Why Authenticity Is the Best Dating Strategy
When dating, be yourself.
Posted Mar 02, 2019
Is it better to be yourself or play hard to get when dating? Is being yourself attractive, and what type of person does being yourself attract? Do we become more emotionally open and available when we are made to feel safe to be our true selves? A series of studies by Josephs, Warach, Goldin, Jonason, Gorman, Kapoor, and Lebron (2019) just published in Personality and Individual Differences answers such questions. The article is called “Be Yourself: Authenticity as a Long-term Mating Strategy.” Authenticity in relationships consists of two dimensions: taking risks for intimacy that might make you vulnerable to rejection for expressing your true feelings, and the unacceptability of deception, which requires honesty even if the truth might upset others. “Being yourself” might seem naively foolish, because it makes you vulnerable to rejection, so perhaps when dating it’s better to play hard to get or in long-term relationships to tell little white lies to keep the peace. This series of studies shows that, in fact, “being yourself” promotes successful long-term relationships in a wide variety of ways.
- Study 1 shows that individuals who are high in authenticity have good long-term relationship outcomes in comparison to individuals who play hard to get and are high on the Dark Triad traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathy. In addition, authenticity is associated with emotional intelligence.
- Study 2 shows that individuals high on authenticity engage in specific behaviors when in serious dating and serious long-term relationships. They display emotional openness, transparency, and availability in engaging in behaviors like showing their interest and feelings and introducing their partners to their families. Individuals who engage in such “be yourself” dating behavior are not only high in authenticity, but they're also high in secure attachment while low in narcissism.
- Study 3 demonstrated that in a dating context, individuals that engage in “be yourself” dating behavior are more attractive than individuals that play hard to get. In addition, there is assortative mating (i.e. birds of a feather flock together) when it comes to “be yourself” dating behavior. Males high on Dark Triad traits are more attracted to game-playing females while males high on authenticity possess a special antipathy towards game-playing females. Playing hard to get might work in attracting potential romantic partners. Yet it might not always attract the type of romantic partners that would make good candidates for successful long-term relationships. In contrast, being yourself attracts the type of individuals that tend to have successful long-term relationships.
- Study 4 demonstrated that when people are made to feel that it is unsafe to be oneself, individuals become more likely to play hard to get by taking their time returning a text and setting up a date. Yet when individuals are made to feel it is safe to be oneself, they are more likely to engage in “be yourself” dating behavior that shows interest and availability by returning a text and setting up a date more quickly. This effect is more pronounced among rejection-sensitive individuals who are reluctant to engage in “be yourself” dating behavior when made to feel it is unsafe to express their true selves.
The results of these four studies together provide significant evidence that being yourself may be an effective mating strategy for those seeking successful long-term relationships. From the perspective of evolutionary psychology, this makes sense. Those looking for a suitable partner for raising a family want someone who will be loyal, devoted, and honest — in other words, someone who won’t cheat or be deceitful. Infidelity is associated with high marital conflict and divorce rates. Someone who is authentic in a dating context despite the risks of rejection for showing vulnerability is demonstrating a proven capacity to be honest and straightforward even when there might be a price to be paid for being a person of integrity who doesn’t play games.
This research has practical implications. It takes courage to be authentic in one’s love life and those who lack the courage to be themselves hide behind a misleading false self. Finding the courage to let down one’s false self in order to be oneself is challenging. Learning to tolerate rejection for being oneself requires patience and resilience in the face of social disapproval. It requires persevering until finally finding a romantic partner who is truly appreciative of our unrecognized efforts to be ourselves despite social rejection. Those individuals are genuinely appreciative, because they are like-minded individuals who also take risks for intimacy and firmly believe that deception is unacceptable (i.e., birds of a feather flock together). So, until we find our soulmate, we need to seek out support for being ourselves, whether that means finding friends who accept us for who we are, finding a self-help support group, or finding a therapist. We must learn not only to be ourselves in a world that is not always accepting, but to also never let ourselves get fooled by alluring but game-playing individuals high on Dark Triad traits who will ultimately betray our trust and break our hearts. We must hold out for the love of an authentic partner whose honesty might sometimes be hard to take and whose open vulnerability might arouse our fears of intimacy, but who will never let us down.
Josephs, L., Warach, B., Goldin, K., Jonason, P., Gorman, B., Kapoor, S., & Lebron, N. (2019) Be Yourself: Authenticity as a Long-term Mating Strategy. Personality and Individual Differences. 143: 118-127. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2019.02.020
Josephs, L. (2018) The Dynamics of Infidelity: Applying Relationship Science to Psychotherapy Practice. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.