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I received three different email questions last week. All with the same theme. Two from women and one from a man. They all wanted to know why an intended partner was behaving in a particular way. For the women, it was about a man not asking them out. For the man, it was about a woman avoiding a relationship. All three people put the blame squarely on "fear". They had assumed their partners were afraid. They emailed me to explain to them why.
I'm not surprised that these people have jumped to the conclusion of fear as the answer. Popular dating advice talks all about fear as a reason for behavior. Men are "afraid" to ask women out. Women are "afraid" of getting hurt. Everyone is "afraid" of commitment.
But, fear in this case is not a helpful explanation. Fear doesn't tell us much. Fear also doesn't help us persuade or influence better behavior in a date or mate. So, I offer something a bit different...
At the most basic level, behavior is influenced by consequences (Skinner, 1974). Feelings (such as fear) are but a side effect. In other words, both men and women perform behaviors that have been reinforced in the past - and they assume will be reinforced in the present. They also avoid performing behaviors that have been punished in the past - and they assume will be punished in the present. Essentially, we all seek to maximize pleasure, success, and reward, while avoiding pain, failure, and penalty.
So, from a behaviorist standpoint, we cannot say that "fear" prevented a man from asking a woman out (or vice versa). We can only say that the combination of reinforcement and punishment did not elicit the behavior. This can be due to a number of reasons:
When the explanation of "fear" is used, it most usually means this third choice above. He (or she) liked the person (found them reinforcing), but was afraid for "no good reason" (wrongly assuming the behavior would be punished). Given the above though, simply supposing number three leaves out the possibility that 1) the other person was just not sufficiently attracted (rewarded) and 2) assumes that the other person believes they would be punished for the behavior. That may or may not be true...
Rather than just assuming "fear", take a look at the reinforcement and punishment around such behaviors.
If you want someone to ask you out, think about the following:
The idea is similar for relationships. Sometimes women and men have "punishing" histories from trusting the partners that came along before you did. They need both reinforcement from you - and repeated assurances that punishment won't occur - to trust again.
Finally, if you yourself are "afraid", look instead to your perceptions of rewards and punishments. Perhaps, given your own past, you are too quick to assume punishment will occur in the future. Or maybe you just need to find someone more rewarding to prompt you to make you move. Think about it. Then change the (perceptions of) behavioral consequences.
Overall, men and women are not "afraid to date". They simply may not be reinforced to do so - or punished to avoid it. Using this perspective gives you more options to persuade your date or mate. Reward them in the direction you want them to go. Remove threats of punishment. Then, they might just ask you out, trust you, and make you happy too.
For more behaviorism in dating, learn How to Give Your Date a Cookie.
Go to www.AttractionDoctor.com for more dating and relationship advice (in helpful categories)!
Until next time...happy dating and relating!
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© 2011 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.