This is a series about
relationships – why we need them, how we get them, and how we keep
them. There are four parts. This is the third – it focuses on
contextual strategies for making progress on the long-term relationship front. Additional parts include:
- identifying the target; (click here)
- how we take control of our environment to make it friendly to our efforts; (click here)
- the difference between getting relationships and keeping them;(click here)
- real interpersonal feedback – quantitative concurrence; (click here)
I’m sure there will be more to this as it evolves, but that’s what you have to look forward to. Off we go.
So let’s suppose you’ve set your sights on the kind of relationship(s) you believe will best serve your quest for long-term happiness. And let’s further suppose that you’ve correctly assessed the market of desirable targets, and that you’ve successfully enhanced your looks and personality such that you now have wide access to the people with whom you hope to become close. You’re there, right? The world is your oyster. Not exactly.
The interesting thing about the quest for ideal relationships is that what you do to get in the door is not the same as what you do to develop and maintain rewarding interpersonal connections. You see, the love game is a bit like a funnel filtering system. You start by making yourself as broadly attractive as possible (to your desired audience, that is) – multitudes of candidates enter the wide top of your funnel. Then, you eliminate candidates that don’t work for you – winnowing them down until just the right one (or ones) come out the narrow bottom of the funnel. Perhaps ironically, the winnowing down part is dramatically different than the attraction part in terms of strategy and tactics.
When you’re attracting, you’re working off a basic understanding of human nature and what gets people interested in other people. So you get the attention of your targets by looking like you have something going for you and that care about how you’re perceived (you’re not obsessed, you’re just aware). Face it – relatively speaking, no one worth a crap is interested in a total slob. On the flip side, no one’s interested in someone so obsessed with how they look that they’ve strayed into the land of the orange tan, way over-sized fake books, and duck-lips look (for women) and the land of the over-built, orange tan, shaved head-to-toe, and perpetually in gym clothes look (for men).
Beyond looks, you emphasize the aspects of your personality that separate you from others – you make sure you’re interesting. Additionally, you demonstrate value, as they say in the pick-up community. You have something to offer. It could be that you’re always a barrel of laughs, or that you’re exciting, or that you’re rich (and therefore able to provide endless luxuries and entertainment possibilities). Whatever. The point is that you have a gimmick (or gimmicks) – broad appeal during the attraction phase, which necessarily, though unfortunately, means that you’re likely to attract people with whom you have little chance of any long-term connection. Here’s where it gets dicey.
I’ve talked to guys who say that they can’t even imagine having more prospects for relationships than they might want. They’re saying, “At this point, I’ll take what I can get.” Aside from being a lame-ass defeatest attitude, this is a recipe for disaster. Self-esteem is on the line here. If you’re a worthwhile human being, then there are literally hundreds of perfect matches for you out there. Nevermind the romantic fantasy of the one, the fact is that the numbers are extremely in your favor. You just have to get your act together to start feeding as many of your targets as possible through your funnel. You have to become attractive and courageous, and anyone can do it. The good news is that, though it may feel contrived at first, the process of enhancing your looks and personality will help you develop the self-esteem that you desperately need if you want to find lasting relationships that are built on mutual respect and admiration (and this is the grail, folks). So let’s say you’re making progress. You’re trying to attract targets en masse into your funnel, and it’s working. Then what?
Now you start screening. It’s a delicate process, but what you’re essentially doing is gingerly revealing what really matters to you in life, while making sure to keep the attraction strong. For example, say you opened a woman at the cleaners with some witty banter about fashion and what-not. She inferred from your looks and demeanor that you’re a confident person, and she inferred from the clothes you were picking up that you are probably somewhat successful. She may have even seen your car (if it’s nice or novel) and inferred the same thing. In any case, you ask for her number and she gives it to you. Then what?
