Monthly Archives: January 2012

Should Men Play Hard To Get?

Who are women most likely to find attractive right at the beginning of a relationship?

  1. men who strongly like them
  2. men who may like them
  3. men who show disinterest in them

On the one hand, plenty of psychological research says we tend to like people about as much as they like us. But what if we don’t know whether someone likes us or not? How does uncertainty affect things?

Psychologists at the University of Virginia and Harvard wanted to know. So Erin Whitchurch, Timothy Wilson and Daniel Gilbert set up an experiment. They told 47 women college students that they wanted to see if Facebook could work as an online dating site. Each was shown (fake) profiles of four “likeable, attractive” men.

Some were told, “These men liked you the most.” Others were told that the men had rated them “average.” A third group was left wondering as researchers explained that the men might either like them “the most” or “an average” amount.

Finding: The women were attracted to the men who found them attractive, just as prior research predicted. But they were most attracted when they weren’t sure how much the men liked them.

Keep in mind that these uncertain women didn’t have to worry that the men found them unattractive. They knew the men thought they were either average or very attractive. When there is a possible negative outcome – being seen as unattractive or ridiculous — women turn off.

So why would women feel more attracted with ambiguity than when attraction is strong?

A couple of things may be happening. When we respond strongly to positive experiences but then adapt, we get used to it. But when we are uncertain we spend more time thinking and trying to understand. So we never adapt.

But also, when we spend a lot of time thinking about someone we figure we must like them a lot.

But consider that this study only applies to the earliest stage of online dating. And the researchers looked only at women. Men have been found to be most attracted to women who are interested in them and not other guys. They are less attracted to women who are either “hard to get” (not interested in anyone) or women who are “easy to get” (they’re happy to date several men).

And as Psychologist, Adoree Durayappah points out:

(These) participants did not meet the men in person, and this was at the start of a relationship. Thus, we are uncertain if women keeping men guessing about their interest increases attraction or if keeping one’s partner guessing as the relationship develops would be advised. My personal hunch is that keeping one’s partner guessing about one’s interest during a growing relationship probably isn’t the best strategy for building a close connection.

Makes sense to me.

And if you don’t want to play games, be yourself and find someone who doesn’t want to play games either.

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Best Not To Be Popular In High School

Good news for most of us – about 98% of us, anyway. It’s best not to be popular in high school.

After following the lives of six outsiders and one self-proclaimed “popular bitch” cheerleader, that’s Alexandra Robbins verdict in her book, The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.


Well, what is popularity?

Oddly, “What the kids call ‘mean popular’ and ‘nice popular’ are actually what psychologists are coming to call ‘perceived popular’ versus popular,” says Robbins. “The kids who are perceived popular—the kids who are considered the top of the social hierarchy—they’re actually not very well liked, but they’re viewed as being socially successful.”

So part of the reason it’s best not to be popular is that people often don’t actually like you.

Perhaps that’s partly why high school status is not necessarily aligned with happiness. Popular people might be happy and they might not. Also true of geeks. But in fact, Robbins insists the so-called popular kids are often a lot less happy than the other kids in school.

That makes sense. When the minds of “mean popular” kids are full of misery – as in making others miserable – how could they be filled with happiness or joy?

But there’s more. Being popular requires fitting in. Cookie-cutter, mindless “groupthink” tuned toward conventional style. Lacking your own thoughts and opinions. Being pretty boring. Pretty and boring, that is.

Then there’s the focus on fashion and gossip. Fulfilling? I think not.

In an interview with The Washingtonian, Robbins declares, “Popular kids don’t necessarily know who they are because they’re so busy trying to conform. It’s the outcasts who are more attuned to who they are. They’re more self-aware, more real.”

Adolescence is a struggle between individuality and inclusion. “Nonconformity is a wonderful trait, and it’s going to be valued in adulthood,” Robbins reflects. “If you’re different in school, that makes you an outsider. If you’re different as an adult, that makes you interesting, fun and often successful.”

Original thought and expression will take you much farther, ranging from more interesting friends and conversation to creative, enriching, and contributing work, whether in business, science, academia, media, or the arts.

