Mystery has become a grossly underrated source of appeal. Many dating advice sources even advise against trying to harness this at all and often times, you can kinda see their point. Lots of people who try to shoot for “appealingly mysterious” do so in an ineffective and often embarrassing way that misses the mark completely. What is commonly referred to as “mystery”, is really an expression of healthy, integrated introversion at it’s best. Particularly for more introverted types, it is one way for us to shine and be noticed at our best without having to be out of our element or act against our natures.
How Not to Do “Mysterious”
1. Projecting melancholy and butt-rage every which way
Generally speaking, in this culture we tend to assume sad strangers want to be left alone. We tend to assume angry strangers want to be left alone and hope they’ll leave us alone too. Few people go around pondering the deep psychological intricacies and potentially fascinating life stories of random pouty people and fewer still would consider this enough to stop by to ask friendly questions. Those who do usually want to take you to church, not on a date. Everyone else isn’t looking at these publicly mopey people pondering “What’s that guy’s story?” but rather “What’s that guy’s problem?”
What you convey to others while being the Public Sad Guy is not that you’re secretly a deep interesting person who is worth getting to know, but rather that you not-so-secretly are overflowing with unsightly emotional issues and are always on the verge of uncomfortable overshare. Some who have nothing to back their scowl up with or no need to lure people with unhappy faces, will go as far as to fake mental illnesses and traumas. Exotic fancy ones like multiple personality disorder are popular.
Issues are not sexy and “SAVE ME I’M DYING!” is not a mating call. Even the stories you hear where it seems like bleeding-butt issues were an attracting factor, if you look closely, issues were NOT the sexy thing those guys led with in their approaches. (See here and here.) If they did lead with those, they would be like every Sad Guy out there and send all prospective partners fleeing for the hills.
2. Trying to bait people into asking questions
This tends to be a mistake of some awkward extroverts trying to pull off mystery. This is different from simply having a small conversation piece on hand. This builds on the idea of “keeping people guessing” by forcing people to try to guess. Some even demand it outright. The behavior I’m talking about here usually involves casually bringing up snippets of things that sound like they might be interesting and then cutting them off to pause and await questions; questions your audience undoubtedly has because that thing you brought up and dropped for no apparent reason is just SO INTRIGUING. Examples include things like making a quick casual mention of something interesting you do and then suddenly dropping dead silent or trying to hint at the fact that you have an interesting story but never delivering it, hoping to be asked about it instead.
The problem with this is, either your intent to dazzle people with smoke and mirrors will be transparent as fuck or people will think you’re simply lying (as people who employ this tactic often are). In the case of the former, you’re going to come across as a self-absorbed attention whore and people may respond to your attempts at appearing intriguing by responding with purposeful disinterest. They see the bait for what it is and that silence left open for all the eager questions quickly becomes an awkward silence instead. People who do this would actually do better if they skipped the mystery and just talked about the interesting things in their lives without playing the awkward impromptu 20 Questions game.
3. Trying to appear dangerous
If you’re guilty of this one, the guys of this blog who are trying not to appear creepy all want to smack you right now. Sure, some chicks dig danger, but the danger they dig tends to be overt, not hidden and certainly not fake and braggy. The dangers of dating a gangster for example are pretty clear and give you a good idea of what could happen. Overt danger, while unwise to get involved in, is appealing for its excitement and drama. Most of all, its appeal lies in the idea of someone having an interesting life that you don’t fully understand but can be given access to through that person –which is at the heart of mystery appeal in general.
Obscured or implied danger on the other hand is unsettling and creepy. Especially when your stories are peppered with implied violence with scant details (which is most likely because the stories are bullshit), people become unsure of what to expect from you and would be wise to avoid you. It’s the difference between watching a barfight and waiting to find out for sure if the contents of someone’s basement really include torture equipment or not. For example, in college this guy we knew spun this yarn to us about how he was part of a gang, and he and his fellow gang members had beaten some guy with a copper pipe in a parking lot late one night. It didn’t matter that we knew it was crap and that at the age of 18 he still had to be home to his parents at 9pm. He thought violence would impress us, which implies that he thinks violence is impressive and that he’d take any chance to do it for real if the right people were watching. In addition to being pathetic, that’s also creepy.
4. Acting like a TV character
You can blame this for the existence of #1. I can hear the rebuttals already. “But doctorfishcraft!” you say. “Look at all the attention those dark, brooding, sad, mysterious male characters get from women all the time!” Nobody’s denying that. I find the phenomenon of women swooning over nonexistent people painfully annoying myself. It definitely exists. However to explain to you why this appeal cannot be transferred to real people, allow me to highlight the differences between real people and TV characters.