No dates. Read that again. You do not take her on a date. At least not one where you pay, not at first. This is a chump move, and you’re not a chump. You find something that you can both go to or do that is either low cost or no cost. In my single days, I would invent some task that I had to perform and ask girls if they wanted to join me – usually something during the day. For example, say you’re in the market for a new couch. This is perfect. You’re spending time together getting to know one another without any real pressure. There are opportunities aplenty for horseplay and to see how each of you deals with the general public, traffic, and so on. (All this stuff tells you tons about people.) The money grubbers will be disappointed that you’re not showering them with expensive events to impress them, so they’ll wash right out of the program early. That’s the plan.
(Quick sidenote – to avoid ending up in the “friend” category, it’s imperative to make your intentions known up front. I told my a girl once – she is now my wife – that though she had a boyfriend and thought of us as just friends, I had every intention of kissing her one day and taking her away from him. She laughed, and so did I. But she knew I wasn’t kidding, and there kindled the beginnings of real attraction. If a target says he or she only wants to be friends, I think Neil Strauss’ response is great – “I never put that kind of limitation on my relationships.” I love that. It sends the message loud and clear, and, to some extent, just having the confidence to push beyond the “let’s just be friends” category is critical to winning hard targets.)
The idea underlying the slow revelation process is that you don’t want someone who just likes you because of some enhancement that doesn’t really reflect who you are or what really matters to you. I’m assuming that you’re smart enough to know that material success is no foundation upon which to build a relationship. Nevertheless, part of your gimmick during the attraction phase may very well be the appearance of success – clothes, car, home, etc. So you use it to initiate attraction – yes, even the most down-to-earth and high-quality people are attracted to successful people – but you deemphasize it once the attraction is established.
You’re theme is something like, “Yeah, I’m successful, but only so I can have more time to mountain bike or hang with my friends or whatever.” High-quality people will appreciate this. Shallow people will be baffled – to them, material success, particularly the appearance of it, is the end game. Shallow, gold-diggers should never make it through your screening process. If they do, your funnel has a leak near the top.
So you’re making headway with this woman. She has accompanied you on your couch shopping adventure, and you’ve both had a great time. You’ve started talking on the phone regularly. You find yourself thinking about her all the time, and you get the warm fuzzies when you talk. In short, you feel that love is blooming. All is well, right? Maybe, and maybe not.
There are two extremes to address when love begins to bloom. One is the resistance to commitment; the other is the rush to commitment. We’ll start with the latter. There’s a very real risk when you haven’t had many love experiences (especially recently) that your emotions might overwhelm you and render your rational mind nothing more than a hat rack. When those physiological processes start clicking in your brain after being long dormant, it’s a rush. It’s meant to be. Your caveman mind is wired to do whatever it takes to maintain these feelings because they often lead to offspring, which, as we know, is the true aim of our genes. Fortunately, however, we’re tens of thousands of years beyond being totally at the mercy of our genes. We can now deliberately decide which emotions make sense and which ones may not.
Think about the famous words of Percy Sledge in, “When a Man Loves a Woman” – “He’ll turn his back on his best friend if he put her down.” Does this make sense? Not usually, but love has that effect. It turns our thinking minds to mush. The only defense against it is a rational, prepared mind. So, even when love is blooming, we have to be aware that we’re still in the screening process. There’s a lot that goes into a lasting, meaningful relationship, and it takes time to determine if it’s all there. More importantly, it’s critical to maintain the willingness to walk away if things aren’t working – and to advertise that willingness.
Nothing will drive away a potential new love than overt neediness. This demonstrates excessive vulnerability, which is the mother of all turn-offs. Like I said, you have to maintain some of what you did during the attraction phase in order to effectively navigate the screening process. Some would say, “But I don’t want to play games. I just want to be honest about my feelings.” Great, I’m right there with you, but like it or not, this is a game, and losers show their hands too soon. Feel free to spill your heart to your buddies. They’ll admire you for feeling so strongly while sticking to your tactical guns and not turning into a clinger. This is necessary not just to avoid turning your potential new love off, it’s a critical part of rational screening.
