On a sunny day in San Francisco back in 2022, strolling through the uphills of Alamo Square, I was catching up with an old friend. But this wasn't just any friend; this was a friend with witty charm and an impressive track record with all the ladies. He had mastered the art of dating like a pro, all while maintaining his authenticity—a rare combined trait indeed. (He is happily married now) Let's call him Robert.

As we walked up those hills, I started to gush about this new guy I was seeing, showing off the guy's website, and boasting about his creativity. And that's when Robert, with a suspicious smile on his face, turned to me and dropped a truth bomb that I'll never forget: "Hmm, you're selling him to me."

That moment was like a wake-up call. Right there, I realized that I was selling him to myself! (Spoiler: whenever something is lacking, our ego would protest hard to "make it up.")

Robert used to be a life and dating coach. He has seen it all. Something he is excellent about is he can just cut through all the romantic haze, and mirror it back to you straight.

“So what is missing.” Robert was laughing. 

We had a great connection; we laughed together, and we were surely into each other. Yet, I couldn't shake off the feeling that he wanted to impress me but there was always a gap between his portrayal and my actual experience. It was subtle but noticeable.

(That summer marked the beginning of my journey into psychotherapy as a trainee, and I was particularly attuned to my own perceptions.)

When someone shares their story, it's like they're painting a picture, carefully selecting the colors and strokes. And I am not hinting that they are lying; rather, it's about recognizing that every narrative is carefully crafted, and shaped by the teller's personal perspective. HOW they convey the story often matters more than WHAT the actual story is. Our chosen narratives reveal facets of our identities - how we truly look at ourselves and how we connect with (or hide from) others. 

In this case, I experienced that his story didn't land in me. I don't think he was lying. And I knew it had nothing to do with me.

It's so-called the lack of embodiment—an experience I've pondered over more times than I care to admit. It often happens when our focus is outwardly oriented and we have very few resources within. We try to cover up our deep fear of not being good enough by creating flashy stories to make ourselves feel better. We have all been there when we were so busy to feel good about ourselves, haven't we? 

Let’s say, I'm a psychotherapist (AMFT). Now, my relationship with psychotherapy would undergo a profound transformation depending on my level of experience. Picture this: a mere 200 hours of face-to-face sessions versus an in-depth 1500 hours of deep dive experience. It's like the difference between dipping your toes in a puddle and diving headfirst into the deep end of the pool.

Now, let's fast forward to a scenario where I'm confronted with a client battling depression for months. Sure, I could say the same well-meaning words, but the impact would be worlds apart if I had ever walked a mile in their shoes—and experienced the relentless weight of depression firsthand. By then, I could even locate their physical symptoms (pain) in my own body. I can truly feel you. It's not intellectual, it's an experience—it's an experience that resonates on a level that mere words simply cannot reach.

Same in dating. 

Sure, you could boast about having dated 50 people in your lifetime or spent $1k per hour hiring a dating coach and maybe you can even master the skill of how to approach potential mates, with all the right moves and banters. But let me ask you this: have you ever gone through the ups and downs of a long-term relationship? Have you braved the awkwardness of "the money talk" and negotiated with assertiveness and compassion? Have you practiced the art of “taking a pause, responding instead of reacting” during those oh-so-familiar arguments that seem to have killed all your past relationships? And let's not forget the midnight meltdowns followed by some serious soul-searching.

You see, my friend, dating isn't just a number game—it's a journey of self-discovery and growth. Without those raw, unfiltered experiences, a number will just be a number, and it goes nowhere.

We just can’t cheat it. We can’t cheat the real-lived life and the wisdom born from all the mistakes we have made. We can’t cheat who we are by presenting ourselves in a certain way. We can't cheat knowledge by reading some books without trying it out. We can’t cheat the feeling of emptiness and loneliness at midnight, or mostly, in the crowds. 

Let's wrap this up with a quote from William Hart

"The highest authority is one's own experience of truth."

William Hart, The Art of Living

In other words, there is no shortcut in life. And every experience matters.