And don't you like me for me?
January 20, 2019 6:03 PM   Subscribe

How do you figure out if you like somebody before trying to get them to love you?

(I'm in therapy, first off! Lots and lots of therapy.) I have a very counter-productive tenancy to try to do anything to make folks feel positively towards me. This happens automatically with me, without being fully aware of it. With new dating partners, one especially problematic manifestation of this is mirroring behaviors - anticipating their interests/energy level/etc. and matching it.

I'm pretty frustrated that I do this - it makes me feel bad about myself (I don't want to manipulate people!!) and it also creates the often-repeated scenario where people fall in love with a version of myself, and I of course eventually reach a point where I can't keep it up/get exhausted/am not showing up as real me, whatever that even is, and then I end up feeling detached from them and ending the relationship. I also end up gravitating towards people who I feel more confident would develop feelings towards me rather than people I like but have no idea how they'll feel, and as a result often date anxious partners who have signaled their interest in some way. Ideally I would like to date more securely attached folks and to be securely attached myself.)

I've been working on this a lot in therapy. The tl;dr: is that I had to anticipate and meet violent people's emotional needs as a child, and so I became extremely good at being soothing/whatever that person wants me to be, even when not expressed explicitly. Obviously maladaptive for living as an adult, especially with dating, where you need to have a healthy sense of yourself in order to meet another person's needs without totally subsuming yourself or burning yourself out.

The piece I'd like to hear your thoughts on: what does it feel like to not worry so intensely about making somebody feel positively towards you? If you have my type of inclination, how do you balance being a kind and caring person with also being real, and in doing so giving the chance for real intimacy to develop? I've realized that this is an extremely deep inclination for me, and so I need to sort of rewire my behavior and expectations when it comes to forming new relationships and dating. I've read Attached and I think stuff like dating more casually and trusting people to articulate their needs is all good advice. I am just so afraid that I'll drift back to this if I'm not vigilant about it. And it makes me feel lonely and shitty.

Any help would be wonderful. Thank you.
posted by Sock Meets Body to Human Relations (9 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
I take a second to ask myself "What do I want right now?" and "How am I feeling?" on dates or when I'm thinking about the person and making plans. I then give myself the time and space to answer.

It's a simple question but incredibly powerful, especially when your default is to try to please others. It's hard to express what you want when you don't know what that is yet! With time, you'll know more of what you want and don't want, and then can practice expressing it. The interesting thing is that healthy people actually prefer someone who is honest and direct about their own needs and wants. It need not be a power play but simple negotiation that can lead to both people being happy or at least content: let me know if you'd like some examples!
posted by smorgasbord at 6:15 PM on January 20 [6 favorites]

Well, one way I know I like somebody is that I notice myself mirroring them a bit. I think that's pretty common and natural? Mirroring is one of the ways that we build social bonds, and we are more likely to go out of our way to bond with people who we like. It can certainly be taken to excess, but I don't think it's inherently bad. I mean, I behave differently with my coworkers, my friends, my parents, etc. and none of those modes of behavior feel inauthentic. Same for when I'm alone, really. There's no One True Self; the self exists in dialogue with the social environment, and a certain amount of flexing and shifting and codeswitching is just part parcel of being human, I think.

Again, it's pretty important to examine the ways that we change ourselves to fit those around us—especially someone like a potential romantic partner—to make sure what what we're presenting is still real, still authentic, and also to make sure that it's sustainable because, as you say, there's the potential to bend too far and try to become someone we're not, which never works for long and is a recipe for resentment and heartbreak. It's a fine and often fuzzy line, not something clear and bright. You have to listen to yourself, constantly.

But one of the things I look for in a partner is for them to bring out good parts of myself. I look for someone who inspires me to be someone that I like, someone that I enjoy being. I also look for someone who can help me or at least tolerate me in the times when I'm not feeling and doing and being so great, but overall I think that, in moderation, some of what you describe is actually quite positive. It's the moderation that is the key.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 6:19 PM on January 20 [8 favorites]

One of the ways to monitor this is to literally monitor it. After interactions with new prospects, sit down with your journal and jot a quick list of the picture you painted of yourself, and then interrogate those items, like:

A. Said I loved roller derby. Do I? Truth is it seems cool and I'd love to learn more about it, but I don't actually know enough about it to "love" it. Interest is there, passion is overstating it a little. Course-correct at next opportunity.

