What Is The “It” Factor?

I was in Los Angeles last week while I was on vacation – a mix of professional development, visiting friends, chilling out (literally!) on the beach at Malibu and indulging my lifelong love of the Disney theme parks. I spent a great deal of time with my friend Bert, a working actor, a born showman and the only human I know who can put away three entrees, two appetizers and a dessert in one sitting and  still be in amazing shape. Naturally, while you’re in the heart of Hollywood at the beginning of awards season it’s only natural to find the conversation moving towards the weird nature of celebrity in the 21st century. At a time when someone can become one of the world’s biggest music acts by uploading a video to YouTube, it’s interesting to observe just why some people become big names and others – who may outclass everybody with their talent – fall by the wayside.

“It’s like the story of how Keanu Reeves got cast in Dangerous Liasons1 ,” Bert told me. “He goes in and gives his audition, and he’s Keanu Reeves, he’s got his surfer boy accent and his reading’s flat. And he says ‘I could do that better.’ So they give him another chance, and it’s just as bad. So he doesn’t get the role. But nobody else really fits. So as they’re making the next round of casting, the casting director put the picture of Keanu up and said ‘Hey, how about him?’ And everybody said ‘Are you crazy, he was awful! No.’ But then they said ‘Ok, fine, bring him in again.’ And once again, he’s just awful. So they send him away. And they still haven’t cast the part. So the casting director pulls out the 8×10 of Keanu and said ‘So why don’t we bring this guy back in again?’ And then everybody says ‘You’ve lost your goddamn monkey mind! He’s the worst actor we’ve seen yet! But fine, whatever, let’s bring him back again.’ And Keanu comes and auditions one more time and he’s not any better than he was before. And the casting director looks at the producers and says ‘What do you think?’ And they say ‘What do we think? We think he’s godawful. He’s wrong for the part and we don’t think he can handle the material.’ ”

“‘Yes,’ said the casting director. ‘But you were willing to see him four times.”

“Keanu got the part.”



Keanu, y’see, may not be the greatest actor in the world, but he had “It”. He has that mysterious X-factor that makes people like him. It’s that je ne se quois – the mysterious factor that makes one person stand out and seem more attractive or even desirable that nobody can really put their finger on.

This, naturally, lead to a discussion over which actors had talent and which had “It” and which had both. 

The amazing thing about “It” though, is that it’s really not that mysterious. In fact, you can learn to have that “It” factor that people love.

It’s “It”. (What Is “It”?)

I’m sure that you all know someone with “it” – someone who’s personal charisma and appeal make him stand out like a bonfire at midnight. There’s just something about them that’s absolutely magnetic. They draw the attention (and desire) of people around them, seemingly without conscious effort. For me it was my buddy Miles – a man whose ability to attract women would not be out of place in an Axe commercial.

A dramatic re-creation of a typical night for Miles.


Growing up, while he was around, the rest the guys in my social circle growing up may as well have been invisible. It didn’t hurt that Miles was genuinely one of the nicest guys (but not a Nice Guy TM) you would ever meet. I loved Miles like a brother, but I was convinced that at some point I was going to throw acid in his face, just so I’d have a chance.

But even that might not have helped. Miles, y’see, had “it”.

“It” is the factor that transcends a person’s looks and makes them even more attractive and desirable than someone who is just conventionally attractive. In fact, the “ugly man who’s amazingly successful with women” is an incredibly well known trope… because they have “it”.

This man got more ass than you... including Bridgitte Bardot.

This man got more ass than you… including Bridgitte Bardot.

“It” is the reason why George Clooney is considered one of the sexiest people alive and Brad Pitt – while a very pretty man – isn’t.

Most of the time, anyway...

Most of the time, anyway…

People with “it” may be good looking, yet “it” isn’t about looks. People with “it” may be famous or wealthy or powerful… but that’s not what “it” is.

We’ve all known people who don’t photograph well… yet when you see them in person, you can’t take your eyes off of them. This is because “it” isn’t always apparent on the surface.

Y’see, “it” isn’t just one thing. It’s a combination of personality traits, behaviors and attitudes that combine in such a way as to create an emotional whole that radiates charisma and desirability. And once you know what goes into “it”, you can learn to develop “it” for yourself.

Pay Attention

People who have “it” have a singular ability: they make you feel as though you are the most important person in the world. Tom Cruise, for example, is famous for his ability to talk to anyone about just about anything and make you believe he’s absolutely fascinated by what you have to say. Not just that he’s being polite and counting down the minutes until the social contract says that he’s allowed to leave, but enthusiastically participating in the conversation – asking questions, repeating what you’ve said just to be sure he’s understanding it.

In short: he’s making a point of actively listening. Too often we don’t give our full attention to the people we talk to. We live in a world of distractions, whether it’s the TV on in the background, the conversations going on around us or even just being half-lost in our own heads. Many of us aren’t listening so much as waiting for our turn to talk, and when we do, we’re looking for how we can turn the conversation to our favorite subject… namely ourselves.

People with “it” aren’t flicking their attention around the room. They’re not checking their iPhones. They’re not letting themselves be preoccupied or inattentive. They are letting you know that they find you enthralling.

It’s more than just asking questions and not checking your email every few seconds though. It’s about the details. People with “it” make a point of not just learning your name but remembering it. They’ll make sure to use it in conversation.

They ask questions – probing questions, not just surface queries designed to keep the conversation moving along. They’ll rephrase things you say just so that they can feel sure that they understand – even bring it back up later. You walk away from talking with someone with “it” feeling as though you’ve just had the most intense experience in your life because they made it all about you.

And we like people who show interest in us.

Make Contact  

Another aspect of people who have “it”: they know how to make contact.

Take Bill Clinton, for example. It doesn’t matter if you love him or hate him, anyone who has ever met him will tell you the same thing: the man radiates charisma. When you’re in the room with him, it’s almost impossible not to like him.

...although more than a few would surreptitiously check on their wives afterwards

…although more than a few would surreptitiously check on their wives afterwards.

If you watch videos of Clinton in action2 you will notice his almost trademark “double-handshake”; he grips the outstretched hand with his right and covers them both with his left and gives an enthusiastic shake. It’s a power move to be sure… but it’s one that not only makes you feel as though he’s incredibly pleased to meet you but it feels almost like you’re much closer emotionally than you’d thought. It’s that bit of physical contact – something innocent like a pat on the bicep or a palm on the forearm – that builds an emotional connection and brings a feeling of intimacy that you just don’t find when everybody is keeping well within their own personal bubbles.

People with “it” are also masters of eye contact. You may hear about their “intense” gaze or their sexy eyes. This is because they understand the value of strong eye contact. Eye contact is more than just a way of keeping your eyes from checking out a woman’s cleavage, it’s also a way of communicating non-verbally. By making eye contact with the person they’re talking to, they’re heightening that connection, saying “I am giving you my full attention.”

It’s worth noting that it’s very easy to cross the line from “intimate” to “creepy”. The key  is in moderation. People who have that “it” factor, who have that charisma, don’t become Uncle Touchy, nor do they stare like a snake at a particularly tasty hamster. They understand the value of strategic physical contact – a hand on the arm as you shake hands, or touching the forearm for emphasis, offering a high-five for emotional emphasis – and the need to deliberately break eye contact before the other person gets nervous.

Pro tip: eye contact can be incredibly intense. Holding eye contact for just a second longer than is normally comfortable is a way of building sexual chemistry – the physical effects that come from holding eye contact that long mimic those from sexual arousal – and often get interpreted that way.


The smile is utterly important when it comes to personal charisma.

Too many people – nerds especially – buy into the idea of the Byronic hero: tall, dark, and broody. They lack intensity or depth and so they try to substitute seriousness instead. But while they think they’re being Jack Reacher, they’re coming across as Johnny O’Sullen, always looking as though they’re upset or having a bad time.

And nobody wants to hang around someone who isn’t having a good time.

A genuine smile, on the other hand, makes people warm up to you. It makes people feel comfortable, even happy, because you’re comfortable and relaxed.

George Clooney – a man who has “it” – is known for his million dollar smile. It’s practically his trademark. It’s warm and inviting and makes you want to like him… because he always looks like someone who’s having the time of his life.

The head bobble, however, is entirely optional.

The head bobble, however, is entirely optional.

Look at that picture; this is what’s known as a Duchenne smile. His eyes are crinkled and his face is creased. This is a smile that reaches his eyes – a sign of a genuine smile. People can spot a fake smile at a literal glance and they will find it unsettling.

Need to produce a genuine smile at a moment’s notice? Mentally run through your favorite comedian’s routines. Personally, I’ve gotten years of milage out of Patton Oswalt’s story of “Death Bed: The Bed That Eats People3

Have Intensity

People with “it” aren’t wishy-washy. They don’t vacillate. They don’t hesitate, stammer, dither or otherwise indicate that they’re unready or unsure of themselves. They have the conviction of their beliefs and don’t apologize for them… they just aren’t jerks about it. They’re honest about who they are, what they are and what they like, but they know how to communicate that passion in an interesting and charming way. It gives them a sort of quiet strength – an aspect that is incredibly appealing.

This is not, however, to say that you’re supposed to be solemn or overly serious. In fact, many people can have that intensity and yet still be funny, even goofy. John Barrowman is downright silly at times and it’s that sense of mischief that makes him all the more appealing. And yet for all of the times me may joke around, you can still feel that confidence and self-assurance in his words and actions.

It doesn't hurt that he looks like the bastard love child of Tom Cruise and Paul Newman.

It doesn’t hurt that he looks like the bastard love child of Tom Cruise and Paul Newman.

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Body Language

Part of that “it” factor is body language. Very small, simple changes in the way we sit, stand and move can make the difference between someone with “it” and “everybody else”.

To start with: slow your roll. If you want to project the quiet confidence that comes with the “it” factor, you want to slow your movements down. Someone with “it” is relaxed and calm; they’re not twitchy or shifty or burning with nervous energy. They move deliberately and with purpose. If you’re projecting stress and nervousness with your body language, you’re going to make the people you’re talking to feel nervous and tense… feelings that they will then associate with you. If you radiate calm and ease, they will likewise begin to feel calm and at ease.

Similarly, you want to stand up straight. Chin up, shoulders back and your spine straight with your arms dangling loosely at your sides. People with “it” take up space; even if they’re only 5’6″, they still give the illusion of being bigger than they are because of the way they stand. When you’re slouched over and folded in on yourself, you not only make yourself look smaller, you project that you’re beaten down and trying to withdraw into yourself – not behavior that people find appealing.

People with “it” also have more “open” body language; they don’t adopt subconsciously defensive actions by putting barriers between themselves and the people they’re talking to. A common issue is holding one’s drink like a shield: arm cocked at 90 degrees, forearm angled across the torso. A variation is to stand with one’s arms crossed; It’s a subtle way of closing yourself off from other people. You want to be open and accommodating to people, giving them an opportunity to approach you rather than feeling as though you’re trying to shield yourself from them or wall yourself away.

Bring The Positive Energy

Some people are psychic vampires. When you talk to them, you feel drained emotionally; you walk away feeling exhausted, as though you had been standing with every muscle tensed at the same time. When you’re talking with someone who has “it”, you feel energized. You come away feeling like you’re buzzing, positively electric… because people who have the “it” factor bring positive energy with them. They make people around them feel good because they don’t focus on the negative. They don’t constantly pick at faults or point out flaws, they don’t complain, bitch and moan… they spread praise and look at the bright side, even if they have to search really fucking hard for it. They’re in touch with their emotions; they don’t surpress their feelings, but at the same time they don’t spray them all over the place. They don’t control how they feel, they just control how they express it.

They have warm personalities – you come away feeling as though they honestly enjoy spending time with other people… and it’s important because it’s often reciprocal. When you make someone feel good, they in turn feel good about you. 

It’s that feeling of positivity and connection that can make all the difference between a pretty face and someone who’s just magnetic. 

Someone who has… “it”.

  1. The story is rather apocryphal. Also by this point I’d had several whiskeys []
  2. No, not like that… freak. []
  3. Real movie, by the way! []

  • Christine

    One of the best posts here ever!

    I've come to the conclusion that part of this mysterious factor that I see in everyday (non-celebrity) people is that they LOVE their lives. So while they are enthusiastic and positive and willing to be open and share their passions, they don't give off the vibe that they *need* anything from you. I think that might be why they can make contact with some intensity without it seeming creepy.

  • Rebecca Todd

    Thank you for this! Excellent, excellent post. Attraction goes WAY beyond the physical, and your breakdown of the “it” factor here is spot on. I am in sales, and so much of what you have described here works for me professionally and personally- ask questions, listen, be interested…and above all, beam out that positive energy! So many people seem to enjoy being mired in negativity, and it really is not an attractive quality. Once you start learning the habit of positivity, it becomes easier and easier. I hope you had a great vaycay!

  • The discussion of charm and the It Factor reminds me of the character Wickham from "Pride and Prejudice." When the main character, Elizabeth, begins to compare the stories of Darcy and Wickham, she desperately tries to remember WHY she likes Wickham. Well, he has engaging manners. He's intense and interested in her. But has he done anything to show goodness in his character? Has he been kind, or generous, or genuine? The more she thinks of it, the more she realizes that she knows next to nothing about Wickham, and her like of him comes entirely from outer charm, not actual strength of character.

    There's been a lot of ink spilled over the years discussing whether it is wise to like someone based on the It factor, but it's a discussion I never really see brought up in dating articles. It seems like a lot of dating advice espouses being charming, without pausing to ask if people really should be.

    Reading this article, I was struck by how… well, superficial charm is. We like the charming person because they smile and ask questions and how they make us feel. But what about who they actually are?

    Moreover, do we really want to BE the charming person? It seems like, to be charming, it's a matter of sacrificing sense of self. Don't talk about yourself…. don't act in an individual way (only act in a calm, slow manner.) Don't express negative emotions, even if you have to pull out your guts to find something positive.

    Yes, it seems charm will get you laid, and may lead to a relationship. But is it a relationship based on anything but how we make the other person feel, and not what we ourselves feel? Is it ever possible to be selfish…. to want to talk about yourself, and express bad feelings? Isn't the point of a relationship to find common ground, to find support and comfort in bad times, to find someone who shares your values and character?

