Knowing at First Sight
The unique quality that makes attraction a great starting point for finding partners — its feeling of potential — is also its biggest stumbling block.
Attraction has great energetic power; it can feel like the pull of gravity. It’s not uncommon to hear someone say they were drawn to another person like a magnet. Attraction is exciting, no doubt, but its energy can also yank people right into a full-blown relationship before they’ve actually gotten to know each other.
When it comes to picking partners, start with attraction. But don’t stop with attraction.
A strong attraction makes it very easy to jump to conclusions, to fill in the blanks of who the other person is with your own assumptions. She started her own company, so she must have her head screwed on straight! He’s a single dad, so he must be really loving and affectionate! Well...you don’t really know that yet.
It takes some time and effort — detailed in the chapters on knowing — to get to know someone on a deep enough level to call it closeness. For now, you need to hold fast to the reality that even if you really like this person, you don’t really know her yet.
In other words, love at first sight may be real, but “knowing at first sight” is not.
Knowing at first sight is at best wishful thinking. At worst, it’s a recipe for serious disappointment. Don’t let yourself get close to a fantasy.
You may be thinking, “I never do this. I know the difference between fantasy and reality.” But evidence shows that we start constructing our idea of who another person is on first contact. Just one picture on Tinder, one tweet we find hilarious or off-putting, and we think we know who the person is.
As The Bachelor proves, no activity is more ruled by fantasies than dating. Researcher Artemio Ramirez, who conducted a study of online daters to determine if the amount of time spent talking online affected real-life outcomes, found that the image we create in our heads about another person is a truly powerful force:
The results of the present study suggest online daters create mental constructs of their potential partners by reading their online dating profile, using that information to fill-in-the-blanks of who the partner might really be in the offline world. Daters who wait too long to meet in person, and therefore cross this tipping point, might find it difficult to accept any discrepancies from their idealized mental construct of their partner.
Crossing the tipping point should be particularly harmful for daters who developed very inaccurate partner expectations due to the partner’s use of dishonesty, misrepresentation, or even exaggeration on their profile.
So how do you cross this threshold from attraction to knowing while avoiding the stumbling block of assuming? How do you successfully navigate the waters of liking-but-not-really-knowing-for-sure?
This is one of the biggest challenges you’ll face in your journey out of loneliness. Because the first few encounters in a new relationship can be a very uncertain time, I encourage you to hit a few specific notes before committing to pursuing someone as a closeness partner. If you miss any of these notes, there’s a chance you may be moving too fast from attraction to full-blown relationship. (And remember, this applies to all types of relationships, not just romantic ones.)
The notes I encourage you to hit when first trying on a new friend, family member, colleague, or romantic partner are:
1. Identify attractions.
2. Meet in person. If it’s a romantic relationship, feel free to ask him or her on a date. If it’s a business relationship, grab coffee together.
3. Ask a few deeper questions. Later in this book you will learn how to ask deep questions. But for now, simply make an effort to probe a little deeper. If your boss talks about enjoying sailing, ask, “What do you like about it?” If your acquaintance is interviewing for a new job, ask, “What do you want out of the job?”
4. Assess for certain skills. You’re not looking for any “right” or “wrong” answers to your deeper questions; you’re looking for skills that indicate whether or not this person will be good at knowing and caring.
Let’s discuss these skills in detail.
The first four indicate proficiency in knowing; the second four indicate proficiency in caring.
Let's tackle the four knowing skills first.
Skill 1: The Ability to Self-Disclose
The ability to self-disclose essentially means being willing to reveal parts of one’s inner world to someone else. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that this is the fundamental ability required in creating closeness. At its core, self-disclosing means openness and honesty, as well as a desire to share a range of information about oneself — both factual and subjective.
A factual disclosure could be as simple as revealing you’re from Michigan. A subjective disclosure would include telling the other person how you feel about being from Michigan. What was your favorite part of growing up there? Do you like going back?
These subjective disclosures can be easy to overlook, since we’re trained from school and work situations to focus on remembering the facts. While the facts are important, the feelings behind the facts are more important in creating closeness. Most people will tell anyone where they’re from. But they will only tell a potential confidante how they feel about where they’re from.
As well-known social psychologist Harry Reis described in his theory of intimacy:
“Although factual and emotional self-disclosures reveal personal information about oneself, emotional self-disclosures are considered to be more closely related to the experience of intimacy because they allow for the most core aspects of the self to be known, understood, and validated.”
Things to Notice
- Does he avoid answering personal questions?
- Does he create factual inconsistencies or tell full-blown lies?
- Does he use deflection or humor to avoid certain subjects?
Skill 2: The Ability to Reciprocate
The ability to reciprocate, as I define it, means being able both to give someone their moment and to take your own moment. Stated another way, it is the ability to let someone else be the focus (at certain moments) and also to let yourself be the focus (at other moments). The ability to reciprocate in this way matters because if one person in the relationship is always the center of attention, neglect and inequality become inevitable.
Those who struggle with reciprocating tend to gather at opposite ends of the spectrum: they are either very self-centered or very self-effacing. Neither of these extremes works well for creating closeness. An ideal partner would see interactions as something of a tennis match — lobbing the focus over to you and then actively swinging at it when it comes back her way.
Things to Notice
- Does she hog the conversation or talk as if you’re not there?
- Does she send a barrage of questions your way but answer few in return?
- Does the conversation feel forced?
Skill 3: The Ability to Accept New Information
Specifically, this means the other person should be able to accept new information about you. Early on, it’s natural for a person to develop a picture of who they think you are, but problems arise if that early picture becomes fixed. For closeness to flourish, the person you are getting to know must be able to reevaluate and reformulate his ideas about you regularly. In other words, if you reveal more about yourself over time yet find he doesn’t believe you because these disclosures don’t match his early idea of you, that’s a problem. That’s a red flag that he’s falling for a fantasy of you.
