Expert advice on getting to know yourself and potential partners.
Forget “The Rules.” Stop believing “He’s just not into you.” In fact, skip all the self-help confusion that instructs you on how to morph yourself into the perfect match for Mr. (or Ms.) Right.
People who are genuinely happy with their romantic choices spend more energy working on their own self-development than on appearing a certain way to attract love. Instead of focusing on playing the game to entice a partner, put your focus on these five principles and, over time, the right match for you will present itself:
1. Understand yourself, sexually and emotionally.
If you have not done the work of understanding yourself emotionally and sexually, you will enter romantic relationships from an emotionally dependent place. You may have the unrealistic hope that someone else will know how to understand you and make you happy—even when you, yourself, may not know. Directly communicating to your partners about your emotions and your sexual side is important; hoping others will intuitively perceive who you are emotionally and what you need sexually is a fantasy.
Make a conscious effort to become aware of your ongoing emotional reactions to the people and events in your life. Observe and label your emotional reactions. Reflect on your feelings and talk with people about how you feel or what you are noticing about yourself, without expecting them to put you back together again.
2. Believe what people show and say about themselves.
It is common when attracted to someone to want to rationalize their poor behavior. If someone treats you with disrespect or chronically lets you down, take this as data about whom he or she is as a person. If you try to talk with someone and he or she dismisses you or rationalizes mistreatment of you, take this seriously; this may not be a suitable match. If a man says he is not looking for “anything serious” or he needs a lot of “space,” let him go. This person is not in the same place you are and may not want the same things you want.
Believe what people communicate about themselves. If they are acting immaturely or disrespectfully, or saying things that hurt you, move on. It is not your job to show someone a better way; it is your job to work on growing as a person.
3. Avoid “sextimacy.”
As I describe in Getting Close to Others-5 Steps, sextimacy is a cycle of working to achieve emotional intimacy through hastened sex. If you are hoping that a sexual relationship will eventually lead to a more emotionally intimate or committed relationship, cease and desist: Research shows relationships that start with sex before emotional intimacy is present typically do not become committed unions. You will spend your time hoping and working to get someone to change or “step up to the plate” when you could be putting your energy into growing as a person and finding someone who likes the person you have become.
4. Separate psychologically from your parents.
This is no easy task and many think they have done so when, in reality, they have not. As an adult, if you continue to allow your parents to meet all of your emotional needs then you siphon off some of the energy that needs to go into your romantic attachments. As much as possible, little by little, work to be independent of your parents.
This does not mean you can’t enjoy their company, spend time with them, and share what you wish with them about your life. It does mean: Work to become comfortable making your own decisions. Excessively asking for their opinion, reassurance, or guidance, or allowing them to control your life means you are not living for yourself. And if you allow your parents to continually do the heavy lifting for you, then you will not be a whole person when the right match presents itself.
Entering into a romantic relationship believing that the person is going to take care of you in the way your parents have can turn a healthy match into a toxic one. You have to be in control of your own life, self-aware of your goals, needs, and emotions.
5. Put yourself in new situations.
A popular idea holds that in order to find the right partner one must first work alone on self-improvement —”I just need to do me for a while.” In my experience, when women do this, they put themselves in arbitrary exile, where they feel sad and out of touch. With such a vague goal of “working on myself,” enlightenment eludes and isolation compounds the misery.
Work on yourself through developing greater emotional and sexual self-awareness. At the same time, you need new relationships with romantic partners and friends to truly know yourself. Each dating experience provides you with in-the-moment information about your preferences, weaknesses, and strengths. If you continue to think and do the same things that you have always thought and experienced, you will remain stuck.
Your brain has an extraordinary ability to adapt and grow—if you allow it. For the brain to grow you have to give it new stimulation and new experiences that challenge you on some level. Perhaps there are things that you like or have wanted to try but have been afraid to do so. As long as they reflect your genuine interest, work through the anxiety and put yourself in novel situations where you may meet different kinds of people and experience other aspects of your personality.