I took a weekend ski trip recently with The Consultant. We had great day of skiing, fantastic Bloody Marys with lunch, and enjoyed a much needed break from work and kids. Over an après ski beer at the base of the mountain, some locals told us that there was an outdoor, natural hot spring close by. That sounded like a perfect way to soothe our tired muscles, so we promptly made our way over for a little tub time.
At check-in, we were informed that clothing was optional in the springs. It was dark outside, and there were not too many people there to potentially gawk at us in our birthday suits, so The Consultant and I were comfortable with that. While most other the other guests at the hot spring were naked, there was one woman sitting at the edge of the pool who was considerably more self-conscious in a 1-piece bathing suit.
A few minutes into our soak, a naked man swam over to the single, clothed woman. After some small talk, he immediately launched into a long, dramatic story about his ex-wife. From what we could gather, this guy’s ex-wife tried to take his kid’s birth certificates and sell them to some Mexican outlaws, she racked up huge amounts of debt using his identity, and then tried to break up every new relationship he started, such as texting him when she knew he was on dates. He was rambling on so much that he was oblivious to the fact that the woman he was trying to impress was slowly inching away from him.
Naturally, I thought to myself, “Whoa, dude, too much information!” Sure, it’s important to self-disclose when you meet someone; self-disclosure is an important precursor to intimacy, such that intimacy grows as people share more and more information about themselves with each other.1 But there are limits and rules to these sorts of things. Mr. Air It All Out seemed to overlook the fact that partner responsiveness is also extremely important in the generation of intimacy. Partner responsiveness is a broad term used to capture many behaviors, such as reflected appraisal, which is feeling like your partner likes your good qualities, and emotional rapport, which is the feeling of having an emotional bond with someone.2 The woman did not display signs of either of these, as she was trying to scoot as far as she could from him, and was not reciprocating his interest one bit.
In fact, the woman only asked a question or two out of politeness; Mr. Air It All Out apparently interpreted her questions as conveying genuine interest, because he then asked to rub her feet. She told him that she is a very private person, and that it takes a long time to get to that stage with her (watch John Travolta and Samual L. Jackson discuss foot massages here; NSFW!). Ignoring this information and the irony of a “very private person” hanging out at a nude hot spring, he pushed harder, telling her flat out that his goal was to get her out of her swimsuit. Her reply was, “that is just not going to happen.”
The Consultant and I had to use every ounce of self-control to keep our snickering to a minimum. I kept wondering why this guy was not reading her cues very well. Maybe he was influenced by the fact that this beautiful hot spring was populated by some free spirited, nude adults, so this woman, despite wearing a swim suit, “should” be open to his aggressive advances. But, the fact that she was not responsive, even in this context, should have been interpreted by him as being a definite “no go.” Sexual arousal greatly impacts judgment and decision making, such that men are more likely to underestimate and take greater sexual risks when aroused than when not, and are not aware of how arousal is influencing their own judgements.3 So, it could be that Mr. Air It All Out had his “nude goggles” on and was seeing her two measly questions as an invitation to “come hither.” He may have been sexually aroused, despite her being considerably more clothed than others. There was one way to really know whether this was the cause of his obliviousness to her lack of interest, but I was glad he was immersed in the water so that I could not find out.
If I were to provide any advice to Mr. Air It All Out, it would be to pay closer attention to the cues she was sending and less to his own bodily inputs. And, even though many of us were physically exposed at the nude hot spring, this did not mean that everyone wanted that much emotional exposure as well. He should have taken his time on that one so he wouldn’t scare her away.
All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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1Aron, A., Melinat, E., Aron, E. N., Vallone, R. D., Bator, R. J. (1997). The experimental generation of interpersonal closeness: A procedure and preliminary findings. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 23, 363-377.
2Reis, H. T., Clark, M. S., & Holmes, J. G. (2004). Perceived partner responsiveness as an organizing construct in the study of closeness and intimacy. In D. Mashek & A. Aron (Eds.), The Handbook of Closeness and Intimacy, pp. 201-225. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
3Ariely, D., & Loewenstein, G. (2005). The heat of the moment: The effect of sexual arousal on sexual decision making. Behavioral Decision Making, 19, 87-98.
Dr. Jennifer Harman – Adventures in Dating… | Science of Relationships articles | Website/CV
Dr. Harman’s research examines relationship behaviors that put people at-risk for physical and psychological health problems, such as how feelings and beliefs about risk (e.g., sexual risk taking) can be biased when in a relationship. She also studies the role of power on relationship commitment.