B. OtherPerson assumed I was vegetarian because they are and I suggested McPlanty's for lunch; I didn't correct the assumption...which now means I either need to say something pretty quick or, uh, become a vegetarian? That seems extreme, and definitely something I should not do just to cover a minor social awkwardness OR to impress someone else. So I should do the least awkward thing and follow up soon with "ugh this is awkward but you assumed I'm veg and I'm not technically, though I do love McPlanty's and I def eat vegetarian food sometimes, so just so you know: I'm not, but I'm happy to not aggressively eat meat right in your face or ask you to cook it but I do eat it."

Once you get the hang of doing this, you should find yourself more easily countering those things in the moment just so you don't have to deal with the backpedal or life-long pretense. We all put a little polish on our self-representation in these scenarios, but it's really healthy to consider what and why.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:04 PM on January 20 [13 favorites]

One of the things I really liked about my now-husband when I met him was that I couldn't read him very well, so I had trouble figuring out what he wanted me to say and who he wanted me to be. This left me with nothing to do but be myself, and it felt amazing (and apparently he liked me that way).

I don't have a lot of baggage around this, except standard middle school awkwardness, but I can say that one practice that helps me is, when I'm worried I'm going to do this, to NOT SAY ANYTHING. I tend to jump in and talk all the time, including saying things that I don't really mean or care about. Keeping silent for a long moment, or waiting until I'm asked a direct question and then thinking about the answer, can build in the lag time to keep me from automatically being agreeable. It feels weird to me, because I am generally a quick reactor--I can't choose my best response fast, but I can choose not to respond to give myself time to find something more authentic.

I hope this helps!
posted by gideonfrog at 7:19 PM on January 20 [6 favorites]

>what does it feel like to not worry so intensely about making somebody feel positively towards you?

I am not everyone's cup of tea. I find this useful, because people whose cup of tea I am not, are often not my cup of tea either. So I like having a strong (but not obnoxious) filter, where I am unapologetically myself and you either like it and stick around or don't like it and we don't have to waste each other's time.

I guess what this feels like is just an acceptance that in this world of six billion people, I don't need to like everyone, and I don't need everyone to like me. I guess it's also a certain impatience. I don't have time to spend on people who aren't my "type" of people. I don't have energy for prolonged faking. Obviously this has some downsides - maybe I've closed off options I shouldn't have, in the process of closing off options I should - but for me these downsides are experienced as fairly minimal.

Probably it helps to know yourself. I found personality tests etc to be really useful in this regard. I was able to have language and labels for things I liked and disliked, and the aspects of myself I expected other people to appreciate about me or otherwise leave. (people hate personality tests for this precise reason - boxing people in to narrow labels! But there's a reason people love personality tests, to. It's a framework to hold on to and add some structure to otherwise formless things)

>If you have my type of inclination, how do you balance being a kind and caring person with also being real, and in doing so giving the chance for real intimacy to develop?

So, I don't have your type of inclination. I'll answer for myself:

For me, being kind and caring is about taking the other person's needs and wants into account, on equal footing with my own. So like, if I love x and they love y, not push 100% x all the time but rather switch off x and y. Versus just suppressing x and going 100% y. If they're going to demand more than that, if they want 100% y 0% x, I'm not going to accommodate that, and I don't see that as making me less kind or caring, we're not compatible and the sooner we realize that and minimize contact accordingly the better. That's what "less close friends" are for.

I admit, I've always felt I lucked out in my inability to morph myself into exactly what other people want. If I was able to do it and maintain the illusion I'm sure I'd feel a tremendous temptation, because there's a certain seductive power in people liking you. But I always lose patience after a short while, I can't keep it up for long enough for anything but very shallow relationships or short term interactions.

To be genuine is less powerful, but more free. I don't know if thinking of it that way is helpful to you.
posted by Cozybee at 10:24 PM on January 20 [5 favorites]

I believe I am guilty of this and also seem to draw this sort of attention.

