One of the things I like to do as a dating coach is to keep up with the latest research on relationships and dating. So naturally, I like to read the latest studies coming from esteemed peer-reviewed journals such as, er. Esquire Magazine.
Joking aside, the article Here’s What Happened When Our Bosses Forced Us on a Blind Date for Science – which wins an award for a headline that doubles as both clickbait and the title of a Chuck Tingle short-story – was an interesting experiment in social dynamics. Esquire writer Nate Hopper and ELLE writer Keziah Weir were set up on a series of dates and various tests over a period of three weeks. In between meetings, the two would work with a psychologist, an anthropologist and a geneticist to see what it meant to be compatible and try various experiments that promise to jumpstart chemistry.
SPOILER ALERT: In the end they come to the conclusion that while they like each other well enough, there’s no real excitement there. As Weir puts it: “Because not even science could mimic that awful, wonderful buzz of early uncertainty—is he going to call, is she going to say yes? Maybe that’s the last 10 percent of the love equation: the spark.”
It’s that one word that stands out: uncertainty. As much as we may say that we dread the early stages of dating and wish that we could leap-frog them straight to a relationship, it’s that intrigue, the excitement that comes with the uncertainty and mystery that helps provide the initial spark that blooms into the fire of the mutual attraction. In fact, a little uncertainty can save an otherwise dying relationship.
The Tingle Of Antici…
As anxiety-producing as the early days of dating can be, they’re actually some of the most pleasurable and exciting. That feeling of unpredictability and risk – wondering if someone you’re flirting with is going to say “yes” to a date, whether she’ll call if you give her your number – is thrilling to us. To be sure, there’s no small element of fear in there; after all, we’re at least somewhat emotionally invested in the answer and a “no” is going to sting. But it’s the same sort of fear produced by horror movies or thrill-rides – you’re experiencing the fear in an otherwise safe environment; there’s no real danger except some bruising to your ego.
But at the same time, that build up of fear is also what makes the release so pleasurable. The suspense mixed with the mild anxiety makes us want the resolution even more. After all, it’s human nature to crave the things that are just out of reach – the more the desire is frustrated, the stronger we feel the desire. Like a roller-coaster or dubstep1 , it’s the build up that comes with anticipation that makes the release so powerful. You know that the drop is coming but you’re not entirely sure where or when. That expectation of the moment builds and builds… and then when it finally happens, the release is almost orgasmic in nature.
When there’s no anticipation, no uncertainty, that excitement doesn’t have the same opportunity to grow. There’s no thrill in knowing exactly what to expect and when. Hopper and Weir’s “relationship” was like playing a videogame with God Mode enabled; it’s fun at first, but there’s no thrill and no challenge. You know exactly what’s going to happen and there’s no sense of risk to spice up that sense of discovery. Without any uncertainty or mystery, you end up launching yourself straight to the plateau of a relationship without the build-up. And that’s relationship poison.
Comfort Is The Antithesis of Passion
One of the things I’ve said over and over again is that passion fades in every relationship. It’s a part of how relationships progress; the initial inability to keep your hands off of each other and that new relationship energy starts to fade and becomes something calmer and more intimate. However, “fade” isn’t the same as “disappears altogether” and that spark can be reignited and maintained with some effort on the part of the couple.
But first they have to make the effort.
One of the mistakes that couples make that smothers passion is that they get too comfortable with one another. Once you’re settled and secure in a relationship, there’s a tendency to start taking one another for granted. Now that their presence is more or less guaranteed, the sex is on tap and you can be sure that if they don’t immediately respond to your text, they will when they’re less busy, there’s less of a motivation to keep up the standards. Little things start to fall by the wayside; you become less concerned with dressing to impress your partner, you quit bringing the little gifts and gestures that show you care just because. The sex becomes more perfunctory – the same time, same location and same positions by rote. It all becomes routine, part of the background noise of your day to day existence. Even date-night becomes formulaic – the same basic activities with only the most minor variations on anniversaries and holidays. Sitting together on the couch together for longer than 5 minutes used to lead to sloppy make-outs, now it just becomes the place where you argue about whether you’re going to watch The Flash or Orphan Black.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying that relationships shouldn’t be comfortable or that you shouldn’t be able to relax around your partner. That cozy co-existence is a key part of pair-bonding; it’s part of what enables us to raise children and what helps relationships last over the long-term. And in the beginning, that comfortable settling in, nesting phase feels great! But then hedonic adaptation sets in and the Coolidge effect starts to raise it’s ugly head. You can get used to anything once it becomes part of your daily life, even crazy monkey-sex. As Billy Bob Thornton said: eventually it can be like fucking the couch.
While that sense of security is important for a relationship it can lead to over-familiarity – the sense of being in a rut, of there being little to differentiate one day from another. That lack of uncertainty and mystery leads to boredom… which leads to the end of a relationship.
Uncertainty Breeds Excitement; Neediness Kills It
Part of what makes uncertainty appealing is what it says about someone. It’s the difference between someone who’s confident in themselves and someone who’s self-esteem is entirely dependent on what other people think. Someone who’s needy will show that fact early and often; they frequently can’t handle any sort of ambiguity. They ramble out of control because they’re so desperate to fill any possible silence with noise. They over-explain because they can’t leave something well enough alone. They call. And call. And call. And text. And email for good measure.
