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When you present yourself to the world, do you have a tendency to sanitize your public image? Do you show other people, especially strangers, your safest and most socially acceptable aspects first? Do you find it sensible to avoid the risk of judgment so as to make socialization easier?
When you get to know other people, do you engage with their sanitized public selves first as well? Do you stick with the most socially acceptable topics for discussion, so as to avoid any significant risk of causing offense?
When you explore a potential romantic connection for the first time, do you play it safe there as well? Do you stick with safe subjects like work, school, and past experiences? Do you attempt to create a light bond first before delving into anything potentially controversial?
Playing It Safe Socially
Playing it safe is an effective social strategy if your goal is to create loose bonds with a variety of people. When you stick with polite conversation, keep your most striking differences and oddities private, and do your best to avoid controversy, you’re likely to do well socially on a surface level.
This is essentially the mindset put forth in books like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.
The strategy is popular because it works. If you use this approach, you will get people labeling you as a friend and inviting you into their social circles. You can certainly achieve some popularity this way, as well as a degree of influence.
If this outcome is important to you, then feel free to use that general approach. Be polite. Be modest. Be non-judgmental. Keep your most striking differences to yourself.
I was rather shy as a kid, so this path of development was a good way to branch out socially and to make more friends. Eventually I found it easy to make and maintain plenty of friends.
This was fun at first, but after some years on this path, I grew bored with the types of connections that I was experiencing. They were light-hearted and friendly, but mostly superficial.
When I was 18 years old, I would often hang out in various student lounges in the dorms at UC Berkeley. This was a time when I was goofing off academically (and finally expelled in my third semester), but during the first two semesters, I spent a lot of time working on my social skills. I lived on the eighth floor of an eight-story dormitory, and many evenings I would hang out in one of the lounges on a different floor, so I could meet other students and make more friends.
The Berkeley students tended to be very bright, and I enjoyed discussing a variety of topics with them. But what impressed me most was when I met other students who seemed willing to take social risks during these conversations.
One evening I was having a casual conversation in a lounge with a fellow student who told me that she was an atheist. She began sharing her strongly held beliefs about how stupid religion was and how the world would be better off without it. I was also an atheist at the time, and I really resonated with what she shared. But mostly I was impressed that she shared it so early in our conversation, especially since there were other students around who could overhear us. Berkeley has an atmosphere that tends to encourage these kinds of exchanges, which I liked, but I was still impressed that she could be so open about her beliefs. She wasn’t playing it safe like so many others were.
As she talked I felt a special connection to her. She shared on the outside what she felt and believed on the inside. We only had a fairly short conversation that evening, but 25 years later, I still remember her.
That said, it’s fair to say that the main reason I felt such a connection to her was because she was sharing something that really resonated with me at the time. Most students talked about their classes, where they were from, and their favorite music. She took a risk and got a match with me, but she could have gotten a mismatch if I had been a different kind of guy.
Sevens vs. Ones and Tens
The Win Friends approach to socializing is an attempt to become a 7 on a scale of 1 to 10 for everyone. Since you don’t take major social risks, it’s very unlikely that you’ll be anyone’s 9 or 10, but you can float comfortably in their 6-8 range.
By not taking major social risks and hiding your most striking differences, you can safely avoid offending most people, so almost everyone can feel comfortable with you. Many people will grow to like you on a surface level if you don’t give them a reason not to like you.
But if you never take social risks, you’ll also prevent yourself from attracting those deeply intimate 9s and 10s. These types of connections require some risk taking, such as by sharing the parts of yourself that aren’t popular and which aren’t as socially acceptable.
In order to get those 9s and 10s, you must risk creating some 1s and 2s. Many people fear the 1s and 2s more strongly than they desire the 9s and 10s, and so they settle for 7s at best.
If you settle for 7s for too long though, you’re bound to feel — eventually — that something is missing. You may find yourself in a room of friends and notice that you’re still lonely or empty inside. You may feel that you’d rather be alone than go out with friends because you know that the connections will only satisfy you on a surface level and that your deeper cravings will remain unfulfilled. You may oscillate between wanting to be around people and wanting to be alone, but feeling dissatisfied with either option.
