Last month, they told us how to improve our odds of someone swiping right on our Tinder profile, yesterday they spilled the secret to a lasting relationship. Now, scientists have got something new for all the moony-eyed folks pining after their oblivious best friends: the secret to making the smooth move from friendship to love.
The key, say Edward LeMay and Noah Wolf in a new paper, is to falsely project your romantic desires onto your friend, which “may give you the confidence to pursue that friend by flirting, having more physical contact, or even expressing your desires.” In other words, it’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: you mistakenly believe that your love interest’s romantic feelings toward you match your own toward them, so you start acting more flirtatious and physically affectionate. And because of your behavior, your friend starts to change their feelings toward you.
LeMay and Wolf examined this in two different studies. The first, composed of 127 pairs of opposite-sex friends completed questionnaires evaluating how they felt toward their friend romantically, how they perceived their friend felt toward them, and how often they engaged in “romantic initiation behaviors” (flirtation, attempts at physical intimacy, nonverbal communication, and the like). They also evaluated themselves on their “mate value” — that is, how good of a catch they felt they were.
The results? People who were googly-eyed over their BFF’s tended to overestimate how much of that googly-eyedness was reciprocated by said BFF. And yeah, that part about being a good catch came into play, too. The higher a person ranked themselves on their mate value, the more likely they were to overestimate how their friend felt toward them. They were also more likely to initiate the romantic behaviors. In contrast, the folks who felt less confident about their mate value had trouble believing others would be interested in them without solid evidence.
The first study established that people who deluded themselves into believing their friends felt romantically toward them were more likely to take relationship risks. But did those risks translate into rewards? That was the purpose of the second study, which looked at 102 pairs of opposite-sex friends once a week for a month. Each person completed the same questionnaire as in the previous study; additionally, they judged their friend’s mate value.
Again, the results showed that people who overestimated their friend’s level of romantic interest were more likely to make those bold romantic moves toward them. Additionally, the people who crushed the hardest on their friends, and those whose attraction increased over the four-week period of the study, reported thinking that their friends actually desired them more — which was entirely unrelated to how much the friends’ desire actually increased. Confusing, but it solidifies the second part of LeMay and Wolf’s findings — that a person’s romantic behavior toward their friend actually influences their friend’s attraction to them over time.
It’s great news for those who have been relegated to the Friendzone. All you have to do is start hardcore flirting, and feelings will follow.
Except, there’s one caveat: If you’re actually not a great catch in your friend’s eyes, you’re not going to go anywhere. As the summary on Psychology Today reads, “If you’re really not someone your friend sees as a desirable mate, you can’t expect them to change their mind about what they want in a partner.” And if someone’s not interested — painful, we know — you should just let it go instead of hoping they’ll come around. This study was about confidence, not about persistence (which is generally unwelcome).
All in all, the study is pretty darn exciting, but maybe don’t use it as a topic of conversation for your first real date. That’s sure to label you as a bad catch in your friend’s eyes.