5 Strange Lessons I Learnt from Dating and Attraction
1. Attraction may never, ever die
Two people could be separated for a decade or more and the attraction doesn’t wane. It explains why people try to get back with their ex. It explains why despite learning the lesson that your ex was supposed to teach you, you go back for a refresher course.
It’s not that you didn’t learn the lesson. It’s just that this person scratches a psychological itch or they’re your body type. We may think that the incompatibility would push us away from our former flames, but those differences were about the relationship. That doesn’t stop attraction one bit.
It’s at this point where you may fall back into old habits, talk of a relationship comes up and then someone has to de-escalate expectations and remind the other of why things failed in the first place.
Perhaps the saddest reality of life is that you can truly love someone but not be able to be with them. Incompatibility will keep the bird and the fish forever admiring one another but prevent them from fully immersing themselves into each other’s world.
Your friends and family may love you and your ex together, but the mechanics of the relationship prevent anything other than passion and intimacy, which based on Sternberg’s triangular theory of love, results in romantic love.
But without the key ingredient of commitment, this type of relationship can never be consummate love.
2. Remember that everyone is flawed
I know that you know this, but there’s something we massively overlook.
When you are in the throes of infatuation (a normal stage in a romance), you start to wonder if this relationship will be the one that works out ’til death do you part.
But if you know everyone is flawed, that means that your brain and neurotransmitters are setting you up for a massive disappointment when the flaw throws up on your suede shoes and you smell like fish, broccoli and moscato for the rest of the night.
You’ve been down this road before. Why get caught off guard again?
Before the infatuation sets in, look for the flaw in character. This may not sound romantic. Hell, this may tempt you into ending the date. But remember, everyone is flawed.
That means that no matter who you date, literally everyone is going to have some kind of issue or there will be some incompatibility between you two.
Moreover, you are a part of the universal set called “everyone.” You need to know the ways in which you are flawed.
And if you can’t find what your flaw is, your flaw is that you aren’t self-aware enough. Improve that and then find out how you drive people nuts by asking the people closest to you.
3. Consider that your goal may be shortsighted
In dating, people have one of two goals: get (consistently) laid and/or get (consistently) loved.
But just as how two chemical elements interact with one another, you could merely look at the bond between the electrons of each element, or you could use the bond to understand each element on a deeper level.
Moreover, you could take an element and try to combine it with other elements to learn even more about the element.
Maybe your dating goals are too static. Are you sure you want to be in a long-term relationship from your 20s or 30s? Why not your 50s? Really ask yourself why you have to be married when you’re young, dumb and full of inexperience.
Is there a fear of experiencing what the world has to offer? Is there an expectation that you think you have to fulfill?
Moreover still, in learning who you are in various contexts, you may be more objective in seeing what works and what doesn’t compared to someone else who is laser-focused on trying to make a relationship work with a specific person.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m fully aware that if one wants to have a stable family unit and children of your own, it would be wise for fertility to be a non-issue. Therefore being in a long-term relationship when young is a safer situation.
I’m just challenging you to think about why you have to be in a relationship, because maybe the people we are trying to emulate actually wanted the opportunities to explore but they didn’t get the chance.
Romance and sex were definitely biological prerogatives to maintain the species. But psychologically, maybe our significant others are entities for our inter- and intra-personal growth. And with each new step in progress, a new challenger appears.
4. Vulnerability is often inversely proportional to care
Here’s a somewhat embarrassing tale. I liked someone but they didn’t want me. Someone else came in and swooped them off their feet. I was pretty confused and annoyed because I knew I cared more for her than he did because he wasn’t interested in committing whereas I was.
I found myself wondering why people tend to choose what doesn’t suit them the best. I came up with some answers.
First off, how could I know that I’m the best? Secondly, people choose what they think they’re worth. Thirdly, none of that mattered one iota. Why?
Because it is easy to be vulnerable when you don’t really care and it is hard to be vulnerable when you really care.
He could see the totality of who she was, the virtues and the vices. He was able to then give her what she wanted while getting what he wanted. And I know this because I’ve been in his shoes. He could do and say things for her that I would be too embarrassed to do or admit.
Even to use the word “admit” is indicative of some sort of guilt.
Think about how people say, “I confess my love to you.” You’re not on the stand. You didn’t have to put your hand on a holy book and swear to tell the truth. This isn’t a trial. But for some reason, we act like it is. There’s a weird guilt that some of us experience when we tell someone how we feel about them.
But when you’re around someone whose attraction to you is tepid and you’re not that into them either, it’s super easy. There are no stakes. This is no potential for failure. There’s nothing to lose.
It’s like taking a comfy job that pays well when you know you have a desire to do something that is more challenging and may not pan out in the way you want it to. One offers security, the other proposes growth.
5. Mistakes are perfect tests
There are these things called shit-tests. Maybe you’ve heard of them. Basically, they are these tests people dole out at intervals in the relationship to determine how committed the other person is or to find out if their partner is still good enough to keep.
I think shit-tests are a great term because they’re shitty and don’t accomplish the intended purpose. Think about it. If you’ve ever done a personality test and you read the question, it’s easy to gauge what this question is trying to uncover.
“Do you like to go on adventures?”
“When someone cuts you off in traffic, how do you react?”
“Do you eat the icing on the cake first, or do you leave it for last?”
You’re intelligent. You know exactly what those questions are trying to measure. Even when you’re in a job interview, you know exactly how to respond in order to get the job.
“What’s you biggest weakness?”
Everybody knows how to answer this! You know you have to tell them something that won’t rule you out of contention but just vulnerable enough for them to judge you as honest.
Well how is that any different from modern dating? People aren’t exactly honest because they’re just trying to put their best foot forward.
A much better, informative but admittedly longer approach is to make a mistake and to see how the other person responds.
This is iron-clad for two reasons. Firstly, you won’t know you’ve made a mistake until you see your partner’s reaction so you can’t help but be honest. Secondly, if they cut you off, you’ve found their wound. You can talk to them about the wound but if they won’t budge, they may just kick you out of their life. Or, they won’t ever treat you the same again.
And don’t forget that your partner or date will also do something that will trigger the hell out of you and then cause you to question them too.
Here’s the major takeaway: you and your partner will make mistakes; there’s no way around it. What matters is that you’re with someone who can give you another chance and that you are someone who gives second chances. No one’s perfect. We’re all flawed.
Come to think of it, this entire post is sort of about focusing on flaws. It doesn’t sound very positive and it seems like a recipe for disaster if we just keep looking at what’s wrong.
But it is easy to look at what’s right in someone. Relationships don’t fail because of the good stuff. They fail because of the potentially “bad” stuff. They fail because there are nuggets of information we hide from one another and hide from ourselves.
There are questions we don’t want the answers to and information we’ve uncovered but ignore because it destroys the potential paradise we’ve been daydreaming of.
Like any item of infrastructure, we love it when it does what we want it to do. But without proper maintenance which involves looking for what isn’t working, what is fractured and what is broken, people are going to get hurt.
So don’t be afraid to look at what isn’t working, but definitely don’t solely focus on what’s bad. Feel free to try the advice I listed here but continue to enjoy what’s good about the connection you have with others.