That missing ingredient is real human intimacy. Part of you still desires the opportunity to share your deepest thoughts, feelings, and beliefs with another person and to feel acknowledged, appreciated, and supported.
It’s not just the sharing that helps. It’s the ability to connect with those 9s and 10s who see you, understand you, and agree with you. These are the people that you’d say are “on the same wavelength” as you.
These people exist, but how are you going to find them? How will they find you?
If you do your best to avoid taking social risks, and if most other people in your life do the same, you’ll have a hard time finding people who match your less popular qualities. Your social life will become a series of partial matches, but the really deep connections will remain outside your grasp.
For example, I could hide or downplay the fact that I’m an ethical vegan and that I believe it’s wrong to cage, torture, and kill animals for entertainment, sport, or food. This could make it easier to foster shallow friendships with partial matches, but it would also make me less visible to my best matches.
If you want more surface friendships, it makes more sense to use the Win Friends approach. If, however, you’d like to experience deeper intimacy, then it’s more sensible to openly share your most different thoughts, feelings, and beliefs, so as to raise your visibility among your best matches.
If you go the intimacy route, then even if most people would rate you on the lower end of the scale, how many 9s and 10s do you need anyway? How much value would you place on finding and adding one good level 10 match to your life? Is it worth creating dozens or even hundreds of 1s and 2s who will quickly dismiss you if it also means having the opportunity to attract a 9 or 10 and attracting an amazing best friend or lover for years to come, perhaps even for the rest of your life?
The Challenge of Finding 9s and 10s
For some people it’s not so difficult to find 9s and 10s. If, however, you stray further from social norms than most people, finding such quality matches can be a real challenge.
Even with the high profile I have as a well-known blogger, author, and international speaker, finding someone who’s a 9 or 10 match for me is a rarity. I meet lots of 8s, but the 9s and 10s are few and far between.
For someone to be a 9 or 10 for me, that person would have to match on many of the core qualities that I value most. These include being vegan, being non-religious, being intensely curious about life, having a long-term commitment to personal growth, being open-minded about open relationships, having a love of exploration and experimentation, being very honest, and following one’s path with a heart.
At the recent Conscious Life Workshop last month, some attendees asked me if Rachelle and I have explored a Three-Person Relationship yet, since I had written about that idea in February 2013. Rachelle and I haven’t found a single good match for this type of exploration yet, so we haven’t experienced it. We’re willing to explore this with someone who’s a strong match for this type of exploration with us, but we’re not interested in doing it with a weak match just to do it. If we eventually encounter a good match, then wonderful — we can explore together. But if not, I think it’s best not to force it.
Partial Matches as Training
Sometimes when your 9s and 10s don’t show up right away, you can gain more clarity about what those 9s and 10s would look like. Having even one match like this in your life can be an intense experience, so you may also discover that you’ve been repelling the ideal match due to a lack of readiness. One of the ways you do this is by saying yes to partial matches along the way.
When I set a new intention, especially if it’s a social one, I often notice a string of partial matches coming my way first. I regard these as clarification questions. Each partial match asks me to refine my understanding of what I really desire.
When you encounter a partial match, you may recognize that it’s off in some way. But how is it off? What’s missing? What’s not quite right about it? Answer these questions carefully, and use your answers to clarify your desires. Release the partial match, and set your intention again.
When a partial match shows up, and you realize it’s a repeat of similar patterns from the past, feel free to decline to engage with it and let it go (unless you just want to relive another round of the same). Then you’ll either see different types of partial matches arriving with new lessons, or you’ll finally welcome the manifestation of your desires.
Quality human relationships are one of the great joys of life. One good relationship can completely transform you. To initiate this journey, set a bold intention from your heart, share your desires openly, explore with partial matches, and refine your desires over time. The turning point will come when you discover how to express your desire not as a static state but as a dynamic continuation of your path of growth.