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Why You Don’t Feel Chemistry With "Nice Guys"

...and how to change that.

File Photo Picture on iStock
Source: File Photo Picture on iStock

Key Points: Being attracted to emotionally unavailable men may be due to confusing physical arousal for a romantic connection. Taking steps to spark arousal with a "nice" partner could help break the cycle and lead to a more fulfilling relationship.

Have you ever felt frustrated that you seem to get hopelessly “head over heels” for unavailable men, yet find yourself impervious to the advances of seemingly nice guys who are genuinely available and ready for a serious relationship? Would you like to change this pattern so you can finally start enjoying a great relationship and quit wasting time with men who play hot-and-cold with your emotions? The science of psychology may come to your rescue.

In a classic study of social psychology, Dutton and Aron conducted an experiment in which a female experimenter stood at the end of two different bridges and asked random men who crossed the bridge to tell a short story. The first bridge was a sturdy bridge 10 feet over a calm rivulet—let's call that one the “safe bridge.” The second bridge was a suspension bridge and traversed a 230-foot drop to rocks and rapids—we’ll keep it simple and call that one the “scary bridge.”

What the researchers found was that the men who crossed the scary bridge were more likely to use sexual imagery in their stories. They were also more likely to later call the woman after receiving her phone number during the experiment—even though it was the same woman at the end of both bridges.

Why did the men crossing the scary bridge use more sexual content and seem to find the female experimenter more attractive than the men who crossed the safe bridge? The results suggest that these men may have misattributed their arousal symptoms (such as increased heart rate or sweaty palms) that arose from crossing a highly stimulating, albeit somewhat scary bridge to a romantic or sexual attraction to the woman.

This study may help explain a phenomenon I’ve seen in my practice. Many of my female clients complain that they don’t feel chemistry with nice guys, yet find themselves drawn to men who are unpredictable and keep them guessing (I also occasionally see this in my male clients).

How to Form Attractions to Emotionally Available Partners

If you experience this in your own dating life, you might want to learn how to see good guys as more exciting and the not-so-good guys as less so. Here are some tips for doing so.

1. Make a list.

Your first step will be to make a list of "Scary Bridge" behaviors. Scary Bridge behaviors are behaviors that are undesirable in a dating partner, and which therefore may result in considerable worry or irritation for you. Unfortunately, this worry or irritation might be misattributed to an attraction for the man who is provoking the worry or irritation. That is why it’s important to identify these behaviors so you can recognize them as they occur. Your list may include the following:

  • Showing up late to a date (even if for a good reason—any type of lateness can increase anticipation, which increases physiological arousal)
  • Canceling a date at the last minute (again, even if for a good reason— the point here isn’t to evaluate his reasons, just to notice the effect of the behavior on your physiological arousal)
  • Suggesting a date but failing to make clear plans with you or keeping you guessing about exactly when/where the date will occur
  • Telling you he isn’t sure if he’s ready for a relationship

It’s important not to get stuck in trying to evaluate whether his reasons are “good” or not for the behaviors above. To your body, it makes no difference—if there are sudden changes or periods of uncertainty, your level of physiological arousal can get heightened. We all have occasional last-minute emergencies, but if you’re dating someone who seems to have an endless array of issues (emergency meeting, been hurt in the past, and the list goes on and on…), consider that his unavailability could actually be creating drama that ironically actually makes him more tantalizing.

In addition to your Scary Bridge list, you will also want to make a list of "Safe Bridge" behaviors. These are behaviors that you may have previously seen as sappy or boring, but which are often found in kind, romantically-interested guys. Your list of Safe Bridge behaviors may include the following:

  • Showing up to a first date with flowers
  • Offering to pick you up or see you home
  • Arriving on time for dates
  • Ending a date with plans to see you again
  • Making it clear that he is smitten with you (nice but cheesy text messages, nervous laughter, sweaty palms, finding himself tongue-tied in awkward silence, nervous about the first kiss, etc.)

Reading this, you may be thinking that you do like it when a guy does some of the Safe Bridge things above, yet you still find yourself attracted to unavailable men. But consider the context of those behaviors. If you find yourself attracted to men who do Safe Bridge behaviors inconsistently, these behaviors may excite you mainly due to their rarity. Intermittent reinforcement is actually the most excitement provoking—this is why casinos set slot machines to give rewards in a randomly ordered manner where the user never knows what to expect and keeps chasing the rewards. Don’t let intermittent reinforcement create a misleading sense of excitement that keeps you trapped in a holding pattern with a Mr. Wrong.

2. Re-slot behaviors.

After making your list of Scary Bridge and Safe Bridge behaviors, you will next want to change the way you see these behaviors. While you may find Scary Bridge behaviors to be exciting or signs that a man must be “hard to get” or “just so busy and successful” or “really cool and not rushing things,” you will want to re-slot these behaviors as flaky, non-assertive, and undesirable. The goal is to get to the point where you can roll your eyes at these behaviors rather than getting tantalized by them.

You will also want to re-slot Safe Bridge behaviors. Below are some ideas on how to see nice guys as more exciting:

  • Do something a little scary with your date, such as going to a horror movie. Should you misattribute your fear as an attraction for your date in this context, it would be a positive thing.
  • Come up with a sexual fantasy to imagine while on a date with Mr. Nice Guy. If you need help coming up with ideas, you might try searching online for erotica or porn till you find something that really excites you—it should feel naughty, forbidden, or whatever it takes to get your heart racing. When you go on a date with a nice guy who might feel so safe that he’s a little boring, call the fantasy material mind while you focus your gaze on your date. This could help arouse your body and make you more open to advances from Mr. Nice Guy.
  • Think about how thrilling it would be to get engaged or to plan a wedding, if such things interest you. How can the cheap excitement that flaky guys provide compare to the thrill of being in a deep relationship that leads to marriage?

If you are able to successfully re-slot Safe Bridge and Scary Bridge behaviors, this could go a long way towards reducing frustration in your dating life. I have seen my clients and readers of my dating book apply the principles in this article to great success.