External Link: “Taming the Mammoth: Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think”

For dating, confidence is key and one of the best ways to get that confidence is to live an authentic life. This means ditching the obsession of worrying about what others think, and getting comfortable with being who you want to be. This ultimately attracts people who like you for being you.

“Wait But Why” has an excellent post dealing with exactly this. It calls that obsession a “Social Survival Mammoth” and introduces the notion of a “Puppet Master”:

a person or group of people whose opinion matters so much to you that they’re essentially running your life. A Puppet Master is often a parent, or maybe your significant other, or sometimes an alpha member of your group of friends.
We crave the Puppet Master’s approval more than anyone’s, and we’re so horrified at the thought of upsetting the Puppet Master or feeling their nonacceptance or ridicule that we’ll do anything to avoid it.

It contrasts this with your “Authentic Voice” that:

knows how you feel deep down about things like money and family and marriage, and it knows which kinds of people, topics of interest, and types of activities you truly enjoy, and which you don’t.

The post explains why listening to the Mammoth and Puppet Masters – instead of your Authentic Voice (AV) – is so dangerous:

When you don’t know who you are, … instead of digging deep into the foggy center of what you really believe in to find clarity, you’ll look to others for the answers. Who you are becomes some blend of the strongest opinions around you.

Losing touch with your AV also makes you fragile, because when your identity is built on the approval of others, being criticized or rejected by others really hurts.

It describes ways to identify the obsessive thoughts that are running your life, by looking for these clues:

1. where your fear is — where are you most susceptible to shame or embarrassment? What parts of your life do you think about and a dreadful, sinking feeling washes over you? Where does the prospect of failure seem like a nightmare? … If you were giving advice to yourself, which parts of your life would clearly need a change that you’re avoiding acting on right now?

2. the way-too-good feelings you get from feeling accepted … Are you a serious pleaser at work or in your relationship? Are you terrified of disappointing your parents and do you choose making them proud over aiming to gratify yourself?

3. anywhere you don’t feel comfortable making a decision without “permission” or approval from others.

The post concludes with why it’s important to listen to your authentic voice, and be who you want to be, rather than being a people-pleaser:

Being approved of by one type of person means turning another off. So obsessing over fitting in with any one group is illogical, especially if that group isn’t really who you are. You’ll do all that work, and meanwhile, your actual favorite people are off being friends with each other somewhere else.
You can start to relish the feeling of being viewed as weird or inappropriate or confusing to people, and society becomes your playground and blank canvas, not something to grovel before and hope for acceptance from.

Ultimately, the “Wait But Why” post talks about being more secure in who you are and reducing your anxiety levels. This lets you live a more fulfilling life and also makes dating much easier.

Until next time my friends, keep dating!


Coping with Rejection

Taxi Dispatcher: Where’s the pickup?
Me: Grand Central Station.
Taxi Dispatcher: What’s the address of the station?
Me: I don’t know.
Taxi Dispatcher: *hangs up*

Rejection happens in life – whether it’s from arguing an internet bill with Road Runner or a job interview. Or of course dating. At least with job interviews, employers aren’t supposed to discriminate based on age and looks for example. However, with dating, everyone intentionally discriminates based on these things!

Rejection stings. If it doesn’t, you’re probably not human. You could try to structure your life to avoid rejection (e.g. never ask someone out) but then you would be avoiding life (e.g. staying single). To have meaning in your life, rejection is going to be inevitable so we all need tools to lessen the pain. Here is my three step approach:

1. Understand: We need to understand that rejection is not necessarily a reflection of our worth as people. There are many reasons for rejection that are out of your control e.g. you didn’t have good role models growing up, the other person is having a bad day, has other preferences, or even has a hidden agenda.

2. Accept: A rejection will continue to nag at us – and we can never truly move on – if we don’t accept that it happened. Maybe you did or said something cringeworthy, but everyone makes mistakes. So spend some time to grieve and to acknowledge the hurt or the loss. But then accept that this is the past and cannot be changed, and more importantly realize that everything in the future is your chance at a fresh start.

3. Improve: Now that you feel a bit better about what happened, think about just one thing that you could improve (e.g. clothing, a different haircut, or something you said). But don’t be so hard on yourself and second-guess every single thing that happened on that date. And at some point in the future, try the improvement.

Over time, by following this approach, you will be able to put increasing distance between the negative feelings from rejection and your feelings about yourself. Rejection will become something that you recognize but will feel less shameful about.

On a final note, I disagree with the approach of intentionally flooding your life with rejection to “get over it”. I think too much rejection can cement negative feelings. Additionally, the notion of “getting over it” is straight from toxic masculinity where men pretend not to feel emotions, such as the ones caused by rejection. Sociopaths don’t feel bad after rejection – don’t emulate sociopaths!

Until next time my friends, keep dating!

Stop Trying to Make Everyone Like You

When I first tried to figure out dating, I was told to do activities to become an interesting person. However, it turns out that this advice is all backwards. The advice was about becoming interesting, to other people. It was about basing my self-worth on what other people thought.

This was a bad idea because I would go around doing activities (or favors) that I didn’t like, to try to make other people like me. I would also be strung along by people who would happily request gifts and help moving apartment, but who never respected me. And when I found out that these people didn’t actually like me, I would feel crushed because my self-worth revolved around them.

Well, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, despite the tendency of his office to shut down the George Washington Bridge to get back at a political opponent, has some great advice:

We’ve got to stop worrying about being loved, and starting caring about being respected again.

[Video – 7 seconds in]

So let me reword the advice I was given so many years ago:

You should do activities that you find interesting, and you and only you get to define your self-worth.

If you like playing hockey, go play hockey.  If you like knitting, go knit.

Do activities to build confidence and develop yourself into a person that you are proud of. You will eventually attract like-minded people who will like you for who you are.

After all, you can’t be everything to everyone. No matter what you do, some people will never see you as fitting their idea of attractiveness or masculinity (or femininity, for that matter). As a case in point, I once spent an extraordinary amount of effort trying to impress a girl – let’s call her Kaitlin.

After a nice flight on a sunny afternoon, I landed the plane and went to grab a hook (an aviation tool).

I was gone for maybe 30 seconds before she was openly flirting with another guy. And I hadn’t even had the chance to start pulling the 700lb plane to the parking spot, in front of her, using my hands!

Now, maybe people around here are all friendly like that and I was being particularly jealous. However, I can assure you that I’ve never had someone start randomly flirting with me, the many times I’ve been standing next to the runway of a regional airport. The point is that if Kaitlin actually liked me, she wouldn’t be flirting with other guys on almost every single date.

So, in summary, stop trying to impress other people. Work on impressing yourself first and others will be impressed by you.

Until next time my friends, keep dating!

It’s OK to Have Flaws

Forgive yourself for not being where you thought you would be by now.
   – Terri Cole

One of the key themes of my blog is to pursue self-improvement for its own sake and because, as a side effect, it improves your dating chances. It’s about taking personal responsibility for your own life and reaping the rewards in return.

However, I don’t want one message to be lost in all of this:

It’s OK to have flaws.

As a society, we have a tendency to come down hard on someone who hasn’t had much luck with dating – statements like “you’re weak” or “you’re not ‘Alpha’ enough”.

But everyone has flaws. Yes, this includes that girl who chose to publicly embarrass you instead of politely turning you down. Her flaw could be that she’s mean. And yes, this includes that guy with the flashy car and loud mufflers. His flaw could be that he’s insecure.

On social media, people tend to only post positive things about themselves. As a result, it’s easy to get depressed when everyone else has supposedly perfect lives – when your life has so many problems.

But strangers and acquaintances rarely tell you what is wrong with their lives. As you get to know people on a deeper level, they open up, and you get to hear that they too have problems. For example, they’re beautiful but they have a chronic medical condition. They’re givers but they always get taken advantage of. They have a prestigious job but they’re miserable. They have a gigantic house but they’re up to their ears in debt. They have a girlfriend but they’re in an abusive relationship.

Don’t ever get trapped into thinking that you can’t date because you have flaws. People more flawed than you still get dates.

Change The Things You Can Change

Having said that, this isn’t a free pass to say that you can just “be yourself” and be lazy. If there’s something you can easily fix (e.g. hair style or clothing), you should just do it. If there’s something that’s hard to fix but important to address (e.g. shyness), you should work on it.

Clearly, some flaws hurt your dating chances more than others. Take it from me – I’ve lived it. I’m not great-looking and it’s probably the thing that hurts me the most with dating. It’s not fair that our culture is so shallow and rewards people who were born with good looks, even if they have no other redeeming qualities. But I just accept that the world is unfair and I make do with what I was born with. So I go to the gym and I dress as well as I can. My objective is to mitigate my flaw, rather than trying to become the most handsome man on the planet.

Additionally, I focus on becoming very strong in things that I can become strong in, such as confidence. Confidence is probably the Number Two thing, behind physical attractiveness, that helps with dating. By doing activities, going to classes, and trying new experiences, I can build confidence by acquiring skills and getting good at something.