Lady Gaga is Exhibit A. Always one to express herself, she did not fit in, was not popular in high school, and was once thrown in a trashcan. But look at her now!

Not-popular people of the world, unite, and be proud.

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Anorexia: Physically and Spiritually Dying

I wouldn’t sit with daddy when he was alone in the hospital because I needed to go jogging; I told Derek not to visit me because I couldn’t throw up when he was there; I almost failed my comprehensive exams because I was so hungry; I spent my year at Oxford with my head in the toilet bowl; I wouldn’t eat the dinner my friends cooked me for my 19th birthday because I knew they had used oil in the recipe; I told my family not to come to my college graduation because I didn’t want to miss a day at the gym or have to eat a restaurant meal.

I would swear I did not miss the world outside. Lost within myself, I almost died.

During her recovery from anorexia, Abra Fortune Chernik filled three and a half Mead marble notebooks – five years’ worth of reflection on how her eating disorder had tangled her life and thwarted her relationships. You can read more on her struggle in “The Body Politic.”

I had always known that anorexia diminished women physically, and too often led to their deaths. But I hadn’t stopped to realize that the disease shrank them socially, emotionally, and mentally, too – leaving their world revolving solely around their bodies and their food – or the lack thereof.

I hadn’t realized that anorexia meant both a physical and spiritual ridding of the self. And yet it surely does.

Abra continued:

As my body shrank, so did my world. I starved away my power and vision, my energy and inclinations. Obsessed with dieting, I allowed relationships, passions, and identity to wither.

The name of her piece, “The Body Politic,” tells us that anorexia is not just about Abra’s own struggle, but the struggle of women who live in a world that seems to applaud their constriction, and perhaps even their disappearance.

A push toward constricting women, or “disappearing them”? In an earlier piece I talked of political pressures to deny women life-saving vaccines, cancer screenings, tests for H.I.V., emergency abortions to save a woman’s life, and nutrition programs, along with decriminalizing domestic violence. Women’s control over their bodies is being increasingly constricted by attempts to limit access to contraception and the right to choose.

Applauding women who sufficiently shrink their bodies, minds and souls is perfectly consistent.

And perfectly deranged.

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Should Women Play Hard To Get?

A best-selling book from a few years back advised women to follow “The Rules” (the book’s title) to catch a man.

The rules are all about playing hard to get. A sampling:

  • Don’t talk to a man first and don’t ask him to dance
  • Don’t call him and rarely return his calls
  • Always end the date first
  • Don’t see him more than once or twice a week
  • Don’t open up too fast

Guys in my classes have mixed feelings about this advice. A few seem to like the chase but most feel manipulated or say they would think the woman wasn’t interested.

A dating blogger asked some of her male friends to share their thoughts. One felt that playing hard to get is great:

The first rule of relationship fight club: Wait as long as he took to write before you reply to his email, and never write more than he wrote.”

But another guy felt differently:

That sounds like crap. Back in my early twenties, yes, “hard to get” was great. But now, I’m too tired after work, so “easy to get” is preferable, although I can handle “moderately challenging” on weekends.

Another said that playing hard to get definitely doesn’t make him more interested.

If she seems to be only reacting tit-for-tat, I quickly lose interest.

Three of the guys she talked to said they’d likely mistake “playing hard to get” for “not interested.”

On the other hand, “too easy” isn’t appealing, either. One guy put it this way:

It’s a real attraction-killer if a woman comes off like she’ll take whatever she can get — and you happen to be her current target.

So the men were all over the place. Research suggests the most common reaction is a bit more complicated.

Early experiments failed to find any evidence that “hard to get” works. Women who initially declined a date were no more — or less — desirable than women who eagerly accepted.

Eventually researchers realized there are two different ways to be hard-to-get: (1) how hard it is for me to get her and (2) how hard it is for other men to get her.

Turns out that women are most attractive when they are hard for other men to get, but easy for “me” to get.

A recent study on speed dating found that women had the best chance of landing a guy if they both, (1) desired a particular man more than other women did, and (2) were uninterested in the other men at the event.

