When I first meet with my clients, the first thing I have to do it get them to see reality a different way. They have learned about love from songs, self-help books, and movies. They have listened to their well-meaning parents and teachers. They come to me thinking that I’m going to repeat the same basic things, like give them a better place to hang out or a few lines that will magically get them a date. They are wrong. I am teaching them a whole new worldview.
Romantic love and attraction aren’t what most people think. They don’t work out like the memes, poems, and platitudes tell us they should.
In fact, the reality of attraction and relationships can be very harsh. People seem to act in ways that are fickle, unpredictable, illogical, and shallow. We see these realities every single day. Below are a few of the realities that I regularly see people deny.
Even though we are told people live happily ever after, divorce rates are high: statistics show that 53% of marriages end in divorce. Even in groups where divorce is discouraged, it happens a lot: divorce is higher in “born again Christians” than other groups. And infidelity statistics aren’t encouraging at all; most men and women would cheat if given the chance to do so without getting caught, and many actually have cheated.
Even though we are told “everyone is beautiful,” physical attraction plays a huge part in dating and relationships (especially for women attracting men, since men base physical attraction primarily on a woman’s looks). In fact, we are downright shallow when it comes to dating. We naturally associate positive personality traits with physical attraction: attractive people are viewed as more kind, outgoing, modest and sensitive, and are assumed to have better jobs and better lives.
And, personality matters too, especially since women tend to focus more on a guy’s personality than his looks. Movies often show the nerdy guy or awkward girl getting a date despite all odds, and falling in love, happily ever after. So, there is someone for everyone, right? Wrong. A study showed that one percent of men get 16% of the female sexual partners over their lifetimes, while 7% of men (and 6% of women) will never have a sexual relationship at all in their lifetime. To show how crazy this is, imagine a graduating high school class of 300. Three guys will have sex with 48 of the women, and 21 of the guys won’t have any sex at all.
Another reality a lot of people deny is that men and women have differences in how they think, act, and relate to sex, despite clear scientific evidence and commonsense experience that men and women think and act very differently. People are content to assume men and women think exactly the same and are shocked when this isn’t the case.
My question is why do otherwise sensible people seem to deny these realities of attraction, especially when it means they are unable to “play the game of love” and end up miserable? Why is advice from friends and family so horrible (like “be yourself,” “be nice,” etc.)? Below I list a few of the reasons why people deny the above realities and others related to attraction.
1. It is all largely subconscious
Attraction is subconscious. and occurs in older parts of the brain. You are attracted to someone the same way you are attracted to fatty and sweet foods: you just are. You don’t crave chocolate, pizza, or whatever your comfort food is because you sat down and thought about it; you crave them because they are sweet and/or fatty, and we evolved to love foods that taste like that, because they have a high density of calories. That is how we survive. You didn’t have to be “taught” that sugary foods taste good and celery tastes bad.
Attraction is largely the same way. A woman doesn’t consciously process why she generally prefers guys taller than she is, or guys who have a good job (in fact, she may even deny she paired up with a guy because he was successful, despite overwhelming evidence). This could be why even though a nice Christian girl who goes to church weekly is officially seeking a nice Christian guy, she is ultimately turned on by the dominant, muscular guy who looks great in a suit, and not the nice Christian guy in her Bible study group. The Christian guy can’t understand why she only wants to be his friend despite being told “a strong Christian” is the most important trait she is looking for in a guy.
And, a guy isn’t likely to admit that he looks for a woman with a symmetrical face with a hot body who looks younger, largely because he doesn’t know why he prefers that. However, if he watches porn (and stats show he likely does), I pretty much guarantee that is the type of women he is looking at. So that sweet and successful girl at work isn’t going to get a date with him, but the hot troubled girl he passes walking every morning just might, if he has enough confidence to say something to her.
Your mom may have fallen for your dad because he was a taller, charismatic bad boy, but when giving dating advice to her awkward son she may not even process that reality, instead saying he was sweet to her (even if he wasn’t really, or he was in addition to the factors that actually attracted her to him). This is because she may not even be aware of the subconscious motivation she has.
