Whenever friends come to me for advice about pursuing a romantic connection — or I’m figuring out one of my own — I always come to a crossroads: Is the best approach to attempt some subtle, harmless psychological manipulation, or are honesty and straightforwardness the keys to success?
Forgive me, for a moment, because I’m about to get academic on you … let’s talk about psych, baby. Now, all of us who were paying attention in our intro to psychology courses will know this, but allow me to let the rest of you in on a little secret. There are five crucial factors when it comes to fostering attraction: proximity, similarity, physical attractiveness, reciprocity and selectivity. Allow me to take you through them.
Number one is the proximity effect, and it’s the single best predictor of attraction. Basically, this means that physical nearness and amount of time spent with one’s romantic target are huuuge determining factors in romantic attraction. Takers of psych classes may also be familiar with “the mere exposure effect,” which dictates that people tend to become more appealing to us with increased contact. All pretty logical.
Next, we have similarity and physical attractiveness, which are both pretty self-explanatory. We tend to crush on people who have similar demographics, subjective experiences, and attitudes to ourselves. And I’m sure you’ll be shocked to learn that we also tend to crush hard on people who are just goddamn good-lookin’.
Here’s where things get interesting: reciprocity and selectivity. Many a psych study has shown that we like people who like us. The caveat of reciprocity, though, is that we especially like people who don’t like us that much at first, but then grow to like us. Selectivity is a similar case. We don’t tend to like just like anyone — psychology of attraction tells us that we like others who are in a sweet spot of selectivity. In other words, those that are “hard to get,” but not quite out of reach.
This is where “the game” comes into the equation. Do we play by these not-so-hard-and-fast psychological rules? Do we take the perhaps juvenile approach of playing “hard to get,” counting the minutes it took for them to text back and doubling it before sending a response? It’s a bit reminiscent of my middle school tactics, but there’s a reason these sorts of rules exist … and I’m inclined to trust the psychology.
Now let’s consider the alternative: being upfront and straightforward. The Nike-style, “just do it” option, if you will. In my experience, fear of rejection has a pretty strong hold on a lot of us. And while that’s perfectly valid, it’s also pretty hard to get what you want if you never ask for it. I think we could all throw caution to the wind a bit more often.
Not engaging in “the game” also has its moral benefits. You may, for example, subscribe to the mantra that honestly is the best policy. Many folks would consider this strategy the mature thing to do. And I’ll admit, being straightforward is easily more ethically sound. If you genuinely like this person … maybe actively manipulating them isn’t the most thoughtful choice.
The truth of the matter is that it’s always going to be a shot in the dark to some extent. In my life, both strategies have worked and both strategies have failed. We all have our different values and principles when it comes to these things, and perhaps even more importantly, everyone responds differently.
You might love to hear “I have a crush on you!” from the get-go, while I personally favor a few mind games here and there. As is the case for a see-saw or a healthy diet, the key is definitely balance. Don’t lie so low you go unnoticed. Match their energy. And hey, maybe hint once or twice at your extensive line-up of romantic prospects if this one weren’t to work out. Be cool, be confident and be yourself. You got this.