Researcher, Eli Finkel opined, “People can tell lickety-split whether you have a special attraction for them, and this special attraction seems to inspire their attraction in return.” But he added:

Of course, it’s never good to be desperate, either. The key is to be selectively hard to get. If you’re interested in somebody, make sure he knows you like him, but do so in a way that doesn’t suggest that you’d take just anybody. It’s okay to be eager, as long as you do it with dignity.

For those who want to know.

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Rick Santorum: Über-Religious but Lacks Humanity

Presidential candidate, Rick Santorum, thinks contraception is a danger to the country. He apparently feels the same about federal aid for the disabled. And the government should place limits on our wants and passions, he says. After all, gay sex is the same as incest or “man-on-dog” sex.

Other candidates bait the extreme right with nutty social issues but as Maureen Dowd points out, they do it “because it’s good politics; Santorum sincerely means it. His political philosophy is infused with his über-Catholicism but lacks humanity.”

Santorum wants to cut back on federal aid for the disabled. Instead, family, friends and neighbors can help.

But what if friends and family can’t afford the cost? Or refuse? If some suffer and die, well, too bad.

On another note, gays and lesbians must live lives of loneliness because God created marriage for procreation. Aside from the fact that many straight people have not procreated, what good comes from inflicting widespread loneliness?

And few Christians agree with Santorum on birth control. More than 99% of sexually active women have used contraceptives at some point. Birth control can even save lives when women’s bodies cannot tolerate pregnancy.

Many pursue religious ideals without humanity. The Spanish Inquisition tortured those who dissented. European and American religious zealots burned, crushed, and hung thousands of women accused of being devil worshiping witches. In parts of the Middle East today women are eagerly stoned to death.

I know some who are downright mean, but they won’t play cards, and especially not on Sunday, because that’s against their religion.

These individuals follow the letter of the law without catching its spirit, as if a selfish concern for their own rule-bound salvation trumps loving their neighbor.

Yet the greatest commandment of the Christian faith is to love God and second is like unto it: love your neighbor. I don’t see a whole lot of love in Santorum’s pious mindset.

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You’re Hotter Than You Think

Jennifer Grey "Before"

You’re probably hotter than you think you are. Especially if you fall into one of the following categories, according to Psychology Today:

You compare yourself to models

Fashion magazines are all about unachievable ideals (and pushing products to “help” you meet them). Those who buy these glossies have worse body images than those who don’t.

But as UC-Davis psychology professor, Richard Robins, points out:

When women evaluate their physical attractiveness, they compare themselves with an idealized standard of beauty, such as a fashion model. In contrast, when both men and women evaluate their intelligence, they do not compare themselves to Einstein, but rather to a more mundane standard.

Women with better body image don’t feel inferior to a starved and airbrushed standard.

You must be perfect all the time

Along these lines, some feel they must be perfect all the time. These folks are intensely concerned with how they appear to others. As Carlin Flora, over at Psychology Today put it, “We all know someone like this—a friend who never runs out of the house to grab coffee without fixing herself up first.”

While most people find these women very attractive, they don’t. Their point of comparison is the very best-looking people. And their inability to live up to perfection brings them down.

You think everyone’s judging your flaws

Some people think their flaws are always in the spotlight.

Psychologists, Ann Demarais and Valerie White had a client who thought everyone was focused on his crooked teeth. They helped him see that other people were actually more worried about their own supposed faults than his, and suggested he try smiling broadly when he met new people. He took their advice and was surprised that no one drew back in horror. In fact, they were actually friendly! It was very freeing.

Your parents put you down

If your parents said you were ugly, that can be difficult to overcome. Exhibit A is Michael Jackson who spent years going to plastic surgeons as a result of his father pointing out his supposed flaws. Fortunately, this is pretty uncommon. A more likely scenario occurs when parents fail to light up when they see us and appreciate our individual wonderfulness.

It doesn’t mean you’re unattractive. It means you have poor parents.

