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Love Lessons from 'The Bachelorette'

The science of surviving a relationship that ends in "dot, dot, dot."

| July 1st, 2011
Rick Rowell/ABCAshley Hebert and Bentley Williams in the seventh season of "The Bachelorette."
Ashley Hebert and Bentley Williams in the seventh season of "The Bachelorette."

"He loves me, he loves me not..." We’ve all plucked petals from the proverbial flower of love, playing that tortuous (and often tearful) guessing game. Why do we put ourselves through it?

Just ask this season’s “Bachelorette,” Ashley Hebert. Bentley Williams was the contestant she liked best, but then, as we all watched in agony, he unexpectedly left the show without conclusively ending their romance. He led her to believe their relationship was punctuated by an ellipsis—or as Ashley called it, a “dot, dot, dot”—rather than a period. Which, of course, only made her want him more.

According to science she—and we—can’t help it.

A 2011 study published in Psychological Science showed that wondering if someone likes you may increase your attraction toward that person. It’s one reason we may play hard to get—being a little elusive can make us appear more appealing. Disclaimer: This mystery is exciting in the early stages of getting to know someone. In a relationship, mixed signals get old real fast.

THE STUDY, EXPLAINED: Uncertainty Increases Attraction

Uncertainty fills your head with thoughts of the mystery person. Your brain says: “I’m thinking so much about this person, I must really like them!” It’s a sneaky little mind trick that can lead to infatuation. And once you’re infatuated, as most of us can attest, it’s challenging to think clearly or even rationally. You're, literally, high.

Like a natural drug, lust and attraction interfere with chemicals in your body, affecting your mood. Low activity of the brain chemical serotonin may cause you to reach new heights of obsessive thinking. When you’re hooked on (the thought of) someone, that’s all you’ll think about.

QUIZ: Relationship Woes? Take Our Close Relationships Quiz


This stage is temporary and may or may not result in mutual love. In the case of "The Bachelorette" it didn't, and poor Ashley’s world was rocked the wrong way. When anything in our lives doesn’t go according to plan, we tend to think a lot about it, something YouBeauty Psychology Advisor, Art Markman, Ph.D. calls “conceptual disruption.”

“From an evolutionary standpoint, it’s good to spend time thinking and obsessing about the things that don’t go according to plan,” says Dr. Markman. Reasoning about what went wrong could help us change our habits for the better.

So how did Ms. Bachelorette end her non-stop thinking? After nearly shutting down production due to Ashley's misery, the network flew contestant-who-shall-not-be-named to Hong Kong so she could get the answers she was seeking. Face to face, he finally admitted that he didn’t want a relationship after all, which obviously hurt Ashley (and hurt us to watch!).

In our own lives, we want to get closure without having to get to this painful point. So how to bounce back from a love story that crashed before it could take flight?

Create your own ending. Write about it. “Writing is so useful because it helps create the story that goes with an event that’s kind of chaotic,” Dr. Markman said.

MORE: How to Keep a Journal

You can recast the undesirable event in a number of ways. View yourself as in control of what happened, or see the good opportunities that unexpectedly came from it. Not to mention, if you journal about “the one who got away,” your friends will hear a little less about it.

Sources say that Ashley is engaged and has moved on to a more positive chapter of her love life. We hope her relationship is full of honesty and kindness, free of "dot, dot, dots," and punctuated with lots of exclamation points!

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