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Have you ever been on a date that wasn't quite going in the direction you intended? Perhaps you were looking for a long-term marriage partner and your date was sizing you up as a short-term sex partner? Or maybe, just the opposite. Perhaps, you were in the market for the one-night stand, "hooking up", or friends-with-benefits, and your date was not on the same page?
If you have experienced this dating disconnect, you're not alone. Conveying and interpreting the meaning of a "first date" can be difficult. But, according to Epstude and Förster (2011), how people interpret ambiguous romantic situations can be influenced.
Research on Thoughts of Love and Lust
Epstude and Förster (2011) assert that love and sex are independent in the mind. They exist at different levels of thinking (called "construal levels"). Love is thought about on a more abstract level and in a longer-term, future timeline. Sex, in contrast, is considered on a more concrete level, in the here-and-now.
Essentially then, influencing an individual's level of thinking can make thoughts about "love" or "sex" more likely. Across 3 studies Epstude and Förster (2011) supported this assertion. They found that changing participants "construal level" resulted in them seeing more "love" or "lust" in ambiguous dating scenarios.
What This Means for Your Love Life
You can change your dating partner's "construal level" as well - with the right conversation. Talk about the right topics on a first date and they might be planning lifelong adventures by dessert. Discuss other topics and a single steamy night of passion might be more likely. Let's review a few examples of discussions that will get your date thinking along the lines of "love" or "lust"...
Cognitions (thoughts) of Love take place in the abstract and the future. So, to call upon that construal level, get your dating partners to discuss some of the following:
- Their long-term future life plans, goals, aspirations.
- The deeper meaning of their actions. "Why" they do what they do.
- How they describe and categorize themselves (and others).
- Their thoughts or philosophies about topics, events, and life.
- Anything else that is deep, thoughtful, future-oriented, and positive.
In contrast, cognitions of Lust take place in the specific and present. To elicit that construal level, get your partners talking about:
- Their recent or past activities, feelings, and experiences (e.g. you swam with sharks, what did that feel like?).
- What excites them right there and then (e.g. the food is great, the music is exciting, etc.).
- How things taste, feel, sound, smell, and look.
- How concrete behaviors are performed (bonus if you can get them to show you how to shoot pool, cook, dance, etc.).
- Anything else that is concrete, in the moment, exciting, and visceral.
The mind is flexible, but it also has set "tracks" of thinking. Discuss long-term and positive generalities, and put your date on track to daydream about "happily ever after". Get them thinking about their current feelings, experiences, and body sensations, and put them on track for daydreams that are a bit more naughty. Either way, you take a bit of ambiguity out of the date. The direction you go in, however, is your choice.
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Until next time...happy dating and relating!
Dr. Jeremy Nicholson
The Attraction Doctor
Previous Articles from The Attraction Doctor
- Epstude, K., & Förster, J., Seeing love, or seeing lust: How people interpret ambiguous romantic situations, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology (2011), doi:10.1016/j.jesp.2011.03.019
© 2011 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.