Everything about love is objectively hard: searching, dating, healing from heartbreak, falling out of love. But the tumultuous journey is what makes it so appealing. It's one of those hurts-so-good feelings, a form of self-torture we just can't help but inflict – or maybe it only feels that way when you're single.
Regardless of your past or present dating repertoire, there is hope yet for you, and it all begins with the self. When we divide our attention among all the great aspects of our respective worlds that demand it, that's when love comes knocking.
To further discover the ways to make ourselves vulnerable to love, I sought some answers from Dr. Alexandra Solomon, licensed clinical psychologist and author of Loving Bravely: 20 Lessons of Self-Discovery to Help You Get the Love You Want , as well as Crystal Parham, trial attorney and author of The Dating Rx: Get Over Him And Find Your True Soulmate.
For greater satisfaction in our personal and sexual lives, including healthy, romantic relationships, here are 11 ways to focus on the self that attract others.
1. Start Loving Within
"Our willingness to engage in a compassionate and fearless relationship with ourselves sets the stage for our intimate relationships, helping us to be trusting, trustworthy, engaged, and empowered in love," Solomon tells me via email.
Though it sounds cliché, the proof is in the pudding: Only when you start loving yourself from the inside out are you vulnerable to finding love with another person.
According to Solomon, "The modern dating landscape has become commodified, in part due to the usage of online dating tools. Our approach to love is extremely external, leading us to size up a partner in order to determine goodness of fit. This mindset leaves out the deep truth that every intimate relationship is made up of three elements: MY stuff, YOUR stuff, and OUR stuff. If I remain hyper-focused on who you are as a person, I am setting myself up for disappointment and dissatisfaction. I am, in essence, giving away my power. Passionate and enduring romantic relationships are made up of two people who are willing, again and again, to explore what is going on inside of themselves."
Only when two people recognize the power of independence and are able to differentiate between the self and the pair are they ready to build a lasting connection.
2. Focus On Cultivating Happiness In The Now
"Certainly, creating a life of passion, meaning, and fulfillment is good for love. It is easy so to slip into the mentality, 'Once I find a partner, I will…' or 'If I had a partner, I would…' If-then statements are not good for our emotional health. Our bravest work is to fight like hell for happiness and meaning right here, right now. Happiness is dependent on our internal mindset far more than on the external realities of our lives," Solomon explains.
While it's easy to imagine a loving, comforting, faithful relationship adding value and happiness to your life, your emotional wellbeing is not dependent on the love of another person, but on the fulfilling life you create for yourself. For some people, a life of meaning is one that makes career paramount; for others, following passion and aiming to leave a mark on the world is what makes them happiest. Decide what you're after outside of love and make that your focus now.
3. Establish A Fulfilling Life Without Romance
To expand on that last point, Solomon says, "Engaging with life fully, whether or not we have a romantic partner, stacks the deck in our favor. Then, when we do decide to create a partnership, we are doing so in order to amplify our happiness instead of create it. Believing that a partner will make us happy is dangerous because it means we are giving up our power. We are letting someone else determine how we feel on the inside. Romantic relationships, even strong and healthy ones, are forever ebbing, flowing, shifting, and changing, so we need to anchor our wellbeing on something sturdier than the normative vicissitudes of love."
It's much too easy to fall into a romantic situation where you depend on your partner for comfort and emotional stability. As Solomon suggests, find what grounds you outside of your relationship and rely on it for the needs a partner may not always be able to tend to.
4. Stay Curious About Life & About Yourself
According to Solomon, "Two things are true at once: 1) Relational self-awareness helps us make healthy choices as we are dating and creating an intimate relationship, and 2) being in an intimate relationship grows our relational self-awareness."
To further explain, Solomon says, "Self-discovery is never 'done.' Self-awareness grows and expands throughout our lives. And love, in particular, is a powerful teacher. Very few experiences have the potential to grow and expand us the way that falling love does. As I tell my undergraduate students, 'Falling in love will grow your ass up.'"
Never stop exploring what makes you tick; stay on a path of discovery to add spice to life. The quest for knowledge and continuing to learn as you and your partner grow together adds value to your relationship, as well.
"The best we can do is stay committed, curious, and humble with ourselves and our partners. When both partners treat the relationship as a 'love classroom,' it changes everything! Conflict becomes a vehicle for greater intimacy and trust. Sex becomes a venue for connection to self as well as connection to other," Solomon says.