    If everyone is going around being charming all the time, how can we know each other's character? How can we accurately judge what someone else feels, if we're so busy shoving emotions away (don't be negative, don't complain, don't talk about yourself, don't do anything but be cool and calm and happy), how can we find something that will endure when those emotions inevitably pop up?

    Charm obviously has its place in human interactions, but is it a really a good thing? Is it really something that we should place so much emphasis on?

    • thesurfmonkey

      Such an interesting example, and interesting questions. I don't think that charm and good character are mutually exclusive, although they would certainly appear so in Jane Austen's novels.

      You ask "how can we know each other's character?" I think the only way to judge character is by actions. In the Austen example, it's when we find out what Wickham has done, and how he handles the consequences, that we know his poor character.

      I would describe charm as how someone makes you feel, and character as their actions.

      I think it would be lovely if every person of good character were also charming, and if becoming charming inevitably improved one's character. Judging by how many self-help ideas floating around our culture emphasize becoming more positive, I think there is a strong belief that becoming more charming (by being positive) does indeed improve character.

      • I disagree about being more positive improving character. Being more positive DOES make you more charming, but in my experience, being more positive actually seems to lessen your character. (Not in ALL cases, I am speaking in broad generalizations here.)

        Why is that? I think it's because more positive people seem to have reduced empathy. They don't seem to show empathy except to other positive people. At least in the modern Positive movement, there seems to be a lot of superiority bound up in the idea of positive thinking… this idea that someone who has bad self-esteem, or is in emotional pain or a bad life situation just needs to "think positive." Empathy is the ability to relate to someone else's emotions…. if a person removes or "pushes down" their negative emotions, they remove the ability to relate to someone else's negativity.

        I've also found that more positive people are a little more selfish. This makes sense, since the whole idea of being positive is about making yourself feel good. Ironically, by focusing so much on our own emotions, we stop thinking about the emotions of others.*

        Reading this article, I couldn't shake this feeling of charm and positive thinking as some sort of manipulation. It's what made me think of Wickham. Are we learning how to be charming with the purpose of making the world a better place, and learning how to express care and consideration for others….. or is it to get others to like us and get laid?

        I'll admit I have a strong bias against positive thinking. (Or negative thinking, for that matter! I'm all for emotional balance.) I highly recommend "Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking is Undermining America" by Barbara Ehrenreich to anyone who is interested in this topic.

        *More negative people can also be selfish. It seems like the ends of spectrum of emotions…. negative at one end, positive at the other end… are where you stop feeling empathy and begin expressing detrimental selfish tendencies.

        • thesurfmonkey

          Wow, as I was reading your comment, I was thinking I should recommend "Bright-Sided", and then I get to the paragraph where you recommend it. The whole positive thinking movement in our culture seems to have a very insidious underside, and yet it seems almost impossible to avoid.

          In my previous comment, I said "Judging by how many self-help ideas floating around our culture emphasize becoming more positive, I think there is a strong belief that becoming more charming (by being positive) does indeed improve character." What I meant to say was that I think this belief in charm via positivity improving character is an incorrect belief. Rereading it, I don't think that part came through particularly clearly.

          I read something the other day (a quick google search didn't turn it up or I'd link it) about a study showing happier people to have less empathy and be less generous in one of those economist games where they test people's willingness to share.

          On the other hand, there is the Dalai Lama. In his book "The Art of Happiness" he talks about the key to happiness being compassion, having great compassion for all people. And by all accounts, he is also one of those people who have "It", drawing people to him everywhere he goes. But in his case it's because he's very warm and compassionate and full of empathy, and that genuine caring comes through in his dealings with people.

          Maybe the question I'd like to ask is what is the nature of charm? It almost seems to be a method of mimicking the appearance of genuinely caring about other people in order to get them to like you. Where there is a place for it to improve people's character is when it's not just mimicking the appearance of caring but actually learning to care about other people. But how do people who feel uncared-for (presumably an important share of the audience of this blog) learn to genuinely care about others and about themselves?

          • Ooo, yes, that didn't come through in your earlier comment. Thanks for clarifying that!

            See, I guess I wouldn't say the Dalai Lama has "charm" per say. Now we're probably splitting hairs about language, but my guess is if you saw the Dalai Lama walking down the street (and didn't know him) you wouldn't be like "I must talk to this person!" That's how I see charm working…. as a magnet, as people just wanting to talk to you.

            I think what the Dalai Lama has is character. I think he draws people to him once he speaks, once people get a feeling for his personality. His warmth and his humanity come through then. I think people with strong character often come across as charming, but they don't have charm, per say.

            Maybe, overall, I am just uncomfortable with the idea of charm because I see the idea itself as being manipulative. I think I like the idea of working backwards better…. you build character first, and then the charm comes from your strength of character. To go back to "Pride and Prejudice," isn't that why we (and Elizabeth) fell in love with Darcy….. because the more we came to know his character, the more we understood his actions and saw them as a charming extension of his humanity?

            Your last question, about genuinely learning to care about yourself and others, is a really fascinating one. How do you care about others when you've spent your life being put down? How do you care about yourself when you've been told your entire life to change who you are?

          • thesurfmonkey

            This is making me want to go and reread all my Austen. I think that the difference between charm (or the appearance of goodness) and character (or actual goodness) is an important theme in her work.

            This stuff is tricky to talk about, because the words we have are so general and imprecise. What is "charm"? Is it the appearance of character without character underneath? Can it be the outward manifestation of underlying character? Is it always manipulative? Or can it be a tool used for either good or evil? Maybe there's a word in German that expresses this stuff more clearly (their long compounds always seem so oddly precise) but in English… I guess we have to just fumble along as we can.

            As for learning to care about yourself and others, I'm reminded of something I've heard about education and kids from difficult circumstances. It's the connection with one caring mentor that seems to make all the difference in a kid's life. Maybe something like that is in effect for adults and this kind of thing as well. Maybe that's one of the benefits to get from therapy, if a person is coming from a place of not being able to care about themself or others. In a more ideal world, everyone would get that from their family of origin. But what can we do in our world?

          • fakelymctest

            Just to put my form English major hat on for a sec here: Austen, if I recall, was writing out of a tradition in novels that unequivocally linked physical beauty with morality, so in her depiction of characters like Wickham and Darcy, she is actually complicating an existing trope. Charlotte Bronte worked on this theme later when she explicitly described Jane Eyre as plain.

            Edmund Bertram from Mansfield Park and Henry Tilney from Northanger Abbey certainly fit the "charming-and-virtuous" models, however.

            I feel like it's sort of an excessively fine hair to split insofar as trying to differentiate whether a person is only "charming" or has "charm." Like, how often would you have to be charming before you could be said to have charm? I doubt even the people listed in the DNL piece are 100% charming all the time, you know? I suppose charm, like any other quality, could be used for manipulative purposes, and we can never absolutely know what's in a person's heart, but I will say that I think some people are just really interested in others, not to the abnegation of their own personalities, but in a way that complements in a non-manipulative way. The people I've met who have charm just seem to always be looking for a way to connect. Not in a desperate or pushy way, but in a way that I associate with what may be a high degree of interpersonal intelligence, where learning about the other person and having that connection, even if it's for a single conversation, is an end in itself.

          • It seems like that tradition of linking physical beauty with morality is still lingering.

            I admit it's splitting hairs, and it could be I'm just exorcising my own bias against charming people. Yep, I have a problem with charming people for the exact same reason other people seem to like them….. because they don't make me feel special.

            Breaking down charm in the way you're describing it, people who are always seeking a connection, who are always looking for conversation, will do so with ANYone. They are the people who have a thousand friends, because they make friends easily and are always seeking friends easily. But if they make friends easily-and are always seeking connection-then how special can I be, as their friend? I am one of dozens, hundreds, thousands. Yes, they appear interested in me, but they appear interested in EVERYone.

            I just can't shake the impression of charm/charming people as manipulative (of a usually benign way, since lots of human behaviors are at their base manipulative.) This seems to go back to the hair-splitting of do you care about people, or just exhibition the same motions as someone who cares about people? And WHY are you developing this charm…. so people will like you, so people will sleep with you, or because you are genuinely interested in other people? And how in the world can someone manage to be interested in everyone they meet without their brain exploding?

          • thesurfmonkey

            You ask "how in the world can someone manage to be interested in everyone they meet without their brain exploding?" I have often wondered the same thing. Often, these guides to being charming or making friends or meeting people or whatever tend to read like "how to fake being extroverted if you're not". But they never quite get down to the part where they explain how to summon up such enormous reserves of social energy. I suspect it's because of our cultural bias toward extroversion, where being an extrovert is seen as normal and being an introvert is either seen as abnormal or as not really an existing thing. If everyone is an extrovert, then talking to more people and getting more social interaction has no internal cost.

            What you said about charming people being interested in EVERYone and therefore their friendship not being worthwhile reminds me of the saying "I wouldn't want to join any club that would have someone like me for a member" (Groucho Marx? I don't remember).

          • Hehe, I actually meant it in the other way…. I only want to be a member of clubs that include me and barely anyone else. As in, I want all of my friendships to be of the Extra Special and Important, Friends Forever variety.

            I think it's one of my bigger road blocks to understand charm-I only want to be friends with/date people who like me, and how can they like me if I'm so busy being all charming and not myself?

          • thesurfmonkey

            Ah, yes, that makes sense. It's a little bit the flip side of the same coin.

            Something we seldom seem to discuss around here is how to find people we like, as opposed to finding people who might like us. A small but important difference, I think.

          • enail

            I'm with you on this – I tend to get on best with people who don't love everyone they meet. People who can find ways to connect with everyone are great, but the people I really hit it off with are ones that connect with me specifically, moreso than many other people (and vice versa).

            To me, part of this is that being around those people who really GET me makes it easy for me to be my best and most charming self – when I'm with people like that, I can be my smartest and my funniest and my most interesting, I don't need to hold back my weird sense of humour or my intellectual thoughts, and I'm also my most genuinely interestED, because they're awesome people who really interest me.

            That's why I don't think being charming means not being yourself. Suppressing sides of yourself to concentrate on making the other person feel special is A way to be charming, but I don't think it's the only way.

            The tricky part is working out how to be your best and most interesting/ed self with a wider range of people. And also, mastering the skills that let you use the fact that you think the other person is awesome and interesting to make them feel awesome and interesting. Okay, there are a lot of tricky parts 😛

          • Hmm, I see now what you mean. Thinking on it, I find I also find it easier to be "my best self" around people who already get and accept me, when I don't feel judgement or a heavier risk of rejection for being myself. I also open up a lot more around people who I see as "like" me, and am thus more interested in them. (Though I would still argue I'm still not charming in those situations, I just go from intolerable to only-mildly-irritating, but…. baby steps, I guess.)

            So how do the skills in this article relate to being yourself in a wider range of people? How do you find the people that get you? It seems like this article is better for extroverts who just want to make a connection with everyone.

          • enail

            Charm is a broad spectrum, and I don't think most people are looking for Smoothy McSmootherson, so maybe a few steps up from only-mildly-irritating is probably all anyone needs to aim for if they're not looking to make friends with everyone in the universe. 🙂

            I'd say this article can be applied equally for extroverts who want to make a connection with everyone and for others who want to be better at making connections when they meet specific people they might like. Like, you mentioned downthread that you sometimes meet people you think are awesome – so this would be some stuff to help you make the other person feel awesome and interesting with you.

            But mastering being yourself in a wider range of people and finding people that get you, I think that's probably more than one article. Maybe if you have a broader self image and are open to trying new things and changing rather than This Is My Immutable Self, Deal With It, there are more people who you can see as "like" you, because "you" becomes more expansive?

            But that's challenging to balance with having confidence in who you are and not feeling like you should change just to please others. I don't think 'mutable self' and 'confident self' are mutually exclusive – a person can have a strong sense of self and still be open to changing their behaviors and evolving, maturing, transforming – which is something that healthy people do throughout their lives. It's just tough to pinpoint where that line between healthy and unhealthy change is.

          • Matty C

            It's an interesting thought and I can see it from one logical angle – if I assume that someone has a limited amount of 'special points' to hand out. The assumption being that if they're willing to expend resources on EVERYONE, they mustn't be particularly invested in any one of them.

            Is that really the case for everyone though? I mean, say you have X number of friends and you meet someone new and interesting. Now you have X+1 friends. Do you suddenly like your previous friends any less?

          • Matty C

            What I'm trying to get at (rather poorly I'll admit) is this – I don't think that 'specialness' is a limited resource that comes from scarcity. Certainly, social energy is, as is the time you can spend with them, but I don't think genuine interest is. Just because a person finds many people interesting doesn't have to mean they find you any less interesting, I don't think of it as a finite shared resource. It's just an opinion and an emotion that you have at a particular time.

            So yes I think it's totally possible to genuinely find many different people interesting, without it 'diluting' your genuine curiosity for any particular person.

          • enail

            It's true it's not a limited resource, but at the same time, I wonder if it mightn't be a thing to want a certain level of exclusivity, much like how some people want exclusivity in romantic relationship? Not to the same degree, of course, because I don't think most people would expect or want their friends to only be friends with them, but maybe some people work best with friends with roughly the same number of friends as them, because that way, the amount of time and social resources each has to give to the other is roughly even?

            Every person has a different amount of 'room' in their lives for their friends, a different amount and different kinds of special priority to give, of course, but for people who themselves tend to have a smaller number of high priority friends rather than many lower priority friends (which isn't to say that there aren't people who have many high priority friends – but people tend to assume people are like themselves, so they're likely to feel other people would have the same amount of room to share as they have), perhaps it's natural to look for people who work the same way, because it suggests (but doesn't guarantee!) reciprocal levels of priority and attention.

            I don't know, this sounds very calculating, and maybe sort of weird and controlling the way I'm setting it out, but I feel like maybe there's something there.

          • Matty C

            I think that makes a lot of sense and doesn't sound weird at all.

            I think there's two things in parallel – there's the resources you can give as a friend (time, attention, emotional energy, things like that) which are finite.

            There's also the ethereal-type stuff – the 'friendship' – which I don't think is finite. It's that 'bond' between people that lets friends who haven't seen each other in 5/10/20 years meet up and talk like it's only yesterday. It's the view of people that you hold in your head; it's the assumption that a person is genuine

            An example from my own life. I used to think if I didn't hear from a good friend for a few weeks that we were somehow less friends or that they cared about me less. Or if they met some new people, it would suddenly mean I'd lose their 'friendship'.

