You are awesome. Your friends all say so. Who, besides you, is both willing and able to flip their eyelids inside out at a dinner party? Remember the time you had everyone practically blowing old vine zinfandel from their noses when you laid down that room clearer and then blamed it on Jenny? Oh, the hilarity! Don’t even get me started on that thing you can do with a cherry stem after three Manhattans and two shots of Patrón. It’s not just party tricks either. You play a mean game of Skyrim, make a Ritz cracker casserole to die for and can cure a wicked hangover using only beer, lime, salt and Tabasco. Yep, you are one in a million; who wouldn’t want to date you?
Being a Good Partner
Unless you’re in England or Australia, being a good friend and being a good mate are usually two very different things. Your mad gaming skills aren’t going to save you when you “lose track of time” and forget to pick up the love of your life from work, no matter how much charisma you’ve earned. There are a few things experts agree on when it comes to making a relationship work. They include listening, sharing feelings and considering a partner’s needs in addition to your own. You also need to be available to give (as well as receive) emotional support. It also doesn’t hurt to allow disagreements, to realize it is okay to compromise and to learn to forgive and forget. It’s pretty basic stuff, right? It all boils down to respecting another individual as you (theoretically) respect yourself. So why do so many of us have so much trouble finding and keeping a partner?
We’re All Narcissists Now
Too often, we’re not looking for the perfect partner—instead; we’re looking for someone just like us. Scientists have pinpointed a mechanism in our brains that explains—at least in part—our attraction to all things us. Implicit egotism (also known as implicit self-esteem) is a cognitive bias by which we unconsciously overestimate our own abilities and behaviors and, by association, the positive traits of others with similar names (or who have names that contain many of the same letters as our own). Unfortunately, implicit egotism may help to explain at least some of our bad relationship choices. “Although this may sound bizarre at first, the truth is that we all engage in this process when looking for a mate,” says Melissa Burkley, Ph.D., an assistant professor of social psychology at Oklahoma State University. The preference for familiar letters develops unconsciously over time as we write our own name again and again throughout the course of our lives. According to researchers, the more familiar we are with something; the more we tend to like it. “Research shows time and again that the key factor in attraction is similarity—we are attracted to others that share our same values, level of education, past experiences and goals for the future. Essentially, we are trying to date ourselves,” says Burkley.
To Thine Own Self… Yada, Yada
It may seem paradoxical, but the way to overcome implicit egotism when choosing an intimate partner is to get to know you first. Since we’re overestimating ourselves anyway, we may as well get good at developing those positive traits we look for in a mate. “If you’re true to yourself, it is easier to act in ways that build intimacy in relationships, and that’s going to make your relationship more fulfilling,” says Amy Brunell, co-author of a 2010 Ohio State University study on relationships. The study of 62 heterosexual couples found that, overall, both the women and men who reported being “more true to themselves” behaved more intimately (and less destructively) with their partners. They also felt their relationships were more positive and reported higher levels of personal well-being than those who were less true to themselves. “Staying true to yourself doesn’t mean you should accept all of your flaws and not try to make positive changes in your life—but you should be aware of both your limitations and areas where you can improve,” says Brunell. “One payoff could be better romantic relationships.”
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