Robert Frost, famed US poet, once defined love as “the irresistible desire to be irresistibly desired.” Oscar Wilde once wrote to his lover that “My soul and body seem no longer mine, but mingled in some exquisite ecstasy with yours”
In our lives, there are certain rare people we meet for whom all conversation seems superfluous. The strange affinity felt after a brush, a mere glance, or an accidental touch of the hand prefigures the passion and pleasure to come. We feel, perhaps rightly, that such moments of feeling are worth lifetimes without it.
In our modern age, the common belief is that love comes by chance, that it is something to be passively waited on, and if it does not appear, we have “lucked out” and have to either resign ourselves to a solitary existence or make do with someone for whom we have no true feeling.
This saddens me. Too often I believe the disparity between those we find fascinating and those whose company we frequent hinders our pleasure and our progress. “Love is not just looking at another, it is looking in the same direction” wrote Antoine de Saint-Exupery, and in the following moments I will lay out a basic framework for finding others who are “looking in the same direction,” perhaps even a “soul mate”. I begin by suggesting a method of prioritizing, proceed to discuss the initial approach and encounter, and then end with ideas on how to close the first meeting with an opportunity to continue it.
What differentiates the following approach from the billions of articles on this subject preceding it is the focus on attainable change – on working smart and not hard. Most books on the subject pile on a million do’s and don’ts that end up confusing people rather than helping them. For change to be effective and lasting it needs to be focused, relatively simple, and have some level of reward at most stages – so one isn’t a martyr for love, but rather the search compliments the rest of our lives.
The number of people we meet in a lifetime is small. The people we get to know on a personal level smaller still. This therefore places a certain premium on whom we choose to spend our time with. How is this choice made?
I offer a simple rule of thumb. Find the most attractive person, where ever you happen to be, and talk to them. On a scale of one to ten, approach the nines and tens. The reasoning behind this is simple: the individuals you are most attracted to are also the ones who are most likely to be attracted to you. In other words, if attraction exists, it is most likely to be mutual. If this were not the case, our species would have long since gone extinct.
One common internal barrier to making this happen is the tendency to self-select out whenever a staggeringly beautiful person is caught sight of. It is assumed that because we feel the person is gorgeous, everyone else does. This is not so, as any basic inquiry uncovers. We all differ in our definitions of beauty. A ten to me is a six or a two to someone else. I cannot stand Drew Barrymore and Sandra Bullock, who are worshiped by legions of fans. I adore Latino women, but have gotten shrugs of indifference from friends about women I have melted in front of. You could be a hundred years old and five hundred pounds, and someone would think you are a ten. A quick glance across the wide range of available erotica provides ample evidence for this simple truth. I do want to emphasize however that this attraction scale should be based on your own feelings about what is attractive, not current fads.
So my exhortation is that wherever you happen to be, approach whoever you think is the cutest person in the room (particularly those you have an opportunity to speak one-on-one with), and flirt like a mad person. You are attracted to him or her for a reason. Act on it.
Attraction is something that is sparked within the first 30 seconds of meeting a person. This initial impression usually does not change. So what is said or done by either person has relatively little impact either way. There is no scientific consensus on what exactly causes attraction, but it is not words, but more likely physiological factors like rate of breath, posture, and so on. I’ve talked to many, many women and I find that there are certain ones with whom I simply fall into sync with, conversationally and non-verbally. Again, I have no rational explanation for this, but it is a rare and precious thing.
What is said or done, though, does have an effect on the level of comfort you feel around each other. And it is the mutual level of comfort that will usually determine whether or not the mutual attraction that you feel for each other is pursued.
So the goal of this stage is to gain a certain level of comfort with the other person. It is only when we are relaxed that the better parts of our personality come to the surface. We are rarely clever or funny when we are anxious or self-conscious. If you wish to become acquainted with their real personality, not their social mask, relax.
