Because finding love means finding someone who likes you for who you are.
Passing my fifth anniversary of writing for Psychology Today, I've started to think more deeply about these questions. I have tried to help others (and myself) here to be a bit more attractive, persuasive, and socially skilled. But until recently, I had not given as much thought to these larger, overarching questions of intimate relationships.
Jeremy Nicholson M.S.W., Ph.D. is a social and personality psychologist, with a research and writing focus on influence, persuasion, and interpersonal relationships. He also holds master's degrees in industrial/organizational psychology and social work. He currently lives in Western Massachusetts. Since 2001, Dr. Nicholson has worked in education, research, and training.
Editor: Muhammad Talha
To start, I'll try to answer a question that many readers have asked:
"How do I balance being true to myself, while also being persuasive and attractive?"
The central conflict seems to be that certain "techniques" may lead to a date or influence a partner's behavior, but sometimes they feel generic, inauthentic, or shallow, too.
Anybody who has ever dated or had a serious relationship has probably been given the advice: Just be yourself. For me, simply putting myself out there without a bit of knowledge, finesse, and planning didn't quite attract the romantic connections I desired. A calculated approach led to more positive responses; however, many of the potential partners I attracted were not really compatible with my more unique qualities, particular needs, or future life goals. In other words, I received little-to-no interest using the be-yourself approach, and plenty of interest, but from incompatible partners, using the other approach.
Fortunately, after a few more tours around the dating market, some personal introspection, and a dive into the psychological literature, I'm beginning to better understand this dilemma. But to find the solution, we need first to understand how the mating game ultimately works—more specifically, how to find an appropriate, similar, and complementary partner.
While there are often some trade-offs, it is generally observed that relationship partners who are well-matched have a number of characteristics in common. This tendency for individuals to pair with mates who have similar physical, behavioral, and psychological characteristics is known as Assortative Mating (Lutz, 1905), and it has been a topic of study in intimate relationships for over 100 years.
More recently, research has paid closer attention to exactly how we match up with partners—and what characteristics may be similar as a result. A study by Hunt, Eastwick, and Finkel (2015) evaluated how long 167 couples knew each other before dating; whether they were friends before dating; each partner's physical attractiveness; and relationship satisfaction. The aim of the study was to determine whether being friends before dating changed how partners matched, and the level of satisfaction with that pairing.
The results of the study indicate that couples who were not friends before entering into a romantic relationship were much more similar on their overall level of physical attractiveness. Nevertheless, there was no significant difference in satisfaction between couples who jumped right into a relationship with a similarly-attractive partner, or who built a friendship first with a dissimilarly-attractive partner.
The authors theorize that time spent as friends allows potential partners to match up on more unique behavioral and psychological variables that tend to take time to get to know. Thus, partners either match quickly on externally-attractive features, or they grow into a relationship more slowly and match on more internal and uniquely-attractive traits.
Just Be Your (Best) Self
This study can help us resolve the problem of being authentic versus simply doing what is supposed to be attractive. Here are four tips to help you get started:
1. Attraction techniques can help you get noticed.
While it may be true that people should not judge a book by its cover, most people initially judge books (and each other) that way. This means that no matter how much wonderful stuff we have on the inside, few people may see it unless we put forth some effort when we present ourselves to the outside world. That doesn't mean that you have to be a model or change your entire look or personality, but working on a few universally-attractive features—and learning a few tips to attract attention and start a conversation with a potential partner—can increase your odds of success. These tips and techniques can help build initial interest, even if they take you a bit outside your usual routine or comfort zone.
2. Unique features can help you find a satisfying match.
As I described earlier referring to my own experience, generic attraction techniques can help you get initial interest from potential partners—but those partners may not quite be compatible with you on a deeper level. Sure, this type of superficial interest may work for the pick-up artist, or others seeking casual flings, but it is not quite enough when you're looking for a loving, long-term partner. So, after getting someone's attention, it's time to let your unique, authentic traits and preferences drive your encounter. This is when you should transition from the superficial to more intimate and personal conversations. You'll get to see whether you are truly compatible and if your mutual needs align.
3. Looking beyond the surface will help you judge potential partners.
To find a truly compatible relationship, you need to give others the same respect and consideration that you expect from them. So be curious about your dates and partners, beyond their superficial qualities. Build rapport with them and get to know them on a deeper level. Find out whether their traits and goals are truly compatible with your own preferences. See whether they are willing to invest in you—and the relationship.
4. Balance authenticity with necessity over time.
Once you have established a general level of interest with a partner and more unique points of connection, an ongoing relationship becomes a balancing act between the two. At this time, tending to more generic and universal aspects of relationships become important again—rewarding a partner's good behavior, showing gratitude for their efforts, and using touch to spark passion and romance. These behaviors can be performed in ways that are authentic and unique to yourself and you relationship. Things like which rewards we choose to share, how each of us shows gratitude, or the special motivations for physical intimacy that develop in a romantic relationship will be somewhat unique to each couple. In this way, couples find their own special, and authentic, ways of meeting the somewhat generic, universal tasks required for a satisfying relationship.
There are general tasks that every relationship requires, but doing them in your own authentic and special way is important. Sometimes the emphasis is on the superficial and universal, as is often the case with building initial attraction. Other times, the emphasis is more on the intimate and specific, as is often the case with the "get-to-know-you" stages of a relationship. Nevertheless, these two processes balance out in the relationship over time—allowing you to share your best self with your partner, and allowing your partner to share their best self with you.