Let’s look at a classic example of the way that neediness conflicts with uncertainty.
The beginning is actually a fairly good example of how to handle getting someone’s number: a quick phone call2, a reminder of who he is, where they met and what happened. But Mikey isn’t able to let things go. The ambiguousness of the situation – the uncertainty of whether she will actually call him – is too much. Calling back a second time is the start of the deluge of neediness that ultimately snatches defeat from the jaws of victory. He can’t deal with the potential that she might not call him back and so calls again, and again and again, getting cringier and more embarrassing with each passing minute. What had been a scenario that could lead to a more intense connection when they do catch each other on phone becomes an opportunity to vomit his neediness all over the place and kill any excitement Nikki might have felt at seeing him again.
Let’s look at the worst case scenario: he didn’t get his number on the machine before it cut him off. A confident man wouldn’t let the uncertainty rattle him. Nikki demonstrated that she was seriously into him; either she would have called him back or she wouldn’t have. If she didn’t, then it wouldn’t be unreasonable to call one more time a day or two later just to make sure that she got his number. From her end of things, if the number did get cut off, she’d be hoping that he would call again. The anticipation would’ve made their first date more intense and lead to a great shared story later on. But because he couldn’t handle the uncertainty, Mikey killed the attraction with his neediness.
Being able to handle uncertainty with grace is a sign of self-confidence and an abundance mentality. Yes, the anticipation and apprehension can be hard to bear at times, but holding strong means the rewards are that much greater.
The Difference Between Uncertainty And Fear
Of course, there’re some who take uncertainty to it’s extreme and mistake uncertainty for fear.
Red Pill’ers and PUAs frequently advocate what’s known as “dread game”. The purpose of dread game is to keep women feeling off-balance and uncertain about the future of the relationship. By leaving her being worried that he will dump or cheat on her at any time, the would-be Romeo maintains a state of superiority and control that women supposedly find irresistible. Women, so the theory goes, find that constant uncertainty to be erotic as they veer between emotional states of fear and relief and so they will be that much more likely to service their man with all the blowjobs.
Of course, the rest of the world has a different name for this sort of treatment – emotional abuse ((Of course, dread-game inventor Heartiste also advocates physical abuse, which is really all you need to know about him.))
But even if we ignore the fact that “dread game” requires using fear to try to convince a woman to beg for his approval and a sense of security, the fact remains that it’s a sign of someone who is weak and insecure. Someone who’s reduced to using dread and fear to try to keep a partner is showing that they don’t have anything to make them want to stick around. Gaslighting, coercion and intimidation aren’t signs of masculine superiority, they’re the tools of abusers and stalkers. 50 Shades of Grey isn’t popular because women secretly want to have every moment of their lives controlled by an emotionally stunted abuser, it’s because power-exchange is hot, pain can be enjoyable and trusting someone enough to give up control is incredibly erotic.
Uncertainty is about excitement and hope triumphing over doubt. It’s about the thrill of the new. It’s not fear and mind-games.
So having talked about the way a little uncertainty can help produce the spark of chemistry, let’s look how you can incorporate some uncertainty in your relationships, no matter whether it’s just beginning or one of long-standing. One of the things to remember is that uncertainty goes beyond the build up of “will they/won’t they”. After all, there comes a point where you become more secure in your mutual attraction for one another; unless you intend to play hard to get for all the time you know each other3 you’re going to reach a point that yes, you definitely like each other.
But that doesn’t mean that the uncertainty goes away. It simply shifts focus.
Flirting, teasing and banter frequently rely on uncertainty and anticipation. Flirting and teasing are based around deliberately building up and frustrating desire – dangling the potential of sexual release and then pulling it back at the last minute, keeping the thrill of the chase going. It becomes a sort of delicious agony, knowing that the end is coming4 but never being quite sure where or when; you live in expectation of the release and every time it slips out of your hands, you want it more. Long-established couples especially should flirt more. Playful teasing and holding back helps keep you both interested and making more of an effort to impress and seduce one another.
There’s also the thrill of getting to know one another. We love novelty and learning about this person we’re interested in. The little surprises as we start to piece the puzzle of our dates together delight us, filling in blanks and letting us feel closer while raising more questions at the same time. But you don’t want to give everything away up front; parcelling out your stories is an important part of keeping the interest high. Knowing that our partner can surprise us with hidden depths is part of what keeps us fascinated, rending us that while we know a lot about them, there’re still twists and turns we could never have anticipated. Of course, when you’ve been together for quite some time, you’ve gotten to know each other very well. How can you still have uncertainty when you’ve shared your lives together for one year, five years, twenty years? By having lives outside of one another; that time apart means that you’re able to grow in new and exciting ways and have new and different stories to share.
Trying new things in the bedroom can also trade on feelings of anticipation, build-up and discovery. As much as the books (and accompanying movie) are hot garbage, 50 Shades did show us that more and more women are harboring fantasies of all stripes that they’ve been looking to explore. Changing things up – even safe vanilla5 ways like using a blindfold can lead to exciting revelations.
Every relationship is a voyage of discovery with one’s partner and there’s always something new to explore and try. Instead of letting boredom set in with the tried and expected, you want to invite a little uncertainty back in and watch it recharge the excitement that you had in the beginning.