The difficulty of getting beyond the superficial stuff

I remember receiving the printed “face book” the first day I arrived at college. This was before the Internet was popularized, when the equivalent of online dating was through personal ads in newspapers.

I’m sure that most of us in the class made conjectures about our classmates’ likability, coolness, and date-ability based only on the listings of name, hometown, secondary school, and 1”x1.25” b/w photo. And if someone’s photo was not printed, there was even more speculation about what that meant.

Asked directly, we would probably all have agreed that the college admissions office had vetted each person for possessing a certain level of intelligence, strength of character, and drive for learning and achievement, and that our two dimensional face book entries couldn’t possibly have summed us sufficiently. However, this knowledge did not prevent most of us from making up stories and unfounded judgments about others.

In our defense, the human brain strives to create an understandable pattern using limited information interpreted through our varied upbringing and experiences. While this is not in itself a bad thing, research shows that unless we are making choices for others or are offered choices specifically in a longer-term context, our brain defaults to short-term thinking with a preference for instant gratification. You can read more about this research here.

It should come as no surprise that when asked what is desired in a mate, many single people list off attributes that fall under the instantly gratifying category: good looks, admirable physical build, profession, income level, interests and activities, etc. These surface qualities are easy to identify, but as discussed in the fourth post, can have little or no correlation to the intrinsic stuff like motivations and drivers, values, and integrity of action – the stuff that is significant for fit as a mate.

While these intrinsic qualities are revealed to others over time through shared experiences, they may be hidden to one self. I’m sure that you can think of at least one person you know well whose self-image is vastly different from the actual person.

Faced with these natural impediments to good judgment, what does one do when trawling through online profiles or meeting someone new?

Here are my suggestions, at a bird’s eye level:

  1. Get to know your authentic self: Do self-assessment to get to know your own intrinsic qualities.
  2. Train yourself to approach new profiles and people as if you are seeking a mate for a good friend, with a focus on detecting and learning the person’s intrinsic qualities.
  3. If you feel uncertain or weak in assessing profiles or people’s character, consider asking someone you know to be your dating advisor; this should be someone who:
    • You trust, and
    • Is objective and a good judge of people’s character; and
    • if possible, have experience with happy relationships.

What do you think?

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