As Esther Perel explained in her famous TED talk, The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship, “If there’s a verb that comes with desire, it is to want.”
Forgone conclusions do not keep our interest. Meaning, in desire, we tend to not want to go back to the places we’ve already gone. Why? Familiarity dulls the mind. It doesn’t cause any surge of dopamine. No one finds a movie exciting anymore if they already know what will happen in the end.
Why Scarcity and Uncertainty Spurs Desire
Dopamine is powerful, and it’s the primary reason why people develop an addiction to drugs, gambling, and even sex.
As Antonio Borello, a psychologist, and relationship coach explained, using addictive substances like cocaine, releases a massive amount of dopamine in the brain which leads to experiencing euphoria, intense pleasure, arousal, and motivation. But because dopamine is metabolized so quickly, those feelings are short-lived, and you end up wanting more and more, causing you to return to the original source. This is the Dopamine Seeking-Reward Loop.
But how’s this related to dating? As Dr. Antonio put it,
“When you’re interacting with someone you’re attracted to, your brain releases dopamine, and that’s the start of a dopamine reward loop. Dopamine makes you feel great. But the feeling is short-lived as the dopamine is quickly metabolized and decreases, making you feel motivated to seek more of that person’s attention to get more dopamine.”
This cycle explains why, in the beginning, when you love someone, you feel like you just can’t get enough of them. If your brain is triggered to release dopamine first, you will experience the same euphoric vibes, but those amazing feelings will become associated with the person or the experience that you’re involved with at that time.
For instance, if a man experiences a flood of dopamine in your presence, he will feel amazing, and then he will associate that amazing feeling with you. This makes him desire you more.
Where the Game Changes
According to Dr. Antonio, dopamine levels are highest when the combination of two things happen:
The first is when you think about or anticipate the pleasurable experience (or the person associated with it). And secondly, when there’s uncertainty about you having that experience or seeing that person again. And as Dr. Antonio put it,
“When there is uncertainty attached to having a desired experience, there’s a much larger dopamine production..”
This is how casinos get a lot of people to keep coming back even when they keep losing huge amounts of money to gambling. The casino provides uncertainty. The uncertainty and the possibility of the gamblers winning big sometime in the future keep them excited and coming back despite losing.
How to Use Scarcity to Spur Desire
Think about the toilet paper shortage in 2020 in the US. The moment we have a possibility of missing out on a scarce resource, we get desperate. And in addition to the internal fear of missing out, we also attach value and importance to resources that are in demand.
Imagine this scenario. You can probably relate to this experience:
You meet an attractive and successful man that is showing interest in you. He is someone that you are excited about getting to know. You spend time with him and it feels wonderful. You have amazing chemistry and attraction, and you know he feels it too.
In fact, it’s like neither of you wants your time together to end. But at the end of the date, he gives you an incredible embrace and tells you that he wants to see you again soon.
He doesn’t say when, or whether or not he will text you or call you. He simply says, “Thank you for a great night, let’s do this again soon.” How will this make you feel? Excited, happy, or anticipatory?
Chances are, you’ll find yourself thinking about him a lot. You’ll find yourself replaying things that happened on the date. You’ll most likely catch yourself daydreaming about him, craving the amazing experience again. You’ll begin to wonder if, or when you’ll hear from him again. This anticipation will likely keep growing until you hear from him again.
Then the next morning you wake up and you check your phone, and you see that he still hasn’t sent you a text message. This makes the anticipation build more. In this stage, most people will start to analyze every detail of their time together, trying to convince themselves it was a great date.
Then, finally, you hear that distinct alert of a new text message. You eagerly look at your phone and you see that it’s a message from him. And boom! You have an instant dopamine hit.
At this moment, you feel relieved and euphoric. You respond immediately and you let him know that you will love to see him again. Then you sit back and wait for his response. If he responds quickly and you can confirm a time and date, your excitement and euphoria leave on.
But if he doesn’t respond properly or confirms plans with you, your euphoric feeling is short-lived, and you’re back to that anticipation phase. This is how your dopamine-seeking-reward loop is activated through scarcity and uncertainty, and the scenario can play out the same way irrespective of gender. Unfamiliarity and uncertainty spur our interest.
How to Use Texting to Create Desire
Over texting works against the principle of creating scarcity.
The truth is, texting is fast becoming the preferred method for dating and communication. But texting is not a great means of getting to know another person, and it will never be a substitute for in-person or telephone communication especially when you’re just getting to know someone.
There are too many tendencies for things to get misunderstood. Indeed, texting all the time can give you dopamine hits because it makes you know that the person you’re chatting with is thinking of you, giving you a sense of connectivity.
But if you seem too eager, your value and the attraction that the man or woman feels towards you might decline. Too much texting will result in him or her getting too much satisfaction and validation. And this will make the person you’re texting no longer get the same dopamine reward when they see your text.
Don’t use texting to stay connected to someone. Instead, the best way to get to know someone is by spending time communicating with them face to face. Next to this will be telephone or video calls, not texting.
Keep texting at a minimum and simply use it as a means of setting up in-person meetings. As Dr. Antonio advised,
“If you don’t engage in back and forth texting with a man at the beginning, it forces him to either make plans with you or call you. Let him or her know that texting is not your preferred method of communicating.”
Before You Leave…
We are attracted to those who have a full life, not to those who come off as needy and clingy. This isn’t about playing games or seeming busy. If you have a full and busy life, you’ll naturally not always be available when the other person is.
Understand that creating scarcity isn’t as exciting and easy as it sounds. If you’re attracted to someone, the last thing you want to do is spend time away from them.
We’ve all been there. And this is why it’s so easy to fall into the dopamine-seeking-reward loop. Building attraction has to be done with deliberate effort. Left to our hormones and emotions, which are highly susceptible to suffocating the person we are attracted to in most cases. As Esther Perel concluded in her TED talk,
“Desire needs space.”