What do people want to be liked for? You are advised to tell a pretty woman she is smart and a smart woman she is pretty. But people don’t seem that happy with being liked for features like wealth, fame, beauty, strength, talent, smarts, or charisma. People do seem to prefer being liked for more stable features that they are less likely lose with time. But they still often aren’t that happy with being liked for easily visible and hence “shallow” features, relative to “deep” features that take time and attention to discover. And they sometimes say “I want to be liked just for me, not for my features.”
I’ve often puzzled over what people could mean by this; surely everything you could like about someone is a feature of some sort. And why does a feature being harder to see make it better? But I recently realized the answer is simple and even obvious: we want people to become attached to us. Attachment is a well known psychological process wherein people become bonded to particular others:
Bowlby referred to attachment bonds as a specific type of “affectional” bond. … He established five criteria for affectional bonds between individuals, and a sixth criterion for attachment bonds:
- An affectional bond is persistent, not transitory.
- An affectional bond involves a particular person who is not interchangeable with anyone else.
- An affectional bond involves a relationship that is emotionally significant.
- The individual wishes to maintain proximity or contact with the person with whom he or she has an affectional tie.
- The individual feels sadness or distress at involuntary separation from the person.
An attachment bond has an additional criterion: the person seeks security and comfort in the relationship. (more)
Other people don’t start out with a deep preference for the exact combination of features that we embody. But if they like our shallow features they may expose themselves to us enough to see deeper features, and in the process become attached to our particular combination of all features. And it is that attachment that we really want when we say we want to be liked “for being me.”