          • Matty C

            Really it meant that yes, I'd lose some of their 'priority and attention', but that's only part of the very big thing that is a friendship.

          • Forgot to add, that's a brilliant point about introversion. "How To Be Charming Without Internal Mental/Emotional Cost."

          • fakelymctest

            "It seems like that tradition of linking physical beauty with morality is still lingering."

            Oh absolutely, but it's nowhere near as prevalent as it once was. I did a whole Marxist reading of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and how physical markers of wealth and beauty were 100% taken to reveal the beauty of the character and soul in medieval works.

            It really does come down to people being wired differently. I suppose I could be called charming. I go out on my own a fair bit and usually end up talking extensively with at least one person by the end of the evening, even when I'm 100% planning on just reading the book I've got with me. Both men and women of varying ages.

            I don't have a thousand friends but I've maybe had a thousand conversations? Typically I don't talk to people if I'm out with my friends because I'm there to be there with them. Sometimes if I'm with another friend who's social we'll get into conversation with another group, sometimes we won't. But when I'm talking to people, my friends or a person I've just met, I am 100% wrapped up in what they're saying and in the conversation we're having. Now, the content and depth and emotional resonance of that conversation is going to be different with a close friend vs. a random stranger. I value both, but in different ways.

            I care about people for different reasons. I care about strangers because I find them interesting and I love a good conversation and I love hearing from people who have different experiences and backgrounds from me and, who knows, they might be friends one day. I care about my friends because we have a history together, because we have a deeper understanding of each other that I have with a stranger, because we can be a little vulnerable around each other.

            So far so good on the exploding brain front. c:

          • Well I think SurfMonkey made a good point about introversion/extroversion. I really enjoy conversations as well, but with people I love and know well, they're exhausting. The only social interactions I don't come away from drained are ones where I talk and ask without censure-ship, but those kinds of conversations require a LOT of trust and understanding.

            Maybe we just need an extended edition on how to have the mental strength to manage to be that socially extended for a length of time necessary. But then what happens when the charm fades off as a person reverts back into introversion?

          • thesurfmonkey

            I'd rather have a guide for how introverts can find other introverts to be close to, rather than something that feels like another how to fake extroversion type thing.

          • Max

            I'd say it sounds like you're overthinking your conversations if they're tiring you out. I'd focus on being less afraid to talk and ask without censorship, instead of constantly overthinking what you're going to say. It's hard, but you just have to be confident in what you're saying.

          • enail

            What about Gawain and whatsername, the loathly lady?

          • fakelymctest

            Definitely a good point and now I'm struggling to remember what I wrote in a paper 10 years ago…

            Since the elderly lady was revealed to be Morgan le Fay, I think it's arguable that she was not generally thought of as a virtuous person in the Arthurian stories. There are other instances of loathly ladies in the literature, which would have to be taken case by case. My paper was principally concerned with the uses, value and significance of books themselves in a largely pre-literate age.

          • enail

            Sounds interesting! I actually meant his wife, not Morgan le Fay – wikipedia tells me her name was Dame Ragnelle, though my vague memories say her name began with an L.

          • I agree that some people use charm to manipulate and gain influence, but the majority of charming people just possess good social graces. Let me give you an example.

            Saturday night I had my bday party. I have a very diverse group of friends, and many of them traveled here for the occasion. I also have a roommate (who is also a close friend), so I told her to feel free to invite any of her friends so that she can have more people she knows there, since it's her apartment too.

            A bunch of her friends showed up, and they were all super gracious and pleasant even though me and my friends are clearly not their scene. They smiled and wished me a happy birthday and danced around to the music we were playing, and stayed an appropriate amount of time before moving on to their other saturday plans. Were they genuinely interested in me and my party? No, probably not. Did it matter? No, because they made the effort to have a good time anyway for the sake of people around them, and even though I knew they were not there for me, I came away from the experience with good impressions of them. On the other hand, this one guy my roommate has been shtupping made it VERY clear that he was very disinterested in my party, looked miserable the whole time, and left in a huff when my roommate opted to stay instead of go see a local show with him.

            Being charming is like having good social graces, and is similar to the cracked article we talked about. It is about bringing something to the table in every social interaction. People don't like you for being *you* the special snowflake that you are, they like you for what you can offer them. Charm offers people an interaction that feels good, even if it is fleeting. Eventually, with multiple of these interactions, we figure out if the other person has similar interests or is interesting in general, or if not that person is just someone pleasant they run into in their outer social circle.

          • Delafina

            In essence, charm is consideration for the feelings of others (whether it's attempting to make them feel good about themselves by showing interest in them, changing the subject if you notice they're uncomfortable or bored, etc.), which requires either empathy or the ability to read people very well. You can use empathy to manipulate people, but that doesn't mean empathy is inherently manipulative.

          • FormerlyShyGuy

            Happy Birthday!

          • "People don't like you for being *you* the special snowflake that you are, they like you for what you can offer them."

            And I think this is why I start to see charm as manipulative. I have gotten to a point in my life where I want to be selfish. I've spent my entire life trying to make other people feel good, and have gotten used and walked all over as a result of it.

            Is it so wrong that I am sick of people only liking me for what I can give them, and I want to actually be liked for being a Special Snowflake?

          • eselle28

            I think this is a hard one for lots of people to work out, the line between being a doormat and being standoffish, but it seems like a middle approach where both people are meeting some of the other's needs for socialization and affirmation might be better. You certainly don't want to be in a place where you're giving so much that you're resentful, but swinging to the opposite of that might limit your social contacts to people who have already decided they like you.

          • LeeEsq

            I kind of feel the same way as Marty. I realize that relationships are give and take but at this point I feel that I'm giving much more than I'm receiving in terms of trying to establish a relationship and not getting anything back. There are times when I feel I'm being used as a psychological gigolo whose purpose in life is to give women affirmation that they are desirable so that they could pursue the other man of their dreams. I want to feel loved romantically for once. Just once can somebody choose me rather than reject me even if its only for a second date.

          • CmE

            Perhaps it's better to think of yourself as the package that you offer them, rather than any particular services. I tend to simply act my rather odd self with people, doing essentially what I want from moment to moment, rather than trying to please others or offer them particular services. Some people reject my personality package (occasionally quite violently), most others accept it or actively embrace it into their lives. I don't really care either way and am fairly outcome independent as to however a particular person reacts.

            Relationships do have a transactional element I think, but you don't have to offer anyone any particular services. Just offer yourself. You are the prize.

            So no, I don't think you are wrong to be fed up of being liked just for doing things for people.

          • Delafina

            I have lots of close friends (about 30 people that I consider my close friends). And I would lend (or, if I can afford it, give) any one of them money if they needed it, get up and dressed and out in the rain and cold to help them if they needed it, leave work and go to them if they needed it, etc., and they would do the same for me. I think about all of them fairly often, and care deeply about all of them.

            How is that less real/special than if I only had one? How does the fact that I find most of the new people I meet really interesting have ANYTHING TO DO WITH how interesting I find my already existing friends?

            Love isn't a zero-sum game. You don't have 14 love/interest/friendship points, so if you give 13 to one person you only have 1 left to give to anyone else. Time is limited — caring is not.

          • eselle28

            Hmm. I agree with most of what you've said on this thread, but I'm not sure that this is universal. I'm sure it's absolutely true of you and probably many other people, but I know that it's not true of me. It's not just an issue of limits on time. There are also limits to my energy and ability to be intensely engaged with someone else. If I try to spread myself too thin, I often end up neglecting some of my existing relationships.

            I can also think of lots of people, some of them quite good friends, who don't seem to have an problem maintaining very large numbers of relationships. Maybe it's an introvert/extrovert issue?

          • Delafina

            Absolutely. If you lose energy rather than gain it from interaction, your energy to maintain/start relationships will be limited. And time is limited for us all. But that's different from whether finding many people *interesting* means you don't see any of them as special/valuable/whatever. I don't become close friends with every interesting or cool person I meet, but that doesn't mean I don't find them interesting or special.

            And even if your energy is limited, it's not a zero sum game, where any bit of affection you give to someone takes away from the affection you're capable of feeling for anyone else. That is true of time, but I don't believe it's true of your capacity to care for people.

          • Matty C

            Said way way better than I could above 🙂 If only I had read further down before posting haha….

            It actually took me awhile to get to this way of thinking. Many years ago I tended towards feeling insecure if I wasn't the most special friend a person had. It's something I had to learn (otherwise some good friendships would have been ruined at the time).

          • Delafina

            Glad you figured it out! 🙂

          • Delafina

            Well, I didn't personally fall in love with Darcy, nor did I see him as necessarily a very good person for most of the book –I consider insulting others, trying to put them down or embarrass them, etc. examples of unethical behavior. Sometimes it's accidental or unavoidable — sometimes you have to publicly embarrass someone to prevent something even worse from happening — but that doesn't mean that it's a good act in and of itself. And part of the point of the novel is that Darcy's assholishness isn't good, even if most of the stuff he does behind the scenes is. He and Elizabeth both grow up over the course of the novel, which is why the ending is happy. Darcy is only charming at the end because he gets the fuck over himself, not because his good deeds somehow make his earlier nastiness okay.

          • Delafina

            "Maybe, overall, I am just uncomfortable with the idea of charm because I see the idea itself as being manipulative."

            But this is something that you personally are putting on the idea of charm, not something that's inherent to charm itself. If I say I don't like handshakes because I see them as aggressive, that doesn't mean that the people who are offering to shake my hand are feeling aggressive toward me. That's my hang-up, which has nothing to do with their motivations or feelings.

          • Is it something I'm personally putting on, or something that exists in charm but is not all-encompassing of charm? Who knows? That's the whole point of this discussion. My own experience of charm has been that it is manipulative more times than it is not. Does that mean it's ALWAYS manipulative? No, but that it SEEMS to be more manipulative than your run-of-the-mill-personality-trait makes me wary of it.

            Bottom line, I don't enjoy someone being all charming at me unless they actually like me and are interested in me. If their default state is "charming," then I don't feel special or liked, because they are charming with everyone. And so, I see the Charming person as being charming at me not because they want to get to know me, but because they just want me to like them, which makes me feel manipulated.

            You don't experience charm that way, fine, but I don't think it's right to dismiss my experiences out of hand just because you enjoy being charmed.

          • enail

            I see what you mean, in that there are people who approach social interactions with the idea that they will charm you, and the end goal seems to be an ego boost or some sort of manipulation, and I think that that's quite often the context in which the word "charm" comes up in daily life.

            I can't stand those sorts of people! But they're not the only kinds of charming – though I think we more often use a different word to describe people who are positive or genuine types of charming – I'd be more likely to call someone like that charismatic or warm or friendly than to use charming, and if charming really felt like the best word, I'd probably qualify it with something like "genuine" to show that I meant the good meaning, not the bad one. Perhaps some of this discussion is just about terminology?

          • Trooper6

            Here is the problem with your line of argumentation.

            What your posts say: Charming people are fake and manipulative.
            With these posts you are judging other people. You are actually attacking and disrespecting anyone on this board who identified as or has been identified as charming. Which is rude.

            You could have said: I don't feel comfortable around people with lots of friends and who talk easily with other people. I don't feel special if a person has more than one friend than me or talks easily with more than one person than me.
            The second is about you and your feelings and your perceptions, it doesn't judge other people or project motivations onto them. That is a more productive way of going about things.

            I'm said to be a charming person and I don't appreciate you telling me I'm fake and manipulative or insincere. You don't know me. Now it is your right to be an insulting jerk to people like me and Delafina, but you shouldn't be surprised at pushback. And please note, our push back is not "dismiss my experiences out of hand just because you enjoy being charmed" it is asking you to stop insulting us.

            You might do well to use you "I" statements.
            "I fee insecure if my friends have other friends. I just can trust people who talk to me and show an interest in me." vs. "People with lots of friends are shallow manipulative liars."

            Can you see the difference between these two conversational practices?

          • Um, that is taking it REALLY personally don't you think? I'm pretty sure I never said "all charming people are absolutely manipulative and thus I am JUDGING THEM." Pretty sure I am just explaining my own personal experience with "charm" (not charming PEOPLE, but that particular character trait), which -in my own experience-is manipulative.

            Some people find cheek kisses invasive. When they express that opinion, do you immediately jump to the conclusion that they are saying all people who kiss cheeks don't understand boundaries? No. Experiences and feelings are personal, and I was merely stating my own experiences and impressions of the characteristic called "charm."

            I can think someone has "charm" which I view as manipulative, and yet recognize them as a good person because they donate to puppies.

            I am merely expressing my thoughts. Is it really necessary for me to begin every sentence with "I" in order for you to understand I am discussing my thoughts and experiences?

            I think I stated, over and over, that my thoughts are broad generalizations, and I am mostly musing stuff over, which is why you find a lot of my posts peppered with questions. Other people have managed to read my posts without getting offended, or assuming I want all charming people to die in a fire….. It couldn't possible be that you are taking this opportunity to be offended because you have a personal vendetta against me, could it? Hmmm.

          • Trooper6

            I don't have a personal vendetta against you.

          • Taking every opportunity to argue with me or put me down, over and over again, sure starts to look like one. You know you don't get along with me, so can't you just scan right over my comments without feeling the need to rush in and claim I'm attacking someone/being whiny/being negative/whatever your criticism for this week is?

          • CmE

            I have for sure known some very dangerous charming people (although the more you got used to them, the more obvious it became how messed up they were). But charm and charisma are value-neutral tools, they are GIGO.

            Sometimes in social interactions I am quite cold, distant, and lost in my own head, but often when in a more outgoing mood I turn the charm taps on. Often it's for no particular reason other than to brighten up everyone's day; about a week ago I flirted just a little bit with a bank cashier who was about 30 years older than I am, as we went through the routine of a withdrawal. There was no benefit or profit for me in doing so (apart from the practice, I suppose), but it meant we both enjoyed what would otherwise have been a mechanistic and boring interaction and left it with a smile on our faces (hopefully both genuine ;)).

            Charisma is by its nature manipulative insofar that it alters ("manipulates") the mood and actions of others, but that's not necessarily a negative thing in any way at all.

          • enail

            Great question!

            It can be hard to be open to other people and care about them when you're caught up in feeling defensive; a lot of people who've been bullied or teased seem to go around pre-emptively rejecting other people, and it can develop into a bitter sense of superiority that's incredibly self-defeating. But if your feelings are "screw them, they're all stupid, shallow conformists," it's not like you can just tell yourself "no, they're lovely special snowflakes that I want to get to know" and magically start projecting genuine caring all over the place.

