By Robert Cribb, Toronto Star, February 23, 2011
When University of Virginia researcher Erin Whitchurch and her colleagues asked 47 university-aged women to view the Facebook profiles of male students who had previously seen their profiles and expressed their varying levels of attraction, the results were a blow to every heart-on-sleeve one of us.
The women were told that the men either liked them a lot, liked them an average amount, or were uncertain. Asked to express their levels of attraction to the men, the initial results were predictable: They liked the men who liked them a lot much better than the ones that only liked them an average amount. That’s merely a confirmation of the so-called “reciprocity principle,” which basically holds that we like people who like us.
But here’s where reciprocity — and the quaint notion of honesty being the best policy — takes a staggering hit: The women expressed their deepest longings for the curious group of cads who withheld their feelings. To repeat the counterintuitive unfairness of it all: The women found the indifferent mystery men more attractive than men who had openly and honestly professed their affections.
“Whereas people may be very pleased that someone likes them, once they are certain of this fact they construct explanations as to why, and as a result the news loses some of its force,” concludes the study, titled “He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: Uncertainty Can Increase Romantic Attraction.”
“In contrast, when people are uncertain about an important outcome, they can hardly think about anything else. They think about such an event but do not yet adapt to it, because they do not know which outcome to make sense of and explain.”
And because the women reported thinking about the playing-hard-to-get men more, “this increased their attraction,” the study says.
Declaring interest in and attraction to a woman has been considered the honourable thing for any self-respecting male to do, when starting out into the shark-infested waters of human relationships. Only those whom the cliche would dub "macho" would withhold their intentions, because to withhold is to maintain complete control thereby maintaining a dominant position in an relationship that is still only a mere flicker in his eye and blip in his heart. So is it women's insecurity, or women's desire for an interesting story line whose direction and tempo and rhythm remain a mystery to her flailing imagination, or the desire to pursue and to conquer, making the interraction more dramatic and thereby more compelling the reason for her/their interest in those men who keep their intentions private? Or, perhaps more likely, some combination of all three motivations, and even several others, that raise the decibels and the pulse in a woman's heart...at first.
As in many aspects of human relationships, perhaps this research points to the question of timing....a very delicate and intimate learning curve for all individuals, both men and women, in their understanding of themselves and any potential partner.
If one declares too soon, any potential for challenge and mystery has been removed, and the male can and likely often will be taken for granted. On the other hand, if he waits too long to commit, and the romance novels are filled with his type, any interest that might have been ignited initially could and likely will have waned or disappeared. It is the complex sensitivity of "knowing" how to proceed with each person, in all things concerning human relationships, even those in the workplace and in the social gatherings that defines much of the success of those relationships.
The other equally elusive dynamic is whether one is the pursued or the persuer...or both. If one considers himself the pursuer, and excludes the potential of his simultaneously being the pursued, he reduces his own potential for being attractive. There is a kind of richness that accompanies living between these two archetypes, the pursued and the pursuer, that can help an overactive endocrine system to put the brakes on and live in the complication of uncertainty, something most males reject as "too complicated" for their arrow-like targetted-for-victory brains.
In the bush, while hunting, there is no ambiguity about who is hunted and who is hunter; the hunter carries his gun over his shoulder while the deer prance gingerly through the forest, hoping for protection from the trees and their own camouflage of colours, shapes and movements.
Such clarity does not attach to the complexity of the male-female mating dance, and certainly not in the 21st century after nearly a half century of feminism, not accompanied by a similar thrust from the male side of the equation.
Women, all of cultures and ages, seem completly smitten by a degree of mystery, especially one that seems to fit within her concepts of 'not too dangerous' and 'not boring'....and men have yet to learn many of the differences between the proverbial hunt (for the deer) and the hunt for the dear.
And that learning will, in the end, require all men to help each other...because women, too, do not wish to disclose too soon, in their avoidance of their own demise as healthy and honourable women.
And just imagine what the world of relationships would be like if both men and women were healthy enough to enter into their own best, most playful and most artistically imaginative consciousness of both disclosure and withholding...creating a mutual dance of jazz improvisation of which pianist Scott Peterson would be proud.