A reader submitted the following question: The phrase “He’s Just Not That Into You” has been popularized by a recent book and movie. I have found that if a man is not that into a woman, it doesn’t work out. But if a man is really into a woman, but she’s not into him, will it work out?
We don’t believe in basing relationship decisions on movies or even books that aren’t backed up by scientific study, so let’s see what research has to say. The general question here is about equal partnership in a relationship, with both parties holding similar levels of interest (see our post on the principle of least interest). Equal interest in a relationship is a good recipe for success.
One perspective known as “Equity Theory”1 argues that people will be most satisfied with relationships when both parties gain equal benefits. In other words, one person shouldn’t be getting more from the relationship than the other person. Let’s say you and your partner disagree on movie preferences. Should you always get to pick the movie? No. Should your partner? No. Relationships are about compromise and making sure everyone is happy. If he—or she—were really “into you,” your opinions, wants, desires, and needs would matter.
A similar view is found in the concept of “transformation of motivation,” which comes from Interdependence Theory.2 Early in a relationship, couple members’ motivation for being in the relationship are based on selfish desires. However, as the relationship progresses their motivation changes, or transforms, into unselfish long-term desires. Once this happens, they are both willing to make sacrifices for the good of the other person and good of the relationship as a whole.3 If one person has transformed and the other hasn’t, one couple member will be getting everything he/she wants while the other may feel like they are being used. Why should one person get all the benefits while the other gives up his or her hopes, dreams, or attention?
The bottom line is that the relationship should involve both people equally; both parties deserve the full love, attention, and respect of each other. If one person is less “into” the other, or less in love, that person gains power which can be abused. It doesn’t really matter if it’s the man or the woman (assuming heterosexual relationships) who is “into” the other—unrequited love never turns out well. Nor does unrequited respect.
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1Hatfield, E. (1983). Equity theory and research: An overview. In H. H. Blumberg, A. P. Hare, V. Kent, & M. Davies (Eds.), Small groups and social interaction (Vol. 2., pp. 401-412). Chichester, England: Wiley.
2Thibaut, J. W., & Kelley, H. H. (1959). The social psychology of groups. New York: Wiley.
3Van Lange, P. A. M., et al. (1997). Willingness to sacrifice in close relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 72, 1373–1395.
Dr. Wind Goodfriend – Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Goodfriend’s research focuses on cognitive bias within romantic relationships: how partners view each other in a subjective, instead of objective, way. These biases can sometimes be positive, but they can also perpetuate unhealthy or violent relationships.
You state that "If one person is less “into” the other, or less in love, that person gains power which can be abused." However, I wonder: how often will that power actually be abused? I mean, it's possible to have power and to not abuse it. In existing relationships with unequal amounts of power – how responsibly is that power used? Is there any research on that?
Wind Goodfriend, Ph.D. says
Good question, Lena – thanks for asking. There is actually quite a bit of power abuse in relationships, but your definition of abuse might be different from mine, or anyone else's; different people have different thresholds for abuse. For example, the person less in love might cheat, because he/she isn't that concerned about how the affair would affect the other partner. Or, the person less in love might even go as far as being emotionally or physically abusive. As emphasized in the original post, this imbalance is not healthy, so the ideal relationship would have people who are exactly the same amount of "into each other."
…oh, it slipped my attention that you answered my comment long ago. Thanks for doing so!
I think I'll bring this down to the personal level. As it happens, I am in such an unequal relationship, and I am the partner who is holding more power. We are both aware of this fact, and we agree that it's not how we want things to be. So what would be practical advice to someone in my position? I don't think I can make the hormones kick in more to catch up to her. I also like the fact that I am convinced I can live a happy and fulfilled life without her, even though I'd rather have one with her. What can I do from my position to contribute to this relationship becoming more balanced?
Science of Relationships says
Hi Lena– We plan on addressing your question in a new post in the upcoming weeks…Stay tuned! Also, this Wednesday's article is on power, so look for that one.
Dr. Wind Goodfriend says
I tried to respond to you yesterday, but the post magically disappeared, so here's try #2!
I think it's a good thing that you say you don't NEED your partner to be happy. "Needing" someone can mean co-dependence, which can be unhealthy. But, it's wonderful that you WANT to be with your partner.
It's probably unrealistic for me to say anything like, "You should try to be more in love with her." That's simply not going to happen by effort. We can't control our feelings – you can't be more committed, and she can't be less, by just choosing it. What you can control are your actions. To make the relationship more balanced, you should be conscious of how you are treating her and what kinds of decisions you're making. Are you willing to make sacrifices and come up with compromises, so that you both get what you want? Do you try to manipulate her, either consciously or unconsciously?
In short, as long as you treat her with respect and make sure that your actions are coming from a place of empathy and a true attempt to keep the relationship balanced, that should translate into happiness for you both.
I just sent this post to a bunch of my friends as I agree with most of what you’re saying here and the way you’ve presented it is awesome.
Wind Goodfriend, Ph.D. says