            For nerdy types, maybe curiosity is helpful? No one fits a stereotype 100%, no one! So if you can't manage to go into a conversation thinking how interesting they are and how much you'd like to get to know them, how about going into it with the idea of learning something about them that would make them seem more 3d? That way you can be interested in what they're interested and why, how they feel about things, anything could tell you something different! And then you give yourself a point!

          • Curiosity definitely helps, but I wonder if the problem is a bit more complicated.

            I'll only speak for myself here (hopefully other people can relate), but I do love getting to know other people. I do have a sense of curiosity about people's lives, and I WANT to care about them. However, I get really stuck in my own head about how THEY feel about ME.

            When talking to a new person, I get really conflicted between getting to know them and finding out how interesting they are, and being anxious/terrified/upset at the idea that I can't compete with their awesomeness. I find so many people who are, absolutely, amazing, fascinating people, that I feel there is no way I can measure up to them. I know nerds are usually know for their superiority complexes, but I am always consumed with feeling inferior.

            I cease to care about other people not because I find them less interesting, or conformist, or inferior…. but because I get exhausted by how inferior I feel next to them. I worry constantly about them not liking me, them rejecting me, etc. I've reached a point where I will no longer try to talk to people or get to know them unless they express some strong interest in me; a social stand-off.

            Do you think other nerds might feel similarly? How do you get to know people when you are constantly preparing and suffering from rejection?

          • enail

            So, kind of a self-protective thing? I don't think you're alone with this, and it makes perfect sense – if people have been cruel to you, of course you'd protect yourself by being less open, and so forth.

            I don't really have any advice, but I wonder if a starting point mightn't be acknowledging that you're right to care about yourself and try protect yourself, but maybe there are finding positive (that word, sorry!) ways to protect your inner self so you don't have to use closing yourself off as your only protection? Kind of pulling your armies back so they're not guarding the social walls, but the inner, psychological walls? Ugh, awkward metaphor. But I think this would kind of go into self-esteem territory.

          • Kitbag

            Oh hun, you're not the only one. I really think it helps to remember that. What actually helped for me was realising that for the most part any sizing up in comparison people were doing was usually the same sort of thing I was doing – ie. secretly thinking "Oh shit! I can't believe I said that! They must think I'm such an idiot!". Any dumb shit you or I say is likely forgotten by them, as they are probably beating themselves up for saying something stupid as well.

            Anyhoo, this was useful for me, and might be for you, in terms of getting out of my own headspace and insecurities. Once I realised other people also felt shyness and awkwardness and social anxiety, I shifted my focus from "Oh God, what are they thinking about me?!" to "This person probably feels as awkward as I do. How do I help them feel better?". And as you say, you recognise the sort of behaviour that helps you at feel ease with a new person (eg. "they express some strong interest in me"), so try and help other people out in the same way.

            Think of it not as a test where you have to impress someone in order to be worthy, but a general application of the Golden Rule. If you feel more at ease talking to someone who has gone out of their way to express strong interest in you, look to how they show and make it clear to you they are interested (Smiling? Asking questions and clearly listening to the answers? Chuckling at your jokes even if they are lame? Finding common ground that you can both talk about?) and try and give the favour back to others who are feeling as shy as you.

            Now of course there will be some douchebags out there that do go around judging and looking down on people. They are rare outside of high school. They are also exhausting, awful people to be around, so if they are not interested in you or me after we do our best to be nice, THAT IS A GOOD THING. Fuck 'em, and stick with the decent folk.

            That said, try to make sure that you don't misinterpret someone's shyness or social awkwardness as them looking down on you (you'd hate it if someone did that to you, I assume!). This will only make you more shy and standoffish, which will make them even more convinced that you think that you are awesome and that they are a loser, and therefore make them even more shy and standoffish, which will make you even more convinced that they think you are a loser, etc. etc. And, yes, I have seen that exact dynamic play out in real life! Not fun.

          • Delafina

            There are also studies showing that dwelling on the things that make you unhappy may make you more realistic about your capabilities, but it also reduces your success, feeds into greater unhappiness, and puts you at risk for the onset or increase of any number of health problems. Repeating behaviors leads to them becoming ingrained — they've shown that the whole "express your anger!"/punch a pillow/get catharsis thing actually makes you angry more often, and less able to control your anger. (http://blog.uwgb.edu/alltherage/tag/catharsis-myth/). Dwelling negatively on the past also makes you generally less happy (http://www.charismamag.com/site-archives/570-news/featured-news/13459-study-proves-stinkin-thinking-makes-you-unhappy). I'd say the downsides to negative thinking are a lot more extreme than the downsides to positive thinking.

            The study about empathy is pretty flawed, incidentally — it measured whether people *who'd been praised recently* showed less empathy, which they did. I'm not sure that having recently received praise is an automatic correlate to being happy — you could easily substitute "proud" or "overconfident" for "happy" there.

            And again, I take issue with the idea that falseness is an inherent part of charm (charm is like a smile — it may or may not be genuine, but it's not automatically fake). Most of the charming people I know are also just people-loving. They like people. They're interested in people. Their interest is rarely feigned.

          • But there's a bit of double-edged sword in that "charming people are just people-loving, they're just interested in people!" If they're interested in EVERYone, then are they really truly interested in ANYone?

            It's kind of like being special; if everyone is special, then no one is, because special is no longer a unique identifier. If charming people are interested in someone just because that someone is a human, and they just love humans…. are they really interested in that individual? How special can that individual really be, if the main reason the Charmer is interested in them is just because they are a member of a vast species?

          • enail

            I think it's more that they're very good at finding the specifics of what's interesting about any given person – they still like/are interested in any given person because of their specific qualities, as well as being interested in people in general. In a way, being interested is a skill as much as an attitude.

            Awkward metaphor time again: if you serve a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to a person who likes wine and a person who has a few wines they enjoy but wouldn't say they like wine in general, you'd expect the wine-lover to enjoy it for its specific qualities – it's just that they'd be more likely to enjoy the qualities of any random given wine than the non wine-lover would.

          • Delafina

            Um, yes. I find most people interesting, and that doesn't somehow make me not interested in people. What a bizarre concept.

            I'm not just "generally interested in people because they're a member of a vast species." That's like saying that because I like both chocolate and salmon (and wine! and cinnamon! and oranges!) I don't truly like food. I'm interested in them *because* of what's special and unique about them, not simply because they're human. I'm interested in the lady who lives down the hall from me because she has a super-cool relationship with her frighteningly intelligent poodle, and watching them interact makes me happy. I'm interested in my manager because he's creative in a way that's simultaneously sweet and dark, and those two things don't usually go together. I'm interested in my hairdresser because she has insights about people that come from a strange and unique angle — it's a little bit like talking to an alien.

            The fact that most people have something really interesting about them doesn't somehow make them not special or unique. It's the opposite.

          • Trooper6

            Yes! And note as a person who generally likes most people, I don't like *everyone*–though I do give everyone a change. If a person I interact with turns out to be rude, I lose interest really quickly. But my default is open, not closed. And I treasure my interactions with all the interesting people I've met. And even though I interact with a lot of people, those conversations still matter to me.

            For an example, 21 years ago, I remember having this wonderful hour-long conversation with a woman I had just met and never saw again at a party about bowling. I'm not a good bowler, I haven't really bowled more than a few times in my life. I also don't know much about bowling. This woman wanted to be a professional bowler. So she told me all about it and it was awesome. I learned so many new things that I'd never known before, I still think about that conversation 21 years later, and I still share some of the really neat things I learned. I'm still not a bowler. But I respected that woman for her interests and passions and I was truly honored to have her share some of her experiences with me. And 21 years later I still value that interaction. She later told the hostess of the party that she thought I was very charming and was really happy to have talked with me. I don't know if she remembers me 21 years later–but I still remember her.

          • Delafina

            "But my default is open, not closed. "

            This, x a million. And even that, for me, is not universally true — as extroverted as I am, I still have days where I'm tired and cranky and don't want to deal with strangers, and my default becomes closed. But it's generally true. I go into each interaction with someone new assuming I'm going to like them.

          • eselle28

            I don't have this trait myself (I'm insanely picky about people, to my detriment), but the people I know who are like that don't seem to be equally interested in everyone they meet. It seems like it's more an inclination and a talent for trying to tease out the things that are interesting about a person, whether that be one or two things or almost everything about them.

            I'm not sure to what extent this sort of attitude can be cultivated, but it doesn't seem to condemn people to liking everyone equally.

        • Delafina

          Wow. I don't think that's true at all. I haven't noticed any correlation between positivity or negativity and character. What I have noticed is that people who are positive/charming both A) care more about and B) are more aware of other people's feelings and how their own actions/attitude affect others. People who are negative either don't care about whether they're making those around them unhappy, or aren't noticing (either because they can't or because they're not putting in the effort).

          Lack of character manifests differently — some charming people may use their charm to manipulate people at others' expense. And some negative people may either not care about the damage their negativity may be doing to others, or may be emotional vampires about it, both of which are just as wrong. Negativity can also lead you to *want* to damage others, because you are jealous of their happiness.

          I don't see that whether you care about other people has anything to do with how positive or negative you are. When I'm feeling most positive is also when I have the most energy to do things for other people, so I don't see that being at the extreme of the positivity spectrum (and positive/negative is a state of being, not a personal quality — the personal quality comes in in terms of how much time you choose to spend in an area of a spectrum) is correlated with selfishness. Neither is being very negative. Being very unhappy can teach you compassion. Being very happy can give you the energy and will to try to increase others' happiness.

          In neither case is your personal ethical commitment correlated to how happy or unhappy you are, or how much happiness or unhappiness you choose to express.

          • enail

            I can see where the idea of a connection between positivity and lack of empathy comes from. There's a certain extreme set of people who prioritize positivity so much that they're unwilling to support others in tough times or will chide others for talking, even briefly and appropriately, about anything sad. Similarly, I've encountered a bit of a thread of victim-blaming from people who, from the knowledge that staying positive can be helpful when you're fighting cancer, jump to the conclusion that if you have cancer, it's essentially your fault for not being positive enough.

            Of course, this is not in the slightest the majority of positive people; but there is a small but noticeable group that prioritizes acting happy over being happy and caring about the happiness of others – it's selfish people using positivity as a tool for selfishness, (just as there are manipulative people who use charm, but charm is not itself bad or manipulative) and I suspect more negative-minded people who are wary of positive types might have encountered people like this and taken it as the general image of positive people.

          • Exactly, Enail. That's been my overwhelming experience with "positive" people. They are "positive" because they have sliced off emotional vampires from their lives…. but their definition of an emotional vampire is anyone that expresses negative emotion for longer than a minute per conversation.

            There are probably positive people who are not obnoxious, just like there are plenty of Christians who are not homophobic, but the most visible Positive people are obnoxious about their positivity, and seem downright selfish in their pursuit of their own happiness over the feelings or difficulties of other people.

          • Trooper6

            I don't define emotional vampire as anyone that expresses negative emotion for longer than a minute per conversation, and I know few "positive" people who do. Being a good active listener and empathetic open person, I often get people telling me their problems…including people I don't know all that well. And I'm happy to listen and help out or support if I can. I don't like emotional vampires. People having problems are different than emotional vampires.

            Two can use your argumentation style, you know: Negative people are rude, insulting, and mean. They hide behind a narrative of being "honest" as a cover for bullying, manipulating, and hurting others. They don't care about the feelings of others, they are profoundly selfish. Why would I want to be around them? Maybe there are some negative people who aren't bullying sociopaths (either aggressive or passive aggressive) but most of the Negative people are obnoxious and self-reightous in their pursuit of getting off on destroying other people's happiness and their pursuit of their own misery over the feelings and difficulties of other people.

          • fakelymctest

            "Being a good active listener and empathetic open person, I often get people telling me their problems…including people I don't know all that well. And I'm happy to listen and help out or support if I can. I don't like emotional vampires. People having problems are different than emotional vampires."

            Totally agree. I get this from people a lot too, usually preceeded by the phrase "I can't believe I'm telling you this…" I find it rather flattering and I always hope to be helpful. Helps to read advice columns semi-obsessively I suppose. c:

            I asked a friend about it once and she said she reckoned it was because I didn't seem as if I was going to be judgemental, but I'm not sure that's all of it.

          • Um, I'm pretty sure I stated somewhere up thread that selfishness seems to come from both ends of the emotional spectrum, and that it probably isn't "positive" people that are obnoxious, but that obnoxious positive people are more likely to be noticed and noted.

            But please, ignore my concessions and "probably's" "maybe's" and overall "this is my experience (and thus not the Objective Truth)" comments.

          • Max

            Inserting "probably's" "maybes" and "this is my experiences" is similar to starting a sentence with "I'm not a racist, but" or "I'm not trying to be an asshole, but." People do that because they know their opinions are unpopular, so they can fall back on "that's not what I really meant!" if people disagree. Unfortunately for you, most people realize that yes, that is what you meant.

          • enail

            In this context, since she was responding to my comment about selfish people who use positivity to be selfish (in which I was quite clear that this was NOT the majority or the norm of positive people!), I don't think that's what Marty did mean, especially since she used quotes to distinguish those types from other positive people and specifically compared it to the way people might assume Christians are homophobic b/c those ones are often more vocal than the majority of Christians (who are not).

          • Uh, no, that is NOT what I meant which is WHY I inserted the "probably" and the comparison to homophobic Christians not being the majority, only the vocal, visible ones. How much clearer can I be??

            And really…. saying SOME people who espouse positive thinking is akin to being a racist or an asshole now? Really??

            Considering I am directly relating my comment to something Enail, Surfmonkey and I have been discussed, I have no idea where you get the "most people." Unless you're just using the "most people" argue to bolster up your own overly-sensitive opinion, since for the last day the conversation was going along without any offenses or harsh words on either side?

          • Max

            I wasn't calling you a racist or an asshole. I just think you should own up to what you're saying.

