Stalk of Shame
I’m a 34-year-old woman seeking a relationship. Last week, I went to dinner with a man. We had an instantaneous connection and ended up having sex. I haven’t heard from him since. I’ve always believed sex on a first date doesn’t matter if there’s a connection. Now I’m worried I moved too quickly. I’m tempted to call him. Any advice on what to say?
Chasing a man into wanting you is usually about as successful as trying to split atoms with small household tools.
You may believe sex on the first date “doesn’t matter,” but our genes (the source of our psychology) have not heard of the women’s movement and do not drink out of an “ovaries before brovaries!” coffee mug. Women and men are more alike than different, physically and psychologically, but the physical differences we do have (like how only women get pregnant) led to the evolution of psychological sex differences. For example, evolutionary psychologists Martie Haselton and David Buss find that heterosexual men and women having sex with someone for the first time experience differing “affective shifts” — shifts in feelings — afterward.
In the afterglow, women felt more emotionally attached and more attracted to their partner (a “positive affective shift”). These commitment-fostering feelings align with how, for a woman, sex “signals the possibility of pregnancy” (and Daddy shoes in need of filling).
On the male side, immediately after the first sexperience with a new woman, men who’ve had a lot of sex partners (six-plus as college undergrads, suggesting a short-term sexual strategy) experienced a “negative affective shift”: finding a woman ”less physically attractive and sexy.” (This effect didn’t show up in men with fewer sex partners or in women, no matter how many sex partners they’d had.) Haselton speculates that for hookupmeister men, the negative affective shift signals game over — sex goal achieved — and pushes them to move on lest they get “entangled in an unwanted long-term relationship.”
If this guy wanted to see you again, he’d be blowing up your phone. To help yourself accept that, recycle him from a current goal to an ongoing reminder: Whenever you might want more than a hookup with a particular guy, wait till he’s emotionally attached before having sex with him. How many dates, calls and texts this takes will vary, but basically, a man needs to care about you enough to weather how your sex face makes you look like a mortally wounded hamster.
The Blurt Locker
My boyfriend and I broke up during a nasty fight. I (rashly and immaturely) blurted out that we should just break up. He blurted out, “Fine!” and asked to stop talking for a while. Ugh. I still want to be with him. Dating coaches advise a “no contact” rule post-breakup (cutting off communication for 21 to 45 days). Do you agree? Is this a way to give him a chance to miss me, reset, and get back together in a healthy way?
If you broke up by accident and still want to be with the person, there’s something you should do, and it isn’t spending a month and a half being all, “My spirit animal is a 3,000-year-old crustacean fossilized in rock.”
Breaking up because you hit an impasse in an argument is like abandoning your apartment because your toilet’s clogged. Chances are you exploded because you “reasoned” with part of the brain not equipped for the job. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains that our brain has two information-processing systems: System 1, our instinctive, fast-responding emotional system that jumps into action automatically; and System 2, our slow-to-awaken reasoning system that we have to force to do its job.
System 1 (automatic emotion!) drove you to blurt your way into breaking up. Possibly getting back together takes hauling your System 2 reasoning out of bed and making it process whether you, as a couple, are irretrievably broken or just need to learn healthy conflict resolution techniques.
You resolve conflict not through fighting to win — hammering the other person until they give in — but through listening with an open mind: putting in the effort to understand and empathize, and then working to solve problems as a “we” instead of a “you versus me.” (This takes practice and psychologist John Gottman’s “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” is a helpful guide, but in the meantime, a clue: If the volume goes up, you’re doing it wrong.)
Since the guy was in a relationship with you until you accidentally blew it up, he probably cares about you and doesn’t need to be psychologically manipulated into wanting you with some “no contact” crap fest. Ultimately, if you love something and accidentally set it free, go after it and tell it you were an idiot: “If I’m gonna have fights about underwear used for a coffee table coaster, I want them to be with you.”