I have discovered the single most alluring thing you can wear on a date. No, it’s not sky-high patent stiletto heels, a silk blouse or a pout-plumping lip gloss. Though, god knows, they help.
Nope– it’s eau de confidence. Seriously. As a teenager I would have found this a patronising platitude. ‘Of course, looks are the most important thing,’ would have thought the cycle-shorts-wearing, corkscrew-perm-sporting me. But on my midlife journey of rediscovery, I have found out (through practical fieldwork) that this isn’t true. Personality does count.
I was preaching my theory on a photo shoot recently when the photographer said to me, ‘When I was younger, I dated lots of models and they weren’t the sexiest girls. The sexiest women were less beautiful, but had more self-assurance. The models were often crippled with body anxiety or neuroses and that instantly made them less attractive.’
We are brought up to believe attractiveness is purely physical ‒ the dictionary definition, in fact, is ‘appealing to look at’. But I know so many beautiful women who struggle to find a partner.
Don’t get me wrong, when it comes to dating, there’s no doubt looks play their part. Initially, at least. I read some research by the famous anthropologist Helen Fisher, who said the human body knows within one second whether it is attracted to someone or not. I’m surprised it takes that long. Personally, I only need enough time to clock their shoes.
But even if looks can get you through the dating door, I’ve learnt that the door will keep revolving and spit you back out on the pavement if you have low self-esteem.
When I started dating again after my divorce, I soon realised that the more confident I acted the higher my success rate. It mattered more than whether I was perfectly bronzed, buffed and coiffed, and wearing double Spanx. (Actually the latter was an obstacle as it’s hard to be charming when you can’t get enough oxygen in your lungs.)
It works both ways: an under-confident man can be napalm to desire. I went on a few dates with a guy who was the whole package (figuratively not literally ‒I didn’t get that far). He was interesting, successful and good-looking ‒ but he was down on himself. Which meant I left feeling that way about him, too. It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to work out that if you don’t like yourself then why should anyone else?
Confidence is like the Valencia filter on Instagram: it smooths over imperfections and makes everything seem that little bit more desirable.
I remember one of my best friends at university telling me about her pal who lived in Los Angeles. She had dated all these famous actors and musicians.
When she arrived at our shared house for a visit I expected to open the door to Pamela Anderson by way of Cameron Diaz (it was the 90s). Instead, standing before me was a girl who was, by anyone’s standard, ‘normal’. Well, in the sense that her thighs touched and
her teeth weren’t blinding white. But she was extraordinary in her confidence and self-possession. Half an hour in her company and I could see why all those A-listers were so
taken. Now I try to remember to channel her whenever I feel a bit down on myself.
Because even though I’m off the dating scene now, I realise how important it is to keep and project confidence in a relationship.
If you spend all your time saying, ‘I hate my thighs– they look like bags of porridge,’ or ‘I’m so stupid,’ then perhaps that’s what potential partners will start to see.
After my marriage split I lost a lot of confidence. I got it back by actively building it up: I worked on my self-esteem like a gym bunny would their abs. I did this by consciously monitoring my negative thoughts and rejecting them; by listening to and accepting compliments, as well as ‒ and this is crucial ‒ actually believing them.
I know, how radical. And you look great, by the way…