One of the rather humbling things about having spent most of your 20s as a dating coach unwittingly operating from a place of trauma-imprinted desensitization is realizing, later on in life, how much your own material missed because you were so focused on your external behaviors rather than on your internal state. Talk about shadow!

As a dopamine-deficient, undiagnosed autistic, anxiously attached person with repressed trauma and almost zero connection to her own body, having cultivated dissociation into a near art form throughout years of abuse, I really wanted to believe that there was a set of correct behaviors and responses that I could learn and perform in order to be considered attractive. (I would later learn that this also fell under the autistic trait of “masking” – that is, learning and repeating behaviors in order to fit in with what neurotypical society tells us is the correct way to be a person.) In hindsight it was absolutely an attempt to escape my chaotic internal emotions, which had always been considered too weird or too much, and to mould myself into a shape that I felt lined up with what I had been told conventional attractiveness looked like. It was also more fun to engage in games of trying to make people like me – remember that gamification in any sense is a great way to harvest dopamine – than it was to take responsibility for my life and deal with the trauma I didn’t even know I had.

Much of what I learned in those days still stays with me, in that I still have the confidence and skill set to approach people, begin conversations, find common ground, give well-timed compliments, skirt the fine edge of playful teasing, create opportunities for escalation where appropriate, and anticipate people’s needs with alarming adeptness. In the spirit of repatterning, I chose to keep handy the behaviors that could still be useful when utilized with authenticity and integrity, but disengaged my sense of self-worth from my ability to perform them, and – most importantly – gave up any attachment to anyone responding to them in any particular way. If anything, I tend to think of seduction as emotional labor these days, really only appropriate when a person is already showing up with a sufficient amount of energy that makes my engagement with them worthwhile and balanced.

The huge difference I understand now is that divesting my sense of worthiness from the other person’s response (and, to be fair, finally addressing and resolving that lifetime’s worth of trauma) has allowed my nervous system to relax in a way it was never able to before.

And what I’m discovering is that perhaps the biggest obstacle to dating in my 20s was that despite all my efforts toward cultivating appearances, it’s extraordinarily difficult to find resonance with a person if your nervous systems aren’t similarly regulated. Our neural networks are like wifi, and we can not only pick up on how others are feeling but also, in many cases, absorb the feelings of others around us. That means that if your own nervous system is dysregulated, you’re most likely to find the strongest resonance with people who are running the same kind of energy. (This is why the twin flame dynamic is so especially charged – because there’s a similar frequency expressed through an oppositional polarity.)

This is also why, I believe, I would fail to feel a charge of excitement around people who seemed very content in life (what value could I possibly offer them if they were happy already!), and why I was either attracted to people who tended to be just as dysregulated and uncomfortable with themselves as I was – which doesn’t tend to lead to healthy relationships – or why I often unknowingly sought regulation through desiring closeness with others who maybe had more of it than I did.

What’s interesting now is being in a place of relaxation and regulation and realizing how discomfiting it is being around others who are seeking that sense of regulation from you, something you absolutely cannot give to them in any meaningful way until they do it for themselves. And what a difference it makes being around someone who is equally relaxed and dealing with the same basic frames of reality as you are.

It’s both a cliche and a cruel twist of irony, but if you notice you’re seeking happiness outside yourself in other people, the best thing you can do is work to get your nervous system to a place of peace. For me, this meant first getting myself to a place of somatic safety, teaching myself discernment, repatterning my trauma-imprinted behaviors into healthy strategies, surrounding myself with positive friendships, and creating connection to meaningful work and sustainable income. Definitely a challenge in these times, and nowhere near the instant gratification of chasing after someone I had a crush on, but definitely more sustainable longterm. And if I could go back and have done it sooner, I would.

All the tips, tricks, and tropes of conventional attractiveness cannot substitute for what it turns out is actually perhaps the most important aspect of it, which is the non-attachment that comes from being relaxed about a situation and comfortable in your own body.

And constantly being on alert to see how someone is responding to you is pretty much the opposite of that.