Perhaps you’ve lived this common scenario: You’ve dated a guy a few times. You hit it off and enjoy each other a lot. You feel great around him. He treats you well when you’re together. However, he calls unpredictably, emails periodically, and you see him only sporadically. If you call him, it may take him days to get back to you. Yet you anxiously anticipate the next contact.
We can only guess what’s going on with him. Is he game playing? Toying with you? Have another woman (or women) on the hook? Not that interested?
But then he calls or emails, and wants to see you — today, tonight, or now.
Since we don’t really know what’s up with him, let’s look at what’s happening with you. Many women get snared into this “hook, let out the line, then reel her in” behavior. Why do we fall for it?
B. F. Skinner explained it, thanks to experiments with pigeons and rats. He showed that animals (and by inference, people) are more likely to do what you want with intermittent reinforcement rather than consistent rewards. So for us dating midlife women, it means that we are more likely to be drawn in by a guy who gives us irregular reinforcement (infrequent calls, unpredictable emails, and spontaneous dates) than with a man who is consistent, regular and predictable.
I can hear you now: “Not me!” you say. “I like a man who calls me every day during lunch, has a standing Friday night date, and emails me first thing in the morning. Yep, I’m for Predictable Man, not Flake-o Guy.”
Well, good for you. You might be an anomaly if you’ve never felt yourself drawn to one of those intermittent-contact guys. Many women find something irresistible about a “bad boy” who comes and goes at his own whim, leaving you wondering when — and if — he’ll be back. But he’s so charming, attentive, exciting and smooth when you’re with him, you’re wiling to put up with some uncertainty for that hit of his musty cologne, those goose-bump inducing kisses, and his adorable crooked smile as he sweeps you off your feet.
So what to do if you become aware that you’re entranced by an Intermittent Guy? If you like the excitement of spontaneity and unpredictability, and like to be non-committal yourself, great. But if you mope around waiting for him to call, or refuse date invitations from others, this is not good. If you want some certainty, then you need to ask for it. If he’s not willing to give it and you’re not willing to perpetually be his last-minute date, then you need to let go. Invite him to be your friend, or release him entirely.
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