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.)

21 comments

  • What you are saying is that to get a woman, guys should work on improving or attaining attributes women find attractive – humor, success, compassion, etc. What The Game teaches is that many guys already possess these attributes but they cannot get past the front gate because of the limitations they impose upon themselves, namely approach anxiety. The book is not trying to help jersk get dates.

    The “games” are merely icebreakers and while they may be dubious in nature (my kid sister got a tattoo of her boyfriend’s name, what do you think of that?), they ultimately have good intentions – to get the conversation started. Obviously, no meaningful relationship is built in a series of lies. I can’t keep telling the girl I am a doctor if I’m not.

    Or so I’ve heard.

  • Christopher R. Ryan

    Pick up routines? How about this, “Hi. My name is ‘insert your name here’.” Or, “Please, sit. Can I buy you a drink? My name is ‘insert your name here’.” Or hey it’s a pleasure to meet you, you’re so and so’s friend? Right on, My name is ‘insert your name here’.”

    There is no line better than Hi. In my experience anyway. The problem is going to the hospital and getting the Add-a-pair-to-me operation to actually say hi. Oh and I forgot the crazy complicated, “Can I call you sometime.” Sure you’ll get some knows but so what neither of you is the last person on the earth.

  • I think “Groundhog Day” illustrates your point.

  • Damnit, Elliot! This whole time I thought I was writing this great eloquent piece, and it turns out Bill Murray beat me to it in so much more entertaining of a way.

    *sigh*

  • It’s a good piece Dennis – and much quicker to read then sitting through Groundhog Day (although you might want to recommend it as reference material…).

  • And David, I totally agree that the book isn’t meant o help jerks get dates. But, as Neiil Strauss described, there were certain guys who were just looking to memorize lines and routines. They weren’t actually trying to better themselves.

    In that sense, the Game is like the Force… it can be used for good or for evil. 😉

  • Haha, thanks, Elliot. I personally love Groundhog Day, though. I can’t believe it didn’t occur to me once the whole time I was writing this piece. :-p

  • Christopher R. Ryan

    HA!!! Dennis Ground Hog day was more about how not to be a TOTAL D-Bag. Less about learning to be yourself. Though i guess Bill did some beautification in there.

  • Like Elliot said, I think it does illustrate my point perfectly, though. The guy started off as a complete ass, tried a bunch of lines to win the girl over, failed miserably, gave up and decided to work on bettering himself, and in the end, won her heart by becoming a more attractive man.

  • Right on, preach it, Dennis! So what about those of us that refuse to play by the Rules, because we LIKE what we’ve got to offer, but can’t seem to find a single available potential who’s interested?

  • Christopher R. Ryan

    Yeah i guess. I just think the real lesson here is the try and skip the dick head part altogether. Which is I suppose where the force analogy comes from. :p

  • The Rules and The Game will get you nowhere. I’d recommend something more along the lines of Foucault’s “History of Sexuality.”

    Being “yourself” becomes infinitely more complicated when you start examining all the ways men and women have been conditioned to interact — largely by centuries of political forces interested in having a complacent and easily governed populace reproducing at an economically convenient rate.

    (Yeah. I admit – sometimes it’s harder to get dates when I start spouting scary social gender theory and sh*t. If I start quoting Irigaray, it’s all over…)

  • Kathryn, that’s the first book recommendation that has actually caught my interest. Dennis, I really liked this article. The pedantic (which I had to look up and means “formal,” just in case anyone else got it confused with “pedestrian” which means “ordinary”) style reads more smoothly and appears more insightful then the ones full of others’ quotes. My favorite so far.

  • I like this style, but I also really like the ones with quotes – they read like a news or magazine column – like you actually did survey research (which you did!). Don’t give up either style!

  • Thanks for the feedback, Meg and Laura. I’m trying to write in a variety of styles in the hopes of increasing my “marketability.” I’m glad you liked both. And by “pedantic,” I meant that it was not so much formal, but “lecture-ish”….

  • Then maybe you meant “didactic”?

  • No, I meant pedantic. “Didactic” just suggests that something is intended to teach or inform. “Pedantic” has more of a connotation of someone standing on a soapbox, lecturing away to people who may or may not care to learn.

  • I find it interesting how you seem to approach each of these subjects using the scientific method, at least what I remember of the scientific method. Develop a question, research, draw conclusions from your research and create a theory. I’m embarrassed to say that as an English teacher, I rarely ever hear the word pedantic, thus I’m ignorant of the connotations. I’m even teaching SAT vocab right now, how embarrassing.

  • Margaret Da' Magnificent

    HEY NOW, ugly people need love too

  • I have a friend that seriously needs to read this. AGAIN.

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