(Oprah.com) -- The rules tell you to scheme, flatter, and play hard to get, but our favorite life coach doesn't think that will get you very far. It's time to rethink the dating game.
Develop a strong sense of self before seeking a relationship.
Day after day, as I hear single women bemoan the lack of available men, I wish ethics allowed me to set them up with my wonderful male clients who are searching, with equal frustration, for the right woman. Instead, I end up simply witnessing singles of both sexes failing to find each other.
I believe this failure has much to do with the model of love-seeking most popular in our culture: the idea of romantic pursuit as a type of predation, a hunting expedition the goal of which is capture.
In my experience, the way of thinking that leads to successful relationships is altogether different. It's focused on the idea that the way to find love is to become so much yourself that you find others of your own kind, with whom you can share freedom.
The book of love?
The predator model of love leads to a hunter's way of dating: Seek large gatherings of your prey, dangle a false self as bait, wait for an individual to stray from the herd, then pounce on him with all the wit and wile it takes to bring him down. Internet matchmaking services, singles bars, speed dating, personal ads and even blind dating all borrow from this "statistical mass" logic.
I've seen clients spend years dating this way, entering one briefly exciting, painfully doomed relationship after another. This is not a numbers game. It's a soul search.
The other rules for seeking your soul (and its mate)
I would encourage anyone who wants to find a soul mate to follow these three steps.
1. Know thyself
Women who are willing to hide or detach from their real selves in order to bag a man often seem to believe that the right guy will give them a sense of identity and self-confidence. This is backward. Looking for love before developing a strong sense of self is like trying to find the mate of a shoe you've never seen.
Next time you're feeling fretfully single, try exploring your own nature: Write down your favorite foods or colors or songs or books or sports. Visit a therapist. Embark on a voyage of self-discovery for its own sake and because it is on that journey that you are likely to bump into the perfect traveling companion.
2. Value thyself
The single women I know are frequently advised, "Stop being so picky," "Have a better attitude," and "Lower your standards," perhaps to the point where they'll date anyone with a penis and a pulse.
I believe this is precisely the wrong approach. Why? Consider our statistical friend, the bell curve. The great bulge in the middle represents areas where you are, well, average. This is also the part of you that could easily be mixed and matched with the largest number of potential mates. The skinnier upper end represents your greatest gifts, the areas where you are most talented and extraordinary. The few people who share your most exceptional characteristics are your tribe, the population that is most likely to contain your heart's partner.
I suggest that you should be pickier, less accepting and more committed to the "bad attitude" that will make you seek people who are extraordinary in the same way you are.
Be courteous to men who don't appeal to you, but for God's sake, don't waste your evenings-- let alone your nights -- with them. "Oh," conventional rule-keepers might exclaim, "you'll have to spend some nights alone!" Yes, indeed. Your pool of candidates is much smaller at the high-quality end of the bell curve, your chances of having no date on Saturday much larger if you refuse to go out with men who bore or repulse you.
But if memory serves, the boredom and/or repulsion of bad dating is much worse than spending a few hours on your own.
3. Engage thyself
The authors of "The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right" emphasize that in order to get a guy, a woman should always act busy -- for instance, when a desirable man calls, it's wise to set a timer to go off a few minutes later, then recite a memorized exit line, such as "Sorry, gotta go. I have a million things to do."
Here's my crazy idea: How about actually having a million things to do? How about actually filling your life with interesting activities? If you want to attract a partner, identify what you love to do, and do it -- a lot. Involved, busy people really are more attractive, so if you want to get engaged to your soul mate, start by being engaged in activities that fascinate you -- especially those that have nothing to do with dating and that make you forget to go love hunting.
By Martha Beck from "O, The Oprah Magazine," June 2003 E-mail to a friend
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