Finally, there are some flaws that you can’t doing anything about. For those flaws, my advice is to “own” the flaw and move on, instead of being insecure. For instance, if you are balding due to age and a comb-over looks bad, just shave it all off. Be proud that you look strong and bold, and work on things that you can actually change.

Until next time my friends, keep dating – even if you have flaws!

The Difference Between Being Sexy and Being Creepy

When I was new to dating, I would read conflicting advice on the internet like the following:

  • “Yes means Yes. A gentleman will always ask for permission before trying to kiss me.”
  • v.s.: “You weak person. Be a man! Don’t ever ask for a kiss because it’s creepy and will kill the mood.”
  • “Nice Guys are creepy because they are infatuated but hide their true intentions.”
  • v.s. “Players are creepy because they hit on everyone.”
  • “If you like someone, you should ask them out on a date.”
  • v.s.: “People should see me as a person with a unique personality and a career, not a sex object.”

So the problem is that if I fail to ask someone out on a date, I’m creepy. But if I do I ask them out, I also run the risk of being creepy. If I ask for a kiss, I’m creepy but if I just go for it, I might also be creepy.

It got so confusing that I actually saw a counselor about this and he had a very simple piece of advice:

You are creepy unless your love interest also wants you.

SNL actually makes fun of this in a skit called “Sexual Harassment and You“, which gives the advice that to avoid being creepy, you should “Be attractive” and “Don’t be unattractive”.

My take on it is this: In American culture, men are expected to make the first move. As a result, you always run the risk of not just being rejected but also being unfairly accused of being creepy. Life isn’t fair but you have to take risks to get a date or romantic relationship. Here are some additional tips:

  1. Talk to someone before asking them out: Ask questions, show interest, and get to know her at least a little. The healthiest relationships involve compatible personalities, not good looks. So if you are looking for a long-term relationship, you should at least find out if you have any amount of compatibility at all. If she can’t even hold a short conversation with you, she isn’t interested or compatible.
  2. Increase physical intimacy one step at a time: Most people will expect to be kissed within 1-3 dates or they will think that you are either creepy or not interested. You should increase the level of intimacy over time e.g. from least to most: hug, hold their hand, sit close to them & stare into their eyes, kiss.
  3. For sex, you absolutely need to ask for permission: Both people need to be sober, of legal age (the definition varies from state to state), and capable of giving consent. It is rape otherwise.
  4. Look for signs of wanting more or less of you: Consistently open body language, touching you back, laughing at your jokes, and inviting you into their apartment are all positive signs. Closed body language, letting go of your hand, and one-word answers to your questions are all negative signs. It’s all about getting good at social calibration and feeling whether the other person wants you. If they keep giving you negative signs, you should respect their boundaries, back off, and look for someone else who actually likes you. This one time, on a third date, a girl invited me into their apartment, got me to sit next to them, started touching my arm, and stared into my eyes. I got nervous, failed to read the signs, and didn’t kiss her. She assumed that I didn’t like her.
  5. Build social skills and confidence: through doing activities. Dating is one of the most complicated social dances. You need a solid foundation in order to build rapport with your love interest.
  6. Get more attractive through self-improvement: whether that’s getting fitter, more educated, more wealthy, employed, better-groomed, or better-dressed. The dating market is an economic market. As cold as it sounds, people date each other of similar value. If you want someone more attractive, you have to be more attractive.
  7. Don’t be so obsessed with looks: I know we all want the hottest person but are you dating someone for their personality & long-term compatibility (and they just happen to have good looks), or are you dating a mannequin? People who are physically attractive get hit on all the time so they are more likely to reject you.

If you are unhappy with the people you are attracting, make yourself a better catch first. Look yourself in the mirror and ask: “Would I date me?” If not, work on self-improvement. It’s true that people who won the genetic lottery and naturally have good looks don’t have to work anywhere near as hard as you, but that’s just life.

Lastly, I was amused (and saddened) by a Reddit user’s surprisingly accurate definition of what is creepy:

She calls him creepy … Because he’s breaking social conventions/norms. Attractive people are supposed to flirt with attractive people. Unattractive people are supposed to flirt with unattractive people.

The conclusion is that you have to take risks and you always run the risk of rejection – sometimes brutal rejection. You can reduce your chance of rejection by making yourself more attractive through self-improvement.

Until next time my friends, keep dating!

