P1 Self-Disclosure

Maybe you’ve experienced the joy of online dating. (Yes, there’s a bit of humorous sarcasm there.)

Here’s the thing: if we know what to look for, we can gather valuable insights from these initial written exchanges. Many of the dynamics found in all other relationships are quickly visible right there, under the microscope, so to speak.

So get ready for some fascinating observations and lessons right from the pages of dating sites, to help you do better at work, in your marriage, with friends, and yes, in dating.

Let’s begin by talking about the purpose of these sites. Can we agree the purpose is to form relationships? Now, someone may desire only a casual relationship with “no strings attached.” But it’s still a relationship.

So to form a relationship, you need to learn about other people. That’s the whole point of the site. Would you be safe with this person, financially, physically, and so on? And beyond that, would you benefit from spending time with this person?

To assess that, you need information. So you look at the profile — pictures, multi-choice answers to questions, and “short essay” responses.

You notice that some people don’t offer you much information. Maybe only one picture. Maybe three words in the short-essay portion. Maybe under “Profession” they write,

“I have one.”

Smart-aleck? Secretive for good reason? (Perhaps this person works for the C.I.A.?) Ashamed of his or her career development or lack thereof? Just a scammer searching for victims? Who can say, without more information?

But this common phenomenon supplies our first principle: Self-disclosure helps others to trust you. When they learn about you, they can decide if they trust you.

Also, self-disclosure provides possible evidence of YOUR trusting nature – which means that YOU can trust THEM, which means you trust people in general and thus can be reasonably open as a person.

It’s a reciprocal thing. Sometimes it’s a vicious circle. If I meet you and it’s obvious you don’t trust me with any information, I feel shut out. I wonder what you’re so afraid of. I wonder what you’re hiding. And I’m thus less likely to trust YOU.

The sad thing is, some people have been hurt and have learned to shut down for the purpose of self-preservation. They can end up creating what we call a “self-fulfilling prophecy.” It works like this:

Their trust in others has been damaged. They then withdraw into a protective cocoon. And they behave in ways that shut people out and turn them off, creating more of the pain and disappointment that they already feel.

If you expect something bad, you might create something bad.

How can people stop this self-destructive cycle? Here are some ideas that some people find helpful:

  1. They think about the original source of the mistrust and talk to someone about healing that.
  2. They begin to study ways of changing habits. They learn better ways to approach conversations, for example.
  3. They go to places where they can meet new people and practice their new conversational skills.
  4. They drop any excessive concern about making a mistake. They try not to beat up on themselves. They monitor negative self-talk and try to shut it down.
  5. If they feel any kind of embarrassment that causes them to withhold information, they consider whether that feature is something they want to change. For example, if they’re ashamed of their job, would they consider finding a new career? What are the steps for making that happen? Or on the other hand, they may want to rethink their beliefs, and move to self-acceptance, rather than creating change.

Those who actually are on a dating site might want to evaluate how they are handling information, now that we know how others could possibly react.

But does all this mean you should be unwise and share specific identifying information on a dating website? No, definitely not. Does all this mean you should open up when meeting people socially and share all your deepest secrets right away, and go on and on talking about yourself? No, of course not. There is a principle known as “the happy medium.” No extremes, just somewhere in the happy middle. And each of us can decide for ourselves what feels right at a given time in a given situation. We will vary our level of openness based upon what we sense, and perhaps decide to reveal more as time goes by. Of course everyone understands that a work situation is different from a social situation, and they are both very different from a marriage.

It’s safe to say that many marriages have been destroyed by trust issues and a lack of openness, and that’s one more reason why this is such a concern.

Let’s get together again, when we look at another principle arising from the web pages of online dating.

© 2017 Caryl Schlicher A Bridge To Excellence

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