The moment you let yourself turn to needy mush with a target, your ability to rationally analyze whether the person is right for you in the long term goes haywire. You’re in em>loooove, and everything is wonderful. So what if he’s 40 living at home with his mom and still bouncing checks – he’s a sweet, family-oriented guy. Yeah. Suuuure. So what if she turns into a bitchy princess when she’s had too much to drink – she’s so nice most of the time, and you’ve never dated such a beauty. Uh huh. Whatever you have to tell yourself. No, when you keep your distance during the early days of love’s bloom, you give yourself the absolute best chance of success in the long-term. Guys, go rent, “The Tao of Steve” to see what I mean. Girls, just watch, “Wedding Crashers.” It’s all there.
The bottom line is that when you’re attracting, the air of indifference is essential. Targets need to get the impression that you could take them or leave them. This naturally builds attraction. Once the attraction is established and the relationship is progressing, you slowly replace the indifference with interest, untimately ending in vulnerability. It’s a process that should, in most cases, move fairly slowly. If you think you’re just being honest by jumping to vulnerable right away, you’ll end up in love’s gutter more often than not. The measured indifference maintains the attraction and simultaneously gives you the distance you need to properly execute the screening process to determine if there’s a long-term fit. I’ve dwelled on this a lot because I think most attractive people with relationship problems do this part wrong more than anything else. Now to the never-commit crowd.
There’s a danger to being too good at the attraction phase. This is the problem that plagues celebrities. You have so many options that it’s simply too easy to cut someone loose if things start getting tough. I sat next to a gorgeous young lady on a plane from New York to Atlanta a few months ago. We started chatting, and she eventually confided that, though she dates all these mega-rich guys (with their own private planes and the like), she can never keep them. I explained to her that this only makes sense.
Why would any good-looking playboy want to settle down when he could just find someone new anytime he wanted? (This kind of attitude reflects a gross misunderstanding of how important long-term relationships are to our happiness. Nevertheless, thanks to our genes, it’s pervasive.) She nodded that I was right. She said that she and her girlfriends were always saying that they needed to stop dating those kinds of guys. Alas, they’re addicted to the lifestyle, so it’ll probably never happen. I told her that she should be on the lookout for a good-looking ambitious guy who hasn’t made it yet, but almost certainly will. NYC is full of them. Those are the guys who will appreciate a woman who chose them when they were nothing. And that’s the key – appreciating what you have.
This, I believe, is the epiphany that hit Neil Strauss somewhere along his journey to pick-up artist fame. He was so good at attracting and bedding ladies that he was never actually connecting with any of them. Finally, he realized that what he was doing was shallow and meaningless, so he decided to start screening. When he did, he met the girl that I think he is still with. (See Part 2 in this series.) He recognized that the benefit in terms of long-term happiness that comes with weathering storms with one person is immense, especially when compared with what you get from just hooking up with someone on a short-term basis. It’s all about commitment.
Doing the screening process right is essential because the end game is some sort of commitment. It doesn’t have to be overt or official, although that tends to help when things get tough. You’re just concluding that this is someone you want in your life for a long time, maybe forever. Those who don’t grasp how valuable it is to go through hard times with someone and come out on top will jump ship at the first sign of trouble. How many marriages in Hollywood last longer than even five years? Not many. Those people are so attractive that their funnel is virtually full at all times, so when the choice is to ride out a tough spot with one person or shack up with someone ten years his or her junior, we all know what usually happens. This is a shame. We should never forget the following maxim: it is in our nature to get the most gratification and appreciation from the things we have labored the most for. Relationships are no different, and we can see the results of always going the easy way by noticing how neurotic so many of these celebs are. Most of us should be thankful we don’t have it so good.
In closing this part, let me pose a question. If the end game is commitment, how do you know when to be vulnerable, to be needy, to show your cards, so to speak? How do you know when to commit? There’s no absolute right answer, but I think there’s a way to approach it that has a lot to offer. That’ll be the subject of the next and final part in this series – quantitative concurrence. Until then…