          • Delafina

            That makes sense, although I'd take issue with the idea that anyone who prioritizes *looking* happy over *being* happy is actually happy — sounds like they have some major hangups. And I don't generally think of "forced cheer" people as being positive — that's obnoxious as hell, and a form of passive-aggressivity. But a perfect example of actual positivity is a friend of mine who had a nightmarish experience moving into a new apartment. Everything that could go wrong, did. And when she told us the story, it was fricking *hilarious.* Because the whole thing was absurd, and she chose to focus on the absurdity of it, and that was what she took away from the experience — absurdity, humor and a good story, not the misery of it. She's not a super-cheerful, bouncy person; she's just someone who, I think, would choose to keep 99% of the life experiences she's had, even if they weren't pleasant to live through at the time.

            That's positivity — choosing to not be miserable about most of the sh*tty stuff life throws at you, choosing to learn from it, choosing to view it with acceptance and humor and patience for the rest of humanity, choosing to share your experience in a way that gives something to those you share it with. Criticizing someone with cancer for not being positive enough is aggression.

          • enail

            Yes, this. But both forced cheer and taking life as positively are usually classed under the same umbrella of positivity, which I think is what makes this conversation tricky. And the line between the two isn't necessarily clear or objective, either; there are degrees and imperfections.

            I think the problem is that some people treat positivity not as something that you maintain for yourself, but something that everyone in your space must maintain FOR you; it's often those same people who insist that everyone else should support their bad moods to an extreme degree, just like the way the people least able to take a joke are often the cruelest jokers. Often the underlying issue is that some people want to control their experience of the world by controlling the people in it rather than by handling their own feelings and seeking sources of mutual support.

        • Artimaeus

          This is definitely an interesting issues. If you want to push the metaphor a little further, I think that it's important to remember that at the beginning of Pride and Prejudice, Darcy was actually being a stuck up prick, and only after he'd been thoroughly dressed down by Elizabeth did he actually get his act together. In other words, he only managed to get the girl by reforming the way he went about interacting with people and becoming a more accepting and (dare I say) positive person.

          I mean, we live in a culture that says men (and women, to a lesser extent) should be emotionally self-sufficient and manage their own issues, which no doubt plays into our understanding of what "charm" is. They say the best way to get laid is to "give no fucks". I think our desire to be "positive thinking" just a riff on this sort of radical self-sufficiency that western culture is so enamored with- namely that through sheer discipline and force of will you can shut out the negative aspects of life. Stupid, of course.

          But at the same time, being easygoing means that you're generally more responsive to others' issues, more reliable, more stable, etc. I mean, I know that when I'm feeling depressed or vulnerable is the time when I'm most likely to lash out at people, and I've put a lot of strain on several of my closest friendships this way.

      • enail

        I agree, charm and character don't necessarily go hand in hand, but they're not mutually exclusive either.
        And I don't think being positive improves a person's character (although, to be fair, many things about "a good character" are pretty subjective, so if you like positive people, you'd think it does), but it can give people an openness and enthusiasm that might make it easier to develop their character if they wanted to. So, I wouldn't trust that any given person was a better person just because they became more positive, but if I knew someone wanted to become a better person, becoming more positive might help them do it.

        In terms of function in social interaction, I'd say charm is a way to give your character a chance to be seen in its best light.

        While any halfway discerning person will pay attention to your actions to get to know you, it takes a while observing you in action before they can tell much about your kindness or strength of character, and in the meantime, they're still evaluating whether or not they enjoy interacting with you. You can think someone is a good person but not enjoy their company, just as much as the reverse.

        • Delafina

          So much this. Charming <———-> Not Charming, Positive <——————> Negative, and Good Person <—————> Bad Person are three separate spectrums, and your position on one doesn't necessarily influence your position on any of the others.

    • LeeEsq

      Generally, I think that I personally lack the "it" factor but I can understand why people making dating decisions usually use it as one of the reasons to see a person again. It takes time to get to know somebody and a person is going to have to invest a lot of personal time when building a relationship or when they are in a relationship. The "it" factor is a sort something that says to another person, you should invest time in getting to know me. A person without an "it" factor could make a really good partner but if they come across badly at first, why should anybody make the effort to really get to know them. Its all about having limited time.

      • Delafina

        At its simplest, when we say someone is charming, what we mean is "I found being around that person exceptionally pleasant." You can criticize someone for being superficial for liking that, but if I'm spending time with a stranger, and I *don't* find it pleasant, why on earth would I want to spend more time with them?

      • eselle28

        Yeah, I don't have it either, but I can understand its role in interpersonal attraction. It takes a little bit of time to figure out if someone is genuinely interesting (as opposed to knowing a few good stories) or intelligent or compatible. It takes even longer to determine if someone is a good person, since that usually requires seeing someone in a variety of different situations. Figuring out if someone's the right partner for you can be an even more involved process. It's easier to make that investment if someone is easier to be around.

        Luckily, I don't think it's necessary for people to actually have the "it" factor. It might be enough for people to just move a couple of degrees away from "not it".

    • Delafina

      Charm is a good thing, just like beauty is a good thing, intelligence is a good thing, insight is a good thing, etc. Now — like all forms of power, it can be used for bad things, but that doesn't make it a bad thing in and of itself.

      "Moreover, do we really want to BE the charming person? It seems like, to be charming, it's a matter of sacrificing sense of self. "

      Charm is a matter of sacrificing a certain amount of sense of self in order to pay attention to others. But hell, being a good person *also* requires sacrificing some selfishness to accommodate the needs of others. Only you can say when it's too much. As a people-loving extrovert, I don't find it much of a sacrifice to listen to most people, because most people are interesting. There are times when I don't have the energy, and I think that's fine.

      "Don't talk about yourself…. don't act in an individual way (only act in a calm, slow manner.) Don't express negative emotions, even if you have to pull out your guts to find something positive. "

      You can certainly talk about yourself and still be charming. It's a matter of balance. It is possible to tell a story about yourself in a way that makes someone feel like they're super-important to you — as if you're sharing a special confidence with them, or as if something noteworthy happened to you and you couldn't wait to share it with them in particular.

      It doesn't have anything to do with acting "calm" or "slow." There are soothing charming people, and there are high-energy charming people.

      "if we're so busy shoving emotions away (don't be negative, don't complain, don't talk about yourself, don't do anything but be cool and calm and happy), how can we find something that will endure when those emotions inevitably pop up?" (cont'd)

      • Delafina

        It's not about "shoving your emotions away." There's nothing creepier than someone without emotion. But why do you define emotion as only the negative things? Being pleasant/fun to be around isn't about not showing emotion — it's about choosing which emotions to experience at the moment, and choosing how you express your emotions. Positive emotions are emotions too. It's about being in the moment. I may have had a bad day at work, but either I put that aside while I socialize with people who had nothing to do with it, or I decide I can't put it aside and either hang out with friends who know me well enough to support me while I bitch about my day, or I do something nice for myself, alone.

        And I can deal with the negative emotions without having to be unpleasant about them –if my shoes are hurting my feet but I'm having an amazing conversation with someone, I could dwell on the annoyance and pain, or I could focus on the conversation. Or I could say, "Hey, do you mind if we go sit down? These heels are killing me and I don't want to be distracted from the rest of your story." And then sit down and kick off my shoes and resume focusing on the conversation.

        And it doesn't even mean ignoring the negative emotions. It may mean dealing with them (as in the case of being in pain I listed above). It may also mean having the courtesy to let the other person know you're not at your best and asking their understanding. For example, "I'm sorry, I really would like to stay and continue hanging out with you, but I just got news that my grandma is in intensive care, and I'm having some trouble focusing on the conversation. I really would like to talk to you more, though — can I call you for coffee next week when things are a bit more settled?"

        You have choices about how you deal with your negativity. You can set it aside to deal with it when circumstances are more appropriate. You can decide that whatever triggered it is too negative to let it make you unhappy, and let it go. You can talk about it with people in ways that makes it clear that while you're angry/sad/etc. you're not angry *at* them. You can choose to look at it humorously and make it into something that makes both you and the people around you feel better to talk about (the best stories are usually about things that weren't pleasant to live through at the time, but are funny/amazing/whatever in retrospect, and changing pain to acceptance is one of the oldest uses of humor). You can seek out people with whom you've built up strong enough friendships that they're willing to accept you being in a bad mood and turn to them for support. You build up a certain amount of credit in relationships. When you don't know someone well, you keep back some of your negative feelings because why would you want to spend time with someone who's unpleasant to be around if there aren't any deeper bonds there? But when you get to know people, they see your good qualities and come to care about you as a whole person, not just because you're always fun to be around. And you can not be your best around them, because they care about you for more than just the minute-to-minute experience of being around you. (Of course, you can't just give them your not-best — you need (and should want!) to be around them in your best times as well, otherwise you're being an emotional vampire and just using them. So it balances out as far as what you're getting/giving in the relationship.)

        "If everyone is going around being charming all the time, how can we know each other's character? "

        What makes you think it's fake/not showing their real character? I know a ton of charming people who are intensely interested in what most people have to say. I know this because I know them well and have seen times when they *weren't* interested. They weren't faking anything — they were just interested in getting to know 95% of the people they met. And if they weren't interested, they wouldn't exhibit any blatant signs of disinterest — they'd just politely make excuses and leave the conversation. No harm, no foul, no one felt bad about themselves. Nothing fake about it.

        • enail

          This. As always, Delafina, you nailed it! It's important to have places in your life where you can express negative emotions; it's no less important to know where and how to express them appropriately.

        • The negative emotions you are referring to (my feet hurt, I had a bad day) are temporary negative emotions. But what if the emotional pain/negative emotion is something that can't be escaped? For me, I experience extreme anxiety and negative emotions when socializing. It isn't like I had a bad day and want to bitch about it…. it's that the sheer act of talking to someone fills me with negativity. "Am I being annoying? Is the person bored? Am I talking too much? Is what I'm saying interesting? Am I making a bad impression?"

          Individuals who can read people well don't HAVE to think about this stuff, because they can read signals naturally. But people like me cannot read signals well. Since a lot of the success of socializing relies on reading people's signals, it isn't enough to be "in the moment"…. I always need to be consciously aware of what I'm saying, how I'm saying it, etc. That is the negativity I am referring to.

          How do you deal with this kind of negativity? Become a hermit? It isn't something you can just set aside. The only real choice, besides completely cutting yourself off from the world, is to force yourself to socialize and just push through it, doing the best you can. But it can be incredibly difficult on top of trying to socialize like a normal human being, to never betray your discomfort or awkwardness.

          Honestly, I think a lot of what you're saying is perhaps true, but true for people who are ALREADY charming and extroverted. You said it yourself…. you don't find it at all draining to care or listen to people, but that's because you're an extrovert who isn't drained by caring or listening to people!

          I don't think charming/being extroverted is fake, except when the person is not naturally charming/extroverted. This article is about teaching non-charming/extroverted people to be charming/extroverted, which is where I start to see it as fake. However, since I am NOT extroverted, do feel drained/anxious by socializing with people, get exhausted from listening, and find it a very big struggle to socialize and "be charming," then "being charming" IS a fake personality for me.

          • enail

            I think it's possible to be awkward AND charming, I've met people like that. Even if you seem anxious or are clumsy about expressing things, a genuine interest and desire to make the other person comfortable can shine through.

            It's true, though, that it's much harder to *be* interested or to focus on making the other person comfortable when you're desperately trying to focus mechanics of the social interaction. As with most skills, practice can turn something you have to think about consciously into something that comes more naturally.

          • Now I'm just starting to wonder if it's even worth discussing "charm," since it seems the semantics are getting in the way. If a person can be awkward but charming, then this entire article is moot, since it's all about how charm is NOT socially awkward, but is positive and smooth and whatnot.

            It seems like a lot of people have their own idea of what charm is that are overlapping but distinct from each other, so discussing it might be kinda worthless.

            Like I said above, I think I've just also gotten kind of hostile to the idea of making other people comfortable. I've spent my entire life trying to make the people around me comfortable (don't be annoying, don't be whiny, don't be negative, don't be opinionated, don't be argumentative, smile, do stuff for them, compliment them) to the point of exhaustion, and have gotten nothing back. I spent 6 months doing nothing BUT this with some old friends, and at the end of it just felt really bitter and taken advantage of, because these people STILL didn't like me.

            I get that friendships are two way streets, but it seems like if you start out as charming (making the other person comfortable), there is no chance for you to express your full self.

            I think it also comes down to different needs. For me, I have a need to be "liked" even for my flaws, to be accepted as a whole being. Being charmed doesn't seem to allow that…. it seems like you always have to be on your best, Positive, make-the-other-person-feel-better Game, and that sounds exhausting and soul-crushing to me.

          • enail

            The discussion's gotten a little broader, but most of the stuff listed in the original post is doable without smooth social skills: smiling, paying attention, focusin on the positive. Intensity and increased contact are tricky to pull off if you're not confident about your ability to read people, though. I guess part of it is that it's not an either/or thing; you can use some of these things to improve your interactions without being Smoothy McSmootherson.

            Regarding having to always be on your best social behavior, Delafina has some good points upthread about relationship credit being something you build up. If reciprocity and being accepted for your flaws are your top priorities, maybe those are things you can feel out as bit by bit as you get to know each other, while still putting your best foot forward (your real foot, but maybe wearing nice shoes?) to start. You don't have to swear lifelong devotion to them right away, right? So evaluating gradually whether or not they'd seem like people you'd want to get closer to might let you keep an eye out for signs they're what you want in a good friend or not. If not, well, you've made a friendly acquaintance, that's all!

          • Delafina

            I think it comes down to this: you have to show people your good side first, otherwise why would they want to be friends with you at all? That doesn't mean being fake, but if you lead with your flaws, someone who's not invested in you anyway isn't going to want to put the time in to get to know you. So when you don't know someone well, you show them why you're good to be friends with. And as you get to know them better it's like, "Ok, so now that you've seen and like my plusses, here are the minuses that come with them. Still like me?" If the answer is "yes," then you've found a good friend. If not, you've found a friendly acquaintance.

            I have some health problems that mean I'm in constant pain. Most of the time, it doesn't interfere with my living a normal life and I have learned to ignore it, but it does tire me out and it means that sometimes, I don't have the energy to go out. Being my friend means that you're probably going to have to come to my place a bit more often than I come to yours. It means that there are some nights where I don't have the energy to go out, and would rather just stay in and watch a movie or play a game. It means that sometimes I have to cancel things on short notice when I'm not well enough. It means that some nights, you can come over and hang out, but I'm going to have to kick you out kind of early because I need to sleep.

