The only sure path to improving your dating life is to improve yourself. But what happens when nobody else seems to notice these changes?
Going from the sad sack loser – an “average frustrated chump” in PUA parlance – to being someone who was confident and at ease with himself and who actually was skilled at meeting women, getting dates, getting laid – took years of work. I had to fight a lifetime of ingrained bad habits, self-limiting beliefs and the adoption of somebody else’s identity of who I was.
I was, frankly, rather justifiably proud of the improvements I’d made in my life… but while my friends in my adopted home town revelled in my newfound identity, my childhood friends didn’t seem to notice at all.
In fact, at the time it seemed to me as though they were actively working to force me back into my old identity: The One Who Was Not Good With Girls. Any stories I had about the women I was meeting or the dates I had gone on were seen as exaggerations at best – outright lies at worst. Any opinons I had about approaching women were met with disdain. In fact, if we were out at bars, they’d treat me as a joke for their entertainment – “Ok Cassanova, show us what you’ve got. Go talk to that girl at the bar! Ooh, ooh, and you have to use this line!”
It can be frustrating, maddening even, when nobody wants to acknowledge just how much you’ve improved. It can make you doubt that you have actually changed at all. To make matters worse, it can make you lose that progress you fought so hard for. When the people whose opinons matter to you seemingly refuse to acknowledge how much you’ve changed, it can lead to you falling back into your old, bad routines. What’s the point in changing when nobody notices or even cares?
Why is it so damned hard to change the way people see us?
Turns out that it’s a mix of social dynamics and how our brains work.
Why Do You Care?
We all have a core group of people – friends, family, maybe an ex-lover or two – whose opinions carry more weight in our estimation than most do. It may be that you are trying to prove a point – “When she sees how much I’ve changed, she’ll totally regret dumping me/beg me to take her back/start seeing me as more than ‘just a friend’.” It could be that these are the core group whose esteem and opinion of you carry more weight in your life than in others and you want them to be proud of how much you’ve improved and changed over the years
Or – and let’s be honest here, this has happened to almost all of us – it may well be that these are the people whose validation you are seeking in order to prove a point to yourself. It’s easy to say “yes, I am completely different from who I used to be; I am no longer the loser I once was” to yourself… so easy, in fact, that you can still feel that little germ of doubt, that annoying little voice in the back of our heads that says “Are you suuuuuuure? Maybe you’re just deluding yourself…” Having others acknowledge how much you’ve improved has more emotional heft, more validity, than just your own estimation.
The problem with this all-too-common issue is that by relying on the acknowledgement of others is ultimately a loser’s game; you’re ceding your locus of control to an external source – which in practice means that you’re putting your self-esteem and sense of self worth in the hands of others. By letting others influence your identity, you are tacitly giving up your right to define yourself and allowing others to define you. By allowing others to define you, by not being self-validating, you will ultimately never be happy or satisfied for very long; you will be far too concerned with the opinions of others rather than focusing on yourself.
That having been said, not having the acknowledgment by your peers can actually make it harder for those changes to stick. When it seems as though you can’t escape your old identity – when you’re being treated exactly the way that you were in the bad old days, you can find yourself falling back into those old behaviors. Much like with recovering alcoholics, those old behaviors and habits are easy to fall back into – and your friends and family may end up reinforcing those old habits.
It’s worth keeping in mind, however, that most of the time that our friends aren’t maliciously trying to hold us back. In fact, it may well be that they literally can’t see the changes.
People Are Mentally Lazy
One of the odd issues about the human brain is that we don’t perceive as much as we think we do. We like to think that we see people in their totality – treating them as a holistic person and making rational assumptions based observations and experience. Instead, we rely heavily on shortcuts, first impressions stereotypes and pre-conceived notions of who we think other people are. These mental images can be affected by a few traits, both positive and negative. Known as the halo effect, we will take a few key impressions – how physically attractive they are, how friendly they are to us off the bat, how extroverted they are versus how introverted – and extrapolate these into an entire persona out of it.
The fact that this persona may not bear any resemblance to reality is beside the point. Someone we think is stuck up and snobbish may just be shy and withdrawn. The funny, outgoing charmer with the boyish good looks may be a horrible human being who delights in kicking puppies and burning down orphanages… but we refuse to see it because how could someone who makes us laugh be a bad person?
Once we have these mental impressions, it can be incredibly difficult to shift them. We are all prone to confirmation bias – we prefer to believe we’re right about everything, so we will naturally mentally filter out information that contradicts what we believe and focus with laser-like intensity on the tiniest scraps that confirm what we already believe.
On the personal level, this meant that, even when I would go out with my friends and chat up women who found me to be charming and delightful, my friends would dismiss it as random chance – if they even noticed it at all. If I happened to screw up or walk away without getting her number1 then it was just further confirmation that I was exaggerating (at best) or inventing a new life out of whole cloth, rather than a reminder that nobody hits a home run every time.