5. Foster Personal Experiences & Lessons
While Solomon will attest to the fact that with age often comes more maturity and self-awareness, it's not always guaranteed. Rather, it's experiences that impart the most valuable lessons when it comes to relationships down the line.
"Folks who have been forced to deal with really painful stuff at an early age (family addiction, an eating disorder, a sexual assault) are quite often the ones who are the most amazing intimate partners because they have done the courageous work of taking responsibility for themselves in their relationships. They know that relationships go best when both people can be vulnerable and empowered. They have done the work of shifting from victim to survivor, which puts them in a great place to build a healthy, romantic relationship," Solomon states.
6. Challenge Yourself To Be More Introspective
To put this into perspective, Solomon says, "Think about how it feels when you are with someone who is not able to pay attention to what is going on inside of themselves. You end up feeling like you are auditioning or like you are under a microscope. In contrast, when you are with someone who is curious about why they think the way they do, act the way they do, and feel the way they do, it’s really easy and fun to engage deeply. The conversation feels authentic, vulnerable, and co-created."
Conversation flows and interpersonal connection happens easily when two people are genuinely interested in learning about one another, which means each person adds value to the conversation via engaging topics.
"It is also worth saying here, that for women especially, it is so important for them to make the essential shift from asking the question, 'Who finds me attractive?' to the question, 'Who do I find attractive?' The latter question must be asked from a courageous, compassionate, and ongoing dialog with the self," Solomon tells me via email.
It's not uncommon for a woman to look within to find the reasons why a man might not be attracted to her; however, what's important is to inquire within to discover who is worth her time, effort, and affection – that is the man she should find most attractive.
7. Discover What Makes You Unique & Confident
"Confidence is about being at home in our skin, and the bottom line is that it feels really good to sit with someone who is at home in their own skin. Authenticity is contagious," Solomon states.
The more confident we are in ourselves, the more open we are to meeting and connecting with potential partners, and subsequently giving off an accurate first impression of our truest selves.
To further express this point, Solomon tells Bustle, "The bottom line is that we are attracted to people who are comfortable in their own skin. ... If someone is multi-faceted and talented because they have compassionately built a life that honors the truth of who they are, chances are pretty good that you will find them pretty darned hot!"
8. Believe In Your Worth
Having a high regard for the self and appreciating your value so as to not be underappreciated or accept lesser treatment than you deserve is essential to finding love.
"The key to finding love is the discovery of self-worth. You must believe that you are worthy of a healthy relationship. ... Embrace who you are. The reality is when you feel good about yourself, others find you attractive. ... When you know your worth, it is sexy, very sexy," Parham explains.
9. Remain Open & Ready Without Being Eager
According to Parham, "It is important to be open to whomever the universe sends your way. Be vigilant. Always. We are constantly changing and evolving. It is important to focus on qualities that are malleable and have room for growth. Physical qualities will last short term, but character traits will make it in the log run."
Never shut anyone out because the immediate sexual attraction isn't there, or you're not completely smitten at first sight.
Parham also makes it a point to mention that love can happy at any unexpected moment, so we should always be open and ready for a relationship.
10. Be Able To Identify What Attracts You
To better understand the kind of partner that ruffles your feathers, Parham swears by something she calls the Keyword Strategy, which she explains best, saying, "Imagine you are trying to choose a soul mate for someone close to you – your best friend, your sister, or your brother. What qualities would you want to see in that person? If you could choose three character traits, what would they be? We are going to call these keywords. With this exercise, we will select important, character-defining qualities. I suggest that you choose character traits, rather than physical traits because they are far more valuable. You need to choose three words that personify your ideal companion. ... It might be difficult to identify all your chosen qualities on your first or second date. But if you keep your keywords in mind, they will help you evaluate your date’s behavior and, in turn, help you identify any red flags. Also, you know that you are choosing your dates for the right reasons."
11. Be Cognizant Of Your Own First Impression
"I believe that every person has something unique to offer. The trick is to find what it is you are passionate about and share your enthusiasm. Just because you have one talent or interest, doesn't make you any less attractive or sexy. Dating is all about perception," Parham says.
You are entirely, irreplaceably unique. Be aware of your defining character traits and those aspects of your personality that other people most value. Know what you have to offer a significant other in a romantic relationship and let those qualities shine. In the end, you're able to walk away from any chance encounter with a potential partner knowing confidently that you acted as the best version of yourself.
If someone doesn't show interest in the true-blue version of you, chalk it up to their loss. The right one is still out there.