Anybody with whom you choose to create closeness should be able to let go of the mental construct of you he created before he knew you well.
Things to Notice
- Does he retain new information about you?
- Does he try to talk you out of what you’re saying about yourself?
- Is he making sweeping assumptions about you?
Skill 4: The Ability to Be Present
The ability to be present means being in the moment, focused on what’s happening here and now. It can be as simple as disconnecting from personal technology and giving full attention to your partner. But being present means much more than just being able to put down a phone. It means being willing to change with each moment.
In other words, a partner who is fixated on what has been in the past or what will be in the future is just that — fixated. She’s weighed down with baggage. She’s stuck in some other place and time...somewhere you can’t go. If you can’t both be here and now, closeness is unlikely to grow. Fundamentally, you will achieve knowing and caring through lots of little moments of being present with each other.
Things to Notice
- Does she make eye contact — one of the primary indicators of present engagement?
- Does she tend to redirect the conversation to past or future events?
- Does she use language that casts the conversations in the past or future — using words such as then and there instead of now and here?
Now let’s tackle the four caring skills.
Skill 1: The Ability to Feel and Express Emotions
This one is pretty self-explanatory. It’s impossible to get close to someone who either cannot feel feelings or cannot express them. Whether the other person is actually feeling can be very hard to determine from casual conversation, so I recommend focusing on whether she can express emotion.
Look for feeling language of any kind. “I love when this happens...” “I hate when I can’t...” Pay particular attention to any caring language around other people in her life. One sincere expression of love for another person in her life is an excellent sign.
Things to Notice
- Does he use feeling language?
- Does he use facial expressions and gestures to convey emotion?
- Does he have a flat affect or seem robotic?
Skill 2: The Ability to Respond Appropriately
The ability to respond appropriately is similar to the ability to reciprocate. It’s about being able to notice when your partner needs your attention and then giving her that attention. To respond appropriately is to give someone her moment on an emotional level.
As the social psychology literature describes, “Intimacy is initiated when one person communicates personally relevant and revealing information, thoughts, and feelings to another person. For intimacy processes to continue, the listener must emit emotions, expressions, and behaviors that are both responsive to the specific content of the disclosure and convey acceptance, validation, and caring for the individual disclosing. For the interaction to be experienced as intimate by the discloser, he or she must subjectively feel understood, validated, and cared for.”
This skill matters because picking someone who can respond to you appropriately is ultimately what will make you feel cared about in the relationship.
Things to Notice
- Does she respond emotionally in a way that feels good, such as holding your hand when you’re expressing fear or concern?
- Does she respond emotionally in a way that feels bad, such as laughing while you tell the story of your dying grandparent?
Skill 3: The Ability to Take Responsibility
The ability to take responsibility means owning your actions and decisions. It doesn’t mean inviting blame for everything that’s going on around you, but it does include recognizing the part you played in creating a bad situation.
Personal responsibility is absolutely essential in making great relationships. Things will go wrong, no matter how hard you try, and it’s critical to pick someone who will feel some ownership over what went wrong. If not, you’ll end up with all the blame...and blame is a major closeness killer.
Things to Notice
- Does he blame other people or outside circumstances for his disappointments?
- Does he bad-mouth current or past bosses, spouses, partners, and so on?
- Is he unable to apologize sincerely?
Skill 4: The Ability to Accept Caring
Have you ever heard the saying “In every relationship, one person is the flower and the other is the gardener?” There’s probably nothing I find less true. Caring — in the closeness sense of the word — is not the same as care-taking. Getting close to someone does not mean signing up to be his or her nurse or rescuer; nor does it mean signing up only to receive care. You will both need to be the flower, and both be the gardener.
The caring abilities listed above should prove a potential partner’s ability to give you the care you need. This one is about making sure he or she can receive care. If your potential partner shuns your caring — for example, “not wanting to talk about it” when you offer to listen — this is a difficult barrier to overcome when creating closeness.
Things to Notice
- Does she allow you to support her emotionally?
- Does she seem stoic or reluctant to reveal anything too private?
- Is she unwilling to admit her vulnerabilities?
When you see the hallmarks of someone capable of knowing and caring — get excited! This is a great opportunity. This person will likely make a wonderful partner. The rest of this book will show you how to establish a wonderful relationship.
But if, as often happens, you find that though your potential partner has many of these abilities locked down, a few are still lacking — don’t give up. These abilities can be learned over time, especially if you lead by example. Be patient, and recognize that she may need some practice before becoming proficient at creating closeness.
Excerpted from the book Stop Being Lonely: Three Simple Steps to Developing Close Friendships and Deep Relationships. Copyright © 2016 by Kira Asatryan. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato CA. www.newworldlibrary.com
About the author
Kira Asatryan, author of Stop Being Lonely, is a certified relationship coach who provides individual life coaching, relationship coaching, conflict mediation, and couples’ coaching. She loves to speak publicly on the topic of loneliness, as it's a problem of epidemic proportions in our modern times. Kira maintains a private coaching practice in San Francisco where she helps business partners, couples, and individuals develop closeness - the antidote to loneliness - in their relationships.
Kira has a unique passion for those who feel lonely in this world. She understands the unique challenges that lonely people face because she faces them as well. Kira struggled with loneliness her whole life and has come to find that there are many others out there like her.
Kira spent her coaching career researching, pondering, and reflecting upon what specifically makes relationships feel good or bad. The results of her efforts can be found in her book, her articles, her talks, and she believes they will help you immensely.
To know more, please visit her website www.KiraAsatryan.com.