Aug 182011

So. I recently made fun of the advice that playing hard to get will help attract a romantic partner.

And it is stupid advice.

But it’s so ubiquitous, so often repeated, so habitually believed, that one can’t help wondering if there isn’t maybe SOMETHING to it.

My opinion is that it’s a problem of correlation not being causation, and also of attachment styles.

Correlation problem first:

The first “stage” in attachment to another person (in real life, nothing ever happens in stages, this is just a convenient simplification) is proximity seeking. You want to be NEAR the object of attachment, and when you are near them you engage in various attachment behaviors like eye contact and physical affection.

So there are certainly times when one person gets into proximity seeking mode and the other person, whose attachment mechanism is not engaged, doesn’t respond. And since you’re looking for reasons WHY they’re not responding and you notice that you have this overwhelming urge to be near them, some advice-giving friend recognizes the chasing dynamics and tells you not to obey this urge. Let them come to you. Which is FUCKING HARD, because your whole biology wants to move toward them!

So theory 1: people misconstrue the failure of their proximity seeking behavior to engage the attachment mechanism in their target as CAUSAL. And it probably isn’t. Your desire for proximity probably just doesn’t register as important to someone who is not experiencing any attachment motivation.

But sometimes it might be causal, which brings me to theory 2, related to attachment styles:

Some people have avoidant attachment styles, which means that they learned early in their lives to deal with the potential that a loved one might not come back when they needed them by not getting close to anyone. (Anxious attachment style people deal with that potential by clinging all the harder to their loved one. Securely attached people have learned to trust that if an attachment object goes away, they’ll come back if they’re needed.)

So if the object of your proximity seeking has an avoidant attachment style, they are more likely to respond to your attachment behaviors by creating distance. THE WORST thing you can do at that point is try to close the distance, as your biology will tell you to do. Avoidant folks need space.

My last reading of the research told me that men are no more likely than women to have an avoidant attachment style, despite cultural stereotypes. In general about a quarter of people have avoidant styles, a quarter have anxious styles, and about half have a secure attachment style, no gender difference. So clearly this second theory will only be true in a minority of cases. All the same, I wrote a post about “making” someone want you when they’re a person who needs lots of space.

Still, I think it’s more common for an object of proximity seeking just doesn’t have their attachment mechanism engaged – i.e., they’re not interested.

Can you make someone interested? Meh. Maybe.

What I call “spark” – that instant, important emotional connection between two people – can happen the second you lay eyes on each other or it can happen years into a friendship. It’s made of all kinds of things, most of them well out of reach by the conscious mind; it’s governed not by reason or by superficial attractions like clothes or hair or flirting, but by foundational elements of your emotional lives. Something about the person who has engaged your interest rings a bell deep in your psychology, probably because they reproduce some aspect of the relationship you observed between/among your adult caregivers.

Really the only thing that can reliably work is for you to LIKE the other person genuinely, and for you to stay over your own emotional center of gravity. Which will be challenging, because you want to poke them and jump up and down waving your hands saying, “NOTICE ME!” until they do. That may get attention, but it’s unlikely to ring the “spark” bell. If anything can do that, it’s simply time and a loving presence.

Unless you want to manipulate the person. You could do that. But I’m not going to be the one to tell you how.