My friend was dying to tell her new boyfriend she loves him but waited till he said it first. She, in fact, makes that a rule. Now I have a new boyfriend. Should I just shamelessly own my feelings — that is, tell him I love him? Or should I follow my friend's lead? — Hating Waiting
We have this notion that it's really romantic for a couple to say "I love you" pronto: "The moment he/she sat down at the bus stop next to me, I just knew!" In reality, "love at first sight" tends to come with some issues, such as the failure to weed out any insta-beloveds who kiss like big-lipped fish.
Your desire to go all blurtypants on the guy likewise seems romantic — until you consider the psychological mechanics behind it. Chances are, you're in a state of psychological tension — all fired up with suspense at how the guy will respond — and only by telling him will you finally get relief. (It's basically the emotional version of really, really needing to pee.)
Research on sex differences in "parental investment" by evolutionary biologist Robert Trivers suggests that it's probably a bad idea for you, as a woman, to go first with the ILY. Trivers explains that in species like ours, in which females get stuck with the burden of parental care (should sex lead to the creation of toddlers), they evolved to vet males for ability and willingness to invest — more than that initial teaspoonful of sperm, that is. Men coevolved to expect this — to expect to have to prove themselves to women to get sex. In short, men chase; women choose.
Sure, there are couples out there in which the woman chased and things ended up just fine. But those evolved differences in male and female psychology are still driving us — even now, in our world of smartphones, facial recognition software, and, before long, family vacations in flying minivans.
In other words, you're taking a risk by tossing out the ILY first — possibly causing the guy to want you less than if you let him take the lead in ILY blurtations. And hi, feminists! I can hear the flicking of your lighters as you ready your pitchforks and hay. But the way I see it, what should be feminist is acknowledging what seems to be the optimal approach for women per research on human psychology.
Despite the risks, you may decide to be that rebel gazelle that chases the lion. If so, why not go all the way? Pull out your man's chair for him in restaurants. Put your jacket over his shoulders on a cold night. And be the one who goes downstairs with the baseball bat when there's a weird noise at 3 a.m. As he cowers in bed, reassure him: "Baby, you just stay there in your nightie...I got this."
The Benefits Of Exorcise
My fiancee dumped me three months ago. I was devastated, but I've come to realize that we shouldn't be together. Now she keeps pressing for us to meet, saying there's stuff she needs to "process." I was finally starting to get over her, but should I just go? — Torn
Getting together with your ex-fiancee after you've finally started to move on is like being just out of rehab and reconnecting with a friend: "What could be the harm? A nice pastrami on rye with my old heroin dealer!"
Your brain, like an air-conditioned Miami mansion, is "expensive" to run, so it tries to go on autopilot (basically nonthink mode) whenever possible. When you repeatedly take a certain action — like turning to a certain person for love, attention, and comforting — that action becomes more and more automatic. On a neural level, this plays out with a bunch of individual brain cells (neurons) that "wire together," as neuroscientist Carla Shatz puts it.
This happens after individual neurons each fire off a chemical messenger — a neurotransmitter — that another neuron catches and absorbs. The more a person repeats the same action — and the more a group of neurons does the same fire-off-and-catch sequence — the faster they get at it. Eventually, these neurons become what I like to describe as a "thinkpack" — conserving mental energy through bypassing the conscious thought department and robotically defaulting to whatever action worked for the person in the past.
Right now, the last thing you need is to stall your recovery process — the weakening over time of those entrenched neural pathways — by getting the band (Ramon and The Neurons) back together. If you feel bad about saying no to seeing her, consider how she's prioritizing her need to "process" over your continued recovery. Aww...how loving! ("It's not you; it's me — and how my crappy new insurance no longer covers therapy.")
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email [email protected] (www.advicegoddess.com). Order her new book, "Unf*ckology: A Field Guide to Living with Guts and Confidence."
It's Amy Alkon's "HumanLab — The Science Between Us." Amy brings in the luminaries of behavioral science to solve our problems in love, work, and life. Listen live every Sunday — http://www.blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon — from 7 to 7:30 p.m. Pacific time; or listen or download at the link, at iTunes, or on Stitcher. This week, Amy interviews Dr. Randy Paterson on how and why to be assertive in your work, friendships, and relationships.