            There are some people with whom I'll never be more than casual acquaintances, because they prefer to go out a lot, plan a lot of things that aren't refundable if someone cancels, etc. I've also lost friends because of it.

            I don't conceal this or lie about it when I meet someone new. But I also don't lead with it. If it comes up, I'm honest, but if it doesn't, we might hang out several times before the subject of going to an event comes up, and I say, "That sounds like fun! I just want to warn you that I might need to cancel, however; I have some health issues," etc.

            And the same goes for any flaw/challenge/issue. You bring it up when it's relevant. You don't lie about it, but you also don't need to make it the first thing people learn about you.

          • thesurfmonkey

            My favorite example of being both charming and awkward at the same time is Hugh Grant in Four Weddings And A Funeral. (Or really, Hugh Grant in most of his movies.) He does that smiling-stammering-blushing-constant-talking-blushing-saying-silly-things type of awkward charm in a way that made him an international star.

          • Delafina

            Actually, I think DNL did a bit of a disservice to charm in this article by conflating it with intense charisma. Charm is a small thing; charisma is an intense thing. You can be awkwardly charming; children and teenagers often are. Charm is the ability to make others feel at ease around you, to enjoy their time with you. Charisma can be disturbing or even frightening, but it's *compelling.* Charisma gets other people to do what you want, but it's not necessarily because they're comfortable around you. You can be scary and charismatic. Sweet little old grandmas can be charming, but they wouldn't fit in with most of the examples above.

            DNL's examples are all people who are both charming *and* intensely charismatic, *and* smooth. (Smoothness is different from charm — it can actually be very off-putting.)

          • I think that is a good point, and probably where I am getting tripped up. In the way you describe it, I see "charm" as more "politeness." Smile, say thank you, make eye contact, ask questions. Those things don't strike me as "charming," but as part of a social script to show respect and openness to a stranger. If the article had been strictly about "politeness," I think I would have gotten fully behind it. I think everyone (myself including) should engage in polite behavior.

            It's the "charisma" angle, and more importantly it's role in dating/getting to know someone, that I seem to be taking issue with.

            I think the distinction you drew here is very important.

          • Delafina

            Charm is a little more than basic politeness, I think, though. You can be cold and polite — heck, when I'm offended by someone, I generally get *more* polite and more rigidly formal, to signal the distance I'm feeling from them. And you can be politely disinterested/distant.

            If I had to break it down, I'd say charm = politeness + warmth.

            But it is very different from charisma. As I said above, you can be unpleasant but charismatic, rude but charismatic, cold but charismatic, arrogant but charismatic, etc. Charisma is powerful enough that it can overcome things with which charm can't co-exist.

          • Delafina

            Having trouble reading signals is an issue. Not one that's impossible to overcome, but certainly a challenge and somewhere you're going to have to put a lot of energy if you want to learn to do what some people are able to do instinctively. (I'd actually argue that it's learned for most, if not all, people — I learned to read people very young because I grew up with some people with anger management issues, and needed to monitor their moods so I had warning to get out of there if I needed to, and a lot of the people I know who are good at reading others grew up with temperamental or abusive people, which is why I tend to think that it's always a learned skill rather than an instinctual ability.) But it can be learned, for most people of normal intelligence. Whether you feel it's a worthwhile use of the energy it will take is up to you.

            I'd be careful about conflating introversion with social anxiety, however. Introverts may be more prone to social anxiety, but introversion isn't social anxiety. I have a lot of introverted friends — one of my closest basically needs a week to recharge from each social engagement outside of work — but being tired out by interaction is different from not enjoying it/being anxious about it. Introversion doesn't mean not liking people any more than getting tired out by physical activity means not liking it. Just as it's natural to get tired out from going on a long hike, it's natural for many people to get tired out from talking to people for a while. That doesn't mean you don't enjoy the hike, or the interaction. Introversion is a personality trait; social anxiety is a disorder. And it's treatable. But — as with most mental/emotional disorders — there's no magic bullet. It will take work on your part, with the help of a good therapist and possibly other measures, to treat it effectively.

            Introversion also isn't the same as negativity.

            Ultimately, though, Marty, all of this is up to you. You post here a lot on variations of "But what if I'm just unlikeable/unpleasant?" And people post suggestions on how to be more likable, and then you seem to get angry or annoyed by all the suggestions, and tell us why they won't work, and yet also seem frustrated that people don't find you likable.

            You can learn to be more pleasant/likable, and it can be in a way that's not untrue to who you are, and it doesn't mean being fake or manipulative, it just means choosing what parts of yourself you're showing at any given time. None of us show all our facets simultaneously — good friends are people who have seen all your facets and accepted them, but strangers don't have any reason to give you the benefit of the doubt, so you may want to be more aware of what you're showing them and when.

            So there's stuff you can do. But it will take effort, and relearning. If you don't want to put in that effort, that's fine! You can be whoever you are and do whatever satisfies you or — hopefully — makes you happy.

            But it's both unfair and unrealistic to get angry at people who don't know you very well for not liking you that much when you're like, "I'M JUST UNLIKEABLE AND THAT'S THE WAY I AM AND I WON'T DO ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY BECAUSE THAT WOULD BE FAKE." Your posts read basically as if you're saying, "I'm unlikeable and it's unfair that people don't like me."

            Okay, that's your prerogative. But you can't blame people for exercising theirs and choosing to spend time with others instead of you.

          • I get annoyed because I feel misunderstood sometimes. It's very difficult to express the complexity of what I'm trying to get it, and I get annoyed at trying to be understood without rambling, and it's frustrating when it seems I am sometimes being deliberately misunderstood.

            My asking questions is my attempt TO learn… I ask questions because I don't understand. I'm not trying to shoot things down because omg, what a horrible suggestion…. I shoot things down because the Answer doesn't make sense to me.

            I think this whole thing is incredibly difficult, because it's very difficult to explain the entire expanse of a brain and a personality in some forum posts, so I try to cut corners, which I think leaves people confused.

            So let me really, really try to lay it out: it is not that I am unlikable, it is that I have traits that are seen as unlikable. I don't do act in a way that is rude or disrespectful, but the personality traits I have are usually associated WITH being rude or disrespectful.

            What's a good analog? Um…. okay, this is going to be lame, but there's an episode of "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic" in which the ponies encounter a Zebra who lives in the woods. The Zebra acts in ways that the Ponies associate with curses and witchcraft. By the end of the episode, they learn that her behavior actually isn't bad, they just needed to get to know her and see her behavior from a different perspective.

            So, I have these personality traits that may be abrasive when seen from a certain perspective, but I am actually not an uncaring or unlikable person. I just have personality traits that make it SEEM so, until you get to know me.

            Reading self-help books and websites like this, make me conflicted about these traits. I actually value these traits, despite their abrasive reputation, because in a lot of ways I think they make me a better person. And I'm supposed to have confidence and good self-esteem about things that make me unique and "myself."

            And yet at the same time, these traits are seen as bad until you get used to me, or understand me a bit more. Where does that leave me? Am I supposed to embrace these traits and be "confident" even though they alienate me from people? Or am I supposed to change to be more likable, and thus sacrifice the things that make me unique?

            It is not strictly "I am unlikable." It is "people SEE me as unlikable, even though I'm really not." So do I change myself to be INITIALLY more likable, even though it will sacrifice what makes me likable in the long run?

            Does that make more sense?

          • Max

            You are trying too hard to define yourself by these negative traits. You are defined by what you do, not what you're thinking. So if people see you as uncaring, it is probably because you act uncaring. Change how you act if you want people to feel differently about you. Define yourself with positive things.

          • Maybe that's how YOU define things, but that isn't how everyone in the world works. I have different experiences, and my experiences are no matter what caring acts I do (asking questions, always initiating contact, constantly changing my plans to accommodate other people's schedules despite huge inconveniences to myself, driving people to and from places without even a thank you, giving thoughtful presents and expecting nothing in return, lending money even when I'm on a tight budget…. and these are only the "actions" I have done in the last month), people still remember me only for the negativity, which can best be summed up as "She's argumentative and talks too much."

            Different people use different criteria to judge other people. I define myself by those traits because that's how other people define me.

          • Max

            Don't define yourself by how other people define you. Also, do have people actually say "You are argumentative and you talk too much" or are you reading that into their actions and the way they talk to you? Because it's easy to project your own negative feelings about yourself onto other people. I've certainly done it. Social interactions became much easier once I realized I was doing this.

          • enail

            I think I see what you're saying here. I think the challenge, though, is that abrasive is something that people experience, not something that people extrapolate, so if someone thinks you abrasive, it's probably b/c they came away from an interaction feeling, er, abraded, even if that wasn't your intention.

            Mightn't there be a way to keep the core traits that you value, but find ways to express them differently so they don't make people feel bad or uncomfortable in an encounter? An awful lot of traits can be good or bad depending on how they're used and how they're expressed – spontaneous can become irresponsible, easygoing can become wishy-washy, etc. It's important to find the right balance and right ways to express traits so that other people can appreciate them, not feel harmed by them.

          • Yeah, and that's what I've been trying to accomplish in this thread (plus just discussing off-the-cuff impressions and ideas, because I really enjoy doing that and "digging into" stuff.) How do you make yourself charming, if the characteristics you have are negatively experienced (even if that isn't your intention)?

            How do you make people whose primary characteristic is argumentative or long-winded charming? Heck, I can't even be myself in this thread without getting compared to a racist!

          • enail

            Well, is argumentative or long-winded really the positive side? It seems like you're describing them that way b/c you feel like your traits get interpreted as those negative qualities – but I'd bet the kernal of them, what you value in yourself is not something that's so inherently hard to get along with. Maybe argumentative is the dark or difficult side of being willing to stand up for your beliefs, or being good at refining ideas through challenge, or something else.

            Maybe think a bit about what the really great thing about the traits you're calling argumentative or long-winded is, and then it might be easier to brainstorm ways you can express and be true to those qualities while showing respect, consideration and politeness to the person you're interacting with?

          • Brain-storming here, but in a weird way, I actually see argumentative as respectful (stick with me here.) If someone tells me something I don't understand, asking questions/arguing is my way of trying to understand it. If I didn't care about understanding the person's view, or didn't care about correctly assimilating the knowledge into my experience, I would just nod and dully say "Okay" and be on my merry.

            My argumentative side comes from my drive to understand all sides of a problem, my curiosity to explore every nook and cranny of a perspective, and my desire to connect and contrast. I think arguing is FUN. I never mean to be aggressive or dominating… I just use words forcefully because as a tiny, mousy, female person, I've always had to.

            So I'd say the positive side to my argumentativeness is, is that if I'm engaging with you, even if it comes across in an aggressive way, it's because I either want to understand what you're saying, see your perspective as valuable, or think you are interesting/intelligent enough that I CAN argue with you.*

            I try to show politeness by tone (which is damn difficult on the Internet), using lots of sounds ("Hmmmm…." "Ehhh…." sort of thing), or asking clarifying questions. Is there any other way to soften argumentativeness, or draw charm out of something people seem to have such an aversion to?

            *I guess it isn't coming across in text, but I've been having loads of fun with you, SurfMonkey, Eselle and Delafina. This comments section has been really eye-opening, and given me a lot of food for thought.

          • Delafina

            There's a kernel of something that maybe you can change without losing what you consider important, here. I understand thinking arguing is fun — like I've said elsewhere, I almost became a lawyer, largely because I liked the discipline and discovery of engaging in well-constructed, well-thought-out debate.

            And I was often vehement about it (I still am, when I get riled; even if my words are pretty logical and unemotional, my tone is often aggressive, because I'm a woman in a male-dominated industry, I'm not that big, etc. and often in my career if I want to have the floor at all, I have to seize it and seize it hard). And one day I was talking to someone, who was a gentle soul, and I wasn't even really arguing with him. I was more thinking something through out loud and practicing an argument that I wanted to have with someone I disagreed with.

            And I looked up from my pacing, and noticed that he was actually backing away from me. My words were hitting him like physical blows. I wasn't angry — just intense — but my vehemence was literally physically driving him away from me.

            Not everyone likes to debate intensely. Even people who like it don't necessarily like it all the time.

            So I've learned that I can debate using exactly the same words, but say things with a smile, and use a calmer more moderated tone of voice, sit back instead of forward, etc. and instead of saying I was aggressive or intense or giving them a headache, people say it's really "thought-provoking." And they're able to see better that even though I'm disagreeing with them, I'm doing it in a respectfully challenging way instead of an aggressive one.

            So maybe it might help for you to try paying more attention to your body language and tone of voice if people are saying you're aggressive or abrasive. You can say all the same stuff, but making sure that you're giving people physical space, not making them feel like you're angry at them, etc. might help them understand that it's a debate and not an attack.

            But glad to hear you're having fun! It can be rough to have people criticize your demeanor, so I'm happy that you're taking it with equanimity. 🙂

          • enail

            I think you've got the right idea. Although this conversation has had a lot of back-and-forth, including disagreement, I feel like the tone down at this part of the thread is quite friendly and respectful, rather than argumentative – and this is because of the tone choices and phrases we're all using (you very much included!) here to soften and show that you appreciate the other person's contribution – and I think you've been softening your comments more over the course of this discussion.

          • enail

            (cont) Your post upthread that starts "Curiosity definitely helps, but …," is a good example. In essence, that post says "no, it's not that, it's this," but the way you phrased it shows that you don't think what I said is worthless, but you'd like to take things in a different direction. And your use of open questions (without implied judgement or hostile phrasing) shows that, while you're redirecting the flow of conversation, you are still interested in other peoples' side.

            When you say "that's a good point," or take the time to consider how the other person's perspective might connect to your own even if it differs greatly (your response to Delafina that starts "I think that is a good point, and probably where I am getting tripped up" is a great example of this), when you ask "does that make sense" or rephrase something in your own words and then ask if that's what they mean – you're showing you are interested in what they say and want to treat them with respect AND showing off the curiosity and analytical thinking that are the positive sides of argumentativeness.

          • Delafina

            Well, and most traits are good in moderation, but only in moderation. Being argumentative is the extreme side of being analytical, standing up for what you think, learning through debate, etc. But when someone says someone else is "argumentative," they usually mean that those things are taken to enough of an extreme that it was uncomfortable for them, that someone wouldn't let go of a debate when their debate partners were signaling that they were done, etc.

