One of the most important things I can teach people about dating is simple: dating success is 80% attitude and 20% skill and presentation. No matter how good looking you may be or how suave you may think you are, a shitty attitude is going to sabotage your success and snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
One of the things that people rarely seem to understand is how your attitude and beliefs color everything you do. Like the elephant and the mahout, what you believe controls what you perceive. When you believe that women, for example, are hypergamous bitches who are obsessed with status, you’re going to see everything as being a shit test. When you think that women only date men who are $Quality_You_Don’t_Have, you’re going to sabotage your own love life by missing out on the women who dig what you have to offer; you will literally miss every single signal and indication that they send you.
Let’s look at some of the most common self-limiting beliefs that men have that sabotage their love-lives.
5) Polarized Thinking Leads To Self-Sabotage
One of the ways people sabotage themselves is to get caught up in the belief that life is a binary; you’re good or you’re bad. You’re born naturally skilled with women or you’re not. You’re a nerd or a jock. You’re either perfect or you’re a failure.
It’s a seductive belief. On the whole, people don’t like nuance. We prefer it when things are simple and easily digestible, with very clear lines delineating the good and the bad. This is part of why so much of our news media gets focused on narratives with winners and losers, good guys and bad guys; it makes things straightforward and easy to decide how we feel about them.
However, as comforting as simplicity can be, this tendency towards polarized thinking makes change and improvement impossible. Take, for example, the tendency to divide oneself into specific camps – nerds vs. jocks. This is part of how we fall into the false narrative of the Nice Guy – by defining ourselves in opposition to someone (the jock, the neanderthal, etc.) we become good by default. No more need for self-examination or reflection of our actions, beliefs or behaviors – we’re not jocks (or what have you) and thus everything we do is good. Everything they do is bad.
Just as bad, however, is the belief that either you do things perfectly or you’re a failure. So many men tie themselves up in knots at the possibility that they may make a mistake when approaching a woman that they freeze up or avoid women altogether. They’ve convinced themselves that unless they do everything absolutely perfectly, they’ll end up being a creeper and exiled from the sex-having community for life.
That polarized thinking makes learning and improving impossible. In order to improve you have to be willing to fail; failure is how we learn. Believing that everything needs to be perfect or it isn’t worth doing, likewise limits you. Not being the best isn’t the same as being the worst. Not doing something perfectly isn’t the same as failing. When it comes to dating, you don’t need to be perfect in order for someone to find you attractive, nor do you need to be better in every way than your “competition”; you simply need to be good enough. A willingness to be flexible, to allow for ambiguity and shades of gray in your beliefs and in your thinking gives you the freedom to grow, to change and to improve.
4) You Make Yourself Powerless
Another form of self-sabotage takes the appearance of what’s known as the “fallacy of external control”. You believe that you’re functionally helpless in the universe, completely at the mercy of external forces with no potential for agency of your own.
It’s a very seductive belief and one that’s easy to fall prey to; in many ways, it frees you from responsibility for your failures. It’s not your fault that things aren’t going your way, it’s because you’re a pawn in the machinations of a cold and unfeeling universe. Yes, the failure hurts and disappoints you but at the same time, it’s completely out of your hands and thus has nothing to do with the amount of effort you did or didn’t put in. You can’t help the fact that women won’t date you; they control the social scene and therefore are able to make men dance to their tune for their amusement in order to get access to the holy mountain. It’s their cruel capriciousness that keeps you single, not any personal failing.
In many ways, that lack of control is perversely comforting. After all, if you convince yourself you don’t have a choice, then you inoculate yourself against making the wrong choice or from having to take ownership of the repercussions of your choices. You can’t be blamed for this because you had no choice. It was out of your hands, determined by fate long before you ever showed up.
At the same time however, that belief that you’re singularly and uniquely screwed by the universe becomes a reason to never try anything. Self-improvement is pointless because – according to this self-limiting belief – nothing you do will ever matter. Even if you were to dress better, work on your social anxiety and learn to carry yourself with confidence, there would be other reasons that would ensure that your effort would all come to naught. If nothing you do will work, why bother putting in the effort in the first place? It’s easier to simply complain about how unfair it is that you’ve been singled out by Fate.
And while yes, there will always be things that are outside of your control1 this belief sabotages your progress because it blinds you to the things that you do control. One of the things that people rarely stop to do is examine their choices and recognize how the consequences of those choices have affected them. When you decide that someone couldn’t possibly find you attractive – regardless of their opinion on the matter – you have made a choice to not pursue a possible relationship. When you decide that the only people you can date are opera singing Renaissance Faire actresses who also listen to thrash metal, for example, you have have artificially reduced your potential dating pool to single digits. Even something as simple as choosing not to choose is still a choice.2
You always have choices. Sometimes they’re shitty choices, but they’re still choices. Part of dating success is recognizing that while some things are outside of your control, you want to focus instead on what you can control – your beliefs and your actions. You may not be able to make someone like you, but you can control your response. You may not be a perfect genetic specimen with an absolutely symmetrical face and teeth like chicklets, but you can control how you dress and behave. You adapt. You find work-arounds. You find alternate opportunities and methods. Or you may decide to give up and reprioritize… but that’s still a choice. That’s still something under your control, no matter how much you may tell yourself otherwise.
Deciding that you’re powerless and have no control over your destiny is simply a way of trying to ignore the choices you’ve made. Until you can take ownership of your life and embrace your control, you’ll continue to sabotage yourself.
3) You’re Waiting For Your Self-Sacrifice To Pay Off
There’s a belief that certain behaviors are inevitably going to be rewarded – that by nobly denying yourself some pleasure or taking a principled stand now, you will be rewarded in the future. In many ways, it’s treating life like an RPG; if you put enough points in this one category or do X, Y or Z enough times, then you will eventually unlock this thing that you want. When it doesn’t happen, you get upset; what was the point of it all if you don’t get your prize after all of that effort?
