When Is “Being Yourself” a Good Dating and Mating Strategy?

5 min read

When you ask a friend for dating advice, they may offer some version of, “just be yourself and everything will be fine.” Intuitively, this sounds true. After all, being authentic, open, and honest seems like the best way to find a compatible partner.

Nevertheless, the statement “be yourself” does require some further clarification. What exactly does it mean to be yourself? What does that look like in a behavioral sense? What types of partners find that appealing—and for what kinds of relationships? Fortunately, research by Josephs and associates (2019) explored those questions and came up with some interesting answers.

Research on Authenticity and Mating

Josephs and associates (2019) conducted a series of studies to evaluate the effects of an individual’s authenticity on dating and relationships. To begin they defined authenticity and being yourself with descriptions from the Authenticity in Relationships Scale (AIRS). The AIRS defines authentic relationship behaviors with two factors:

  • Unacceptability of Deception: Authentic individuals are not willing to accept deception from others, nor do they represent themselves in inaccurate ways to a partner.
  • Intimate Risk Taking: Authentic individuals are more willing and interested in intimate self-disclosure and risk-taking with a partner.

Further, the researchers found that individuals who avoided deception and took intimate risks were generally good romantic partners—especially for long-term relationships. Specifically, authentic individuals tended to be empathetic and committed. Such individuals were also more restricted in their sociosexual orientation and tended to avoid casual sex.

In contrast, individuals who were less authentic in their dating approach fell into two main groups. On one hand, some deceptive daters had Dark Triad Personality characteristics (Narcissism, Machiavellianism, and Psychopathy). This led them toward manipulative behaviors and a focus on casual sex.

On the other hand, some daters were nervous about self-disclosure and intimate risk-taking because of rejection sensitivity and attachment concerns. This group was not manipulative, but they were anxious about sharing their true self. Fortunately though, with a bit of priming and support, they could be motivated toward more authenticity and long-term relationship success.

Authentic Dating Behaviors

Josephs and associates (2019) also surveyed participants, asking them to list authentic behaviors for a few different scenarios. Specifically, they were asked to describe how they would behave if they were interested in (a) casual sex, (b) serious dating, and (c) serious relationships. The responses were then summarized, with the following authentic behaviors describing each scenario:

Casual Sexual Intentions: As noted above, fewer authentic individuals seem interested in casual sex. Nevertheless, when they are interested in it, they honestly express that they don’t want to be emotionally attached. They appear sexy, wear makeup, and clearly communicate what they are after. They also flirt and try to make a partner laugh. From there, the goal is to “hang out” with a potential sex partner and get more physically affectionate.

Serious Dating Intentions: Authentic individuals include more emotionally intimate behaviors for serious dating. While there is still an emphasis on flirting, sharing laughter and smiling is highlighted too. Similarly, beyond just “hanging out,” there is an effort to go on actual dates, call, and text a partner as well. Sexuality is downplayed in serious dating, however, with individuals dressing more casually and not wearing makeup. The overall focus is on honest self-disclosure and getting to know a partner better.

Serious Relationship Intentions: This category had the most detailed list of behaviors. Like serious dating above, there is a focus on honesty, casual dress, being a bit flirty, and going on dates here too. Nevertheless, authentic individuals take intimacy and commitment behaviors a step further. Specifically, they spend more significant time with a partner and include them in family gatherings and vacations. They also discuss future plans and goals for the relationship (e.g. marriage). From there, they express a desire to get more physically intimate and have sex as well.

Relationships Essential Reads

How to “Be Yourself” While Dating

Given the above, being your authentic self appears to be a successful dating approach, especially for long-term relationships. The impediment for most daters, however, seems to be learning “how” to be themselves—and overcoming anxiety around self-disclosure. Fortunately, there are a few tips from my book Attraction Psychology and past articles that can help.

  1. Be Brave. A lot of people have had bad experiences and fears around dating. As noted above, this can make them anxious about being authentic with others. Fortunately, if you are anxious, you can learn to reframe negative beliefs and deal with rejection. From there, you are better able to be open and curious about a partner, building trust with them as well.
  2. Be Positive. The next step is to lead with something positive. This is where “being yourself” gets blended with “putting your best foot forward.” Specifically, sharing something unique about yourself can help to build long-term attraction. Similarly, expressing some of your positive personality characteristics can make you more appealing too.
  3. Be Honest. This is the hallmark of authentic dating: being honest about what you want and what you have to offer. The good news is that asking for things directly has a high chance of success. From there, self-disclosure creates intimacy in relationships too. That is why using a more direct and sincere flirting style often leads to long-term success and satisfaction.
  4. Be Focused. Finally, being authentic also requires being clear about what you want, especially for the long term. So, take some time to decide on your relationship goals. Consider whether you and your partner are ready for a commitment. Ideally, if you have serious relationship intentions, have these conversations before you have sex too. That way, you can be open, honest, enjoy each other, and have the best chance at building a long-term loving connection as well.

© 2023 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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