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.