The most obvious example of this behavior is the Nice GuyTM, collecting Friend Tokens until you can put enough into the machine, pull the lever and get sex as your reward.
However, you will also see examples of this behavior in people involved in some form of self-improvement, whether it be fitness, career-advancement or – to use a completely and utterly random example – dating. They’ve done ALL THE THINGS and now are wondering why they’re not getting their presumed rewards. The fact that they’re not getting what they want after hitting the self-imposed touchstones is a sign that they’re being cheated somehow or that they’ve been lied to. It’s as though the universe is refusing to live up to this bargain you were trying to make with it.
The problem with this belief – and the way that it causes you to sabotage your own progress – is that doing something you wouldn’t do otherwise for the purpose of a later reward is a great way to emotionally exhaust yourself for no good reason. When your heart isn’t actually in what you’re doing, you tend to be going through the motions rather than making any true, lasting change or improvement. In the case of dieting, for example, it’s every easy to lose progress made and end up putting on even more weight than you did before because you’ve been depriving yourself rather than making sustained lifestyle changes. In the case of dating, often you’re papering over issues, rather than addressing them.
While this can sound like “you just didn’t believe hard enough”, the problem with doing something for the reward rather than for the sake of genuine improvement is that you’re making it more about the appearance rather than the commitment. It’s the difference between someone who says they’re sorry because they’re trying to keep someone from being mad at them and being genuinely apologetic. Artifice and half-hearted gestures don’t allow for true growth and change, and the resentment at not getting your “just desserts” often can cause you to regress.
Speaking of similar fallacies…
2) You Believe Things Should Be “Fair”
This can be one of the hardest self-limiting beliefs to overcome. No matter how many times we hear “life isn’t fair” growing up, there’s often still that core part of us that believes that things are supposed to work out in a specific way. Good is rewarded while evil is punished. Hard work is supposed to pay off in success while people who cheat or game the system are supposed to fail in the end. Hell, we have entire genres of movies devoted to good people falling into the trap of the “easy” path to success only to find out that it’s hollow and meaningless and only finding “true” success” when they’ve returned to the straight and narrow.
Of course, part of the problem with this particular belief is how often what’s “fair” lines up with “what benefits us”…
Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work that way. The dogged nice guy has no guarantees of success just because he’s hard-working, and the slimy glad-hander isn’t assured that he’s going to get his suitably ironic punishment in the end. It rains on the just and unjust alike. Shit happens, so wear a hat. It’s understandable, even entirely reasonable, to be disappointed when life doesn’t go the way that you hope it will. It’s another entirely to believe that the universe is going to bend itself to your favor because of an arbitrary and artificial set of rules that it never agreed to in the first place.
Some people are going to have advantages that others don’t. Some people are going to have a harder time with issues that others are able to accomplish with ease. This doesn’t diminish those with the advantages nor uplift those with the disadvantages. It’s simply life, and the sooner you are able to adjust your expectations accordingly, the less you end up shooting yourself in the foot.
1) You Believe You Know Everything
This is, perhaps the most common and insidious form of self-sabotage… the belief that you know more than you actually do. Not in the sense that you have mastered dating and there’s nothing more for you to learn, but in the idea that you know everything about the social dynamics of a particular situation.
One of the most common examples of this is the ever-classic claim of “women only date assholes”. It’s a cluster of intellectual fallacies disguised as evidence, a conclusion looking for something to explain. It’s nicely reductive because it leads to a conclusion you already believe – that your lack of success isn’t your fault, it’s because people just don’t understand how much better you are than other people. That person who’s hooking up with the woman you wish you were dating is, by definition, the asshole, because he’s getting what you wish you had and now you want reasons to diminish his success. Once you’ve established the conclusion – “women want assholes”, it quickly becomes a case of confirmation bias and fallacy of composition filling in the “evidence”. If you can see any aspect of him in a negative light, it only serves to reinforce your belief. He’s boisterous? Clearly he’s a loud-mouth bro. He’s confident? Clearly he’s stuck up or arrogant. He’s comfortable around women? Clearly he doesn’t respect them. It doesn’t take much for envy for somebody else’s qualities to turn to resentment instead. Speaking for myself, part of the reason why I resented the jocks and players in college is that they had an ease around women that I wished I had; it was easier to be angry at them than to acknowledge that I wanted to be them.
It’s very easy to make the facts fit whatever narrative you’ve already developed in your head. What’s harder is to accept that you don’t know what’s going on. You can see this tiny slice of the person and his interactions with others. Maybe he is an asshole… that doesn’t mean that being an asshole is part of his appeal. He may have other traits that make up for being a dick. He may be incredibly sweet most of the time. She may find his caustic humor funny and is willing to put up with other aspects of his personality for now. Or he may be very good at hiding his assholishness; many manipulative creeps are good at concealing their true natures until much later. Or she may know that he’s an asshole but she wants something purely physical and is willing to put up with his being a dick as long as he rings her bell.
The path to wisdom isn’t to know everything, it’s to realize you know nothing. You’re working from assumptions – assumptions that often have no basis in reality. Instead of trying to imagine that you’re Sherlock and understand everything down to the most minute detail, accept that you don’t know, and there’s only so much you can control for. Once you accept that you might be wrong and that you could be seeing things the way you want to instead of the way they are, the more you’ll be able to affect real change. You won’t let your self-limiting beliefs sabotage your progress and your love-life. You’ll be happier. You’ll be more confident. You will be more successful.
Stop sabotaging yourself.