Have you ever felt frustrated that you seem to get hopelessly “head over heels” for unavailable men, yet find yourself hopelessly impervious to the advances of nice guys who are genuinely available and ready for a serious relationship? Would you like to change this pattern so you can finally start enjoying a great relationship and quit wasting time with men who play hot-and-cold with your emotions? Keep reading to see how the science of psychology can come to your rescue!
In a classic study of social psychology, Dutton and Aron conducted an intriguing study in which a female experimenter stood at the end of two different bridges, and asked random men who crossed the bridge to tell a short story as part of a psychology experiment. The first bridge was a safe, sturdy bridge ten feet over a calm rivulet– we’ll call that one the “safe bridge” for our purposes here. The second bridge was rickety, scary bridge that traversed a 230-foot drop to rocks and rapids– we’ll keep it simple and call that one the “scary bridge” here. What the researchers found was that the men who crossed the scary bridge were more likely to use sexual or romantic imagery in their stories. These men who crossed the scary bridge were also more likely to rate the female experimenter as attractive, even though it was actually the same woman at the end of both bridges.
Why did the men crossing the scary bridge tell more sexual or romantic stories and rate the female experimenter as more attractive than the men who crossed the safe bridge? Results suggest that these men misattributed their arousal symptoms (such as increased heart rate or sweaty palms) that arose from crossing a highly stimulating, albeit somewhat scary bridge to romantic or sexual attraction for the woman.
This study may explain a phenomenon I’ve seen in my practice. Many of my female clients complain that they don’t feel chemistry with nice guys; yet find themselves drawn to men who are unpredictable and keep them guessing (I also occasionally see this in my male clients). If you experience this in your own dating life, you will want to learn how to see good guys as more exciting and the not-so-good guys as less so. Keep reading for tips on how to do this!
MAKE A LIST
Your first step will be to make a list of Scary Bridge behaviors. Scary Bridge behaviors are behaviors that are undesirable in a dating partner, and which therefore may result in considerable worry or irritation for you. Unfortunately, this worry or irritation can often be misattributed as attraction for the man who is provoking the worry or irritation. That is why it’s important to identify these behaviors so you can recognize them as they occur. Your list may include the following:
- Showing up late to a date (even if for a good reason– any type of lateness can increase anticipation, which increases physiological arousal)
- Canceling a date at the last minute (again, even if for a good reason– the point here isn’t to evaluate his reasons, just to notice the effect of the behavior on your physiological arousal)
- Suggesting a date but failing to make clear plans with you or keeping you guessing about exactly when/where the date will occur
- Telling you he isn’t sure if he’s ready for a relationship
It’s important not to get stuck in trying to evaluate whether his reasons are “good” or not for the behaviors above. To your body, it makes no difference- if there are sudden changes or periods of uncertainty, your level of physiological arousal can get heightened. We all have occasional last-minute emergencies, but if you’re dating someone who seems to have an endless array of issues (sick mother, emergency meeting, been hurt in the past, the list goes on…. and on… and on…), consider that his unavailability could actually be creating drama that ironically actually makes him more tantalizing.
In addition to your Scary Bridge list, you will also want to make a list of Safe Bridge behaviors. These are behaviors which you may have previously seen as sappy or boring, but which are often found in good guys. Your list of Safe Bridge behaviors may include the following:
- Showing up to a first date with flowers
- Offering to pick you up or see you home
- Arriving on time for dates
- Ending a date with plans to see you again
- Making it clear that he is smitten with you (nice but cheesy text messages, nervous laughter, sweaty palms, finding himself tongue-tied in an awkward silence, nervous about first kiss, etc)
Reading this, you may be thinking that you do like it when a guy does some of the Safe Bridge things above, yet you still find yourself attracted to unavailable men. But consider the context of those behaviors. If you find yourself attracted to men who do Safe Bridge behaviors inconsistently, these behaviors may excite you mainly due to their rarity. Intermittent reinforcement is actually the most excitement provoking— this is why casinos set slot machines to give rewards in a randomly ordered manner where the user never knows what to expect, and keeps chasing the rewards. Don’t let intermittent reinforcement create a misleading sense of excitement that keeps you trapped in a holding pattern with a Mr. Wrong who plays hot-and-cold with your emotions or your schedule.
After making your list of Scary Bridge and Safe Bridge behaviors, you will next want to change the way you see these behaviors. While you may find Scary Bridge behaviors to be exciting or signs that a man must be “hard to get” or “just so busy and successful” or “really cool and not rushing things”, you will want to re-slot these behaviors as flaky, non-assertive, and undesirable. The goal is to get to the point where you can roll your eyes at these behaviors rather than getting tantalized by them.
You will also want to re-slot Safe Bridge Behaviors. Below are some ideas on how to see nice guys as more exciting:
- Think about how thrilling it would be to get engaged or to plan a wedding. How can the cheap excitement that flaky guys provide compare to the thrill of being in a deep relationship that leads to marriage?
- Do something a little scary with your date, such as going to a horror movie. Should you misattribute your fear as attraction for your date in this context, it would be a positive thing!
- Come up with a sexual fantasy to imagine while on a date with Mr. Nice Guy. If you need help coming up with ideas, you might try searching online for erotica or porn till you find something that really excites you– it should feel naughty, forbidden, or whatever it takes to get your heart racing. When you go on a date with a nice guy who might feel so safe that he’s a little boring, call the fantasy material mind while you focus your gaze on your date. This will help arouse your body and make you more open to advances from Mr. Nice Guy.
If you are able to successfully re-slot Safe and Scary Bridge behaviors, this could go a long way towards reducing frustration in your dating life. I have seen my clients apply the principles in this article to great success.
For more tips on dating and relationships, check out Dr. Chloe’s 10 Commandments of Dating. For tips on stress and anxiety management, and mental wellness, check out Nervous Energy: Harness the Power of Your Anxiety.