Illustration by Zoe Wagner

What if We Already Loved You?

11 years ago, when I started dating again after my divorce, I was excited at the thought of meeting new people, but I was also riddled with nerves. I’d been with my husband for over 24-years, and here I was putting myself out again. Was I still attractive, was I smart enough, funny enough, deep enough, whatever enough.

I meant to be myself, but in my anxiousness, I often ended up importing what I though was a better version of myself; funnier, deeper, a better listener, more compassionate, more hip. This was also supported in part by a fair amount of alcohol, which created a false confidence, and a false sense of intimacy, which helped both of us get through the date, because I wasn’t alone in my nervousness, and seemed to choose men who also liked to drink.

There was a good amount of wildness, and Oh-my-god, what-was-I-thinking, as well as some experiences that I don’t like to remember. I didn’t get close to too many people, not really. I came to realize that the woman on the dates was a version of me – the one I thought was datable – but  I wasn’t really myself. I would save that self for later, when I got to know someone and I could trust the relationship to tolerate my more vulnerable, deeper bits. Sometimes I never got that far, though there were a few people who I did let in.

It was a lot of years of this before I realized a couple of things:  One, no more drinking on dates, and two, I had to find a way to be myself.

So I made up a little game where I pretended that the person I was going on a date with was someone I’d known my whole life. We were old friends, already knew everything about each other, didn’t have to prove or sell anything to each other because we already loved each other. All we/I had to do was show up.

I called the game, He Already Loves You.

The dates got better, and I met a few really good men over time, men who I let see the more natural me, the me that wasn’t trying hard or selling anything. The me who was just showing up. That’s how intimacy was possible. Before it was just a performance.

This kind of showing up as my more natural self has been a life long path – and something I know is understood by many. Whether it’s dating or showing up as a teacher, or in a group of friends, there’s often an unconscious part of me that kicks into gear before I’m even aware I’m doing it. It’s hard to name it, but it’s a kind of friendly protection, a part of me that’s reading the room, that’s trying to head down the hallway called Like Me.

It also means that I’m not always fully present with myself or people, and more than that, to the extent that I’m trying to show you how shiny I am, I am blocking my natural shine, the part of me that radiates without effort.

Like everything I’m working on personally, I bring it into my teaching. I’m always thinking about ways to help my writers relax so they can be their beautiful, vulnerable, ordinary selves on the page.

So I asked them, how would you show up on the page if you knew that we already loved you? How would you show up if you knew that all we wanted was for you to just be yourself?  You don’t need to do any fancy literary moves for us, you don’t have to sell us on your fabulous personality or how smart and clever you are – because we already love you.

The writers took a deep breath, everyone relaxed, and over time they began to lay down stories of true intimacy and trust, showing us their inner, wobbly bits. In this way they became their more true selves on the page, as well as off the page, and which is why this work is so powerful; you can’t be one way on the page for long before the truth of who you are leaks into your life, and changes you forever.

The cherry on top is that over the last many years of teaching, and especially if I’m feeling flat or low or scared that I’m not being a good enough teacher, I’ll often out myself to my online students, and you should see the way the chat blows up, “We already love you,” person after person will write, “We already love you.”  And I always shake my head and laugh. I always forget that this isn’t just some pithy writing lesson, it’s a life path, and I’m on that path too.

Listen to Laurie read this piece: