Lisa Feldman Barrett said yes to a date.
Truth be told, she didn’t even like the guy. He was in her psychology program, and she didn’t know him very well.
But she’d been stuck in the lab all day, so she agreed to meet up for coffee.
As she sat in the coffee shop with him, she noticed butterflies in her stomach. Her face flushed, and she had difficulty concentrating on his words.
Okay, she thought. I am wrong. I clearly AM attracted to him.
After agreeing to see him again, she headed home, unlocked the door to her apartment, and promptly threw up.
She spent the next week in bed with the flu.
How Do You Know You’re Attracted?
When you’re on a date with someone, and you feel heat rising and a fluttering in your belly…
You assume your body is telling you that you’re attracted to him (not consciously, but at a subconscious level).
This is a case of interoception.
Interoception is sometimes called the 7th sense.
Yes, you have more than 5 senses!
In addition to smell, touch, taste, sight, and hearing, you have a sense of where your body is located in space (proprioception) and a sense of how your body feels inside (interoception).
You can sense your heart beating faster, tension in your muscles, or bloating in your stomach. You know when you’re thirsty or when you need to use the bathroom. This is interoception at work.
Right now, what do you feel when you tune into your body?
Every moment of every day, your body is sending signals to your brain based on the millions of reactions taking place in your cells and organs.
Most of the time, your brain tunes those sensations out. You notice when your heart starts to beat faster in the presence of an attractive co-worker, but you don’t notice your heart beating more slowly as you relax on a sun lounger with a good book.
When you go on a date, though, your interoception kicks into high gear.
You want to know if you have chemistry with this person, so you pay close attention to your bodily sensations.
That’s what Lisa did on her date.
But the conclusion she drew—that she was attracted to this person—was wrong.
Her feelings were actually a sign that she was coming down with the flu.
How could she have made that mistake?
This is How We Decide What We’re Feeling
We don’t always read the signals coming from our bodies accurately.
We take the sensations we’re experiencing—such as a racing heart, sweaty palms, distressed stomach—and decide what they mean.
If we are standing backstage with notecards in our hand, waiting to deliver a speech, we may conclude that those sensations mean we’re nervous and afraid.
Someone else standing beside us may also be experiencing a racing heart and sweaty palms, but they interpret those sensations as anticipation and excitement.
Same sensations. Different meaning.
On a physiological level, many emotions feel identical. You can’t tell nerves from excitement simply by paying attention to your body’s signals.
You determine which emotion best fits the situation by considering factors like:
- Context (like waiting to give a speech vs. waiting for a movie to start)
- Past experience (like having a memory of having messed up at speaking before)
- Our conceptual models (like believing that it’s natural to be afraid of public speaking)
That makes it sound as if this process is under conscious control, but it’s not. It’s automatic, and it takes place in a split second.
We don’t think, “I’m sensing that my heart is racing; therefore, I must be feeling anxious.”
We just notice that we’re feeling anxious!
That’s what happened to Lisa.
Normally, when she is on a date with an attractive man, she finds it hard to concentrate, she blushes more easily, and she gets a tingling in her gut.
No wonder she assumed she was feeling chemistry rather than coming down with the flu!
Use This Hack to Boost Attraction
This confusion can work to your advantage in dating.
When you’re on a date, anything that creates a pleasant sense of physiological arousal may lead him to assume he’s attracted to you.
For example, if you go to the movies, pick a film that’s scary or action-packed.
You might try a physical activity that gets your heart pumping, like biking or dancing.
Or you might experiment with going somewhere new or doing something that neither of you have ever done before.
Also be aware that any unpleasant experience during your date can lead a man to assume he’s not attracted to you, even when he otherwise might be.
If the venue is hot, loud and noisy, or it takes forever to be served and the food is inedible, or if traffic was backed up for miles on the way there…
Then he may attribute his discomfort to his company rather than the situation.
And be aware of those same tendencies in yourself. Ask yourself:
Am I confusing the way I feel towards him with the way I feel about this situation?
Interoception can sometimes lead you astray, but it can also give you an unfair advantage. Use your new awareness wisely!