise!! Especially since it’s so often the differences that intrigue us… we are drawn to those things in the beginning, so I think it’s important to respect them in the long haul. So glad you stopped by the blog, Kimberly.

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