This is the first article of a two-part series exploring honesty in dating. It's a deep topic so this first part will touch on what honesty is and why it's important in dating. The second part will crystallise that understanding of honesty with a real-life example of one of my dating experiences. By the end of the series you'll have a practical method for being more honest in dating and other personal relationships which I call 'The Honesty Funnel'. This will make it easier to determine what honesty means to you in any situation.
Everyone knows that honesty is critical for successful dating and relationships. It feels like something you should definitely be doing. But often people don't know why it's important and how to be honest. Without understanding these details, 'honesty' becomes a vague, blurry concept. Actioning it with consistency becomes impossible.
What is honesty?
Honesty doesn't mean full disclosure. Telling someone the entire truth can sometimes be a terrible idea. People don't always tell the truth for good reasons either, there can be malicious or selfish intent. So what is honesty?
Honesty is the act of telling the truth to a level you deem appropriate according to your values.
A person living by a healthy set of values will take into account the context and situation in this process. Love and empathy will put them in the other person's shoes. How much does the person need to know? Do they need to know from me? What would I tell them if I'm not trying to gain a particular outcome from them? If I'm not being selfish? These are all important considerations, and I encourage you to take 5-10 minutes to start thinking about what honesty means to you. It's fascinating and important work.
But before we go any further into the definition of honesty and how to be honest, let's look at why it's important in the context of dating and relationships. Much of this will be valid in any of your relationships, not just romantic.
When it comes to dating and relationships, there are three big reasons why you should be honest:
1. To prevent a web of lies
From a practical standpoint, telling the truth is often much easier. You're not forced to remember anything. Every time you lie, you need to remember that lie. It didn't happen in reality so it'll be in conflict with your memory. But it's not that easy. One lie often has many unforeseen implications. If someone questions you on one of those, you have to tell another lie. And this new lie will have many unforeseen implications too. This can be very quick to build into a web of lies, all of which you have to try to remember. Sooner or later this ever-growing web of lies will fall apart. When this happens the damage done can be far greater than that single lie. From this alone it doesn't make sense to tell lies when you're dating or in a relationship. After dating multiple people it'll be difficult to remember who you told what lie. And in a long term relationship, a single lie will build up into a web and fall apart. The stress and resulting break of trust is rarely worth it.
2. Honesty is attractive.
Personal integrity is one pillar of self-esteem*. Without a moral compass, how can you be confident about navigating through the chaos of life? Thus, people see honesty as a sign of confidence. And confidence is attractive, so honesty must also be attractive.
Confident people care more about their own opinion of themselves than what others think about them. They accept their reality and follow their own opinion of it, so they don't mind being honest. Conversely, if someone fears being honest it means they value others' opinions of them above their own. That's a sign of low confidence and is unattractive.
People tell lies when they're trying to achieve a particular outcome. Bending the truth, partial disclose, whatever you want to call it. People avoid the truth when a desired outcome is at stake. Thus, the purest form of honesty is a byproduct of Outcome Independence (OI - read article). People who don't need anything from anyone find it much easier to keep telling the truth. OI is a very attractive trait, so honesty will trigger this attraction for the same reason.
3. Enjoyment and connection
Trying to remember and manage a web of lies is stressful. Lying also feels bad for a variety of reasons, not least because of cognitive dissonance. If you expect people to be honest with you, and you consider yourself to have integrity then how can you lie? Dissonance is a state of mental pain when a person holds two or more contradictory beliefs. You either change the initial belief(s) or your brain will bury it in your subconscious. This only represses the discomfort, ready for something else to trigger it again. Repression of beliefs through lying is a bad mental habit, causing long-term suffering.
The best dates I've experienced involved a lot of honesty on both sides. This builds an intense connection, even a few hours after meeting someone for the first time. Connection doesn't need a long history or lots of shared interests. It requires the voluntary relinquishing of bullshit for no other reason or motive. The irony of it is that this often leads to the things people want anyway: fast sex, deep intimacy etc. But faking honesty and vulnerability hardly ever works and neither does using it for an outcome. Our gut is excellent at spotting both of these. To add to it, you yourself will close up to connection when you lie. You can't avoid being honest if you want meaningful connections.
Continued in part II...
*Six Pillars of Self-Esteem by Nathaniel Branden is a fantastic book on understanding confidence and self-esteem. It covers the building blocks of self-esteem and how to grow it through daily, practical exercises.Tweet