Q: Why am I only attracted to unattainable guys? As soon as men express interest in me, I lose interest in them. How do I break this cycle?!—Frustrated
A: At the moment, the perfect love poem for you would come from a clerk at the court: “Roses are red, violets are blue; stay 500 feet away, or it’s handcuffs for you!”
Chances are you’re looking to win, not looking for love. Once you win, you’re done. However, you probably tell yourself you’re seeking romantic connection because it’s more appealing than admitting you’re the human version of a dog chasing a dirty tennis ball. The excitement of it is in the chasing, not the getting.
You’re basically on an emotional crack bender. The big neurochemical player here is dopamine, a neurotransmitter that carries signals between brain cells. Though it’s often called the “pleasure chemical,” that’s wrong. Giving you a buzz is opioids’ department. Getting you to the opioids is dopamine’s job. Research by neuroscientist Kent Berridge suggests dopamine motivates you to pursue things that are “rewarding,” like sex, drugs and cake.
There are some nuances to this. Dopamine is the Beverly Hills brat of neurochemicals—seriously snobby about rewards being new. In researcher-ese, it spikes at the prospect of “novel rewards”: sex, drugs and cake you haven’t tried before. It also goes up for “unpredictable rewards”—which explains the allure of the seemingly aloof himbo. However, “predictable rewards,” like the nice, stable fellow you can always count on, read as a big “meh” in Dopamineville.
I’m guessing your love of the chase has a second job—as cover for needed emotional repairs. Get to work on your self-worth, self-acceptance and any other self-(s) in need of shoring up. While you’re an emotional work in progress, be honest with men you date that you have a tendency to disappear. Eventually, however, your efforts should be transformative.
Q: I have a challenging job I love, and lately it’s cutting into my time with my boyfriend. I tell him how much I hate this, but he’s been very understanding. Initially, this was great, but now I’m annoyed that he seems fine with seeing less of me. Is it ridiculous I’m upset he isn’t acting more upset that I’m not around as much?—Disturbed
A: Poets and lyricists often describe love as a medical issue: Love hurts! Love is blind! Love lies bleeding! It goes a little far, however, to give it a traumatic brain injury: Love is comatose.
But maybe that isn’t what’s going on for your boyfriend. Maybe you’re prone to suspect his love is waning. Research by evolutionary psychologists Martie Haselton and David Buss suggests humans evolved to have distorted perceptions when we have to make “judgments under uncertainty.” These are guesses we make when we lack access to some or all of the facts.
Haselton and Buss explain that recurring mating and survival issues over human history have led us to make protective errors—we err in our thinking in whichever way would be the least costly to us: overestimating or underestimating.
Because women are the babymakers of the species, it’s a costly error for a woman to believe a man will commit—stick around and dad—when he’s really just a “sex it ’n’ exit” cad. So, women err on the side of “commitment underperception”—underestimating men’s level of commitment. Even if a man actually is committed, a woman’s going all hurt feelz that he isn’t might lead him to reassure her with increased shows of devotion: cuddling, romantic dinners, the (ethically sourced!) Hope Diamond Jr.
Consider whether there’s any real evidence your boyfriend’s love and commitment are waning or whether your emotions are playing evolutionary lap dog. When someone really loves you, they show it by making sacrifices for you—like by supporting your need for unimpeded time and energy when the job you love gets more demanding than usual. Your boyfriend seems really accommodating, so let him know if what would really make you happy is a jealous, demanding manchild who sneaks out in the middle of the night with a big tub of Crisco and greases all the rungs on the ladder of success.