            As someone who's frequently gotten the "long-winded" or "verbose" label, that's also often the "too far" side of what can be a positive quality. I like nuance. I like metaphors. I like examples. All of these things generally let me communicate my thoughts and feelings effectively, and let me convey concepts to other people in a way that results in them "getting it" rather than sort of understanding it.

            But it can also mean that I over-explain when people already get it. Sometimes it means that people feel like they can't get a word in edgewise. Sometimes it means that they're not really interested and I didn't notice and kept talking.

            I wouldn't want to trade my ability to explain, but that doesn't mean I shouldn't moderate it at times so as not to abuse other people with it. 🙂

          • eselle28

            Well, argumentative people can get along well with certain personality types, so I don't think that's a fatal personality flaw. When it comes to making it more palatable, I think someone who likes to argue might want to study some techniques for "fighting fair" and signaling that it's a friendly debate rather than a nasty personal fight.

            With long-winded, I think maybe it's good to look at why the person is long-winded. Is it because they know a lot of things and are excited to share them with others? Maybe they could play up that angle, pay a little extra attention to making sure their speeches are about interesting things rather than dull ones, and find some quiet, curious people to talk to. A couple of people I'm very fond of are kind of like that.

            Is it, instead, because they're selfish and don't care what other people have to say? That's tougher, because that's not something that's going to appeal to many people. I think someone in that position who doesn't want to be inauthentic might want to consider emphasizing other personality traits. I'd hope that "long-winded and self-centered" isn't all anyone has to offer! I also don't think it's faking it to try to initially put the focus elsewhere. As a fairly harmless example, I'm insanely messy and disorganized. I don't think I'd ever try to hide that from someone I was dating because eventually I couldn't keep up the act and a neat freak would be horrified. But that's not really a trait I bring up frequently when I meet new people either. It's easy enough for them to see that part of me after they've decided that I'm smart, or adventurous, or well-read, or some other trait I think is positive.

          • I guess I'm long-winded cause there's so much to say! So many details to explore! So much to understand, so many complexities and nuances to draw out. God is in the details, and it's the nitty-gritty I always find fascinating, but you gotta slog through quite a bit of Preliminaries to get all the pieces set-up right.

            For example, if Del doesn't mind me using her (him?) as an example, based on her very first post, I was quick to disagree with her. But over this now very-long-winded thread, I think I've reached a much better understanding of her perspective, and I think a lot of the disagreement may have come from terminology. I feel much more satisfied with the conversation than I would have, with just those few initial posts. But it took 1,000 words between the two of us to get there!

            You'd HOPE people have more than that to offer, and maybe I'm the only reader with this specific set of issues, but I think the bottom line comes down to, if your personality is largely conceived through traits that are not necessarily negative, but are more likely to be taken in a negative light, then how can you draw charm from them? Is your only choice to go fishing in a different well? Is there a way to take something negative and turn it charming?

          • Delafina

            Oh, you said this so much more concisely and well than I did! 🙂

          • Delafina

            That does; thank you for the clarification.

            It's fair to say that there are personality traits that may be an acquired taste for others, or that may take patience to understand and value.

            I do kind of take issue with the comparison of abrasiveness with being misunderstood, though. If people experience your behavior as abrasive, it's abrasive. They may later come to understand that there's a personality trait that's not all bad — that's even in itself cool — that's causing some of the abrasiveness, but I have a hard time imagining a personality trait that forces someone to be abrasive all the time, and is a good thing.

            So, if I were your friend and assuming that I got to know you and agreed that the way you just described yourself is accurate to someone who knows you well (and not just how you believe yourself to be/come across), I still think I'd be trying to get you to see that abrasiveness/things that make people perceive you as rude and disrespectful aren't an inherent part of your positive personality trait, and that you can ditch some of the abrasiveness while still hanging on to the positive.

            I do know that behavior is infinitely mutable. I know that I value being a person who is enthusiastic and high-energy about the things I love. I value the enjoyment I get in talking about them. I value sharing them. I value seeing others' first-time experiences of them. I value discussing them ad infinitum with other people who love them.

            But I've also learned that that doesn't necessarily entail becoming part of every conversation about them. It's not mutually exclusive with giving up after a certain point if someone I love doesn't want to try them, or doesn't like them. It doesn't mean interrupting people or talking over them just because I'm enthusiastic. And so on. Once, when I was a lot younger, I saw these things as inseparable from my passion for certain things. I couldn't imagine overhearing a conversation about Asimov and not participating. Keeping silent and simply smiling and letting others talk would have seemed like a betrayal of my passion and my self.

            And I got older and more patient and more secure and learned that those habits were not inextricably linked with my ability to love certain subjects intensely and wanting to talk about them a lot, in detail.

            But I'm not sure what kind of personality traits you're talking about, and I don't think that even if you go into more detail, it's something I can judge without actually interacting with you and experiencing how you come across.

          • Jay

            "So, I have these personality traits that may be abrasive when seen from a certain perspective, but I am actually not an uncaring or unlikable person. I just have personality traits that make it SEEM so, until you get to know me. "

            That's interesting. I'm still reading down this thread, so you may address this elsewhere, but so far it seems to me you've turned around and done the same thing to people you perceive as "charming." You seem to impute manipulativeness and uncaring when you don't actually know them. And then when "charming" people have spoken up and pointed out that they don't feel particularly manipulative or uncaring you say they're "dismissing your experiences."

            And I'm saying this as someone who is immediately suspicious of anyone who seems too friendly to me. I don't react particularly well to extroverted/charismatic people either. But I give them the benefit of the doubt and move on, same as I give Debbie Downers the benefit of the doubt and move on.

          • Ohh whoops, might end up with double post here, sorry. My bad!

          • Matty C

            Not conflating anxiety with introversion is something I think that's VERY VERY important.

            Extreme anxiety, to the point where it makes you unhappy and stops you doing things that you genuinely want to do, isn't part of your core character. It's just anxiety. It's something that stops you from doing what you want.

            I tend to think the difference is this: The introvert isn't thinking "I really wish I could get out of my head and talk to people, all this anxiety is so draining!", the socially anxious person does. One might not talk as much because it's just natural for them, the other is sitting there wishing they could just speak up.

          • Max

            Fun Fact: Every single person on the planet worries about that stuff. Some are just better at not obsessing about it. Remembering this fact makes social interactions much easier.

          • How? How does it make social interaction easier?? How does someone else being miserable and anxious make me feel less miserable and anxious? If anything, it makes me MORE because I feel guilty for causing them anxiety.

          • enail

            For some people, I think it helps with feeling insecure or inferior – if that person you think is so much more awesome than you might also be thinking "oh, I hope she didn't think that joke was dumb. I hope she likes me," doesn't it kind of humanize them? Like, if they're just as uncertain as you, maybe they feel you're just as awesome as you feel they are?

          • I can see how that works for some people, but I wonder how it's supposed to work for those of us who nobody cares about impressing. I can guarantee people don't feel worried or judged when interacting with me, because they could honestly care less what I think.

            Knowing that they feel social anxiety towards OTHER people doesn't really help in that situation, ya know?

          • Max

            "I can guarantee people don't feel worried or judged when interacting with me, because they could honestly care less what I think."

            Nope. You have no way of knowing what they are thinking unless they say what they are thinking. If they are a human being, they are feeling the same feelings you are (albeit possibly to a different degree).

            Enail explained it pretty well. It's all about not putting so much pressure on yourself in social situations. It's okay to mess up, to say the wrong thing, to tell a joke and have it fall flat, etc. I know it feel like you're a rookie basketball player on a team of All-Stars, but you aren't. Chances are that everyone is more or less on the same level as you.

  • Rebecca Todd

    Good point, Marty, in that most sociopaths do employ large measures of charm. But that is not their purview alone. I do not see being positive and never discussing negative feelings as the same- needless whining is not the same as discussing a serious issue. While you seem to see these traits as superficial, they do not have to be. Being attentive and a good listener does not stop you from being genuine.

    • Well, I think I was overly verbose in my comment (shocking, I know.)

      Yes, being attentive and a good listener doesn't stop you from being genuine. But when do you draw the line and start asserting some of your personality?

      I figured out a few years ago that I could get people to like me if I only asked questions, smiled, and never ventured any comment or opinion of my own. When I had the mental strength to never express any individuality is when people seemed to most want to be friends with me. But that was exhausting…. and as soon as I'd start expressing my own emotions and interests, then suddenly people would not want to be friends anymore.

      At what point can you finally drop the "charm" facade and be a little selfish; talk about yourself, express more emotions than just Being Positive?

      • Rebecca Todd

        Hah no worries I like the verbosity of your reply! Hmm see I never sacrifice my individuality to achieve my (dubious) charm. I have no trouble bringing inappropriate levels of me-ness to the scene, always. Here's the rub- it IS my personality to be interested, to care, to want to learn about new people. People are the most wonderful puzzles ever created- it thrills me to get to have a little glimpse in to them. So from my perspective, I use these techniques to fulfil my curiosity, to learn more about these humans I live amongst.

        As to those people who only liked you when you were not being you, well, those are the psychic vampires the good Dr warned us of! Unfortunately, they are everywhere and will suck you dry if you let them. The real people, they will show just as much curiosity about you as you about them. I believe the simplest conversational strategy is "The Ask Back". If I am being super charming socially (hah!!!) and asking lots of questions about someone, and they only answer and never turn the question back on me, then I quickly see them for the self-interested jerks they are and waste no more time. So really, I use my "charm skills" as "douchecanoe detectors", all at the same time! And really, I don't want those type of negative creeps knowing anything about me, so playing charm until I know they are worth it works for me.

        • Interesting point about your personality already BEING charming.

          I suppose it really just circles back to "If you're not charming, then you're screwed." It seems you can fake charm, but if it isn't in your personality to be charming, then when your personality inevitably comes out, your original, surface-charm will come out as the superficial fake-out it was.

          It's this weird Elephant in dating advice that I can never understand. It's like how everyone is always espousing to like yourself, and be confident…. but only if you have stuff to be confident in the first place, otherwise you better change into something people will like.
          I don't mind asking new people questions, but it is my personality to be a talker (the verbose, see?) and I seem to have something about me that I can be easily taken advantage of in conversation. If I tone down my talking, even a little, I get run right over. So do I really need to change my personality to be charming?

          For those of us who do not have charming personalities, is dating just one endless chore after another?….

          • Christine

            I'm not sure I'm hearing you correctly. I think you're saying that you like to talk and tend to see things in a negative way. If this is the case, then it may make things more difficult in social and especially dating-type situations because:
            More people enjoy hearing things that are pleasant, upbeat and positive than negative.
            More people enjoy talking with people who appear to be interested in them rather than solely focused on their own point of view.
            This could also be a reason that other people jump in and try to change the conversation. I know that I have done that when conversing with people who were consistently negative.
            It's possible to find a match with someone who has the same characteristics. I know some couples who both share a negative outlook and seem to derive a lot of pleasure from talking about how terrible a lot of things are. I don't know how they found each other, though. It may take more work.

          • I don't mean I talk negatively all the time, I mean I just talk. I just start with a story or an idea and get rolling, and it's difficult for me to remember to stop because I can never gauge when is the correct social time to stop. If I stop now, then I haven't finished my story and have just made the rest of my speaking irrelevant, but if I keep going, then I have talked for too long.

            It's kind of like when you're doing a fun activity, and you look up at the clock and think," Where did the time go?" That's me and telling my stories, and I have no idea how to change that. (My mother and grandmother are the same way, we had to devise hand signals to let her know when she's gone on for too long.)

            As far as the negative part, I think the issue is most topics I find interesting are analytic, but by extension, usually kind of intellectual downers. Discussing religion? Fascinating. But most religious topics are kind of depressing in an existential way.

            I think the issue is, I have yet to run across someone who can discuss topics in an analytic way while also still making them upbeat and positive. (There seems to be a reason most academics and philosophers are known as such curmudgeons.) If someone knows how to do this, I'd be all ears.

          • Christine

            Interesting. Not sure if this will be helpful, but what came to mind when you mentioned the long-arc storytelling is that maybe some storytelling workshops (like the kind The Moth does) would provide some benefit in terms of learning how to read/react with your audience more effectively. Crafting a story well can take some practice, like the difference between publishing a first draft vs. something that's been edited.

            Sort of related (?) is that when I think of presenting negative topics in a positive (or entertaining) way, I think of comedians like Mike Birbiglia. It's rather fascinating the way some people can take horrific topics and use humor to get the audience inside of them.

          • Tea

            I think, while being upbeat and positive definitely has a big role in attracting people, that's not the end-all-be-all of being a charming individual. Being a charming person isn't just about "giving" people attention and making them feel good at the expense of your own individuality, it's about sharing and engaging, giving and getting back, tossing people hooks and people chucking them back.

          • Tea

            Taking your story-telling example. you compared it to doing a fun activity and losing track of time. Well, I'd expand it to be you doing a fun activity with someone else– a game of cards, or playing a duet. The game is only effective as long as you're both engaged; you might be thoroughly enjoying this round of Mozart, but if your partner's heart just isn't into it, the music quality is going to fizzle out. And like a game of cards, sharing a story– even if it's YOUR story– should be a back and forth. You play a card, they play a card. You tell part of a story, they express interest and ask questions. If you've found that your partner, your audience isn't engaging– aren't playing their cards, barely strumming their instrument, are politely ignoring you, turning away, the polite thing to do is to stop your roll and cut your story/card game/duet short.

          • Delafina

            Very good analogy. Conversations are like jazz.

          • Tea

            These word limits are killing me, hot damn.

            Just like you wouldn't keep placing cards after your friend has tuned out and stopped playing, you wouldn't continue talking when it's clear your story isn't reaching anyone. It might take practice to learn to gracefully cut your story short or suddenly change the topic, but it's still better than talking to a brick wall.

          • Delafina

            Why on earth is religion depressing? There are depressing facets to it, certainly, but there are also things about it that are useful/positive or just generally fascinating, regardless of whether you subscribe to the religion. And most of my discussions about it were with 2 anthropologists, a Talmudic scholar, and a divinity student, so there was a heavy academic slant. I'm not sure where you get the idea that analysis = negativity.

    • The interesting part of this is that sociopaths have the initial qualities about this. When you first meet them, they can be very personable and you *want* them to like you. As time goes on, though, it shows to be superficial.

      They tend to be really big on the front end and incredibly flimsy on the backend when you realize they really don't care at all, they're just really good at being initially charming.