The Secret to Getting a Date

During my years of singlehood, I heard many theories about how to get a date. I can now confidently say that I’ve filtered out the bogus theories, leaving you with a set of solid principles for developing healthy, long-term relationships. By definition, healthy and long-term means that there are no “pick-up artist” techniques listed here.

  1. Always do activities: that you either enjoy (e.g. tennis) or that improve yourself (e.g. going to the gym or taking a night course in public speaking). Try new activities occasionally. Also, don’t do knitting, Zumba, or anything else dominated by women unless you actually like the activity – otherwise you will be viewed as creepy.
  2. You will then meet acquaintances: This will also give you a chance to practice social skills, which are crucial for dating. Note that it is important to get to know people regardless of their age, gender, religion, etc. because of point 4.
  3. Some of these acquaintances will become friends: These will probably be people who are similar to you (e.g. age, personality, interests, …).
  4. Your social network will keep expanding: By spending time with people, you will meet more people. Interestingly, you will actually meet more new people through acquaintances, than through friends, because acquaintances can connect you to people from radically different social networks.
  5. Through luck: you will eventually meet someone that you click with and probably likes you back. Ask them out on a date.

There are three important points to emphasize:

  • You have to keep doing activities: so that you keep improving yourself (social skills, confidence, expertise, etc.) and keep meeting new people. Meeting someone special happens eventually (which can be a long time!). Don’t just go to one or a couple of activities and then give up. If you make a permanent habit of doing activities, you are doing the only thing you can do: increasing your chances and hopefully having some fun in the process.
  • Women are looking too: There is someone special out there who is trying to find someone with your exact personality. She may be struggling to find you. So use that as motivation to find her! When she realizes how much you click, she will make it obvious that she’s interested, because she wants you and you’ve been hard to find. In contrast, someone who doesn’t make it obvious probably doesn’t like you.
  • You should supplement this with online dating: Note that online dating is less likely to work out compared to the above five steps because it involves strangers that you know next to nothing about. However, you can get first dates much faster so it’s still a valuable tool – at the very least for dating practice.

One final bit of information that is important but frequently omitted: If you are physically attractive, you can pretty much ignore all of the above advice and still get a date very quickly. My friend Jacklyn is beautiful (and intelligent, for that matter) and she gets asked out just by standing at the bus stop or sitting in a coffee shop. For her, “be yourself” is great advice.

But if you are unattractive like me, dating can be exponentially harder. You could be single for years like I was. But you know what? I still met someone by following the above advice. Life isn’t fair. All you can do is work on increasing your chances. I kept doing activities when I was single and I eventually met my true love due to an unexpected introduction by an acquaintance. That’s what people mean by “when you stop looking, you start finding”.

Until next time my friends, keep dating!

How To Change

A key theme of this blog is taking responsibility for your dating success by continually pursuing self-improvement. However, a crucial question is how to actually achieve such change.

There are really two kinds of changes — quick fixes and long-term changes.

Quick Fixes

These are things that you can literally change overnight. You should absolutely pursue these first because you can get immediate results with relatively little effort e.g.:

  1. Hair: You can dramatically improve your appearance by changing to a hairstyle that works for your facial shape. Choose a decent stylist and ask them to recommend a look. Over time, you can experiment with different styles to determine the best one. You can also get ideas by imitating (good-looking) same-gendered celebrities that have a similar facial shape.
  2. Clothes: People’s first impressions of you are — for better or for worse — based on your clothes. You want to look “put together” and doing well in life. It’s why people dress well at work. And it’s why Barney from “How I Met Your Mother” always suits up. While you don’t necessarily need a suit or anything expensive, you need clothes that look reasonable and fit your body. Go to an outlet mall (for low prices) with a friend who has good fashion sense.
  3. Cleanliness: This speaks for itself.
  4. Using Online Dating: As long as you put in a substantial initial investment (4-8 hours) into creating a well thought-out profile with high-quality photos, it should be possible to get at least one date within a month of messaging a large number of people. This is a great way to get out of a dating rut — getting practice, validation and maybe even a relationship. However, I would caution that if you are in need of a lot of long-term self-improvement, online dating might not work out (yet).

I can think of one more thing that delivers immediate results but it’s awful advice: It is possible to learn “pick-up artist” techniques that consist of manipulating vulnerable people into short-term relationships. The problem is that such techniques are highly unethical so they don’t lead to healthy, long-term relationships. Resist the temptation and work on long-term self-improvement instead, as discussed below.

