Dear Maxwells: I’m single and dating. I’ve seen so much conflicting dating advice lately. Half of what I see says to “just be yourself and be honest about your feelings,” while the other half of what I see is some version of “don’t be too available or you’ll scare somebody away.” How am I supposed to be honest and transparent about my feelings without coming on too strong and scaring somebody I like away?
This is a great question and one that virtually every single person we’ve coached in dating and finding a partner has struggled with. It really is the age-old question of whether to “play it cool” or “let it all hang out.”
When you are desiring an intimate partner, it’s true that it’s of utmost importance to present the real version of yourself to whomever you are courting or is courting you. This requires honesty and vulnerability, showing up as you are and being transparent about what you want, what you don’t want and where you are in your life situation. “Playing it cool” is basically the opposite of this, right? Playing it cool is keeping your feelings, thoughts and desires to yourself to create a facade of unavailability in order to manipulate somebody into thinking that you are a more desirable and scarce asset. The problem that so many people run into, though, is that playing it cool seems to work a lot of the time. What people don’t realize is that playing it cool also makes a healthy relationship way more unlikely down the line.
Why does playing it cool, at least on the surface, work so well? To understand this, we have to take a look at some basic rules of attraction. What makes something desirable? The first and foremost reason is a perception of scarcity. Why is an Hermes bag or a Patek Philippe watch so expensive? Is it because they can hold more stuff or tell better time? Of course not. It’s because there are only so many of them to go around. Additionally, their price point makes it so only a select few can afford to buy them, which brings us to our next rule of attraction: exclusivity. You are either in the club or you are not, and it’s human nature to want to be in a club that won’t have you. It’s just our nature. It’s why we are obsessed with celebrities and limited editions, and why there are “popular” kids in high school.
Dating is no exception. It really is true that even if you are the best-looking, funniest, richest catch in the world, if you are too available, you will unfortunately turn somebody off — especially in the beginning of a courtship. However, playing it cool is still the worst way to handle dealing with these rules of attraction and does more damage to the possibility of a relationship down the line.
The reason being is that playing it cool is fake. It’s a lie, a mask that you wear. It signals to whoever is doing it that they are not good enough as their real selves to attract a partner. And to whomever is on the receiving end of it, whether consciously or unconsciously, they know that the person they are interacting with is not the real version of themselves. If it works, it only works temporarily because at some point or another, you will have to get real, and you will also always be wondering if the person you are “playing it cool” with only likes the fake version of you versus the real one.
So, if you don’t want to come on too strong but also don’t want to dig yourself into the pit of playing it cool, what do you do? The answer is to authentically make yourself a valuable asset versus pretending to be one. This means that you must have a rich and fulfilling life on your own. Whether it’s your hobbies or your career or social life or volunteer work or even joy in solitude, it just means that you are busy living a meaningful life in and of itself — a life where the addition of a partner would be wonderful, but not a life that is meaningless without one. It means that you care for your body and your health, that you value yourself first and foremost.
Lastly, if you are single and trying to attract a partner, you should consider dating multiple people at once until you are ready to become exclusive with somebody. This doesn’t mean two-timing somebody or having multiple partners. This means that you are going on first, second and third dates with multiple different people and being transparent about it if necessary. This assures that you don’t get “oneitis,” a term in the dating world that refers to the phenomenon of getting obsessed with one person. This often leads to becoming needy and repelling whomever it is that you’re obsessing over. We’ve all experienced how much it sucks to have “oneitis” at some point in our lives — I even had it for Sally in college, and she can tell you firsthand how unattractive it was to her.
It was only when I started to value myself and date other people and have multiple options that she started to respect me and thus paved the way for our now 15-year relationship. Dating multiple people can naturally make you a more desirable and scarce asset — and not in a manipulative way, but in a way that makes logical sense. If you are a valuable asset, aren’t you going to make sure that you don’t get attached to somebody too quickly without getting to know them? Aren’t you going to see what your options are and make people prove to you that they are worth your time?
Doing these things will allow you to both be yourself completely without the fear of scaring somebody away. It will ensure that you are a valuable and desirable asset in the eyes of others because you will be those things in the eyes of yourself first.
Let us know — do you struggle with the relationship between playing it cool and coming on too strong? What other struggles are you having in dating and attracting a partner? Send us an email and let us know.
Sally and Zach Maxwell, owners of Max-Well Coaching, have a combined nearly three decades of coaching experience and two decades together in marriage. Email your questions to [email protected].