Just Be Yourself (Unless You’re Ugly)

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Some time ago, I decided to give my thirteen-year-old car a brand new paint job, prompting my always-forthright friend Doug to ask, “why would you want to gift wrap a turd?”

Now, as much as I wanted to protest that my car still ran fine and I was just hoping to make it look nice again, he did have a point. If something is beat up and run down on the inside, does making it look good on the outside actually improve it?

In my continuing quest to understand dating and relationships, I’ve been directed to a seemingly endless slew of books on the subject. Notable among them were The Rules, by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider, and The Game, by Neil Strauss. Although one is a veritable self-help book, while the other is an autobiographical account, these two stuck out in my mind because of the parallels between them.

Both best-sellers, they target the respective needs of single women and single men to attract the opposite sex. And although their ultimate goals are different (the Rules are supposed to help the single woman get a man to fall in love with her, while the Game is supposed to help the single man pick up a woman in any setting), I found that both employ the same basic strategy: manipulate the opposite sex into being attracted to you.

Among the tips offered by the Rules, the woman should make the man work to win her affection: don’t call him back right away; don’t be so readily available; be aloof and reveal very little personal information. In short, make the man feel that he would be lucky to get you. Conversely, according to the Game, the man should demonstrate to the woman that he has something of value to offer her: perform a mind-reading trick to wow her; be the center of attention in the group; impress her with insight, intellect, and charm. In short, make the woman feel that she would be lucky to get you. See the parallels here?

But here’s my problem with the two systems: If you’re a woman playing by the Rules, how long will you have to adhere to them? If you employ a strategy designed to make men “chase” you, can you ever let them “catch” you? Or will you have to continue the chase for the rest of your life?

On the flip side, if you’re a man playing the Game, what happens when the woman wants to have a real conversation and actually get to know you? What happens when she discovers that you’ve simply been reciting memorized lines and performing rehearsed routines? What kind of “material” are you going to use then?

As Strauss eventually realized, although the men who studied the Game all learned to approach women with relative ease, only the ones who had substantial qualities within them—intelligence, charisma, a successful life—were able to get very far with these women. Pickup lines recited by rote helped spark interest. But beyond that, they needed something more to keep the women engaged.

As for the Rules, skepticism erupted when one of the authors filed for divorce not long after their book was published. Critics argued that the air of “mystery” cultivated by the Rules to make a man fall in love with a woman would effectively preclude a healthy relationship based on communication and trust.

Avid proponents on either side of the table still assert that their strategies work. Well, I believe they provide merely a superficial and temporary fix to deeper underlying personal issues. Could it be that men are attracted to women who are confident and independent, who have their own lives, and who will not cling on to them and base the whole of their self-esteem and well-being on a new relationship? And could it be that the behaviors dictated by the Rules simply mimic the behaviors of a woman who possesses these qualities? At the other end, could it be that women are attracted to men who truly have something valuable to offer them, be it intelligence, talent, charisma, or ambition? And could it be that the lines and routines directed by the Game simply mimic the behaviors of a man who possesses these qualities?

In essence, both the Rules and the Game teach desperate singles to imitate the natural behaviors of attractive people. But that’s it. They imitate. Neither system actually teaches these desperate singles to attain the qualities that will make them truly attractive on the inside. The woman makes herself unavailable to him, but in reality, she sits at home, hoping he’ll call. The man impresses her with wit and charm, but in reality, those are memorized phrases he’s spouting, and he has no personality of his own.

To me, playing by the Rules or sticking to the Game amounts to little more than slapping a shiny new paint job on a dilapidated jalopy, when what’s really needed is a complete engine overhaul.

So what if, instead of blindly obeying an arbitrary set of Rules, the woman actually works to attain those qualities that will make her attractive to men? And what if, instead of performing a well-rehearsed Game, the man actually works to attain those qualities that will make him attractive to women?

If you’re a woman, go ahead, read the Rules. But only use them as guidelines to help you maintain healthy boundaries in a new relationship. Then, take the time to analyze what attractive quality each rule is intended to help you show off, and work on developing those qualities if you don’t have them already.

If you’re a man, go ahead, play the Game. But only use it as a launching point to approach someone new. Then, take the time to analyze what attractive quality each pickup routine is intended to help you show off, and work on developing those qualities if you don’t have them already.

To be truly attractive in both a physical and mental sense takes self-reflection and determination. It’s not something that you can accomplish by following a bunch of rules or playing a game. You can’t just read a book and shed a lifetime of self-esteem issues overnight. You can’t just memorize a routine and become a charming, intelligent person at the snap of a finger. Even Strauss acknowledges in later publications that players of the game need to internalize the strategies and make them their own. There is no easy way to become more attractive. You simply have to be willing to work at it.

So, if you really are hoping to find someone special, just be yourself. Unless you’re ugly. But, if you are ugly, don’t go for the quick fix. Make yourself beautiful inside and out. Then—and only then—just be yourself.

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By day, I'm a marriage and family therapist. By night, I am a relationships and comedy writer, which can be redundant or an oxymoron, depending on your perspective. I'm the creator of Social Savvy Sage, a coaching service that focuses on developing social skills. I am also the creator of Musings, the blog you're reading right now. You can find me on Twitter. (I am not the creator of Twitter.)


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