how to get closer to someone: two wooden keychain figures close together

How to Get Closer to Someone: A Surprising Way to Get What You Want

Sometimes we try to get closer to someone we love.

We try really hard.
And we end up losing them because we did the exact opposite of what we needed to do to keep them with us.

How to get closer to someone you love

How many times have you asked yourself how to get closer to a loved one?

It's a question that's been asked countless times... and yet, the answer to this question is surprising, and deeply rooted in human psychology.

And it all starts with a finger trap...


The Chinese Finger Trap

When I was a kid, I played with a gag toy called a Chinese Finger Trap.  The toy was sometimes given out as a party favor then, and it still is sometimes given out to our triplets today.  Here’s how it works.

The trap is a cylinder woven from bamboo or special paper.  It has room for you to insert your finger in each end.  Then you try to pull your fingers out. Here’s what the Chinese Finger Trap looks like:

Chinese finger trap

After you insert your fingers, the trick is to get your fingers out.  Well, that sounds easy.  Just pull them out—except that the more you try to pull your fingers out, the harder it is to get them out because the tube becomes longer and narrower as you pull.  The fingers just seem not to come out. 

Rather, to extricate your fingers, you have to do something paradoxical—push your fingers in.  That is, you make the motion that is the opposite of what you want to achieve.  Once you push your fingers in rather than out, your fingers will come out easily.


The Passion Paradox: The Closer We Try to Get, the Further Away We May End Up

When you are very interested in a potential partner, or are very eager to keep your partner, you often act in ways that express your needs but that are contrary to the needs of the partner you either want to attract or maintain.  Your passion drives you closer, but it pushes your partner away -- this is the passion paradox.

Love relationships succeed best when the partners have similar profiles of intimacy, passion, and commitment. 

Commonly, especially in early stages of a relationship, people’s levels of these three components do not match. 

The most glaring mismatch is often in passion: One partner is eager to get more and more involved; the other isn’t so sure. 

One partner feels a need, even a crushing drive, to get closer to the other partner; the other partner isn’t so sure and wants to keep some distance. 

One partner wants to close the circle; the other wants to keep it wide open and leave their options open.

What happens next? 

The partner who is eager for the relationship—who is passion-driven to get closer and closer—tries to pull and pull and pull the partner toward them. 

Their passion is telling them to keep getting closer to the other partner to bring the partner closer to them. 

The other partner, not sure yet of what they want for the future, begins to feel the pull.  They start to feel uncomfortable.  So, they pull away rather than pushing closer to you-- the passion paradox in action.

If one partner pulls at the other partner enough, the other may pull--out of the relationship.

This paradox does not happen only in new or potential relationships.  It happens as well in established relationships. 

Virtually all relationships go through swings of greater and lesser closeness. 

Especially when you know someone well, you may acutely feel that you are in a stage where your partner seems to pull away. 

What do you do? 

Likely, if you want to keep the relationship where it was, or where you think it was, you try to pull pull pull the partner closer to you.  But you end up pushing your partner further away.


How to Get Closer to Someone You Love: Pull Away When You Want to Push Closer

This is where the passion paradox comes in.  It’s like a Chinese Finger Trap, although in reverse. 

In the Chinese Finger Trap, if you want to get your fingers out, you push them in. 

In a love relationship, if you want to get your partner more involved, try acting less involved.  When they pull away, you pull away—even further than they have.

Why does paradoxical action work? 

And why are you more likely to lose your lover when you act as your passion tells you to? 

It’s simple. You have an ideal emotional distance you want to keep; so do they. 

If you want less distance and pull them toward you, they will want more distance to carry the relationship back toward their comfort level. 

But if you distance yourself more than they ideally would like, chances are they then will start to pull to bring you closer—again toward the level of involvement they want. 

You then have regained the power you lost when you pulled them toward you to a point that was too close for their level of comfort.

The same principle applies to intimacy and commitment, of course. 

But it is with passion that you may most strongly feel that you are losing your partner or failing to acquire them. 

So, if your partner or potential partner is acting distant, act more distant, even if that is the opposite of what you ideally would like.   Pull away to pull closer. 


How Do You "Pull Away"?

What are concrete actions you can take to “pull away,” or at least, to give the appearance of pulling away when you want to pull together?  

  • When you want to spend more time with your partner, instead give them more space and be ok with spending less time with them.
  • When you want to be physically more passionate, show your willingness to be physically less passionate.
  • When you want to up your game in terms of telling your partner how much they mean to you, lower your game instead—don’t make them feel flooded by your passionate remarks.
  • When you want to do more and more to show your partner how much they mean to you, do less.
  • When you cannot stand the gap you feel between you and your partner, allow the gap to expand.

These suggestions may sound like I’m promoting fakery or dishonesty in a relationship. 

That is not what I’m suggesting, any more than it is dishonest to push your fingers into the Chinese finger trap when you want to pull them out. 

Rather, if your partner or potential partner needs space, have the grace to give it to them. 

Do not only what is right for you, but also what is right for your partner -- and that is to grant them their need for emotional or other space.  


The Result: Reactance

You no doubt remember times in your life when someone tried to push you to act in a certain way, and their pushing only made you want to act the exact opposite way.  That’s called reactance. 

You react against the pressure you feel by acting the opposite way of that pressure.

It’s the same in relationships. 

When you pull at someone to come closer, they may just pull away. 

By remembering the passion paradox and the Chinese Finger Trap, you do the opposite of what you initially want to do. 

You give your partner what they want, and then some. 

When the distance becomes too large, they push in toward you.

What if they don’t?  Then the relationship perhaps wasn’t worth forming or saving.  It may be time for you to move on. 

The main thing to remember is that to acquire or save a relationship, put your partner’s needs for distance first, not your own needs for closeness.

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2 thoughts on “How to Get Closer to Someone: A Surprising Way to Get What You Want”

  1. Mike Nicholson

    Thank you that was good stuff,my girlfriend did this already once and I did this and she came back closer now she’s doing it again so here I go again man I love this girl but I’m a badass😉

  2. I really wish this wasn’t real, but it is…

    I made a close friend uncomfortable by being too close to her, even though we had both told each other we were attracted to one another. And so she asked for space, and I gave her a lot of that, and she eventually came back eagerly, our friendship went back on track as it was before our ordeal and I’m glad that it ended up being mutually beneficial.

    However, that time away from her did not answer any profound questions. Difficult discussions still needed to be had with her for me to know how to give her what she needed and what I had done wrong. Stonewalling is never fair to either parties involved.

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