Why Do We Like Bad Boys? A New Study Says We Actually Love Playing Hard To Get

What is it about bad boys that make them so much more irresistible than, well, good guys? You know what I’m talking about – those dudes you crush on who you know you shouldn’t be crushing on. Those guys who lie, can’t commit, flirt with other girls right in front of you, string you along, play hard to get like it’s their job and just generally make you miserable. Yeah, those guys.

It’s easy to laugh at the “pathetic” looking girls who chase around guys like this, but let’s admit it: we’ve all been there at some point in our lives. I have several friends who are hanging out with guys like this right now, and as much as I want to shake them until they see the reality of the situation, I know they need to figure it out the hard way. I also remember being in that situation quite a few times myself – and I think we can all agree that it stinks. So why do we keep falling for guys like this when we know they’re only going to disappoint us in the end?

According to a new psychiatric study, we actually do enjoy these sort of unpredictable relationships (is he going to call me back? Is he going to blow me off tomorrow? Does he want to be more than just FWB?!), as much as we say we don’t. And, hey, this applies just as much to guys as it does to girls, by the way. The New York Times recently wrote about this study, which monitored 17 subjects’ brains using MRI scans. The study found that a person’s pleasure center lights up way more when it’s presented with an unpredictable pattern. In simple terms? These people were happier when they were surprised or presented with something they didn’t expect. Basically, no matter how much we all crave a stable, loving relationship, us humans really love variety and unpredictability – playing hard to get.

It makes sense, because think about it: bad boys give us just that. We never know what they’re up to or what their next move is going to be. Not knowing what’s going to happen next is exciting for us, even though it also makes us miserable. Or at least, it’s more exciting than knowing that you’re going to see your BF tomorrow and he’s going to call you before he goes to bed.

This study might explain some of your confusion. | Source: ShutterStock.com

Does that sound crazy? Um, yeah, a little bit. But at the same time, I totally get it. When I was in college, I was mysteriously only into guys who just weren’t that into me (don’t laugh – you’ve done it). We would hang out and have a good time, and we’d be sort of dating, but those guys would never make a real commitment to me. I never knew when I was going to get a call from them or if they were actually going to follow through with our plans. And as much as I complained about how much of jerk each of these guys were, I actually liked not knowing what was going to happen. Every time one of those guys blew me off or ignored my texts or liked another girl’s Facebook profile picture, my crush would grow even stronger.

Whenever I think about that incredibly frustrating period of my life, I’ve always chalked it up to low self-esteem, and I do still think that that has a lot to do with it. But this new study makes sense also. Whenever a guy actually showed interest in me, I’d be into it at first – and then he would text me a lot and always be available and always ask me out, and I would be like, “huh, this is boring.” I used to think I was just crazy, but thinking back, those dudes just weren’t as exciting to me as the bad guys I was crushing on. In short? I loved the whole hard to get game.

The study also found that people might not even be aware that their brain is enjoying these unpredictable reactions more than the predictable ones – which explains why we’re always like, “WHY do I like this loser?! Why, why, why?!” It also explains why we want to stop being with these guys, but we sort of can’t help it.

But if you’re thinking of using this new info as an excuse to legitimize your “relationship” with that jerk you’ve been hooking up with, don’t. In the NY Times article, Richard A. Friedman writes, “None of this is to say that just because our reward circuits light up in the face of unanticipated rewards, that we are off the hook. Far from it. We use conscious knowledge to override our unhealthy or undesirable impulses all the time. Except for a few limited circumstances, we are expected to be in charge of our brains.

So here’s the thing, ladies: yes, that bad boy in your English class might be totally unpredictable and exciting, but in the end, he’s still not worthy of your time. Yeah, maybe you’ll subconsciously enjoy his spontaneous behavior, but it’s up to you to determine that it’s ultimately only going to make you sad. I think a little unpredictability can be good in a relationship – but as with most things, too much is bad news. Don’t be fooled by those stupid little reward circuits in your brain – apparently, they don’t know what’s really best for you.

Are you attracted to bad boys? Do you sort of like playing hard to get? Do you think this study makes sense? Tell us in the comments!


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  • LittleRedWolfGirl

    When I was in high school, I had a crush on a guy like that. At first I thought he was just the ‘bad boy who was really a sweet guy inside’, and I liked him for a long time. The I realized he actually was a piece of scum, and I also realized how much I hated guys who acted like that. Then I fell in love with and dated a nice guy who had some real issues (but he didn’t treat me like crap). Then we broke up… and I went through some self-searching and realized I’m more into girls than guys, and I definitely don’t want to go through the ‘hard to get’ thing with girls, either.

  • ZoZo

    This was a really interesting article to read, it was intelligent, informative, but it also gave sound advice. In my personal opinion, articles like these are your best, along with the ones by Chick Rx when it comes to your serious, non-humerous ones. The articles based mostly on someone’s rantings are, while well written, somewhat tiring and repetitive. Plus, the have the tendency to come off pushy.
    I thought this article was really good, and I hope to see more like this on Gurl!