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Your Secret Love Weapon: The Rubber Band Effect

When a guy starts distancing himself, the smartest tactic to bring him back is to pull away a little.

Text him twice because he’s gone MIA and you’ll most likely be rewarded with radio silence. But, forget your BlackBerry at home for the day and you’ll probably come home to several mushy text messages from him. That’s because of a simple phenomenon we’re calling the rubber band effect.

The basic idea: Imagine that there’s a giant rubber band around you and your guy. Anytime he seems to be getting distant, the best counteractive tactic is to pull away a little yourself. When you do so, you cause that virtual elastic to stretch…and suddenly, he feels the urge to spring back (read: get closer) to you.

Contrary to how it may sound, this isn’t about being manipulative. It’s about understanding when and why a guy needs space. “For men, romantic interest actually develops in the spaces,” says psychologist Denise Budden-Potts, PhD. “If you’re already close to someone at all times, there’s no room for desire.” Give him the space he’s jonesing for (either consciously or subconsciously) and that desire is sparked again.

But, in order to pull away, you have to ignore your first impulse. “When a woman feels like a man is taking a few steps back, she instinctively starts probing so she can figure out what’s going on,” says Budden-Potts. Instead, embrace his craving for space and give him even more than he might need. The beauty of the rubber-band effect is that you can, and should, use it at every stage of your relationship to drive up his desire.

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Stage 1: Just Met Five Minutes Ago

Let’s say you’re hitting it off with a cute guy at a party. All of a sudden, he seems more interested in getting a drink than in you. Instead of continuing to chat, give him time to regroup. Say something like “I’m going to hang with my friends for a bit,” and briefly touch him on his forearm to signal that you might be into him. Then, let him see you chatting up your girls or the hot guy in the hallway.

“This works because men are biologically programmed to find the chase exciting,” explains Berger, “so he’ll be even more interested if he has to pursue you after your initial conversation.” The harder he has to work for you, the more he wants you. “It’s called mate-value economics,” explains evolutionary psychology researcher David Buss, PhD, from the University of Texas at Austin. “Women who are too easy to attract are perceived to be less desirable.” So when a guy you just met starts to pull away, his mating instincts are kicking in and he’s subconsciously testing to see if you’re worth the pursuit. All you need to do is give the dude some space, so he can go after you…and your number.

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Stage 2:  Dating For A Couple Of Months

According to experts, this phase is when the rubber-band effect is particularly crucial. “The relationship is at a tipping point where it will either flourish or fizzle,” says Budden-Potts. You’re both trying to decide if the other person is worth BF/GF status. Here’s the problem: Men and women approach this process in totally different ways. “Guys need time apart to test whether being with a particular woman is what they want, whereas women try to spend even more time as a couple to figure out if they’re compatible,” says Budden-Potts. If you don’t give him room, he could start feeling stifled.

“For him to figure out his feelings, he needs to have the opportunity to realize how amazingly lucky he is to have you around,” says relationship expert Daniel Ellenberg, PhD. So, go ahead and make plans of your own. Then when you’re out with your friends, text him about whatever you’re up to and steer clear of your usual “I miss you’s.” This sends the message that you’re still interested, but you also have your own life going on. It’s a great reminder that if he wants to be a part of it, he needs to be in touch. “Then when he initiates coupley one-on-one time, you know for sure it’s because he’s ready, not because he feels obligated,” explains Ellenberg. “That sense of trust builds confidence in your relationship moving forward.”

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Stage 3:  Long Term Relationship (LTR) Status

Once you’ve fallen into a comfy groove as a couple, maybe your guy starts to pull back. This doesn’t mean your significant other wants to check out of the rel. “He still has the instinctive need to win your affection,” says evolutionary biologist Sharon Moalem, MD, PhD, author of How Sex Works. It’s just that if you’re always there, he won’t feel the urge to chase after you.

The best way to use the rubber-band effect: Mirror his actions. If he buries himself in work or spends all weekend playing games on FB, let yourself become equally absorbed in something you’re passionate about, whether that’s playing frisbee, catching up with friends, whatever. “As you direct all your attention to other areas of your life, it gives him the opportunity to ‘compete’ for you again,” says Dr. Moalem. And by doing your own thing, you’ll be upping your appetite for him, too. “When it comes to couple time, you want quality, not quantity,” says Budden-Potts. “If you’ve been happily occupied and he’s had a chance to miss you, being together will feel as exciting and fulfilling as when you first met.”

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