Have you noticed how, when you’re IN a relationship, there seems to be a steady parade of eligible and interested single people nipping at your heels – a veritable school of piranhas surrounding you in your sea of commitment. And then, the moment you become single again, you find yourself in a dried up pond where the only fish still flapping with life are the bottom feeders or those creepy all tooth and lights and no soul kind? Where did the swarms of eager bachelors go? Now that you’re free to explore your deep-sea options, the proverbial well is dry. What gives?
My friend (and inspiration for this post) Glenda suggests it has something to do with the “On Display” effect. Similar to the Butterfly effect, but not nearly so deterministic… actually it’s not the same at all.
When the people around you can see you as you are in a relationship, they see the whole put-together package. They see “relationship you.” And they like what they see. They see the way you dote on your man (or girl, as the sitch calls for). They see the way you listen, care for him, make him laugh, do sweet things for him, nurse him when he’s sick, throw parties for him on special occasions, bring out the best in each of you and generally make him happy. They also see that light of love in you that only shines when you’re “on display.” And they want that.
She likened it to the way we like to buy an outfit as it’s displayed on a store mannequin. You know how this goes – you walk past the window and see that they already have the pencil skirt and Bohemian-chic top impeccably paired with a whimsical summer scarf and the perfect chunky, but not too chunky accessories. “That’s the ‘look’ I want!” you think to yourself, and lazily go buy all the components. Same goes for partner hunting – you see someone in their relationship ‘element’ being all perfectly Bohemian-chic and you want ‘em. You want THAT version. But the reality is that in the real world, you don’t get to pick out the mannequin’s ensemble. You have to put together your own.
In some sense, if it weren’t for the fact that there is a necessary grieving and healing process we have to endure after a break-up (such a bummer that we can’t just skip that step…*exasperated sigh…), we could get back on the market while the “on display” energy is still fresh. You know – word hasn’t spread yet that you’re pathetic and alone and the world of available men/women still sees you as “store window ready.” Wouldn’t that be nice? You could bag an even better shopper while you still have the vestiges of relationship success clinging to your pencil skirt. But, alas, when we try to do that, we unfortunately bypass an essential step in our own journey…blah blah…something …something…personal growth.
I’m gonna be perfectly honest here – I make a cracking good girlfriend. You can ask my ex-boyfriends and they’d tell you. In fact, I’m contemplating a new dating system wherein I have my current crush contacted by former lovers to hear their personal testimonials of my relationship excellence. I mean, you wouldn’t hire a new employee without getting sufficient positive references, am I right? The same goes here. In fact, I dare say it would INCREASE my chances with someone I have my eye on – because my past boyfriends can speak to how I am when I’m off the market, and ‘on display.’
You all know this is true. When you’re on those first few dates with someone new, no matter how much you try to be your true authentic self, no matter HOW you slice it, you’re in full-on illusion mode. You’re trying to present the best version of yourself, which – while admirable – often gets in the way of that person seeing the version of you he would know if he were 6-months in. You can’t be as soft or as vulnerable or as trusting on date #2 as you can on date #100. You also can’t feel that same ease you’ll feel later on, which gets in the way of being yourself. It’s a vicious loop. Perhaps this is why we so often involve alcohol – it “lets” us be more of our real selves… In Vino Veritas, and all that. Be charming! Be adorable! Be attractive! Be yourself? Yes! But, not all the way…? This is where those past boyfriend endorsements can really come in handy.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if an hour into a date with a guy you really think you could have an amazing connection with, you could have some kind of mid-date commercial? The record audibly scratches, your date is paused and in walks your ex with some “exciting news about the girl you’re with!” I’m fine funding these commercial interruptions with blatant product placement – whatever it takes to get the guy, I say. They can tell the new prospect – “dude, she’s a catch. Really. She’ll take care of you when you’re sick, she makes a mean Southwest soup, she’s an amazing mom, she sings in the shower when she thinks you’re not in the house, for all her bluster about being a sleep princess – she really does want someone to cuddle with while she falls asleep, she makes real sacrifices for the people she loves, she’ll keep you laughing, she works hard at the relationship, she gives creative and thoughtful gifts, she’s loyal, she’ll fight for you, and she’s a dang good kisser.” Now, back to your regular programming.
That’s really the only way to convey your ‘on-display’ gestalt to the next generation of love candidates.
But until I get my ghosts of boyfriends past commercial series into syndication, I guess I’ll have to rely on finding a guy who is creative enough to walk right past the ready-to-wear mannequin and go pick out his own outfit. Hopefully it won’t involve a pencil skirt.