  • This advice is as old as the hills, but always relevant. I find all of this works like goddamn magic. Particularly eye contact. People are COMPELLED to talk to you if you have good eye contact. Excellent post, enjoyed reading.

  • In the late 1990's I worked in a card shop (I know the HEIGHT of glamor, right?) and one of the above-mentioned celebrities came in (with his s/o who, if I named more specifically would identify the man in question) looking for a thank you card. Here are some thoughts that struck me about that. . .1. He did it himself. He didn't send some lackey to do it. 2. He was incredibly nice, asked my opinion on various cards and explained what this person had done to merit the card. 3. As the transaction concluded he took out a notepad and wrote my name down explaining that if celebrities x, y, or z who were also in the very nearby hotel needed anything we could supply, he would tell them to ask for me by name! Two more came in, but none were as nice as the first. (not guys you would associate with "it".)

    • Delafina

      Yeah, I'm weirded out by the idea that charm is fake/manipulative/whatever. Most of the people I know that get described as "charming" are people who have a great deal of empathy and consideration for others.

      • chrispodd

        In that case, you clearly aren't a very charming person.

        • Delafina

          Well, some form of the word has been used in 90% of the professional reviews, thank-you notes, and intros I've gotten, but I don't tend to hang around with cynical people, so I believe most of the people I interact with view charm as something sincere rather than fake, as I do, and not in the way that you apparently define it.

          To each their own.

          • Trooper6

            I, like Delafina, have been called charming. And I, like Delafina, tend to act very interested in the people that I'm talking to–which apparently makes them feel special. Now, why do I act interested in the people I'm talking to? To manipulate them? No. Because I'm fake? No. Because I must make people feel special? No. I act interested in the people I talk to, because I find people really interesting!

            Now, if I start engaging with someone, and they turn out to be a creep? Then I move on somewhere else. I'm not going to stick around in an unhealthy scene…because I also like myself.

            But ultimately, I like humanity, and I think most people are super interesting and I can always learn something from them. Some people are very negative and misanthropic. And it is someone's prerogative to be that way. And if someone would rather hang out with negative misanthropes because they think that is more "honest"–more power to them. Everyone can hang out with who they feel comfortable with. I feel comfortable with people who similarly care about others and generally like other people. Note: This doesn't mean "always being happy." You can be a positive person and be blue. You can be a positive person and be nervous. You can be a positive person and have a variety of moods and feelings.

            Also, some people in the past have accused me of being fake because I'm happy most of the time…but I *am* happy most of the time. And my good friends also see other sides of me…though I never really get bitter, dark, mean. That is not fakeness, but that is how I am.

          • Delafina

            Hah, I also totally get the "you're too cheerful — it must be fake!" thing from people that don't know me well. 🙂 But, well, life is hard and both annoying and horrible things happen sometimes and either you learn to enjoy the good more than you fear the bad and more than you're annoyed by the unimportant, or you end up miserable or with so much scar tissue you can barely move.

  • LeeEsq

    This is an important article because the "it" factor is a problem in my dating life. Its something that I've talked about with my therapist. The main issue is that while I recognize the importance of having an "it" factor when it comes to dating, the "it" factor comes with some baggage that isn't that appealing to me in terms of personality as Marty pointed out above. There is a different between kindness and charm. A person could be charming without being morally good and since charm is something that can be cultivated, and if you a member of a certain or a woman it was drilled into until relatively recently as part of your upbringing, lots of not really good people have had loads of charm. There is a certain lack of sincerity that often accompanies it though.

  • enail

    As we were saying above, though, just because some lousy people are superficially charming doesn't mean that you can't be both charming and a decent person, though. Charm is just a way of presenting yourself well. Much like saying your pleases and thank-yous, it makes a good impression, but that doesn't mean that it will prevent people from seeing your kindness and morality – quite the contrary! Charm is just good lighting.

    • I think he more means the idea that some of us have to act like we're Someone Else to be seen as attractive. The ways to be charming, as outlined in this article, are the opposite of how I act in real life (I always think of Meg Ryan in 'French Kiss' when there are suggestions of smiling a lot and never being negative. "Happy, smile, frown, sad! Use the corresponding faces for the corresponding emotions!")

      What if, naturally, you are just not a person who comes across as charming? Do you change yourself to get more attention, or hope to God you find someone in the next decade who isn't looking for a smooth, cool, always-smiling, question-asking charmer?

      • You don't have to be smooth or cool or always-smiling, but I honestly think that when you are just meeting people, you do have put in the effort to make the other person feel good about being around you. It isn't about being an extrovert vs. introvert, it is about caring about the other person's needs in conversation. People are always more interested in talking about themselves and their interests, and being charming is letting them, because it makes the conversation more fun for them.

      • LeeEsq

        Its kind of both. People find me charming and funny but not in the "it" factor kind of way. Its more like people thing that I'm really sweet, so I'm charming without sex appeal if that makes sense.

        • Delafina

          You can absolutely be charming without sex appeal. 🙂 I mean, kittens and puppies are hella charming. But I think if you've got charm, it's not that far to sex appeal. You're already like 90% of the way there. You just need to flip the switch from platonic to sexy.

          • LeeEsq

            Bluntly, I don't feel a quarter of the way there. I've just gotten the latest rejection for a second date and it was the same as the dozens of previous rejections. That she had a really great time with me on the date, that I'm very sweet and kind and that I'll find somebody fabulous one day (which could be when I'm sixty or older at my rate) but that she doesn't think that she's that person.

            At this point, I'm really not sure what women are looking for. I'm not asking them to be my exclusive girlfriend, to marry me, or for sex or any form of physical affection. I just want a second date, thats it. I don't think its that much to ask for, especially compared to what other people demand. However, it seems that women I'm going out with aren't interested in second dates unless they could imagine spending the rest of their life with me.

          • LeeEsq

            I'd really like DNL to address this issue of getting a second date. He's addressed how to ask people on dates, how to date but not how to get a second date. I'm tired of getting knocked down and having to get up already or feeling like I'm a hamster on wheel going nowhere.

          • CmE

            How old are you? Younger women are obvious less interested in commitment, older women more so (on the whole, this is by no means a hard and fast rule).

            Creating interest in you is a tricky question of striking the right balance between putting her at ease and making her comfortable (this is where sweetness and kindness are no bad things), and throwing her off balance and defying her expectations, which is where you need to strike a different tone. It doesn't have to be transparently douchey at all, but it does need to have a real edge to it. Sweetness and kindness are pacifiers: they relax us and calm us down, but they also dampen down sexual energy and desire along with that. You want to inject some intensity and passion- preferably with just a touch of a sexual tinge – to wake that sexual energy back up again. Hopefully she'll then respond in kind. I think it's wrong to set your frame at "I just want a second date with you" – effectively you're framing the other person in limited sexless terms, which means that they are just as likely to do the same to you. Your frame shouldn't be "I want you right here right now" either, but you should definitely be interested in them sexually, and try to convey just a little bit of that. Again that has some edge.

            Unlike many other people, I don't think the stereotyped chivalric gestures of dating (buying her drinks, pulling out her chair for her, opening doors for her) etc are inherently bad per se. The problem is that they are stereotyped, and you are looking to be The Most Interesting Man in the World who conforms to nobody's stereotype. Defying her expectations and avoiding stereotype matters more than most other things I think. But quite possible at some future date women will become so used to the egalitarian world of Dating 2.0 that the man who sticks by the rules of Dating 1.0 will actually have an advantage in that he stands out from the field, and is instantly unforgettable ("wow, I've never seen a man act like THAT before"). I don't think we're there yet, though – possibly in some major urban centres. Maybe I just read too many Atlantic pieces 😉

            Touch is important as well. The Doctor talks about it quite a bit, and there is a reason the pickup guys talk about kino all the time.

      • Delafina

        There are a lot of different ways to be charming. Some charming people are high-energy and bubbly. Some are more quiet and have a subtle, wry sense of humor. Some people talk a lot, some let others do most of the talking. Some are performers, some are quietly authentic. There's not a one right way to be charming, just like there's not a one right way to be confident. The one thing I've noticed in common about people who get called charming is a combination of joy in life and affection for other people. How that's expressed is different for everyone, though.

        • Reading the replies, I think I make a distinction between charm and charisma.

          Charm is behaviour. Writing thank you cards. Being thougthful. Making gestures towards others.

          Charisma happens on an emotional level. I know a lot of charismatic people who aren't thoughtful, or nice, or even particularly liekable. But they are compelling. Even if they're a train wreck, you find yourself watching anyway. Charismatic people are able to suck you into their emotional world to one degree or another. Some people have more than others and some have more emotional range and some use it for good and some for ill, but it happens on a different level than charm.

          • Maybe a shorter version of my take on it is:

            Charming are people who seem interested in me.

            Charismatic people are people who make me interested in them

          • Delafina

            Good distinction, and thanks for pointing it out. I stole it and used it elsewhere in the thread. 🙂

      • Trooper6

        If you don't want to show an interest in other people and learn how to be a good conversationalist (which involves give and take, knowing social appropriateness), if it is important to you to act in a way that makes people feel uncomfortable, disrespected, disregarded, bullied–if that is an important part of your self-identity, then continue doing that.

        No one can make you act nice to other people or act appropriately in a social situation.

        • CmE

          I quite enjoy being around combative and abrasive people who set me on edge and make me uncomfortable, both men and women. It wakes me up and engages my brain to meet the challenge head on.

          You definitely can have way too much of a good thing here though, because these people are draining around to be around for too long. Fun in short quantities, but beyond that my brain starts to ache. Moderation matters.

  • Hahaha way to stick in that quote from Ursula in The Little Mermaid. 🙂

    • Hazel

      I thought I was the only one who noticed that.

  • Fascinating topic. I think charisma is something that can be improved, but I also think there's an innateness to the it factor. I've seen lots of people who are compelling regardless of their level of technical skill. Keanu Reeves isn't an isolated case and it isn't just acting–I've seen it in music, comedy, and pro wrestling as well. Some guys are just able to bring you along for the ride…which is completely independent from their actual skill level.

    I also think it falls along a spectrum rather than an have it or not. There's such thing as being a big charisma fish in a small pond, but once you get into charisma-driven business, you find the superstars are on another plane entirely.

    I have a theory (I didn't make it up–there's some researchers looking in this direction) that charisma is related to empathy. As social animals, we're evolved to pick up the signals other people send. I wonder if charismatic people have some kind of empathic super-broadcasters–they're signals are stronger or easier for others to pick up, so they're more able to bring you into their world.

    • as an aside, if anyone else here is 'how emotions work' nerd, there's a book called (I think) Vicarious Empaty' don't remember teh author and my nephew is crying to be gotten up now, so no time to google.

      I also recommend Paul Ekman's 'Emotions Revealed' and a book called 'Destructive Emotions' edited by Daniel Goleman

    • Hmm that's an interesting idea. My mother always complains that the "squeaky wheel gets the grease," which might just be a cynical take on the idea the stronger someone can broadcast their emotions, the more likely people will pick up and respond to them. Sometimes I've gotten the criticism that I am not needy ENOUGH…. that people like to feel needed, and neediness in the right doses is actually charming and fulfilling. GAH, humans, where's my manual?!

  • "Eye contact" and "smiling." Not to be a downer or to make some kind of excuse, those two things take a Herculean effort for someone like me with Asperger's. Maybe not "Herculean," but definitely a huge challenge.

    • My current SO has Asperger's, I'm not sure what kind of help he's had earlier in life, but he's been working on his social skills from an early age. There are a lot of therapists out there that work with people on the Spectrum. Also, it helps if you disclose to people you want to get close with off the bat. My SO told me on our first date, and it has helped a lot when it came to the way I communicate with him and the type of expectations I set. I find myself catching myself about to get mad about him missing some hint I dropped, and step back and re-evaluate what I said to him. It makes things easier for the NT person you're with, and allows for them to cut you some slack when it comes to the way you socialize.

      I still highly recommend finding a good therapist to help you work on social skills.

    • Delafina

      Like Yevster says, I think some of that can be mitigated if you tell people what to expect from you. 🙂 A lot of getting along with people is just helping them set their expectations.

  • LeeEsq

    I think a lot of people see charm as something thats innate rather than could be developed because society stopped teaching charm. Not so long ago, there were businesses devoted to teaching these things. If you were rich enough, charm was considered an important skill to cultivate and was built into your education. Nowadays, people are more or less left to their own devices. For some people, charm comes across more naturally than others, so its easier for them to develop these things on their own.

    • Delafina

      They're still in existence.

      • LeeEsq

        Yes but they aren't really as important as they once were for all sorts of reasons. Some of these reasons are good and some not so good but more people used to go to businesses to learn how to be charming and engaging.

  • Kelly F.

    This was a great article, but I mostly appreciate the brilliant commentary from everyone in the comments section. I'm always conflicted about how I should "be myself" in conversations and interactions without being fake or pretending to like other people. What it comes down to is social awareness and being friendly and gracious in your conversations with other people without abandoning your individual personality and emotions. This article and the commentary both make me feel a lot more confident about my social interactions in the future. 😀

    • Delafina

      Yay! 🙂 I think you've nailed it.

  • Max

    I would agree with this. It sounds like you want someone to tell you that it's okay to be overly negative, and that people who are charming and positive are somehow doing it wrong. Being negative is only a defining personality trait if you make it so.

  • Jewel

    Great article. I've met several people with the "it" factor in my life. The one I will always remember is one of my sister's friends from when she was studying in the UK. He was not the epitome of what I would find attractive, though he looked like a spitting image of Bruno Mars, albeight chubbier. Idk if many women like that look; I don't. Yet he had all the girls at campus after him. My sister was telling me stories of how he had at least 6 girls crying for him. I couldn't believe her stories until I met him in person. He was talking to me all the time, he was flirting in a very confident manner and at the same time he had two other girls clinging on him. I was impressed. I wouldn't date him ever cause we have 0 common interests but I admit he had the "it" factor aplenty and I could tell why women loved him.

    Most of the times, people who are attracted to those with the "it" factor cannot pinpoint what it is that attracts them. Reading this article, helped me make it somewhat clearer.

  • Vic

    It factor = Alpha swagger

  • Gil

    The best article so far.

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  • jelcat

    although this isn't the point, I want to understand how it's possible to be interested and engaged in anything someone talks about, especially when you know nothing of the topic?