Singles have to navigate a razor-thin line. You have to show people that you're happily single, but you can't be too happy -- otherwise people worry that you're not "making room" for love. On the other hand, if you admit that you aren't satisfied with your solo life -- that you really, really want to meet someone -- then the diagnosis is much worse. You'll never be able to attract a mate! You're too desperate!
People mean well when they try to reconfigure our emotions and our personalities to meet the cultural ideal of a desirable romantic partner. They just want us to be happy. But not only do these "rules" make us feel terrible, they also don't hold up to scrutiny.
Take the rule against being "too desperate." It makes sense -- we've all met that nervous, twitchy person whose frantic need for approval makes you want to walk across the room. But a University of Toronto study found that most of us are pretty good at keeping that uncomfortable vibe in check.
In the study, researchers gave participants at a Toronto speed-dating event an assessment to determine how anxious they felt about being single. Then each dater was paired with a member of the opposite sex for a brief conversation. After three minutes, everyone switched partners until all of the participants had met about 25 members of the opposite sex. At the end, the daters indicated whom they would share their contact information with.
The researchers found two things. First, the more anxious group were interested in dating a larger number of people, while the less anxious group was more selective. No big surprise there. The more fearful daters were less picky. But they were no less desirable. The researchers found that the more anxious daters received just as much interest from other potential dates as the more confident group:
"Fear of being single did not predict others' romantic interest in a speed-dating context. These findings suggest that those with stronger fear of being single may not be objectively off-putting to potential romantic partners, and that such fears may be relatively unwarranted."
Or, as they also put it: "They can't smell your fear."
The authors noted that it's possible that the speed-daters did see a lack of confidence in some of their peers, but that's it's not the deal-breaker that some self-help authors lead us to believe.
Although our culture celebrates confidence and high self-esteem, University of Texas at Austin psychologist Kristin Neff notes that there is little evidence that these qualities make you more likable. She cites a study in which highly confident college students told researchers that they had superior interpersonal skills. However, their roommates rated their interpersonal skills as merely average.
"Typically, people with high and low self-esteem are equally liked by others. It's just that those with low self-esteem greatly underestimate how much others actually approve of them, while those with high self-esteem overestimate others' approval," writes Neff in her book, Self-Compassion.
In other words, confident people aren't better dates -- they just think they are!
This article first appeared on eHarmony.com.