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!
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 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:
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:
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:
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.
Cross-posted from Dr. Chloe
Dr. Chloe Carmichael holds a doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Long Island University. Her private practice focuses on stress management, relationship issues, self esteem, and coaching. Dr. Carmichael sees clients in her Manhattan office or via Skype.
Dr. Carmichael attended Columbia University for a BA in Psychology, and graduated summa cum laude with Departmental Honors in Psychology. She completed her doctorate in Clinical Psychology at Long Island University in Brooklyn; the LIU Clinical Psychology Program admits fewer than 10% of applicants and is accredited by the American Psychological Association. Dr. Carmichael completed her clinical training at Lenox Hill Hospital and Kings County Hospital, as well as other settings such as community clinics and academic centers. Dr. Carmichael has published work on issues related to psychotherapy through academic sources such as Guilford, and presented at the Anxiety Disorders Association of America. Dr. Carmichael has instructed undergraduate courses at Long Island University and has served as adjunct faculty at the City University of New York. In addition, she has been a certified yoga instructor since 2001; she has also completed coursework in Buddhism and meditation with Robert Tenzen-Thurman (Dr. Thurman is an Oxford scholar and was the first American to be ordained a Tibetan monk by the Dalai Lama) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction designed by the Jon Kabat-Zinn of the University of Massachusetts Medical School. In addition, Dr. Carmichael was recently named as the psychologist for the New York College of Podiatric Medicine. In her role at the NYCPM, Dr. Carmichael provides support to faculty and students in the form of individual counseling as well as the creation and delivery of stress-management and goal-attainment workshops. Previously, Dr. Carmichael worked at Corporate Counseling Associates in Manhattan. CCA contracts with financial institutions, law firms, cultural institutions, and other corporations. Dr. Carmichael has also been featured on VH1, Inside Edition, and other media.
Dr. Carmichael is also an active member and co-chair of a committee for the New York Junior League, which is a charitable organization devoted to promoting volunteerism and improving the lives of women and children in New York. In addition to her work with executives and very high-functioning clientele, Dr. Carmichael has provided clinical as well as personal volunteer services to under-served populations including the homeless, veterans with addictions, and poverty-level immigrants.