Last year, I dated this man for a few months. He wasn't a bad man, but it turned out that we weren’t that compatible. Except, that’s not how I felt about him, at least at the beginning. Sure, there was a bit of new relationship energy, but I realized recently that my crush and following relationship with this man might have been due to another, more insidious phenomenon: excitation transfer.
I learned about this effect in a social psychology class, and as soon as I understood how it worked, my relationship with this man made sense. Because of this effect, I had pursued a relationship with a man that I didn’t like that much before… and I’ll tell you how it happened.
What is excitation transfer?
Let me start with an example. Imagine you’re planning a date with someone. It’s early in the relationship. Maybe you’ve been on one or two dates before. You like them, but you’re not really sure if it’s going to go anywhere. So this time, you decide to do something different: bungee jumping, maybe.
The date is exciting and fun. Your heart is racing, your adrenaline is pumping and you feel eerily close to your date as you walk away from the jumping area. You hold hands, laugh, maybe want to kiss. You might even feel turned on.
That, in a nutshell, is excitation transfer.
What’s happening in this scenario? Well, you might tell yourself, “I really connected with my date today. I think I want to do more with them, maybe bring them home with me tonight.” That’s part of what happened, sure. But another part, and the core of excitation transfer, is that you associated the physical arousal of bungee jumping to the person you went with. In other words, you think “this person turns me on” even though it’s really the activity that turns you on.
Not always a good thing!
People have intuitively known about this effect for a long time. The popularity of horror movies as date movies or driving very fast to impress your potential mate... there are many ways in which we’ve integrated excitation transfer into our dating lives.
Excitation transfer can be a good thing. It makes you feel connected and excited, and it can really get a relationship moving. It makes you feel attracted and makes you attractive too.
Except, as I’ve realized with this man, it can also lead you astray, making you believe that a date is relationship material.
I met the man at a casual kinky meetup at a local pub. We went on a few dates. He was nice, but nothing out of the ordinary for me. Eventually, we ended up playing together at a kink party a few weeks later. The scene was hot, and I found myself “falling” for him. We started seeing each other in earnest after that.
When I read over what I wrote about that night on my blog, I can see all the signs of excitation transfer: a relationship that wasn’t really meant to be suddenly goes into high gear after an arousing activity.
Sure, you might say hindsight is 20/20. Agreed. But I can’t help but think that without the scene, the relationship would have gone nowhere, and I would have spared both of us the energy of trying to maintain a doomed relationship. I knew I wasn’t that into him from the start, but thanks to excitation transfer, I was fooled into thinking that I had been mistaken.
So if your date wants to go bungee jumping or take you on a rickety old roller coaster, I say go ahead. I’m sure it’ll be great. But beware of the strong feelings you might feel for your date right after it. It might just be excitation transfer at work.