I wanted to title this blog ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ as a play on Oscar Wilde’s great work of that name but then I realized that may mislead people into thinking I’d actually read it, when in fact I only ever watched the movie, which starred the wonderful Rupert Everett and incomparable Colin Firth, two of my favorite British actors.
Still, this is a blog about being earnest, in the sense of “showing depth and sincerity of feeling” but also about being authentic, which is a close cousin but not the same thing as being earnest. Just this past weekend, I was fortunate enough to attend a gathering of women in Northern Virginia, having been invited by one of my readers (and now cyber-pal) to join a discussion about some of the themes in my books, and issues that modern and progressive women face in general. We sat around with wine and finger foods in an informal setting, talking about love, life, relationships and of course, those mysterious creatures, men. After the discussion, as I headed for home, I thought about the various strands of the conversation we had and realized that a topic I had been contemplating blogging about anyway – authenticity- was actually at the heart of our discussion.
As we talked well into the evening, we gradually got to a central question which dominated the latter hour and a half of our discussion. The question was basically this: can women be our authentic selves in relationships with men and still have those relationships survive?
And as a corollary to that, can the progressive, independent women of today find fulfilling relationships with men while still being their authentic selves?
Well let me end the suspense: we did not find answers to those questions.
But what I heard, as the conversation unfolded organically, was that the women present were in one of two ‘camps’. In the first camp which I’ll call the Purists, were the women who believe that the prospects of having a relationship survive our being our true selves are dim, either because men have bought into a feminine ideal that does not exist or because we as women help perpetuate an ideal that we cannot possibly live up to. Though their point of view sounds quite jaded, at the heart of their views, they still by and large seemed to yearn for authentic relationships with men, relationships that are unfettered by the need to pretend to be something that we aren’t, be that a certain physical type, or of a certain temperament, etc. So in other words, these women want to achieve the “pure” romantic notion of relationships where you and your guy don’t just love each other, you get each other as well.
The second camp, I call the Realists. These were the women who seem to accept the whole “women are from Venus, men are from Mars” philosophy and believe that the only way to maintain relationships with men is with a certain degree of gamesmanship – like learning how to provide all those things the masculine ego needs to survive (praise, reinforcement and recognition) and making adjustments to find your personal fulfillment elsewhere because we understand and accept that the men in our lives will never fully get us though they may love us.
At the heart of those strands of thinking were different approaches to the question of being authentic. The Purists seemed to find something inauthentic about the Realists’ approach, and the Realists believed that the authenticity of the connection between women and their mates is not at all compromised by the need to make course adjustments just to keep the road to a long relationship primarily smooth and less fraught with conflict.
There was plenty of food for thought after this conversation, and as always, being in a place where I got to hear women sharing openly, frankly and earnestly about their needs, their wants, and their fears moved me and opened my mind. I don’t know if I will see these women again, but I know for sure that you will – as parts of them will appear in my work, and undoubtedly make it richer.
What do you think? Is it possible to be truly authentic in our relationships with men?