– Much of this comes from the very adolescent idea that “everyone is watching me”; that there is an audience out there paying concerted attention to every little thing you do. As a regular person, nobody is monitoring your life 24/7 or even for just the 30-60 minutes most TV characters get per week. No one can possibly pay that amount of attention to you without stalking you or otherwise completely derailing their day to observe you and figure you out.
-As a regular person, your life is not edited only to show the interesting parts. Even the series ’24’ didn’t include 8 straight episodes of watching the main character sleep or a quarter to half an episode to watch him poop. That time spent silently moping in the corner trying to conjure up this compelling air of drama around you, is a bit like what a sleeping episode of ’24’ would be like. Except it would also have 0 backstory and be even more pointless. Nobody can see the compelling narrative you’ve created in your head that explains why you’re sitting alone at a table looking sad, so naturally few if any would take the time to infer one or ask questions. Besides, you’re sitting alone doing nothing, not standing on a cliff against the full moon with your cape billowing and a cool filter effect. It’s boring.
-Even the most complex characters don’t stand alone in their interestingness. They are written into an interesting story where the writers make them have interesting interactions with other characters and the story itself is written to keep you paying attention to the series as a whole. Again, no one but the creepiest, most obsessed people have the time to pay attention to your life’s equivalent of this in real time and even they’d find it difficult.
– TV characters who are dark and mysterious in a broken or asshole-ish way are safe to fixate on because they aren’t real and don’t interact with the audience. The snark and bile of a Sherlock or Dr. House character is always directed elsewhere, usually at some other character you aren’t meant to like anyway. A real life version of either would be abrasive, threatening and miserable to be around. People who attempt to act like this most often come off in just that way.
-And finally, as a regular person, you do not have writers who when realism fails, decide that they’ll just write in that your public pouting was enough to compel an attractive, friendly stranger to come meet you.
So with so many examples of how to do it wrong, just how can one use mystery effectively? Here’s what you need:
1. A life
Not just an inner life but a LIFE life where you do things. This is not a pursuit for idle homebodies or for people who think their bruised psyche and exciting fantasy life alone are enough to interest people.
2. The ability to enjoy your own company
This is where healthy introverts have an edge. You don’t have to be a loud, obnoxious party animal in order to show that you’re fun to be around. If you can be comfortable, at ease and happy in your own company, people will want to join you there, especially if they also see you as offering a gateway to a new, interesting experience (See #2). Radiating misery and loneliness kills this element dead. So does being an obnoxious showoff. Both scream “COME HELP ME! I CAN’T BEAR THE FACT THAT NOBODY IS PAYING ATTENTION TO ME RIGHT NOW!” You need to be okay with yourself and okay without getting tons of immediate attention and praise.
3. An interesting activity you can do alone but invite others to if you feel like it
This could be almost anything. If you can do more than one, that’s even better. It could be hiking, volunteer work, long or short distance travel, studio art, photography, cooking and the list goes on. Like music? Attend or join a chorus/orchestra/blues jam night/drum circle/etc. somewhere out of town. Make a habit of seeking out little-known interesting places to go and scoping them out. Whatever you do, when you decide to share details about it, make it about how awesome the place, thing or activity is rather than how awesome you are for it. “I climbed a mountain.” is braggy and uninteresting. It makes the activity look inaccessible and makes it seem like you have little interest in sharing the title of “mountain climber” with others who might dilute your cool. “Look at what I found on this mountain.” on the other hand shows the experience as enjoyable and worth sharing; attributes that will be associated with you without you having to stuff people’s eyeballs with it.
4. No interest in trying to game people with any of this
This is the tough part for many people. None of the items in this list can be effectively faked or played up with impressing people in mind. You can’t sit in public telegraphing enjoyment with vague fake reasons why you’re happy, you can’t fake skills, and pretending to enjoy something without anyone around is a miserable chore. You need to be able to deliver on claims you make. Does this all seem like a big ton of work just to reach the goal of mystery appeal? It should. That’s because in order for any of this to be effective, the emphasis of your efforts needs to be on having an enjoyable life. The appeal is not a cheat or a shortcut or a tool to be used in isolation. It’s a mere repercussion of much bigger but worthwhile endeavor.
So there you have it: How to have mysterious appeal. No need to be intimidating, creepy, ostensibly insane or covered in Halloween decorations.