Long-Term Changes

These are things that can take years to improve e.g. social skills, weight, education, career and confidence. There are no easy solutions so you can only aim to make gradual improvements that give compounding results over time. While you might not notice changes week-to-week and there may be setbacks along the way, you will see results after months or years.

Here are some guiding principles for achieving long-term change:

  1. Don’t try to change too quickly: For instance, if you are socially anxious, throwing yourself into demanding social situations (e.g. asking complete strangers for dates) can cause you to crumble and reinforce a belief that you aren’t socially competent. Instead, you should start by improving simpler social interactions (e.g. practicing small talk on restaurant waiters because they tend to be polite) before moving on to more difficult situations. Another example is losing weight. A major mistake is to attempt a sudden diet. For instance, if you starve yourself by only eating salad without any protein, you’ll get so hungry that you’ll eventually binge on the closest source of food, which will most likely be unhealthy fast food. Instead, you should focus on gradually changing your diet by reducing fat intake, eating more vegetables & whole grains instead of refined carbs, drinking less soda, etc.
  2. Plan changes in advance: Sometimes it’s easy to get caught on the work treadmill and by the time you get home, it’s so late that the only activities available involve drunk people. The key is to schedule a regular activity in advance (e.g. every Tuesday). This forces you to be more efficient at work (because on Tuesday you know you need to get somewhere after work). And because you’ve already planned it, you’re more likely to actually do it. Another trick is to pay for the regular activity in advance (e.g. an eight week class). The threat of wasted money is good motivation to show up.
  3. You actually have to make changes: After a hard day at work, you might log onto the internet to search for dating advice, exhausted and drinking Coca Cola. You might bump into extreme and/or depressing articles written by internet trolls that give you an excuse to not even try. Or you might bump into helpful articles (like this one!) that tell you how to change. But reading information by itself is not enough. You actually have to put it into practice. The key is to start by making any small, positive change to your life e.g. join Toastmasters or a running group.
  4. “I try so hard but it’s not working”: Maybe you are trying hard at the wrong things. For instance, if you aren’t getting much out of a particular weekly event (e.g. you aren’t learning anything or meeting friendly people), stop going to it. Try many different things over time and see what works for you.
  5. There are no shortcuts: Real, lasting change comes from developing good habits over time (e.g. eating healthier food each day and increasingly seeking out more social activities). For instance, you can’t go from having low self-esteem, to going to an overpriced one-day workshop and then suddenly *BAM* all your self-esteem issues are fixed.
  6. Stop procrastinating: Unless you have some serious short-term deadline, don’t delay self-improvement “till next week”. For instance, if you say that you’ll work on it after you get that promotion, will you really? After you get that promotion, will you then say that you need to buy a house? And after buying that house, will you wait until you’ve renovated it? And after that, will you wait until you’ve sold it? How many years do you want to wait? If not now, then when?
  7. Drop other behaviors that you are deliberately using to avoid self-improvement: Examples include working on weekends and playing video games. A more insidious type of avoidant behavior is self-sabotage e.g. you need to improve your social skills but you’ve been hurt by some idiot in the past; to avoid getting out there to meet people — and implicitly risking more hurt — you don’t take care of your appearance so that when people treat you badly, you can rationalize that it’s because of your appearance, instead of working on your social skills.

But Why Me? Why Do I Have to Improve?

How come your friend Jane or John doesn’t have to go through grand plans and years of self-improvement? Here are some possible explanations:

  1. Looks: Perhaps they won the genetic lottery and they’re so physically attractive that they can get dates just by walking through the office.
  2. They already put in the work: They’ve developed themselves over years, whether deliberately or inadvertently. For instance, in the social skills department, perhaps they spent more time meeting people than going to classes. As a result, while you might be more educated, they might be better at dating.
  3. They met someone by pure luck: But if they haven’t worked on self-improvement and they get dumped, they are going to be in a very difficult situation dating-wise. Luck favors the prepared i.e. someone who works on themselves.

I’m sure there are other reasons but why does it matter? What matters now isn’t how you got here or how unfair life is — what matters is how you can make your life better for the future.

Self-improvement helps you in all facets of your life. Social skills could help you stand up for yourself at work. Losing weight can extend your life by years. As you improve yourself and meet more people, you will naturally meet someone who will be attracted to you.

The alternative is to sit around, “be yourself” and wait for luck to turn your way. And it might never. Doing nothing is not a strategy — it is just plain lazy. Do you want your life to be in the hands of fate, or do you want to make your own fate? Copying the friend who did nothing but still met someone is not something you should try to replicate.

Until next time my friends, keep improving yourself!