What You Look Like Is Not Who You Are

July 13, 2017

Today’s post is a different sort than I usually write. No studies, statistics, or tactical dating advice. I’ve been thinking about this idea for a while, and it keeps coming back to me. I finally realized I needed to write it down to share it with you.

What you look like – the physical form carrying you through life – is not who you are.

“The two dimensions that the human being embodies are the ‘human’ and the ‘being’. The human is the form, the being is the formless, the timeless consciousness itself.”

~Eckhart Tolle

Who you are is the inner, alive, intangible “you.” You are timeless – this part of you has no physical form, so it does not age. Your feelings, values, and traits are all part of your being rather than your form.

Last fall I revisited the writings of Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now. He’s considered the third most spiritually influential person in the world, behind the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis. I’d read his books several years ago and found them simple but profound. Grieving my father’s death, it was comforting to remind myself that “the destiny of all life forms is to eventually dissolve.”

Because energy cannot be destroyed, the energy that is your being does not dissipate when you die. In the words of Tolle it is “timeless consciousness.” That means we need not fear annihilation, which is death. Acceptance of that simple truth greatly relieved my suffering.

Being and Dating

Over time my attention has turned to how our physical human forms affect us in the dating world. Because mating relies on sexual attraction, which relies at least in part on physical appearance, our bodies and our looks dictate much of what we experience in dating. Tolle refers to this is as living in the surface dimension, a state where you are so heavily identified with your physical form that the loss of youth and beauty causes great suffering. In this state your ego is in control.

“In the West, it is the physical appearance of the body that contributes greatly to the sense of who you think you are: its strength or weakness, its perceived beauty or ugliness relative to others. For many people, their sense of self-worth is intimately bound up with their physical strength, good looks, fitness, and external appearance; many feel a diminished sense of self-worth because they perceive their body as ugly or imperfect.

…In either case, ugly or beautiful, people derive a significant part of their identity, be it negative or positive, from their body. To be more precise, they derive their identity from the I thought that they erroneously attach to the mental image or concept of their body, which after all is no more than a physical form that shares the destiny of all forms impermanence and ultimately decay.

…It is not just people with good or near-perfect bodies who are likely to equate it with who they are. You can just as easily identify with a “problematic” body and make the body’s imperfection, illness, or disability into your identity.”

~Eckhart Tolle

In a world that is increasingly dependent on photo swiping, how can we communicate who we really are? I thought about Beauty and the Beast – isn’t that the moral of the story? It was first written in 1740, and according to Professor Maria Tatar at Harvard, it was written to prepare young French women for arranged marriages.

The story of Beauty and the Beast was meant for girls who would likely have their marriages arranged. Beauty is traded by her impoverished father for safety and material wealth, and sent to live with a terrifying stranger. De Beaumont’s story emphasizes the nobility in Beauty’s act of self-sacrifice, while bracing readers, Tatar explains, “for an alliance that required effacing their own desires and submitting to the will of a monster.”

(In an earlier book on the origin of fairy tales, author Jack Zipes observed that ““Fairy tales do not become mythic unless they are in perfect accord with the underlying principles of how the male members of society seek to arrange object relations to satisfy their wants and needs.” But that’s another post.)

Tortured Beings Torture Others

Obviously, not all inner beings are beautiful. Inner and outer beauty do not go hand in hand – in fact, beautiful people may be more ego-invested than most. Many troubled, dysfunctional, or even evil people are beautiful looking. Surely when we think about dating, the only rational strategy is prioritize the beauty of spirit over form. Long-term happiness depends on finding a mate in the top half of this matrix, where successful mating occurs:

Attractive Spirit

Less Attractive Form

Attractive Spirit

Attractive Form

Less Attractive Spirit

Less Attractive Form

Less Attractive Spirit

Attractive Form

The bottom half of the matrix is represented by bad boys (or girls) on the right. Those on the bottom left are unlikely to find a mate at all.

The matrix explains another important tenet of mating – the desire to be known. That is, truly seen, and loved for who we are – our beings. This is why people are wary of obsessive infatuation or eager commitment before that knowing has occurred. It is necessarily based primarily on form – which will decay and dissolve in time. We cannot experience love of form – it can only occur at the level of the formless being, or spirit.

“To love is to recognize yourself in another.” 

~Eckhart Tolle

Less attractive spirit

 Sharing Your Beautiful Spirit

Practically speaking, plastic surgery notwithstanding, we are all stuck with our mortal forms, for better or worse. Our physical selves give form to our lives, and enable us to live in the world, which is made up of forms.
Some of the people I’ve encountered with the least attractive spirit are those who have allowed disappointment, resentment, bitterness and anger over their physical forms to poison their beings. They’ve moved themselves from the top left of the matrix to the bottom left by succumbing to the ego.


Movement within the matrix may occur based on how well we care for our physical selves, but in my view more dramatic – and negative – movement occurs when the ego saturates us with negative emotions. This is what repels others.


Tolle states that acceptance of what is, i.e. the power of Now, is the only route to peace and joy:

“The moment that judgment stops through acceptance of what is, you are free of the mind. You have made room for love, for joy, for peace. First you stop judging yourself; then you stop judging your partner.

The greatest catalyst for change in a relationship is complete acceptance of your partner as he or she is, without needing to judge or change them in any way. That immediately takes you beyond ego. All mind games and all addictive clinging are then over. There are no victims and no perpetrators anymore, no accuser and accused.

This is also the end of all codependency, of being drawn into somebody else’s unconscious pattern and thereby enabling it to continue. You will then either separate – in love – or move ever more deeply into the Now together – into Being.”

~Eckhart Tolle

Attraction does play a role – Tolle describes this as being receptive to another person’s energy. You are literally on the same wavelength. It is far more than sexual in nature, and depends on far more than the physical.

None of us wants to live our entire lives in the surface dimension, but many of us do. We are ruled by ego and continuously resist reality. By accepting what is, including your physical form, you clear a path through which peace – and then love – can enter your life. That peace will radiate from you and attract others.

I realize this is not easily done. Self-awareness is the first step. My own journey along this path is occurring in Act III of my life, and I have far to go. But I have found it incredibly worthwhile and rewarding. I feel less anxious and more at peace than ever before. In short, it’s a game changer.