He's Just Not That Into You. So Why Is He Still With You?
You know that feeling when you scroll through your stream of texts with your partner (or the person you want to be your partner) and notice the majority of the chat bubbles—and the biggest ones—are from you? For iPhone users, dating coach Matthew Hussey calls this being "in the blue" because the messages sent from your phone appear in blue, and the blue is dominating your text conversation.
Suffice to say, it's not a good feeling. It's a pretty worrisome sign that you might just be more invested in your relationship than they are. In other words, they're just not that into you.
Apparently now scientists have even coined a hilariously academic term for this upsetting arrangement: "asymmetrically committed relationship."
A new paper on the dating trend published in the Family Process journal examined relationship and personality data about hundreds of couples to try to understand what kinds of people end up in these relationships and why they stay together. Some of the findings seem obvious: People who think they've got plenty of other options for potential partners out there tend to be less committed in their relationship and therefore more likely to be in unbalanced relationships. Same goes for people with an avoidant attachment style, meaning they prefer independence and shirk away from closeness in general. On the flip side, people with anxious attachment style—meaning they tend to worry a lot about their relationship and get a little clingy with their partners—also tend to find themselves in ACRs. When you're generally someone who hyper-invests in relationships, it's not surprising that you're likely to end up in relationships where you care way more than the other person.
Some of the other associated personality traits were a little more intriguing: People with parents who've never been married also tended to find themselves in ACRs, though the same wasn't true for people with divorced parents. (That makes sense—losing a parental figure can affect how you relate to people in the future, according to attachment science. If you have parents who were never married, you're more likely to experience a complete lack of connection with one parent than if you're a child of divorce, which might change your relationships with each of them but may not necessarily terminate either of them.) People who've had more sexual partners in their lifetime and people with more past experience in long-term relationships were also more likely to be in ACRs, both as the low-commitment partner and as the high-commitment partner.
But in general, the researchers were able to find more trends among the less committed partners than among the more committed partners, who tended to have more diverse personality traits. This finding points to why people end up in these relationships, the authors explain: because one half of the party doesn't realize they're in an ACR in the first place.
"At any given time in an asymmetrical relationship, it seems probable that a significant number of highly committed partners will not yet have fully ascertained a discrepancy that exists," the authors write. "More committed partners do not have all the information that less committed partners might have about differential commitment because, at least in dating relationships, it will often be in the best interest of a substantially less committed partner to conceal his or her lower level of commitment."
The Principle of Least Interest, a theory posited by sociologist Willard Waller in 1938, holds that the person in a relationship who cares less has more power. But that doesn't mean the less caring partner is in some kind of rush to leave.
"It could reflect an exercise of power to string a partner along when one knows there is no future," the paper explains. "A less committed partner could receive benefits from a relationship in which they do not see a future, particularly because their partner is more committed to them; and thus, in some situations, such a partner benefits from concealing the asymmetry. That is, asymmetrical commitment will sometimes be supported by the maintenance of asymmetrical information, in which the two partners do not share the same knowledge about the relationship."
So yes, it's possible that your partner could try to fake their investment just to keep you around, which is all the more reason to pay attention to the little things—such as when you're "in the blue" in your text chains, for example—to make sure you and your partner really are on the same page. When in doubt, challenge them to engage in some honest communication with you about how they're feeling. At the end of the day, you'll both be better off in relationships where you're both equally invested.
Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.
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