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It was a painful break-up earlier this year that left me vowing to live a more honest dating life. The relationship had all the characteristics of a classic tale of miscommunication: Boy meets girl; boy and girl embark on whirlwind romance; girl assumes it’s leading to commitment; boy says, Pump the brakes, baby! At boy’s suggestion, we tried something of a no-strings-attached, “We’re just having fun!” arrangement, which lasted one week before I broke down in tears because I couldn’t fake having “We’re just having fun!” feelings for someone I wanted a future with. 

Though unpleasant, the breakup helped me recognize how simple honesty could have saved me from the subsequent month of heartache. If we had been honest from the beginning about what we both wanted, if I had said, “Hey, I want a relationship and don’t want casual, so catch you later,” I could have spent January perfecting my Tinder game instead of lying on my bed watching every season of Parks and Recreation on Netflix. 

After reevaluating my dating priorities, I have now happily taken on the role of Honesty Champion. I want to live an honest dating universe, where people unabashedly tell each other how they feel. Where it’s okay to say, “I want this” or “I don’t want that” or “I have no idea.” Is honesty scary? Yes. Is it awkward? Yes! But speaking up is always, always worth it. 

That said, I can’t create this new universe alone, friends. I need help. Here are three little thoughts to get us started.

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What do YOU want?

Well, what do you want? No, I didn’t ask you what you think he wants, I asked what you want. While much of my honesty championing centers on the benefits of being more honest with partners, self-honesty truly brings the most advantages. Many of us say we don’t know what we want, when we’re really either too scared to put a stake in the ground, or we don’t trust ourselves enough to be sure. I’ve witnessed too many friends fall victim to the “shape-shifter” disease, a terrible affliction in which a woman tries her hardest to fit seamlessly into her date’s desires, completely forgetting what she herself wants in a relationship. As a recovering shape-shifter myself, I know the symptoms -- but I’m here as evidence that there is hope for you, too.

You owe it to yourself to figure out what you’re looking for, and the only way you’re going to find that out is if you’re honest with yourself first. Once that’s settled, it’s a million times easier to be honest with someone else, because you’re only letting people in who make the cut.

So, what do you want out of this date? Do you want to keep it casual? Do you want to try a serious relationship? Do you just want a snuggle buddy? THAT IS OKAY! It’s all okay. Embrace what you want. Scream it from your fire escape. Pay your ticket for the noise violation and shout it out again. Recognize that you are brave because you put a stake in the ground; you made a decision. Take the time to love yourself and be comfortable in your flaws. Wrap your arms around all your weirdness. Will you never be “Cool Girl Callie?” WHO CARES? Hey there, Spastic Sally — you rock on, girl.

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Just. Ask.

What does it mean when the guy you’ve been seeing casually for the last eight months pees in front of you with the bathroom door open? 

Does it mean he really had to go and forgot to close the door? Does it mean that he thinks of you as a casual locker room buddy? Does it mean that he’s so comfortable around you that he actually does want something serious, after all? 

My friends and I spend quite a bit of time trying to decipher what a man’s actions, texts, leg position, etc. means. Too much time, when we could be discussing other topics, like our careers, or television shows, or a new restaurant to try.  The guy you’ve been seeing for two weeks invites you to his office holiday party? Interesting, but what does it mean? He sent you a photo of his butt? But WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

I don’t know. It might mean nothing. Maybe he just wanted to show off his ass after a workout. Maybe he is in love with you. Either way, you could save yourself a great deal of angst by simply asking him. 

I’ve been in this situation many times, lamenting over whether or not a man wanted something more. But, alas, I am not a mind reader. After too many minutes spent complaining to friends over what one particular man and I “were doing,” one of my wisest, yet exasperated, girlfriends said, “Why don’t you just ask him? You could just ask him, you know.” I didn’t forget her words, but it was only after that unpleasant break-up that I started believing her.

It seems simple, and yet we spend so much time dancing around questions like, “Where do you see this going? What do you want out of this?” The answers to these questions are blessings; they are the keys to future dating happiness and preventers of future heartbreak. Because in order to know what kind of future a relationship holds, you need to know where a person’s heart is at. 

Such raw honesty can be scary, especially because we usually already know the answers. We make excuses for a partner’s lack of response or changing demeanor instead of facing reality and just asking the question. Hearing the truth out loud is the best way to wholly embrace it. When I know what someone is actually thinking, I am able to make choices that are best for me and not for someone else.

And if you are afraid that speaking up will scare your partner away and ruin the relationship you think you have: If you are right for each other, it won’t. Honesty is a useful tool in scaring away the wrong people.

Honesty: A Dish Served Best with Kindness 

I have spent too much time in a passive-aggressive state, ignoring questionable behaviors of others in the spirit of avoiding confrontation. This always seems like a great idea until I remember that I have feelings, and, eventually, I lash out. 

Honesty is a dish best served with kindness. I am guilty of forgetting this occasionally and have found myself hurling dramatically eloquent insults at a guy when a calm conversation would have been a more effective way of resolving a grievance. Sometimes, partners do deserve a verbal tongue lashing if a behavior was particularly egregious, but most of the time, this isn’t the case. Romantic rejection often comes down to simple incompatibility, not maliciousness. Most of us are good people; we just want different things.

Practicing honesty doesn’t mean we need to tear others down. The whole purpose of this new way of thinking is to collectively build us up, to forge better relationships, and ultimately to find the happiness that comes with getting what we want, with ourselves and with partners. Honesty is much more effective if it’s shared kindly, without defensiveness or accusation. Kind honesty leaves us feeling hopeful instead of bitter, making us more likely to open our hearts to other good people.

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Let’s All Try This Together

For better or worse, I am a true woman of the community. Whenever I have to make a somewhat significant decision, I need to call at least three people who have known me at various life points and discuss it at length. I envision them holding my hand as I make whatever decision I’m trying to make (Do I swipe left? Is this chicken actually done cooking?), and I feel a little braver.

I would like to live in a dating universe that is bursting with honesty. Wouldn’t you? Most likely, if what I read about ghosting is true. But honesty is scary, and I’m afraid to do this all on my own. So, what if we all grabbed each other’s hands and agreed to try this together?

I can’t promise you that it’ll all go smoothly; I’ve learned that honesty isn’t a quick fix. But if we all vow to support each other, it will be a little easier to keep trying. 

So instead of guessing what someone wants or doesn’t want, we can ask. We can say, “This date was fun, but I don’t think we have anything in common,” instead of ignoring text messages for the next week. If we love someone, we can say, “Hey, I’m in love with you. This universe sounds a lot more exciting to me, and a lot more positive, too. Honestly, when I’m with friends, I would much rather spend my time talking about The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt or Bareburger than trying to figure out what it means when a guy forgets to close the bathroom door. 

Based in NYC, Vanessa Gattinella works in online media by day and writes poetry in her spare time. She is a co-founder of It's Not Personal, a global collection of art and writing inspired by the female dating experience. Follow her on Instagram.

Illustrator Julia Jeanguenat is an obsessive collector of vintage magazines and printed ephemera. Her collage work is focused on re-contextualizing female subjects found in these traditional forms of media to create playful, quirky or surreal graphic relationships. She currently resides in Long Beach, CA. Follow her on Instagram.

This essay is shared in collaboration with It's Not Personal, a growing anthology and collective that creates opportunities for women to share their dating experiences in a positive environment. The project aims to progress society's conversations around singlehood, relationships and everything in between. For more information, be sure to follow It's Not Personal on Instagram join the Facebook group, and send art and writing submissions to itsnotpersonalnyc@gmail.com. 

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