“I’m Not Feeling It”: How to build Connection

“I’m Not Feeling It”: How to build Connection

One of the key reasons people struggle with dating is: bonding, or building a connection. People who have been for a while, often report being told by the “other side” that “he is really nice, but I am just not feeling it,” or “she fits well on paper, but there is no emotional connection.”


Elsewhere we discuss why this is the case, so we shall be brief here. When a person meets another person they like, it typically triggers a multi-system response. The brain fires neurons that activate a range of reactions, from a faster heart rate, to rapid flickering of eyelashes, to facial signaling (such a broader smile). Those behaviors trigger a response in the other, setting of a cycle of mutual reinforcement.

While verbal communication is the main way that a dating couple interact and establish understanding and connection, those peripheral reactions play a substantial role. Not only are those behaviors designed to build trust and closeness, but they are part of a process of opening up and become ready for intimacy (meaning, a deep attachment to another person).

While perhaps 80% of people will react in this way, and thus experience few problems establishing connection, 20% of people will struggle with this to some significant degree. They will have perfectly good communication and discover adequate levels of compatibility and attraction, but will still not make sufficient progress in creating closeness. We call this lacking resonance, where the people don’t “feel” each other.

The issue is that the largest section of the dating process is bonding. We explain elsewhere that there are three main segments to the dating process: ABC. Acquaint – Establishing compatibility and attraction; Bond – Developing a connection; Commit – Finalizing the relationship. For most people, the largest part is the bonding. If someone struggles to generate this process, dating can be a persistent struggle.

Creating connection

Sadly, the following is what so often happens is that people who struggle to build connection:

  1. They keep dating someone for as long as they can, hoping that some feeling will arrive.
  2. When one party runs out of patience or hope (or both), the relationship comes to an end.

In way too many cases, this process repeats itself over many years. So, what can be done?

The answer is that while for most people connection develops automatically and organically, for those for whom this does not happen it is still possible to nurture it. How? By saying and doing those things that trigger the same kinds of reactions that for most people happen naturally.

Once the process begins, it typically feeds off itself. It is a bit like jumpstarting a car. The most important thing, then, is to instigate the process. The main challenge is how to break through the glass wall that seems to be holding back the relationship from developing. This is something it is usually possible to do – that is the good news.

There is a bit of bad news too. It needs to be understood that someone for whom this process does not occur naturally will have to make a much greater effort. We will come back to this at the end. However, it is well worth a few weeks of effort for a lifetime of happiness.

How does one stimulate connection and closeness? Here are some of the main methods to achieve it (please send us your suggestions, so we can improve this article):

Make your date feel good about herself

In general, this is excellent dating advice. Make it your business to ensure that your date feels better about herself for having spent some time in your company. This is especially true for people who are struggling to build connection. Here are some ways to go about this:

Appreciate – Be generous in your acknowledgements. For example, “I really appreciate the amount of flexibility you showed to make it possible for us to meet today given my challenging schedule.” Or: “I want to thank you for your kind words about my mother; they really mean a lot to me.” Or: “It was so nice of you to offer me another drink. I really appreciate it.”

Compliment – Go the extra mile to say nice things – appropriately, of course. For example, “You always organize such great dates.” Or: “Your observation about… really got me thinking.” Or: “The way you handled that situation without getting flustered is really something.” Or: “The way you interacted with that waiter was really classy.”

Validate – Make a point of showing support for what your date is saying. Affirming what he says has nothing to do with whether or not you agree. For example, “The way you were treated was terrible. I am not surprised you were hurt.” Or: “You put so much effort into… You really deserve to succeed.” Or: “I can tell that it meant a lot to you.”

Empathize – Act as you would if you really cared about her. Show that her feelings matter to you. For example, “Your experience in that car crash seems harrowing; I can only imagine how difficult an experience it was.” That is so exciting. I really hope it works out well for you.” Or: “I am so sorry that you went through that.”

What you like – Many people will show how they feel about things through the facial and bodily expression, or through their spontaneous verbal reactions. If you are someone who doesn’t naturally do that, you can make a point of saying to your date the things you like about her – as appropriate to the stage of dating. For example, “I really like your easy laugh.” Or: “I greatly appreciate your strong work ethic.” Or: “I like it that you always have a good word to say.”

You may think that you are being patronizing when you do these things. Please understand that this how most people behave when they draw close to someone in a relationship. All you are being asked to do is what is normal for everyone else.

In other words: Yes, this is not how you would normally interact with people at work or in the street. But this kind of interaction is fitting for a relationship in which people have – and are unafraid to show that they have – feelings for one another.

What is hard about this is that if someone doesn’t actually have those feelings, speaking in this way seems very unnatural and uncomfortable. It is more important that you put your relationship success ahead of your temporary discomfort.

A bit of jeopardy

Often, the difficulty inherent in someone who struggles to foster closeness is excessive self-protection. They have an internal mechanism that is persistently trying to hold us back from letting go. They are afraid to show they like someone in case it goes wrong. They are uncomfortable saying nice things to their date, lest they don’t sincerely mean it. While other people are more ready to venture out and take a risk for the relationship, they are inclined to stay well within their comfort zone.

It is important to understand that entering into a relationship is the ultimate adventure. It is inherently risky, as you are making a major leap of faith into the unknown. While some people relish the excitement, others are paralyzed by fear. Of course, this over-protectiveness does more to prevent you from attaining happiness than averting harm to yourself. In addition, if a person has experienced a high amount of rejection or disappointment in dating, this can have the effect of further discouraging openness.

So, consider embracing more risk. Take a chance and be more open than you feel comfortable. When a compliment is made to you, accept it warmly (instead of brushing it aside). When a kind gesture is made by your date, be quick to respond in kind. When your date asks you how you are feeling about the dating, drop the self-protective defenses (“I am trying to work out how I feel”) and push things forward (“I’ll be honest, I really like you. I want to see how to develop our relationship”). None of this is going to make you comfortable. It’s not about you, but about the good of the relationship.

Do things together that remove you from your familiar and comfortable spot. It activates parts of the brain that are associated with connection. Studies have repeatedly shown that after someone has experienced some kind of danger, they are more likely to be drawn to someone they see. In the classic study, participants who walked across a rickety bridge were more likely to find the researcher attractive than those who walked over a stable bridge. It was the same researcher; the difference was in what they had experienced prior to meeting the researcher.

Consider going on a boat ride or a hike. Do an escape room, or try doing a crossword together. Do one of those wild 3-D simulator rides. If it works for you, consider going on a roller coaster ride together. Maybe go to the top of the Empire State Building or the Eiffel Tower and peer over the observation deck. Even consider both trying for as long as possible to stand on one leg. These sound like completely ludicrous ideas, but they are not as ludicrous as dating yourself into a brick wall.

Be playful

When people become romantically close to another person, they tend to become more childlike. Children smile and laugh much more than adults. Someone bothered to measure this and found that the average child smiles 400 times a day, while the average adult smiles 20 times a day. Research found that when people are with someone to whom they feel a romantic attraction, they also greatly increase the amount they smile and laugh. In other words, we become more like a child.

When adults communicate with children, they often speak in cute or silly ways. Something similar happens when adults communicate with their romantic partner. Even people who are normally inclined to be quite serious discover their inner child when in the process of developing a close connection with a romantic partner.

The reason for all this is because when looking for a marriage partner, we are really trying to recreate the cocoon we had as a very small child. Of course, we can never fully go back to being a baby, but we secretly miss the special bond we enjoyed as a baby, and through marriage we hope to have a grown-up version of the same thing. The two great attachments in life are a baby to its mother and marriage partners. While a big part of our decision who to marry is governed by our head, we are also looking to experience the bond we had in our formative years.

So, even if you are not the playful type and find playing games entirely unattractive, perhaps this is the one time you should do it anyway. Go some distance to lighten the mood. Play board or card games, or read jokes to each other. Go to one of those places where you dress up in costumes for a photograph. Go on some random drive somewhere and be spontaneous.

“It doesn’t feel natural”

The main argument against all that appears above is that the type of people to whom the advice is addressed find it difficult. Yes, that is the catch-22. The very people who need this advice are the one’s who find doing it the hardest. That is really unfair, and you have our unfettered sympathy. But, now let’s get down to business. It is more important that you have success that you have an easy time. A few great dates and you won’t have to worry about these things every again – we promise!

Waiting until it feels natural is not going to work. If it was coming naturally, you wouldn’t be needing this article. Something needs to happen to break the deadlock, to open the floodgates, to get the ball rolling. As you are the one reading this article, you may well need to be the one. So be brave and take the plunge. Push yourself to the maximum of your comfort level – and then add another fifty percent! Give everything you’ve got to the date, and you will hopefully see something shift. Wishing you all the success in the world.

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