Your parents praised your looks

Surprisingly, kids who are praised only for their looks can become very critical of themselves, feeling attractive only if they meet very high expectations. If they aren’t Angelina Jolie, they’re “ugly.”

You got chuckles and stares as a kid

Some get teased as kids for being too tall, too short, too heavy, for having a big nose… And the childhood label can last a lifetime.

When they grow up, others may see the same feature as making them interesting, giving them character.

I don’t know if Jennifer Grey, of Dirty Dancing fame, experienced anything like this, but many feel that when she “fixed” her nose she became more conventionally beautiful, but lost some spark, some allure.

Just remember

Women are especially concerned with looks because their social status so often hangs on their appearance. And we seem to think there’s one universal standard. Yet beauty varies by culture. Some prefer taller, others shorter, some thinner some thicker, some smaller-busted, others large.

And we tend to be our own harshest critics.

If you are especially body-focused, or if you are uncomfortable in public due to worries about your looks, you are surely hotter than you think.

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“Why I Left the KKK”: One Man’s Revelation

In The Republic, Socrates asked whether we should be good and just, and why.

A listener suggested that if we are trusted we’ll do better in our business and personal relationships.

But what if no one knows you are a good person?

“The gods will know, and reward us,” observed another.

But what if the gods don’t know that you’re good? Socrates pressed.

Later, I read Emerson on the same topic. His Minister had lectured that while the wicked are often successful, and while the righteous can be miserable, at least compensation would be made in the next life.

Emerson felt that the fallacy lay in conceding that the base estimate of the market constitutes success, and assuming that justice is not done now.

What really makes us happy? Doing ill to others? Stepping on others so we can get ahead?

What Emerson and Socrates were getting at was made more real to me when I heard a man talk about why he had left the KKK.

He and his wife had become so filled with hatred in that organization that misery had overtaken their lives. They left because acting hatefully, hurting others, had ended up mostly hurting themselves.

As it turns out, when we work to harm others we harm ourselves.

In-laws Rip Off Girl’s Fingernails, But Who Cares?

Fifteen-year-old Sahar Gul’s in-laws locked her away in a basement for six months. They beat her, tortured her with hot irons, broke her fingers, and ripped her fingernails off. Her uncle called authorities and by the time she arrived at a hospital her eyes were swollen nearly shut and scabs crusted her fingertips.

Afghanistan allows multiple wives, including child brides. This young bride had been taken in hopes of pimping her out in prostitution. The abuse was meant to persuade.

What struck me most in the AP report were the following lines:

The outcry over a case like Gul’s probably would not have happened just a few years ago because of deep cultural taboos against airing private family conflicts and acknowledging sexual abuse.

I am heartened that things are changing, with public outrage and an editorial in the Afghanistan Times reading, “Let’s break the dead silence on women’s plight.”

But to think that not long ago horrendous abuses like Sahar’s would have provoked no comment is outrageous. You have to wonder why women’s plight has been invisible for so long. And whether Afghanistan is alone in its blindness.

Women must be poorly valued for such abuses to go on without remark: mere property to be sold off, to make money off of, to beat when “disobedient,” to be stoned as spectator sport. And in some cases, to be tortured like lab rats.

When that is all you’ve known your whole life, when this world seems normal to all around you, who can fully see the horror?

Yet America isn’t always so different. Many still blame rape victims for their rape, and many victims still fear coming forward. Battering victims may be blamed for their abuse. Bullied spouses may feel shamed and cover up — and cover for their partners. Half of the teens who were surveyed in the Boston Public Health Commission’s Start Strong Initiative poll believe Rihanna should be blamed for the beating Chris Brown meted out.

The world is changing in Afghanistan.

The world needs changing right here in America, too.

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The Allure of Bad Boys

Why do women fall for bad boys?

My students ask that question all the time.

Michael Kimmel, who studies men, asks his women students to choose between the charming rouge, Rhett Butler and dependable Ashley Wilkes. “Do I have to choose?” they groan. “Are those my only choices?” they plead. Because they like characteristics of both. Forced to choose, about half opt for each type. Those desiring Rhett want his gusto and charisma, minus the philandering. Change – but keep the good parts. One woman insisted, “The problem is that Rhett Butler has never been loved by me. When I love him, he’ll change.”

