How Long Does It Take Until You Reveal The Real You When Dating?
One of my favorite producers, directors and storytellers of my generation is Mara Brock Akil, the woman behind the complex friendships of the show Girlfriends, as well as those boss ass journalist and steamy sex scenes of Being Mary Jane. Last week, Akil appeared as the guest the morning show The Breakfast Club along with the cast of her new OWN network show Love Is_ a romantic drama based heavily on the story of how she met and fell in love with real life husband and co-creator Salim Akil. When the cast was asked about how long should a person wait to reveal their authentic selves when dating someone new, actor Will Catlett who plays “Yasir” offered some deep insight that Salim Akil once sent his way in the writer’s room, “What’s the truth to a stranger?” Brother is living his most elevated life in 2076, while we all still here trying to find the deeper meaning in “Keke, do you love me?”
But seriously, the whole conversation got me thinking about how deep into a comfort level my husband and I have settled into since we met over 10 years ago. With all of the deep Instagram quotes I scroll by on a daily basis, many would think comfort zones are a bad thing. After spending over 10 years with a person and then getting married, some people even assume I spend my nights throwing on a ratty old New Edition world tour t-shirt, before I settle into the couch with a mud mask before totally taking my spouse for granted. And don’t get me wrong, there are days where he’s getting a version of me who is exhausted and can barely muster the effort to wrap a scarf around my head. But there’s also something very grounding about comfort zones with the right person (because after all, being comfortable isn’t necessarily a bad thing). I don’t miss the who’s-going-to-call-or-text first games my friends obsess over when dropping the deets on their latest Tinder dates. Often my husband will have figured out the lead up, joke and punchline when we witness a certain situation before I can even utter the words and I tell him to, “Get out of my head!” Lastly, I haven’t let my looks go completely to don’t give a damn hell, because I assume my husband has to love me and is attracted to me regardless. I still make the effort to show up and show out as often as I can, mostly because I like to look a certain way for myself, but also because I know he wants to occasionally spend some time with the woman he signed up for, and not a shadow of her sitting around in holey Mickey Mouse draws picking her teeth with a paperclip.
But there was a time I was on my best behavior like we all are when we are freshly, falling someone. Those were the days where I’d do a full face of makeup, made sure my hair was done, and didn’t wear anything on my feet that didn’t have at least a three inch heel just to sit on this man’s couch and what Menace II Society for the 99th time. I’d shave my entire body, made sure I had on a pair of matching bra and panties with black lace somewhere on them and even switch up my birth control pills if I had to so my period wouldn’t come blocking. Don’t get me wrong, back then I still spoke fluent sarcasm, would proudly share my weird ass playlists with a Hall and Oates song sitting comfortably between Drake and Trey Songz. I even wrote him all kinds of moody poetry like I was trying to create my very own fake ass Love Jones (and he still teases me about his “peanut butter colored nape of his neck” until this day). Back then I felt obligated to maintain the fantasy each time he saw me. The work that went into it was the best kept (or not) secret but when I showed up to his door you couldn’t tell me I didn’t walk around getting my video vixen on all day everyday whether I was studying for an exam or heating up a cup of Ramen in my dorm. But I can’t say there was any one moment when I thought to myself, “OK, now I can be me.” I just remember one day I woke up with my eyebrows undone and brown arches on the pillow and he still loved me anyway, after he completely clowned me. And even then, I knew that some sparse eyebrows weren’t making him look at me any differently or question the whole damn relationship.
Akil agrees that there isn’t always one definitive moment where you stop playing a role and adds that most of us aren’t even playing a part in the first place as much as we are slowly letting down layers of ourselves:
“When you ask these questions when is it too late or when it is I think it’s really about questions for you. It’s not really questions for other people.”
She also shares that the early stages of relationships, it’s not necessarily about being phony or fake as much as it is protecting a moment to allow yourself to get to know the best of somebody and realize how much their character and spirit are worth much more than things that could distract from that like a bad credit score or cornrows hidden underneath a hair weave:
“I also do believe in the stardust, meaning the magic of timing. We were actually being protected. I think I did have to see that part of him first: the light. And he had to see that in me.”
She goes on to say that shortly after they met and engaged in long talks about love, life and dream-chasing (much like Love Is_ characters Nuri and Yasir) she learned that Salim already had two children and although that factor may not have made her wish list, nor the lists that many women create when it comes to finding a life partner, by then she was already in love and his fatherhood wasn’t an issue that would stop her from wanting to be and build with him. It reminds me when I learned that my husband was a functioning alcoholic after at least a year or two of hanging out with him and being friends. If I had known that on day one, I may have walked away, but in that time I also found out he was hilarious and shared my dark sense of humor, was responsible, was loyal to friends and family and all the things that until this day confirm that he is the man I am meant to be with forever. The other qualities he brought to the relationship made it worth working with him through the things that weren’t so attractive. I’m not saying that women should lower that standards, but if we can take anything from the Akils is that there is real beauty in allowing love to happen and not believing that you can create better odds through dating app algorithms, check lists and dismissing any man that doesn’t look like Michael B. Jordan and treat his woman like Will treats Jada. I think it’s also healthy to understand that good, healthy relationships look a lot of different ways and if you’re second guessing a good thing just because Instagram isn’t telling you it’s #RelationshipGoals like Kylie Jenner and Travis Scott, you’re probably selling yourself short.
Whether you’ve met your future husband or debating whether to invite the new girl at work to happy hour, with any new relationship everyone doesn’t deserve your truth out the gate and there is nothing deceptive or misleading about that. In a world of social media especially, I’ve noticed that some people feel accountable to a collection of user names and profile pics and think that they owe them an explanation for their time, their interests and choices. Here’s the thing: You really don’t. Revealing the real you is about taking the time to figure out who is worth investing into and who is going to return that investment. That investment is more than forced laughs, double taps and water cooler conversations that you can have with anyone. And when it comes to being comfortable enough with someone to introduce them to your deepest, thoughts and inner feelings, love isn’t about concealing your flaws until rejection if off the table. Love is about finding a person who makes you feel safe enough to show up completely and authentically in the first place, whether it happens on the first date or the fortieth. It may sound backwards, but not everyone who meets you with your baby hairs laid deserves you at your satin bonnet.
You can check out ALL of the gems Mara Brock Akil drops about truth, marriage and falling in love below:
Toya Sharee is a Health Resource Specialist who has a passion for helping young women build their self-esteem and make well-informed choices about their sexual health. She also advocates for women’s reproductive rights and blogs about everything from beauty to love and relationships. Follow her on Twitter @TheTrueTSharee or visit her blog, Bullets and Blessings.