There’s this guy.

He’s so exciting to be with. You always have the best time together.

Even though you’re normally able to relax and be yourself around men, something about this guy makes you want to impress him.

And because you get the feeling he isn’t impressed by many women, you want to be the one who lingers in his mind like a fragrance he can’t forget.

So you end up doing things you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Trying to be more flirtatious or sassy or aloof than you really are.

Sometimes he responds with great pleasure and enthusiasm. Other times, it’s as if he doesn’t even register.

Every so often—not often enough for you to worry about it, but often enough to notice—you catch a slight hint of annoyance. As if he’d be enjoying himself more if you were someone else … if you weren’t YOU.

It catches you off guard. You think he likes you, but does he? Is he just enjoying your company because he enjoys the company of women and you’re a woman?

Or does he see what’s special about you and appreciate it? It’s hard to know.

You consider yourself a fairly independent woman, so it’s weird when you find yourself obsessing over this guy. You don’t even know if you want a relationship with him. Why do you care so much about his opinion of you? 

Then it happens.

Friday night comes up, and he hasn’t contacted you to talk about the weekend. You’ve done something together every single weekend for the past month. You try to play it cool by not contacting him. But the entire weekend feels strange. What is he doing? Why didn’t he text?

You feel petulant and needy. Not like you at all. What has this guy done to you? And how can you get his hooks OUT of you?

One of the most powerful forces on human behavior is something known as intermittent reinforcement.

Imagine you’re playing a game. Unbeknownst to you, researchers have designed three versions of this game. They’re timing how long you play each version, so they know which game is the most addictive.

One version of the game is hard. It’s almost impossible to win. It’s so frustrating, in fact, that you can’t figure it out.

Another version of the game is easy. You quickly figure out how to earn points. Over time, it becomes too predictable. You know exactly what you need to do to win, and it isn’t challenging anymore.

The third version of the game has a random element built in. Sometimes, doing an action earns you points. Other times, doing that same action sends you back to the beginning of the game. You can never predict which it will be.

Any guesses as to which game will hold your attention the longest?

Perhaps THE most addictive activity in the world is gambling.[1] Gambling is so addictive because it makes use of intermittent reinforcement. Sometimes, playing the slot machine earns you coins. Other times, it earns you nothing.

You never know which it will be, and that’s keeps you hooked.

So if a man sometimes responds warmly to your flirtatious comments, but other times he doesn’t even seem to notice, and other times he even seems irritated…

What he’s doing is giving you intermittent reinforcement.

You don’t know what reaction you’re going to get from him, and that’s what gets you hooked.

The good guy who always laughs at your jokes and smiles back when you smile at him is easy. Like the predictable game, you know what to do to make him like you. It’s easy to win with guys like this.

The local hottie who always has a dozen girls hanging on his arm and rarely sends a glance your way is too hard. It’s not a game worth playing. Trying to win him over seems like an exercise in frustration.

But the guy who is sometimes unavailable—you’re never sure when you text him whether he’ll want to meet up—sucks you in.

You have such a good time with him that you can’t help wanting to see him again. But sometimes when you reach out, it feels like he’s pushing you away. You can’t figure out what you’ve done wrong.

In those situations, it can help to know that your obsession has nothing to do with genuine chemistry and everything to do with intermittent reinforcement.

This guy is acting like a slot machine. You’re gambling with your heart. And it’s time to break the addiction.

Ask yourself: is this even worth it? Do I even want a relationship with this guy?

If not, then stop playing.

There are better prizes than an unpredictable guy.


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