So not all women want bad boys — or want them to be very bad. But what about those who do? Women likely end up with hurtful men for various reasons.

Some get bored after making a “win.” One woman explained that at first she wonders, “Can I get this person? Am I good enough?” But after she wins him over she thinks, “Now I know and I’m bored.” Bad boys keep her guessing so at least life’s not dull.

Or, when a man sends mixed signals a woman can spend a great deal of time discerning his intentions. Realizing she thinks about him constantly, she may suppose she’s really into him.

A few are drawn to the drama that surrounds difficult relationships. Certainly there are no ruts.

Others simply suffer from low self-esteem and feel they deserve no better.

Some think that men who abuse them out of jealousy are showing great passion. He must really love me to get so upset! As Dr. Regina Barreca over at Psychology Today describes it, “His anger and her fear are seen as ‘proof’ of their love.” Usually they end up divorced in the end – once she gets that he’s only abusive.

Bad boys can come across as self-confident and powerful – even if it’s more bravado than real, and some feel “special” at being chosen by them.

Meanwhile, because our culture eroticizes male dominance, many internalize the notion and find it appealing. These women may not end up too happy about the reality of domineering men in the long run.

A few believe women are hard-wired to desire a strong man who can impart superior genes to her children. And so they choose cheating, abusive bullies who end up abandoning them and their children? That aids survival? Or does cruelty just masquerade as strength?

Many say their desires have changed. Their younger selves wanted bad boys, but with maturity they’ve turned toward good men. As one put it:

I did leave the cave man, regained my independence and self esteem, and found another man. To my surprise, this man is attentive, loving, tells me I’m beautiful (in sweats), and spontaneous. He picks flowers, decorates my car, cooks. . . I could keep going on, but I’ll say I feel like a queen!

To all the good guys: plenty of women want you, and more so as they grow and gain understanding. Hang in there.

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Must We All Look The Same? Variety Is The Spice Of Life

Variety is the spice of life

Variety is the spice of life

“Find fits for every body type,” the ad says.

Hmmm, I see tall and skinny in the first frame. Tall and skinny in the second frame. Tall and skinny in the third frame. And tall and skinny in the last frame.

Lisa Wade over at Sociological Images wonders,

Are they actually mocking us? Do they really think we are so stupid as to not find the text and visuals in this ad laughably mis-matched? Are they trying to offend all people outside of this “range” of body types so that they don’t wear their clothes? I just… I don’t know.

She goes on to observe that fashion advice almost always aims at “Getting women’s bodies, whatever shape they might be, to conform with one ideal body type: the skinny hourglass figure.”

The advice is all about trying to hide the shape of a woman’s actual body so that everyone looks just one way. Here’s advice for women with a “pear” shape. Use clothing to:

  • slim your hips and thighs
  • draw attention to the upper part of your body
  • balance your figure with shoulder pads
  • a roomy top will de-emphasize your bottom
  • offset your hips
  • avoid side pockets, they add bulk where you least need it

“Why not highlight that awesome booty and tiny waist and shoulders?” Lisa asks. “Work that pear-shape!”

Others celebrate variety as the spice of life. Check out these lines from a piece called, “That Girl: What Makes You Different Makes You Beautiful” @ Absurd Grace.

I want to teach my daughter appropriate and healthy ways of seeing herself so that she doesn’t have to go through the same self-deprecating madness that I went through. It horrifies me that she could possibly grow up to be fearful of being perfectly herself, imperfections and all.

I think I will start with making a rule that she doesn’t look at Teen magazines in order to know what beauty is. Instead I am going to teach her that to look differently is real beauty. To use your natural physical attributes that are unlike everyone else is what makes you charming. And to have a balanced, kind, compassionate soul is desirous. If you can look deep inside of yourself, into your heart, and know that you’ve acted with those characteristics – that is beauty.

Everything else is just detail that can and will change. But who you are, inside, and what makes you different on the outside, that is where the stunning comes in.

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