Our search for healthy love is one of the most defining missions of our lives. Yet a lot of popular dating advice actually leads us away from the very love we desire. Most popular dating recommendations build on a fatally flawed concept: If you want to find your soulmate, make yourself more desirable. As useful as this might sound, it’s the kiss of death for true intimacy, because it leads us away from the most essential ingredient of all—authenticity.
Thankfully, there is a good amount of thoughtful, research-based, and effective guidance available to us, but the field is mostly populated by the “make yourself more appealing” school of thought. This misleading advice falls into two main categories:
- Change the way you look.
- Change the way you act.
While there may be some nuggets of truth in this advice, in the end, it promises love, yet delivers insecurity and disappointment. Why is this so? Because it’s impossible to be authentic when you’re struggling to play a role. Following the advice below is like exhaling while holding your breath:
- Keep him or her guessing.
- Learn to become “irresistible” to the gender of your choice.
- Men, learn the skills of seduction.
- Women, learn how to make him pursue you.
- Men, show your sensitivity—but only in small doses, or you’ll look like a wimp instead of an alpha male.
- Women, it’s OK to be strong, but don’t be too strong—you’ll frighten men off.
- If you’re excited and enthusiastic about someone new, don’t reveal it; play hard to get.
- Act confident. No, be confident—no matter what.
Not to mention the stream of exhortations to tone up, look younger, accessorize better—it’s endless. In my decades of work as a psychotherapist, I’ve heard so many clients report that they feel like the walking wounded after spending years trying to play these games.
When we try to become more attractive instead of becoming more skilled at being authentic, we’re bound to feel off-balance. It’s like climbing a wobbly ladder. The warmth, clarity, and sense of humanity that come with self-acceptance just can’t be faked. If we try to be someone other than who we are, we’ll find people who are looking for someone who isn’t us. Worse, others sense the insecurity that underlies this approach. And that insecurity is a powerful lure—for selfish, unavailable, and abusive potential partners.
But there’s good news, backed by solid research: It’s the real, hard-won skills of authentic intimacy that lead to healthy love—not the skills of game-playing.
In 1985, evolutionary psychologist David Buss conducted an extensive study of the traits people rate as most important in finding a mate, and his finding was clear: The quality people valued most in a potential mate was not physical attractiveness. Nor was it wit, self-confidence, strength, success, or youthful appearance. The Number One trait people sought was kindness and understanding.
There’s a take-away here with the power to save us from tremendous pain:
Practice kindness and understanding in your dating life, and only pursue relationships with people who strive to do the same—no matter how sexy or how compelling the object of our affections may be.
Here’s one more hopeful insight that flies in the face of common dating advice: Immediate sexual attraction is not the most important factor in finding and keeping healthy, passionate, romantic love. In fact, Arthur Aron, one of the most renowned researchers in the field of attraction and love, states that multiple lines of research strongly suggest that people who are judged highly attractive are no more likely to find love than people of average attractiveness.
The media teaches us that looking spectacular is the sine qua non of success in dating. Research reveals something different. The more we get to know and care about someone, the less compelling conventional attractiveness becomes, as explained beautifully in this New York Times article.
At the end of the day, trying to “become irresistible” is little more than an exercise in self-loathing. What really works is authenticity. It’s when we learn to name, honor, and treasure the parts of ourselves that are most unique to our nature that we find the keys to deeper intimacy. These are the parts that I call Core Gifts. These qualities are often the exact parts we first try to hide when we’re dating, but they are where our soul lives. And in my experience, they are the very qualities that naturally make us irresistible—not to everyone, but to the person who is right for us.
When we learn to honor our vulnerable authenticity, and get away from people who don’t do the same, we find that we meet kinder, better potential partners—and that, miracle of miracles, there’s mutual attraction. We deserve to be extravagantly choosy when it comes to choosing a life partner.
It takes real bravery to turn away from the dating advice that tells us to be different, better, and shinier and instead rely on the worth and beauty of our own authenticity. But it changes the future of our dating life. I’ve witnessed this many times, with clients, friends, and in my own life.
Skilled authenticity leads to intimacy. Game-playing leads to games. The skills of dating are simply the skills of healthy intimacy. In the words of Chip Conley, author of Emotional Equations, “If you’re seeking a soul mate, then learn to lead with your soul.”
To learn more about my work and receive my free eBook: Four Insights to Transform Your Search for Love, please click here
© Ken Page, LCSW 2015
This article originally appeared on Psychology Today
Photo credit: Getty Images