Steve liked me. I mean, he really liked me. The night we met, he took down his Plenty of Fish profile, which is a very serious sign of intent. On our second date, he took me out for a gorgeous dinner and shared some personal news with me. Things were getting intimate!
The following weekend, he surprised me again.
He calls a few days later, apologizing. “Family emergency. I had to go out of town. So sorry, it’s all happened so fast. “Oh, no, how terrible!” I’m dismayed by the news. “My goodness, of course, do what you need to do!”
Two weeks go by, though, and there is still no sign of him. I send him a few encouraging texts. They go unanswered. Boy, I think, things with his family must be really tough. After three weeks and no news, I start browsing around Plenty of Fish again. And wouldn’t you know: there’s Steve, with a new profile up, under a new name.
False Perception occurs when we experience the outside world and interpret it in a way that doesn’t align with how things really are.
Similar to my experience with Ethan, I had been creating a version of Reality that wasn’t true. In my Steve experience, attentive Steve + making an effort with the champagne = he really likes me! So what the heck happened? I wanted there to be an explanation for his behavior that didn’t involve me being so dead wrong. But it was hard to fight with the Reality of the profile of “MrBlueEyes1971.”
Why was I so resistant to the truth that he had moved on?
Because I had liked him. Or more accurately, I’d liked the idea of him.
I did not want the obvious version of events to be true. I wanted the implausible, magical, unicorn version of Reality where he still liked me and something crazy had somehow gotten in the way of our inevitable nuptials. His account had been hacked! Someone was masquerading as him! He’d reposted his account to do a favor for a friend!
I didn’t want to give up my happy story where I had a suitor and an exciting, blossoming romance. Steve—for a few weeks at least—had covered up my Missing Piece. But in order to be in Reality, I was going to have to recognize that I had been misperceiving the signs. Steve had ghosted on me. It was time to put on my big girl pants and accept the truth.
I wanted some closure on the experience, so I sent him an email: “I don’t mind if you don’t want to pursue a relationship, but I would have appreciated it if you had been more direct with me.” To his credit, he responded, “You’re right. I wish you the best.”
While his answer wasn’t entirely satisfying, at least I felt that I was now clearly in Reality.
Here is the iconic Indian story of True and False Perception:
A man is walking back to his village at night when he sees a huge snake coiled by the side of the road. He races to the village, sounding the alarm. A snake, a snake! When the villagers bring a lamp, it turns out that the snake was really a rope. In the light of wisdom, the truth is revealed.
Here’s the problem with perception in general: we can’t always tell the difference between what is true and what is false. When Steve gave all the signs of being interested, I couldn’t fathom a Reality where he was being a flake.
The villager who saw the rope truly mistook it for a snake.
When we recognize that everything is a hypothesis, we can increase our ability to be flexible and question our assumptions. When we go on a date, we can stay open to new information about the person that we are meeting. And when we find ourselves fighting for a particular version of events, we can dig into why we are so invested in that story being true.
Use your dating adventures to get to know your mind. Practice your true and false Reality checks. Notice when you want to gloss over or embellish stories. Instead of turning your assumptions into facts, treat the present moment as a grand hypothesis.
How can this change in perspective help you to open your mind?