This is key. A recent study has confirmed a fairly intuitive feeling – that emotions are contagious. So if you are comfortable in your skin and pleased with your life, that will, in general, communicate itself in some way to the other person. This impression in turn will usually inspire a similar feeling in the other person.
A second benefit of concentrating on making the other person comfortable rather than attempting to personify some unclear formulation of “attractive” behavior is that it focuses your attention squarely on the other person. This leads to decreased focus on yourself and inhibits self-consciousness. Caring about other people has been proven to be singularly effective at reducing anxiety.
As far as the conversation is concerned, say what you please. Start a conversation, and then follow its natural flow. If the other person is being rude, simply walk away. The person’s parents might have just died, they may be depressed, or they may be simply socially incompetent. You simply don’t know, so don’t take their reaction as a reflection upon yourself. Don’t take your successes too personally either. If your interactions don’t go as you wish, do not be discouraged. First conversations are almost always awkward, and I’m not even sure you’d want it to be otherwise. I look back with fondness at the first conversations I had with my various friends. This awkwardness is a natural part of meeting someone new – you have no common frame of reference.
If your mind goes completely blank, then I’d encourage you to start with one of two things: either something that is around you (the answer is in the environment) or something you are very interested in and would ideally like the other person to be interested in. For instance I’m a voracious reader, and most of the girls I’ve been with have also been. It’s certainly not a must-have, and I’m not the type that likes to talk about books all day, but rather what is important to me is what reading signifies about the reader – that they are curious about the world. So I seek out my ideal, while being open to what else there is. So, if she doesn’t read, how does she find out about the world? What is she passionate about? Perhaps she’s dyslexic and prefers to travel and talk to others. That’s usually what I explore if I find they don’t read much. So likewise, what qualities are you looking for in a mate? What activities would correlate with those qualities? Some obvious ones are if you are looking for someone who’s very active, ask what they did over the weekend. If you’re looking for someone who is conscientious, ask them if they ever returned their library books late. If you’re looking for someone who is warm ask them when the last time they gave someone a hug was.
Hopefully at this point, you have found someone for whom there is a mutual attraction and you have established a basic, though perhaps tentative feeling of comfort. Now what?
At this point, you must make a decision as to whether or not to pursue this any further. In general, I would encourage you to pursue it, unless you are getting some really bad vibes or negative impressions. So at a certain point, if you choose to pursue, you have to either exchange contact info or continue the conversation elsewhere. This step can be difficult, and for the following reason:
The other person has already formed an impression of you. However, sometimes you have nothing more than a general hunch. There is a tendency in some to want to end interactions on a “high note”, and to avoid rejection. But with no risks, no gain. However, if you have followed the steps I’ve outlined, the chances are the other person is attracted to you — the numbers are on your side. If the other person is attracted to you, then he/she wants to continue your interaction in some form. So do it.
Now, if you’re on a campus or in a closed environment, you’re probably going to run into that person again. So your decision at this point is arbitrary – just do what you feel is right for the situation. But if you’re on a subway in New York City speaking to the person next to you, you’d better get their number or continue the interaction right there, else you’ll never see the person again. He or she might be the man/woman of your dreams. Or maybe not. Either way, find out. Don’t spend your life wondering “What if?”.
What this is really about is cultivating a positive attitude towards strangers. Every single friend you’ve ever had was at one point a stranger. Your wife or husband will be, when you first meet them, a stranger. Your parents and your family were at one point strangers. In general, cultivating a positive attitude towards people you do not know is an invaluable asset. If the only time you speak to strangers is with a potential date, chances are your lack of experience might hijack your attempts, and the lack of congruency in your attitude towards the unknown will probably cause you to stumble.
So I would encourage you to simply talk to anyone anywhere. Embrace your social nature. Hopefully this little guide will be a help in that. The more you talk to people you don’t know, the more comfortable you will become with it, and the more it will become part of your identity. This will add variety, enjoyment and meaning to your life.