These posts always get me in trouble.

In the context of dating advice, one of the most common aphorisms is “Be yourself”. I’ve always felt this is terrible advice: in my case, being myself means being really shy and quiet, which doesn’t go very far. Likewise, people with unattractive personality traits, narcissists and control freaks and so forth, would be better advised to “be someone else”.
But I realized that this is an overly literal reading; “Be yourself” really means “Be authentic”. The point is that, while it would be a good long-term strategy for me to become less shy, it’s a really bad short-term strategy for me to pretend to be a talkative and outgoing person, even if I could pull it off for an hour or two with enough alcohol and/or caffeine. Sooner or later it’ll become obvious that I’m just acting, which will look very unattractive indeed. And “be yourself” is the kind of thing one hears 20 minutes before a date, not as a long-term guideline for romantic success.
In my particular case, it’s also true that even if I weren’t shy I would still be quiet and reserved. So rather than trying to transform myself into an extravert (which may not be possible) I would be better off cultivating the silent, mysterious type of attractiveness. There’s a bit of the “be yourself” philosophy here even if I’m thinking about ways of changing my behavior.
And being confident about being oneself can be very helpul as well…
(Is this stuff obvious to most people? It always seems obvious in hindsight, which makes me think that everyone else has figured it out already. Better late than never, though.)

12 thoughts on “These posts always get me in trouble.

  1. Zifnab

    I always thought that was maddening advice too, as it doesn’t really say much about what to do, just what not to do. But you have definately gotten the point right. You don’t have to be anyone else, talkative, etc, as eventually you won’t be able to keep it up (or worse, will feel stressed to keep that up).
    And yes, confidence in being oneself is an extremely good thing to have.

  2. Lemming

    Yeah, while sound advice, I don’t know just how actually *helpful* it is.
    I’ve got a question even more basic than, “How to you make a good impression on women?” I’d like to know how the heck I’m supposed to meet them in the first place.
    That may all be moot, because I might be on the verge of making, how shall I say, a “potentially interesting mistake,” which is to say it might be interesting and it might be a mistake, though in reality those two indicators are largely uncorrelated. In any case, I’m just gonna go drink soda and play video games right now.

  3. Arcane Gazebo

    Zifnab: Yeah, I’ve been coming to a new perspective on confidence lately. It’s a tricky beast, and for a long time I didn’t think I could build it up from zero–if success requires confidence, and confidence requires success, there’s no way to do it. But in fact only the big successes require confidence, so my idea presently is to use small successes to build up. There’s a certain combination of skills I’ve had to start learning: it takes careful observation to resolve the tiniest victories, and a kind of rigorous mental accounting to keep from backsliding anytime there’s a failure. And still it’s a long, slow process of small increments. Now my confidence is \epsilon rather than zero, and I can hope for order 1 confidence after some time…
    Lemming: The staff at Arcane Gazebo is currently researching the question of how to meet women efficiently. To the extent that I’ve been social, it’s historically been in venues where women are relatively sparse. However, it seems to me that there are plenty of interesting things to do where this is not the case, and I just need to find them…

  4. Mason

    Heh, I could use help meeting people.
    Although two female college students asked me if I was a student in their various ways (one if I was a Masters student and one if I went to GT) on Thursday. Of course, one was getting me coffee and the other was getting me ice cream (and has been observed using the word “jimmies”, so that would never work even if I weren’t about to move away), so this hardly constitutes meeting people.
    As for being oneself, I really can’t help it. For me, there is no issue of either confidence or lack thereof. Besides, I might as well show people how hard I am to digest from the very beginning. I’ve always been brutally honest in lots of different ways, so people occasionally react accordingly.
    My own shyness prevents from taking risks in these regards, but I do ok in friendships once I find a way to meet people in the first place. (This means that I am in no position to give advice, having not met with any success.)
    Lately, I just do work and travel and ignore everything social, but life should calm down soon enough.

  5. Josh

    You know what I, in particular, find maddening? When people tell me that they know it’ll work out for me someday, like, “You’ll find a great girl sometime, etc., etc.”… the generic one I always get is “it’ll happen for you one day.”
    To me, that’s total bullshit. It can very easily not happen to me one day, as the divorce rate in America shows us. And that’s assuming I find someone to marry and potentially divorce, which is a lot harder in this day and age, and I already have a handicap against me with my somewhat questionable social skills and my somewhat unstable psychology… so when someone tells me that it’ll happen for me one day, I definitely get offended at the gall that it takes someone to placate me like that.

  6. Arcane Gazebo

    Absolutely: “It’ll happen someday” is not only false in many cases, it’s harmful. The big problem as I see it is that it breeds complacency–it suggests that romantic success just falls from the sky sooner or later. Some people are lucky enough that the right person does just “come along”, but in most cases waiting for it to happen is the worst strategy possible. Guys like us aren’t going to attain any kind of happiness or satisfaction unless we actively go out and find it.
    This line may work slightly better for women since men (culturally speaking) tend to take the initiative. But it’s still pretty bad in either case.

  7. Jenny

    A.G.- You’re right, confidence is sexy, but arrogance makes you a jerk.
    I think the phrase should really be “be your best self”. No one wants to see your warts, flaws, and general indigestibility from the get-go.
    Here’s my tip for attracting women: Act like they are interesting. Except possibly for saints, everyone is completely self-involved. The most flattering thing you can do for someone else is treat them as though you think they are as interesting as they find themselves. This requires being observant, but if you see a girl you find attractive, you’ve already found something interesting about her. Ask her about herself and look really interested. If you can get her talking about herself and you stay attentive and interested, you can totally ask her out or at least get enough info to tell if you would want to. The less you talk about yourself, the cuter and more interesting she’ll find you.

  8. phi

    i think a happier way of looking at this – and, potentially, a less self-deprecating one – is to turn it around a little: a good person to get involved with is somebody who *makes you* feel more you – somebody you just naturally feel comfortable around. that advice doesn’t really speak to how to deal with the stress of getting to know somebody at the very beginning – but – seek your own happiness, look for someone you feel at ease with. why bother feeling uncomfortable, feeling judged, feeling like someone is looking for your hidden flaws and like you have to cover anything up – … it’s not fun, and there are people who won’t do that.
    and finally, being attracted to somebody can inspire you to be whatever you see as a “better” version of yourself, and there’s nothing wrong with that .. but it has to feel authentic, it has to fit right with you and who you are becoming. …

  9. Arcane Gazebo

    Jenny: A skill I’d really like to develop is that of asking the right questions to get people talking about themselves. Both for the reason you cite, and because it gives me a way to be conversational without being especially talkative…
    Phi: That’s a good point, and as someone who is uncomfortable (at first) around most people, I always take note when I do feel comfortable talking to someone. Drawback: the types of women I’m comfortable around are very rarely single. (Or is that a selection effect? Because when I start to think of someone in terms of a potential romance, this by itself carries a certain amount of tension.)

  10. Mason

    Being hard to digest is fun. :) Actually, it gets me into more trouble in work situations than it does with other people, some of whom occasionally find me funny. (I actually got myself booed during my talk at a math conference in January. That was _sweet_ and the people there from a school that invited me to a campus interview seemed to take it really well. [I didn’t do anything that bad and I didn’t expect it, to be honest, but given that it happened, I am justifiably proud.] In fact, I am pretty sure they agreed with me.)
    Here are a couple fortunes I forgot to pass along with my earlier comment:
    “Patience is the answer to success.”
    “You will make a fortune with your friend.”
    I especially like the second one, but I don’t recommend that you try it at home. :)

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