2. Western Culture Promotes Another Narrative
Western culture is egalitarian. Everyone is generally presumed to be equal, and born with a “blank slate.” However, the reality is much different. Some people grow up in homes where they are taught social and academic skills that will give them a strong advantage in society. Others have great genetics which help them naturally look attractive. Some people have to work hard to look great and develop their personalities.
However, some people are just ugly and/or have horrible personalities. It isn’t nice or within the cultural narrative to suggest that some people need to change in those areas. We have been taught “just be yourself” as a narrative you can’t challenge, even if “being yourself” is the reason you aren’t reaching the goals you want for yourself.
I have a client who got horrible advice from women in his life about dating. Every single one of them said he was fine the way he was (basically a boring obese guy who blended in socially) and that the right woman “would come along.” The funny thing is that not a single one of those woman would ever have actually dated him as long as he remained “himself.” He got in shape and became more outgoing and suddenly he started getting dates.
It is far easier for a single person to go around making comments on online articles saying, “I’m beautiful at 100 pounds overweight with no personality” than it is to acknowledge that losing weight and working on your personality would probably result in a huge improvement in romantic success.
3. Fiction Is More Comforting Than The Truth
Reality can make us feel badly. Nobody wants to admit that he may be shorter than what women prefer, or that she may be too overweight to get most guys’ attention. Most people would rather feel good denying reality than face the truth, which not only may cause some of the good feelings to disappear, but may require extra work to compete.
So, rather than acknowledging reality, and working to change that as much as possible, it is easier to pretend it doesn’t exist.
I know my height is a disadvantage in life. Trust me, I have seen the results. Shorter men have fewer social and career successes in life. In my teens and twenties, I used that as an excuse to feel sorry for myself. In my thirties, I decided to move past that and make changes in other areas that would make up for that deficit. Guess which strategy brought success?
Denying reality never works. A severely overweight single woman can write rants on Tumblr all day about shallow men and mean thin women. That may make her feel better, but it isn’t a strategy to actually get a date. Why? It isn’t in line with reality. It isn’t that men are mean so much as men have attraction preferences and thin women benefit from that preference as far as dating goes. Denying this reality may make her feel better, but it isn’t going to result in a date.
If I sold celery and kale, I might lament that people don’t use them as comfort foods. However, that isn’t going to change evolved human brain wiring to suddenly lead to mass cravings for them. Sure, they are marketed as healthy foods and ingredients in other dishes, but they aren’t going to suddenly be marketed like chocolate or hamburgers, because that isn’t reality.
4. Most Relationship Advice Comes From Unsuccessful People
The hot girl who has fifty guys messaging her likely isn’t giving dating advice, nor is the player at the gym who has ten girls begging for his attention. Typically dating advice is being given by people who simply are interested in the topic.
See, most people overestimate their abilities at things. In fact, the more unskilled someone is at something, the more likely they are to overestimate their ability at, what is called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. So that guy who gets a date a year? He’s a dating expert on Reddit. That woman who can’t ever get a second date? She’s 100% sure she knows why that is the case (all men must be pigs, right?). Your buddy who hasn’t read a single study on attraction and always whines about being single? He’s great at giving out advice on what women want (women must love jerks, right?). That girl who nobody will date who spends all day immersed in TV fantasy worlds? She reblogs relationship stuff all day.
When I was in college, I couldn’t get a date to save my life. That didn’t stop me from meddling in everyone else’s relationships or giving advice on the subject online. The problem is that because attraction is largely subconscious as I mentioned above, most advice is worthless, but still gets repeated over and over.
These are a few of the many reasons why people deny the reality of attraction. Most people in the western world likely do, and it is the reason so many otherwise successful people are dateless. I prefer to acknowledge the dirty truth about attraction. If you ignore reality, it controls you. If you acknowledge it, you can control it and shape it based on the truth that you know.