At the stage of my life right now, I feel like I should be able to have a grasp of this, but I still don’t. I am 27, male, and I’ve never had a serious relationship. The plain and simple reason is because I don’t know how. During high school the girlfriends that I had were always more aggressive in getting what they wanted (me), so I never truly learned how to go for a woman. As I grew older, it seemed to me that the women expect the men to do most if not all of the work when it comes to intimacy. The steps from introduction to actual physical intimacy are very unclear to me; it’s like figuring out the meaning of life (yes, it’s that much of a mystery to me).
And all I want is the truth from a woman’s perspective. What I don’t want is an embellished version of the truth. For example, I am also short, 5’5″, and most women will tell me it doesn’t matter how you look, but my experience has been very different enough times to say that a lot of women lie about this. I always wondered what answers would I get if I asked women if they would date a handicapped person since they always say it’s about the person not the physical, and yet always run after the tall, muscular type. Very confused…
In conclusion, I just feel lost since my experiences have shown me that most of the times what people do doesn’t match what they say or believe in; I’m not even sure what to believe. I just want to understand what to do when I want to get intimate with someone and how to do it. What are the steps? What really matters? Not the same old mumbo jumbo of “just be yourself,” “it doesn’t matter how you look.”
Again, how to get physically intimate…how to get there…is my problem. If anyone can give me personal examples of what events or circumstances as a woman that made you say I want to get physically intimate with this man, I would be very grateful. Until then, I will keep trying, and God knows I do every day. Life should not be this painful.
A: I am sorry to hear that you have been struggling with this. Developing intimate relationships is indeed very challenging, and despite all the self-help books and opinions out there, there is no true “formula” to make it work.
Relationship science does tell us, however, that different strategies tend to promote intimacy development better at different stages of relationships. A great number of factors can drive initial attraction, such as physical attractiveness. From the limited information provided above, it sounds like you are concerned about your short stature and whether women are less than honest about their preferences. In two meta-analyses, which are statistical summaries of research findings from a large number of studies, women consistently prefer men taller than themselves. Why? People associate positive traits with height. For example, taller men are perceived as having more status, leadership qualities, and fearlessness.1 Other data suggest that shorter men date women closer to their own height; while this may shrink your pool of eligible partners,2 you may have more success dating women who are close to your own height. Bear in mind that many famous male celebrities are shorter than their wives, such as Seth Green (who is 5’4”) who married Clare Grant (who is 5’7”), or musician Jaime Cullum (5’5”) who is married to Sophie Dahl (6’0”). What do they have besides fame? A whole host of things, such as facial attractiveness (like symmetry), confidence, and ambition. Indeed, ambition and attractiveness are very appealing to women who are seeking a long-term relationship.3 I personally have dated men who used their confidence, witty sense of humor, and relaxed approached to dating in ways that made me want to get to know them better. For example, I once had a date with a guy who I would rate about a 5 or 6 out of 10 in facial attractiveness, but he was physically fit, took good care of himself (nice haircut, healthy skin, dressed nice), and was very funny in our conversation over coffee. He came across as confident, secure, and genuinely happy. This was very appealing and made me find him more attractive than at first blush. Here is where the saying “beauty is in the eye of the beholder” becomes relevant: attraction develops over time, so attractiveness is relative rather than objective.
There are many skills involved with developing a relationship, such as being able to initiate conversations, plan dates, knowing appropriate conversation topics, managing nonverbal communication behaviors, and being able to handle rejection. If you do not feel confident in those skills, researchers believe it is due to not having practice.4 Because these are skills, and skills are learned, my first suggestion is to get out and practice. I know that this is hard, especially when you already do not feel confident, but like learning to play an instrument or master a new sport, you need to start somewhere. Speed-dating may sound intimidating, but it is a great way to meet available partners and practice your dating skills. Nothing may come of it, but it is a good starting place to gain confidence. Online dating is another way to start slowly, as you can control the content, pace and flow of information, and it allows you greater access to available dating partners than does, say, a bar. As a divorced, single mom who had no idea how to jump back into the dating game, I have found some success with online dating. Another great way to meet people would be to join social/activity groups (e.g., Meetup.com) with people who have shared interests, like Sci-Fi or fine cuisine. Organized social activities present less formal networking opportunities, and the pressure to “impress” is lower – you just hang out with others and enjoy activities you like. Having that point of commonality is a great place to start if you meet someone there that you are attracted to.
When you start dating, ambiguous communication, flirting, and sarcasm can be difficult to decipher when you are just getting to know someone. These communication tactics can lead to anxiety and uncertainty, which makes it challenging for feelings of trust to develop. For example, the use of sarcasm may be hard to interpret with someone new without knowing the other person’s intentions. Are they making fun of you? Are they just kidding? Unless you can take some risks, however, pick yourself up from any failures that you encounter, and take your time getting to know the people you are dating, any promising relationship you initiate will never be nurtured into something more. While I cannot speak for all women about what exactly would make them want to become physically intimate with you, making yourself as attactive to a woman as possible, making her feel good about her time with you, and not rushing things too fast will put you in a good position to take things in the direction you are wanting to go. So, my advice is to take your time and reframe your expectations to perceive dating as an adventure in self-growth. You will find, over time, that dating will get easier, and with any luck, fun!
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1Pierce, C. A. (1996). Body height and romantic attraction: A meta-analytic test from the male-taller norm. Social Behavior & Personality: An International Journal, 24, 143-149.
2Salska, I., Frederick, D. A., Pawlowski, B., Reilly, A. H., Laird, K. T., & Rudd, N. A. (2008). Conditional mate preferences: Factors influencing preferences for height. Personality and Individual Differences, 44, 203-215.
3Wilbur, C. J., & Campbell, L. (2010). What do women want? An interactionist account of women’s mate preferences. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 749-754.
4Galassi, J. P., & Galassi, M. D. (1979). Modification of heterosocial skills deficits. In A.S. Bellack & M. Hersen (Eds.), Research and practice in social skills training. New York: Plenum Press.
Dr. Jennifer Harman – Adventures in Dating… | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Harman’s research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.