At one point or another, we’ve all attempted to understand the laws of attraction and have consistently come up short. Do you have a certain beau you can’t seem to shake, even though you know he isn’t good for you? Do you find yourself always attracted to the bad boy type and deem the ones who treat you well as too nice? Well, don’t worry. You aren’t in the minority, not by a long shot.
As it turns out, we’re biologically inclined to be attracted to guys who act uninterested, too cool, or better than us. Translation: We’re prenaturally inclined to fawn over jerks.
As clinical psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman explains in his New York Times article “I Heart Unpredictable Love”, our brain works on a reward-based circuit. We crave rewards, such as money, food, and sex. The less we receive that reward, the more we want it, hence the reason playing hard to get works like a charm.
Women are attracted to men that aren’t overly nice or sweet because, when we’re finally rewarded with attention, affection, or sex, that reward is “unanticipated, which makes it particularly powerful and alluring to our brains,” writes Friedman.
Another characteristic jerks possess that draws women to them? Unpredictability. Being unsure of how a partner—or someone you’re interested in—feels about you sucks, but it also adds a level of thrill to the chase.
It’s similar to the idea of being rewarded—if a guy seems indifferent towards you while you’re itching to jump into his bed, the satisfaction of (momentarily) taming the beast feels great. Until the morning after, when he’s abandoned his previously affectionate self and reassumed his position as the resident source of contention in your life.
Unpredictable rewards produce more dopamine in the brain than anticipated rewards and more dopamine means more pleasure. The highs are higher and the lows are lower, and that roller coaster ride of emotion is often confused with strong feelings of attraction, or love. We’ve heard the notion that great, epic love can be tumultuous, but—in most cases—what you’re feeling isn’t really love, but artificial pleasure produced by dopamine.
So, what makes a guy a jerk? On a basic level, there’s some evidence supporting the idea that more “attractive” guys have a greater likelihood to grow up to be cads. This can be attributed to the idea that if you’re less attractive, you need to be nicer in order for girls to like you, and if you’re uber-hot, niceness is able to become less of a factor.
Some hope for the hopeless romantics out there– nice guys don’t always finish last. You may be stuck in a jerk-dating rut, but that doesn’t mean you’ll end up with one. When it comes to long-term relationships, both men and women tend to care less about physical looks and perceived “coolness,” and look for more important, lasting qualities, like intelligence, kindness, and humor. So, it isn’t a bad thing that all of your forays with the sexy jerk-next-store end. Sometimes you have to go through a lot of bad to get to the good.