The ultimate dating advice

If you are single and ready to mingle, trying to be someone you're not won't help you change your relationship status

man getting ready to go for a date

All around the world, from the United States to Europe to India, people are marrying later and [by implication] staying single longer. But being who they are, people crave emotional and physical connections, so they date. And as people date for longer periods of time before marrying, institutions develop to support this endeavour, such as matchmaking services, websites that cater to every element of the dating experience, and of course, experts offering dating advice.

And if you read enough articles offering dating advice in newspapers, magazines, or online, you’ll be inundated with tips based on the oldest folk wisdom and the latest psychological research. Guys should try to impress their dates, but ladies should act dumb; neither men nor women should appear too eager, but for different reasons.

More generally, you’ll hear countless experts claiming to tell you “what men want” or “what women want”—along with tips on how to be what they want in order to get what you want.

The underlying message in all of this is “don’t be yourself—be someone else!” But this is sure to backfire, and for three specific reasons:

  1. You’re misleading the other person. If you are looking for someone to connect with on a personal and emotional level [as opposed to one-night stands or casual relationships], it’s impossible to connect with a lie. Whether it’s exaggerating your height on an online dating profile, pretending to earn more money than you really do, or simply acting ‘dumb’ so you don’t intimidate your suitor, you’re giving the other person a wrong idea about who you are. And when the person finds out that who s/he met and liked was not the real ‘you’, watch out—feelings may not be the only things that get hurt!
  2. You’ll attract the wrong person. Fooling other people into liking you isn’t only unfair to them, it’s also unfair to you. Why attract people who like the person you’re pretending to be, when you could attract people who like you for who you are? If, for instance, you pretend to be athletic and wealthy, you’ll attract someone who likes athletic, wealthy people—but that’s not you. Not only will that person be disappointed when s/he finds out you can’t pick up a barbell—much less the check—that person won’t really like you. And isn’t that what dating is all about: finding someone that likes you for you?
  3. You’re selling yourself short. If you act like a different person when trying to attract someone, what you’re really saying is that the real you isn’t good enough. But why should you act like a different person when you’re a great person already? Besides misrepresenting yourself and attracting the wrong people, there is a unique cost to not being yourself. You’re suppressing your own personality, needs, and desires, all to be some person you think others will want, instead of being the person you really are.Does it mean you shouldn’t try to improve yourself to help find somebody? Of course not—improving things about yourself that help make you who you are is one thing, and changing or hiding these things is another. And if there are things about yourself you’d like to improve, finding someone else is not the only reason to do it. Improving yourself is not trying to be a different person, but rather working to be the best ‘you’ that you can be.

People like dating advice because it gives them a feeling of empowerment, thinking that there’s something they can ‘do’ to attract the person of their dreams. Ironically, the more we’re attracted to someone, the harder we have to ‘try’ to appeal to the person. It’s not what you do, but how you are. If you think you’ve found the right person for you, s/he will like you for who you are, not because you’re trying to be someone else.

Be yourself

The best dating advice is simple: be yourself, the best ‘you’ that you can be, and then show it to the world. Put yourself out there, but in a way and in places that you’re comfortable with. If you like bars and clubs, great, but if you don’t, then don’t go there just because there’s lots of people there—if you do meet somebody here, it will likely be someone who likes being in such a place, which is not the kind of person you want to meet. Wherever you like to hang out—whether it’s the bookstore, health club, or coffee shop—keep hanging out in those places.

The people you’ll meet in places you like, are there because they like to be there too, and that already guarantees one thing in common.

If you’re not naturally outgoing or gregarious, don’t worry and don’t try to change. It is often enough just to be seen, sitting with your coffee or working the exercise bike, making eye contact with people you’re attracted to. And you can be sure that the person who latches onto your gaze will be seeing you—the real you.

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Mark D White is a professor in the Department of Political Science, Economics, and Philosophy at the College of Staten Island/CUNY, where he teaches courses in economics, philosophy, and law. He has written and edited a number of scholarly and popular books, and blogs.

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