There’s a 2017 song called “I like me better when I’m with you”. It’s one of my favourite songs by Lauv. Catchy music, cutesy lyrics, and totally validates the anxious leanings in my attachment style.
Is it a good thing to like yourself better when you’re with another person (especially a partner)? Overall I’d say heck yes. Not in the sense of being “completed” by them, but in the sense that they help bring out the true you, the best you. You co-regulate good. You feel safe with them, and you can be more fully you in the safety of that relationship. I’m a big fan of liking yourself better when you’re with a friend or partner in that way.
But there’s a reason I talk about anxious (insecure) attachment with this song. There’s a line early on which goes “to not know who I am but still know that I’m good long as you’re here with me” and I wish I didn’t relate so hard to this line.
When I like someone and get attached, it can be easy to lose myself in the relationship. To feel so good when I’m with my partner, because I fuse my existence with that relationship and start to see myself as part of that whole. As opposed to feeling whole on my own, complemented by another whole person. And naturally when that happens, times of separation or being apart from my partner can make me feel incomplete. And I end up liking myself less when I’m not with them. Because I don’t “know who I am but still know that I’m good long as you’re here with me”.
I recently found myself entangled in an insecure attachment situation which got tricky because after a point, the other person wasn’t bringing out the best in me and I wasn’t bringing out the best in them. And after one particularly volatile interaction, I found myself thinking “holy shit, I don’t like me better when I’m with you.” Because I do know who I am, and I know that in order to maintain the relationship, to keep them “here with me”, I’m actually compromising on being my authentic self. But I like my authentic self. I like who I am when I’m my own, complete, independent self. And I don’t like the insecure mess that I am in this specific relationship.
It’s important to note that “I like me better when I’m with you” and “I don’t like me better when I’m with you” are not a judgment or objective reflection on me or the other person.
They are simply information. Information that should guide the boundaries we draw in our shared space. Information that should guide our reflection around what work we need to do in our own lives, and how we can show up authentically and nurture an environment around us where we can be our full selves, selves that we like. Selves that can draw from other people’s presence without relying on their presence to feel good. Selves that don’t inextricably link our self-love to the health of the relationship.
So what do I do when I don’t like me better in a certain relationship?
What do I do when I love a person but don’t love who I seem to turn into around them, in order to maintain whatever relationship we’ve got going on?
The simplest answer: adjust boundaries. I need to renegotiate the space in the relationship to ensure that both individuals have space to be themselves and thrive, and that the relationship serves the individuals, who are the priority, rather than the individuals compromising themselves for the sake of the relationship.
Inauthenticity is essentially unsafe. If you have to be someone you’re not in order to keep someone else around, what you’re inviting them to connect with is NOT the real you. And if you hide the real you, the real you is going to feel invisible and unseen. If you create a false you, you’re going to attract people who will connect with that false you, people who may or may not connect with the real you. You’re also quite likely to alienate people who would be drawn to the real you. And even if not, being your true self in the company of you alone is far less lonely than hiding the real you while surrounded by other people.
This sort of inauthenticity may be wholly unintentional. Because to be your true self, you have to know your true self. If you only know yourself around other people, it can get really difficult to tell what is you and what is a persona you’ve made up to be palatable to the people around you.
I have made up different personas in the past, believing that no one would want the real me (heck, even I didn’t want the real me). So I (unintentionally) made up versions of me that I knew had some success with others before. But the more people connected with those made up personas, the more lonely and isolated I felt, the more suffocated, trapped, and hopeless. I have learnt now to know the real me, love the real me, be the real me, and find people who also truly love me for me. But still occasionally I lapse into old patterns, and find myself in situations where I don’t “know who I am but still know that I’m good long as you’re here with me.” Until I’m not.
Inauthenticity is exhausting.
I want to like me better regardless of who I’m with. I want to like me best. I want to be SO me that only those things have space in my life that are compatible with the real me. I want to know who I am so much that I can genuinely sense what would be a threat to the real me, and draw appropriate lines for safety: mine and everyone else’s. I want to like me better by setting up my life to only have those people and things in it that genuinely make me better.
I like me better when I’m me.
And by being me,
and making space for me
to keep being me,
is how I’ll keep liking me better.