Some People Are Invested In The Status Quo
Sometimes your peers don’t want the group dynamic to change and will actively trying to force you back into the old roles. This isn’t necessarily malicious, or even a conscious decision on their part. Change can be scary, especially when the change to a group dynamic that may well have been in place for years or even decades is being overturned. They may feel off balance, as though their world has suddenly been turned upside down right when they weren’t used to it.
Sometimes the people we call our friends rely on our staying in specific roles; they’re invested in keeping things the same because they get something out of the old relationship. It’s harder to manipulate somebody who has suddenly discovered newfound confidence, for example. They may be used to having somebody to look down on in the group pecking order. What does it mean when the loser of the group, the one who looked up to everybody else or saw them as his or her social superiors, suddenly has a life of their own? When people start pushing their way up the social ladder, the people above you might worry about their own position within the group and feel the need to try to keep you in your place.
Other people may feel threatened by your changing. There will be folks who have bought into the binary thinking of relationships: either you’re good at dating or you aren’t and there is no getting around that. They may feel as though you’re a comrade-in-arms, another person screwed over by the fickle vagaries of fate, united in solidarity against the cruel and uncaring world that has wronged them. By making these changes – by improving your dating life and becoming more adept socially – you are betraying them and leaving them behind. By improving your life, you’re showing others that they can no longer rely on the convenient excuses that absolve them of the responsibility for their dissatisfaction. Your ability to change your life brings their own shortcomings into sharp contrast – and that may be very uncomfortable for them. Pulling you back into your old role proves them “right” and reassures them that it’s the world’s fault that their life hasn’t been everything they hoped it would be.
Again: this may not necessarily be a conscious decision on their part. When people feel as though that they have no agency or control over their fate, they tend to give up. They have accepted the futility of this situation. This learned helplessness can be hard to overcome and some people will drag others down with them in order to justify the way they feel.
Some Changes Take Longer To Be Noticed
It’s one thing to lose a lot of weight and wear better fitting clothing; these tend to be very noticeable changes. People may not be able to quite put their finger on it – the old “You look different… did you cut your hair?” routine – but they will feel on some level that there has been a change. Behavioral changes, especially when breaking the habits and behaviors of a lifetime, can be harder to pick up on right away. As I said before, confirmation bias can blind us to what is really happening; we’re so used to seeing things happen in a particular way that we unconsciously dismiss changes that we don’t expect.
Similarly, if the change is especially large – a formerly socially awkward person is more adept and comfortable in associating with other people – we may view the change with a certain level of caution. Just because somebody has changed seemingly overnight doesn’t mean that the new behavior or attitude is going to stick… we’ve all seen people who will sometimes have a burst of improvement only to sink back into old habits. If it’s someone we associate with bad behavior -somebody who may have been a creeper before or otherwise burned us – we’re going to have reason to be wary; just because they seem to have gotten better doesn’t mean that they really have.
In the end, time and cumulative experience will help change people’s perceptions of you. If your change is genuine, then people will begin to notice it over time. You just need to be patient.
How Much Have You Really Changed?
This one can be tough.
One thing that I encourage everybody to cultivate, especially when trying to improve your life, is self-awareness. We all have natural blindspots, especially when it comes things that we are heavily invested in emotionally. When it comes to self-improvement, whether it’s weight loss, breaking bad habits or improving our dating lives, we want things to get better as quickly as possible. As a result, we tend to unconsciously exaggerate the level of improvement we’re experiencing. The emotional rush that comes when we feel as though we’ve made a massive breakthrough is intoxicating… and it’s usually completely out of proportion to the actual level of progress that we’ve made.
Small wonder, then, that our friends and family aren’t falling all over themselves to tell us how much better we’ve gotten… we may like to feel as though that there’s been a night-and-day difference between our old selves and new selves, but to the outside observer, very little has changed at all.
This is where self-awareness comes in. As much as we may want to feel that it only took a few months of effort – and in some cases, a not insignificant financial investment – to fix everything that was wrong in our lives, the reality is that true progress can take years of effort. We need to be willing to take a long, hard and critical look at ourslves – as objectively as possible – and be willing to question what we want to be true. This is one more reason why I recommend keeping a detailed journal. It’s one thing to think that you’ve gotten better; it’s another when you can document how people are responding to you. You may think that you’re the king of the dating scene, but the raw data shows that while you may be getting numbers, you’re getting damn few dates.
My own lack of self-awareness was part of my problem with getting others to see how much I’ve changed; I started to brag about how much better I was doing long before I had made any real progress. Small wonder my friends wouldn’t seemingly acknowledge my improvement: I was talking the talk, but I wasn’t walking the walk. I was more invested in getting them to agree that I’d shed my old identity than I had been in taking the slow, measured steps to ensure that I really had. It was only after I realized this that things started to change. I shut up about how incredible things were now and focused on the effort instead.
It took actions, not words, to show how much things had changed… and that was when people started to take notice.
And let me tell you: that genuine acknowledgement of how I’d gotten better was one of the greatest feelings in the world.