I’m dating a wonderful guy I’m totally in love with. He’s always looked up to his older brother, a very attractive guy who’s a real lady’s man. I’ve found myself behaving in some unsettling ways when we hang out with his brother, like fixing myself up beforehand like I’ve got a big date. I realized that I want his brother to want me. I get a very naughty feeling when he looks me up and down, and I love it. To be clear, I don’t want him in any real or threatening way, and I don’t want to jeopardize my relationship with my boyfriend. Perhaps I’m motivated by knowing that my boyfriend has never been envied by his brother, and now I get to make that happen. --Puzzled

Like many good people, you’re inspired to do volunteer work to bolster the less fortunate, such as the boy who grew up deprived of being envied by his older brother. Interestingly, others who do charitable work, like Salvation Army Santas, somehow manage to accomplish it without first re-engineering their cleavage to graze their jaw line.

In addition to your push-up humanitarianism and the ensuing uplift for your ego (and possibly your boyfriend’s, too), another explanation for your behavior is that you aren’t just yourself; you’re also what two researchers call your “subselves.” It’s long been believed that we each have one consistent “self,” with stable preferences, leading us to make consistent choices from situation to situation. That actually isn’t the case. Psychologists Douglas Kenrick and Vladas Griskevicius, authors of The Rational Animal: How Evolution Made Us Smarter Than We Think, find evidence for our having seven “subselves” driving our choices, each corresponding to a different evolutionary challenge our ancestors faced. These challenges include: 1. Evading physical harm. 2. Avoiding disease. 3. Making friends. 4. Gaining status. 5. Caring for family. 6. Attracting a mate. 7. Keeping that mate.

Although we like to think of ourselves as driven by rational thought, environmental triggers can prime a particular subself to grab the controls. For example, seeing a scary movie or a crime report primes our harm-evading subself to take charge, amping up our loss aversion. (Good time to sell us a Rottweiler and the world’s first suburban moat.) And although you’re in a happy relationship, real or imagined potential mates on the horizon prime your mate attraction subself, which is the one leading you, whenever your boyfriend’s bro will be around, to dress for sliding into a booth at the diner like you’ll be sliding down a greased pole.

The complicated truth is, if your boyfriend notices his brother’s eyeballs bouncing after you like puppies, you may be priming his mate-retention subself by reminding him that you have other options. To keep him from suspecting you’re interested in other options, prime your own mate-retention subself. Look at cute pictures of the two of you and run through reasons you’re grateful for him and for your relationship. This, in turn, should help you refrain from saving your sexiest looks and moves for when you two are hanging out with his brother: “Just gonna twerk my way to the bakery case, bend over in this short skirt, lick the glass, and see if the banana nut muffins speak to me.”

©2013, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave., #280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or email AdviceAmy@aol.com (advicegoddess.com). Weekly radio show: blogtalkradio.com/amyalkon

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