Power vs. Passion

“Ava, I’m screwed. I like this girl more than she likes me,” laments the adorable soft-butch lesbian on the phone.

“What gives you that impression?” I ask, never one to take such declarations at face value.

“I almost always contact her first, and do most of the talking. I compliment her all the time, and she rarely reciprocates. I got her more for Christmas than she got me. I’m always super affectionate with her, and she’s only sometimes that way with me. Usually just when we’re in bed together.”

“What do you think would happen if you pulled back a bit? Contacted less, said less, gave less, showed less affection?”

“Well, I tried that, actually.”


“And it sucked. I mean, she did pretty much what she always does, and I was doing less, so I guess it was more… even. But it also meant there was just less emotion going around. And I just started to feel sort of… empty and sad.”

“Because being effusive and affectionate with someone feels good.”


  • She had hit upon a discovery it took me 30+ years to make: that when it comes to romance, there is an inverse relationship between passion and power, between emotional safety and emotional satisfaction.

You see, it is a fact of human nature that showing less interest, affection, commitment, etc.—in short, being less passionate and emotionally invested—gives you more power in a relationship. The less you care, the more you control. But there is another, equally important piece of this equation: you get what you give, emotionally speaking. So the more you care, the more satisfying the relationship will feel to you.

On the Passionate end of the spectrum, people are quick to emotionally invest. They fall hard and fast, are quick to trust, wear their heart on their sleeve, and shower their loved ones in affection. The major benefit of being Passionate is the giddy enjoyment of the highest highs that romance has to offer: the ecstasy of sensual and emotional abandon. The major drawback, of course, being the other side of that coin: the devastating lows of heartbreak, betrayal, and rejection.

On the Powerful end, people are more reserved with their affections. They are slow to trust, slow to show their feelings, and less likely to offer unsolicited validation. They are the first to run, the first to reject, and the last to say “I love you.” The major benefit of being Powerful–aside from power itself–is the avoidance of deep pain. The major drawback is the incidental avoidance of deep pleasure.

Furthermore, in most relationships one partner will gravitate toward Passionate and one will err on the side of Powerful. At times they will even trade roles. And there’s a good reason for that.

Passionate + Passionate = codependence. Both partners care SO MUCH that they are consumed by the relationship, prioritize it over everything, including their own sanity. A relationship entrenched on the Passionate end of the spectrum often exists, and ultimately ends, in a cloud of drama so thick that no one outside the dyad can penetrate it, and occasionally devolves into violence.

Powerful + Powerful = stalemate. Nobody makes any moves, nobody takes any risks, and eventually it just sort of disintegrates into a puff of mutual “meh.”

As I told my client (once we had established that the relationship was, in fact, well-balanced in other areas),

“You’re the Passionate partner this time around. Embrace that. Make peace with it. Enjoy the ride and let her enjoy the comfort and security of the Power position.”

There is no shame in taking either position. Both are needed in a balanced, functional relationship. But remember that you are not confined to one end of the spectrum, and that there are benefits and drawbacks to both positions. I believe everyone can benefit from giving the role they normally shun a go, if for no other reason than to appreciate more deeply the benefits they receive from their usual role.

Indeed, the closer you can both come to the center, the healthier the relationship will become, and the more deeply you will both understand what the other is risking/sacrificing in order to maintain that delicate balance.


Master Class

Yesterday I went to see Robert Greene, author of one of the most influential books in my library, The Art of Seduction, chat with Chase Jarvis about his new book, Mastery. Although Mastery is less directly related to The Attractive Arts than The Art of Seduction, I still came away with some fabulous insights, which I will now share with you in no particular order.


Seducers are the real winners.

One of my favorite moments was when Greene shared his motivation for writing The Art of Seduction: after publishing The 48 Laws of Power, which was inspired, he says, by the scheming, backstabbing world of Hollywood, he came to a realization.

“The people who really run everything aren’t the power-grabbers. They’re the seducers, the charmers.”

Things have changed. Ruling with an iron fist is out of vogue. These days the art of social engineering will get you much farther than pure Machiavellian ruthlessness. But, as Greene pointed out, the unspoken rules of social interaction are not taught in school. In fact, they are rarely taught at all.

That, in a nutshell, is why I created The Attractive Arts.


Fear is what holds us back from Mastery.

Now, fear isn’t always a bad thing. Greene noted that fear can be useful in keeping us from making tragic mistakes. But we should be careful what we allow ourselves to fear, and what we allow ourselves to accept. Rather than fearing the risk you undertake by doing what you love, Greene explained,

“You should be more afraid of waking up ten years from now and realizing you’re still doing something you hate, where you are in constant danger of being replaced by someone younger and more qualified who actually cares about the work.”

You certainly shouldn’t fear frustration and pain.

“Pain is a message that something is wrong.”

And that’s a useful message, if we’re open to hearing it and doing something about it.

Above all, fear must be confronted. Head-on, and continually.

As a perfect illustration of confronting fear and refusing to let it hold one back, my companion asked the very first question, despite an abject terror of public speaking. That, my friends, is what courage looks like. Not an absence of fear, but a decision to make fear irrelevant, and to do what you want to do anyway.


Even Masters break their own rules

The second question was mine. I asked Mr. Greene what precept or guideline of his own he had the hardest time following.

“I’m a very emotional person, despite how analytical and detached my writing might seem. I have a very hard time not reacting to situations emotionally and immediately. I’ve had to discipline myself not to share that first, knee-jerk reaction, not to send that angry email but to sleep on it instead.”

I found this answer comforting for a couple of reasons. First, it’s something I struggle with myself, so it humanized him for me, brought the mighty creator of the Seductive Types down to a stature I could relate to. Second, it was a good reminder that even the best of the best occasionally fall flat on their faces.

“I still break my own rules,” admitted Greene. And he didn’t mean it in the sense that when you become a Master, you can get away with improvising. No, he meant that every once in a while, he still fails to take his own advice and just totally screws the pooch.

But that’s the beauty of failure and success. The one is impossible without the other.


The best way to make people like you is to do good work

People want to be liked. This is a fairly universal truth.

People therefore often get caught in the trap of thinking they have to work at being likable, that they have to put a lot of effort into being friendly and useful.

The truth is, though, that the more you seek approval the less likely you are to get it. And the more you simply concentrate on doing really excellent work–whatever that work happens to be–the more genuine respect you will garner.

It’s like I’m always telling clients: the very best way to get people to think you are valuable is to actually become more valuable. Learn a new skill, improve your appearance, find a job that doesn’t make you miserable.

In short, be more excellent.

And on that note, I’m gone.