After three happy years with my first love, I ruined things by turning clingy, depressed and negative when we moved apart for grad school. The nag who waits by the phone, plans her life around a guy, cries piteously? Was Me. Not surprisingly, he eventually broke it off, and I actually begged him to return. How alluring, right?
Fast forward three more years. I still love Dan. We now live in the same city, know the same people, and often see one another at art galleries, the theater, etc. And I’ve returned to being the independent, well-adjusted, optimistic woman I really am. But I’m not sure Dan sees that yet…or if he ever will. How do I ease the awkwardness between us, let him see I’m the woman he fell in love with, and win him back?
Oh, the I-cringe-at-my-own-past-desperate-behavior feeling! We’ve all been there. Yet precisely because you tried so hard to hang onto Dan back then, it’s imperative that you do *nothing* to ease the tension now.
In fact, I’d suggest increasing the awkwardness. And although what I’m about to advise is politically incorrect, defies current mainstream culture, and should offend almost everyone who attempts to be fair and honest, Love Science is ultimately about What Works in the human mating ritual. Which, you may have noted, ain’t always pretty. So here goes.
First, let’s review: A man can court a woman and win her heart, but a woman can rarely court to win a man. As former articles have shown, most men connect with their longing for and commitment to us when they are *uncomfortable* or when barriers (such as the threat of other suitors) stand in their way—not when we make things a snap. And because men seek status in all things, including relationships, women who “work too hard” or offer too much too easily appear clingy and desperate and low-status, oh my. And as you’ve seen—that is Man Repellent.
Conversely, most desirable men value She Who Requires Effort as good indicators of status and fidelity. It’s likely that Dan wants a prize he has to work for, not a job he’s been assigned. He wants a high-status woman—the one he used to see in you before the separation, and the one you are now.
So, you’re not going to pursue Dan if you want to Win Him Back. Instead, you’re going to put yourself into a position to be worked for—even competed for. In other words, if you want Dan to win *you* back, it’s time to Make Him Jealous.
Although men and women are equally likely to feel jealousy, about twice as many women admit they’ve intentionally tried to rouse the Green-Eyed Monster—and revenge is rarely their motivation. Instead, Gregory White and others have found that most women cultivate jealousy for two reasons: to discern the strength of their lover’s feelings and enhance commitment.
If you think about it, there aren’t too many effective ways to accomplish these feats if you’re the more interested party—which, like you, most women using jealousy are. How can you tell if he loves you? And can you make him if he’s not so inclined? Unfortunately, the pill that forces love between two particular individuals is not yet FDA-approved. So in truth, you can’t make Dan feel anything. You can just do certain things, and he’ll either connect with your worth to him and a dread of losing you and engage pursuit, or he’ll feel little and do even less. Scientists and research participants alike agree, though: No jealousy = no love = time to move on. But isn’t having that knowledge better than continuing to wonder?
Of course, we’re hoping for Dan’s sudden emotional epiphany regarding your desirability, your status, your unique You-ness that originally captivated his emotions. Clearly, this is what most women are after when they create competition scenarios. After all, if a man loves a woman and she’s got other active options, he’d better do something pronto or watch someone else whisk her away, right? Right?
As it happens—Yes. Although popular opinion says that men will necessarily reject a woman who creates the circumstances for jealousy, researchers including Virgil Sheets have scoped men’s responses to women’s jealousy tactics, and have found that men who care about the woman in question commonly *increase* their involvement when she invokes jealousy. Specifically, men admit to stepping up the amount of attention paid to her, spending more energy tracking her whereabouts, and showing signs of her value to him. And when David Buss and others studied hundreds of dating and married couples, they found that men’s most common response to perceived rivalry from another man was to lavish time, attention, jewelry, dinners, etc. on the woman they didn’t want to lose.
So, given that female creation of jealousy very often Works—how do *you* Work It? Here’s what Science Says savvy women are up to. Or, to ruin a Paul Simon tune: There Must Be Seven Ways To Make Him Jealous:
1. Date Others Now. And not just any Others, mind you: Others who are higher in status—money, education, leadership qualities, job, physical prowess— than Dan. Global research strongly suggests the most threatening (and hence motivating) rival is the one with more on the ball than your beloved.
2. Make Sure Dan Knows About Your Dates. Be properly escorted to these events where you normally run into Dan. And if you happen to mention your new date’s credentials to a good friend of Dan’s (or to Dan himself, should the occasion arise), so much the better.
3. Don’t have a legitimate date? Fake It. You know that guy friend of yours who is perfect, but you’re just not into each other? Or your best friend’s brother who is a little too much like family to be sexy to you? Ask them to be your ‘beard’—they’re ideal. You don’t have to say one way or the other what they mean to you; just show up and flirt with them.
4. Get Your Flirt On. Flirt in front of Dan with other men every chance you get. The top way to flirt, as research has shown, is to do the things *you* (and other women) normally think of as friendly…but with sexier clothing and even more smiling. Men, likely including Dan, interpret all of the following as showing sexual interest:
—Smile broadly at other men;
—Make and keep eye contact with other men;
—Talk to other men;
—Touch other men on the arm;
—Appear fascinated by what other men have to say;
—Ask other men lots of questions;
—Sweep your hand through your hair in a long, flowing gesture (unless your hair is very short, in which case, that would look odd).
5. Name Drop. Drop other men’s names into conversation. When you see Dan or one of his friends, for example, end the discussion by saying, “Oh, Todd’s gonna be here any sec to pick me up. Nice seeing you, gotta run!”
6. Talk About Other Men. Talk about other men you’ve dated, or name someone specific you are currently (maybe pretending to be) interested in. “Oh, you know Trey? Is he dating anyone now? I always thought he was kinda cute.”
7. Act Less Interested In Dan. If you can possibly bring yourself to do it, show a little less interest in Dan than you want to. Feigning a bit of disinterest and distance is a well-worn strategy—for good reason. Don’t be bitchy—but don’t hang on his every word and glance, either.
Cait, I leave you with this final strategy: Please don’t save a spot in your heart for Dan any more. Although first love can indeed be true love, it’s been a few years now, and Dan hasn’t come after you yet even though he’s had opportunities. And although jealousy is likely the surest route to renewing his interest, it won’t work if Dan has really moved on and has lost all romantic feelings for you.
So yes, Work It, but try to keep your heart open and date others whom you could have a real interest in, too. If Dan really wants you, he’ll do whatever it takes to have you, and if he doesn’t, you should be moving towards happiness elsewhere. Ultimately, it’s that Pursuit that drives us all.
All material copyrighted by Duana C. Welch, Ph.D. and LoveScience Media, 2009; reprinted with permission, 2013
The author wishes to thank the following scientists for their outstanding research into the ways, whys and hows of women’s use of jealousy, and how men respond:
David M. Buss: recommended reading is his book The Dangerous Passion: Why Jealousy Is As Necessary As Love and Sex