I have learned from drawing this sort of person that it often helps to see their behavior in front of their friends and family and how it differs from how they are around me. Perhaps challenge yourself to do social things with this person around your peer and family before it gets to serious and see if your behavior changes significantly - it's likely a sign you're going beyond adjusting one's behavior here or there to let someone know you're interested in them.

I am guilty of the same thing often and have learned to as passively as possible observe a potential partner's lifestyle, behavior, preferences.
Who have they dated in the past and how did that go (I know that's not always fair but I used it....)
Do they drink ever / socially / often (will that make me resentful when I have to stay in on a Friday because the only social events I know may be at bars, an example)
Do they like to cook and what do they eat? (if they never cook are you okay being the primary person who cooks or ok with getting food out? Are they vegetarian and you are not and are you willing to potentially change your restaurants or eating habits to accommodate)?
Do they have a sense of humor or are serious (I personally would die of boredom if even a great person had no or little sense of humor).
Further down the line: money management is huge.

It's not just about you not changing your behaviors to the other person - observations and questions to yourself about a culmination of the other persons' traits that would lead to an eventual unhappy partnernship.
posted by hillabeans at 2:28 PM on January 21

I've definitely been where you're at - code-switching quite dramatically to get people to like me, but with age I feel that now I'm more interested in authenticity and sharing.

One of the ways I know that I like someone is that I feel the need to be authentically myself around them. I want to show them the real me, as it were. I don't mean, show off all my weird quirks, but just be truthful, rather than a wittier, cooler version of myself. It's worth, I think, paying attention to what your inner voice is telling you about what you want to show to this person. And another way I know I like someone is that I ask them lots of questions, because I'm genuinely interested in getting to know them.

When it comes to potential romantic interests I have no compunction about being the first person to make any sort of overture. One thing I do, which I recommend, is subtly keep track of how much the object of my overture comes back to me with an overture of their own. It feels transactional, but it's about their willingness to meet you halfway. 'On the bridge', as it were. And I find this with authenticity too - if I feel like I'm being genuine and interested, but the other person doesn't seem to be giving that back to me, that's a clear indication my interest isn't reciprocated, and further attempts would be a waste of energy.
posted by unicorn chaser at 4:09 PM on January 21 [2 favorites]

I also end up gravitating towards people who I feel more confident would develop feelings towards me rather than people I like but have no idea how they'll feel, and as a result often date anxious partners who have signaled their interest in some way. Ideally I would like to date more securely attached folks and to be securely attached myself.

So it's fantastic that you are recognizing behaviors and patterns that are ultimately not serving you well. That's really healthy.

I heard a podcast once that recommended writing a list, an on-going, long list, about what you want in a partner. The idea is you write down your ideal -- not so that you can compare everyone to that list and drop them if you they don't meet it 100%, but so that you have a gauge outside of the context of any particular relationship. This list can be about big deal things (kind to others) and small things (shares my obscure taste in something or other). When you start dating someone, you might find you add more things to the list you didn't know you wanted. But you can also fall back on that list to see if the person you are involved with aligns with what you want, regardless of their feelings for you.

Dating isn't about making people like us. It's about finding people who complement us, who suit as romantic partners. Dating is also a numbers game. The more people you meet, the more you will find someone you're compatible with. But if you spend a lot of time with someone you're not excited about, you're wasting your time and their time. You're not serving either of your needs well.

So meeting people who you don't like and ending that relationship quickly -- this is actually not a failure at all, but a good thing! Casual dating can be healthy because you meet a lot of people and realize just how unsuited most of us are to each other.

Is this also rooted in a fear of rejection? You want them to like you because it's nice to be liked and shitty to not be liked? Are you somewhat avoidant in your attachment style?

I think dating more is sensible, and also making decisions to move on from people you aren't excited about is also a great thing. Good luck with that.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:44 PM on January 22

You have to look inward and try to figure out who you are and what you want! Whoever you find that "spark" with will have to match who you really are inside.

By definition, the right person for you will feel positively toward you - you won't have to work for it, because they will just love you the way you are.

The best way to think about it for me is to imagine a relationship where the other person genuinely meet my needs and fits into my life. What type of person do you imagine when you think about this?
posted by karmachameleon at 2:13 AM on February 3

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