Like an iceberg that conceals 90% of its mass below the water, conversation is often full of underlying psychological motivations. Think about the small pings of pleasure you may take in demonstrating your superior knowledge of something to a peer, or when someone consolidates or sympathizes with your situation. Or, consider how many times a peer has blatantly steered a conversation of yours towards one of these ends, whether they’re the dominant, alpha-male type or insecure and needy. In fact, there’s a whole line of psychology – Transactional Analysis – that examines how this reward-motivated subtext actually characterizes a large portion of our dialogue.
Allowing such subtexts to pilot your interactions can be particularly detrimental in a relationship, where it’s easy to steer your behavior and conversation towards the rewards of love without being authentic to your partner or yourself.
Consider a guy on a first date who decides he wants to hookup with a girl. Instead of acting as himself, his comments and actions are oriented towards seduction, presenting an idealized, fantasy version of himself to her. If the performance wins the girl, it is not really him that she’s attracted to, but rather the invented personality.
How long can he hold up the act?
Or, as couple lays in bed, she tells him “I love you” for the first time. She says so not because it’s completely true — though she thinks she could love him — but because she wants him to love her back.
What happens when it turns out she isn’t able to love him?
The common thread in both of these scenarios is simple. Whoever has altered their behavior to gain the rewards of the relationship is acting dishonestly. Attempting to keep up false premises is a psychologically brutal path that will salt the soil of any relationship.
Acting honestly, and even evaluating your own thoughts and feelings enough to reach the degree of self-certainty necessary to do so, can be a constant and amorphous task. To behave, act and think in ways that conflict with our ideologies, especially when removed by time, is utterly human. But through scrutiny and self-awareness we can hope to act as honestly as possible, and to catch and prevent ourselves from manipulating our behavior towards the cheap reward.
Relax, refrain, and let the authentic reward come to you. It will be infinitely more valuable.