I’m not broken. It’s SCIENCE.

I read this article the other day, and it was like a light totally went on in my head.


OK, so I don’t date. I have, in the past. Sure I have. Sometimes that went better than other times. Sometimes it wasn’t painful and sometimes it was like Elaine’s favorite mode of evaluating badness and could be measured in Hindenburgs.

Never, however, did it go well. Or was it a repeated event. I’m…um…kind of the worst at dating. That’s really all I have to say about that. You’d think I’d have all these uproarious stories but mostly they range from sad to things that made numerous therapists say “um. That’s not…I don’t know what to say about that” so I don’t go into details. I promise you that you don’t want me to.

HOWEVER! I am very good at falling in love with people. If awards were given out for this? I would win them ALL. Having it be requited, well, no, those awards would not be gracing my trophy case. (SIDE NOTE: no. No, of course I don’t have a trophy case, what would I put in it, my spelling bee awards from junior high? I don’t even know where those ARE. FINE THEY’RE AT MY PARENTS’ HOUSE ARE YOU HAPPY?)  Sometimes it’s a quick thing and sometimes it takes forever but all of a sudden BAM I fall crazy in love with someone and then I’m a stupid giddy schoolgirl and eventually I end up getting my heart broken or I have to tough-love myself and say, “AMY. You stop this RIGHT NOW. This person IS NOT INTERESTED.”

OK, so anyway. I don’t date after the failed internet-dating experiment of 2005 (I DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT) and I try REALLY REALLY HARD not to fall in love with people who aren’t interested (and honestly, if I fall in love with them, they’re not going to be in love with me, because I can pick ’em. Ooh, can I pick ’em. I have a RADAR for the people who aren’t going to fall in love with me. They’re the ones I want, apparently. You know that song about “I love a parade?” That’s me, only with a CHALLENGE. I love a challege!) I try hard. It doesn’t always work but I try really hard.

But then I found this article and I realized WHY I am broken and choose these people, even though they’re honestly kind of jerks most of the time. And I’m really quite intelligent otherwise.


Here’s the thing that all of these men have in common: they ALL do this same thing. So apparently I have a type.

They act TOTALLY INTO ME and then they act ALL COLD AND WEIRD and then they act TOTALLY INTO ME AGAIN and this goes back and forth and back and forth and I have no idea what to make of it and it’s like a person watching a tennis match until they get all dizzy and fall over. And then get hit by a bus.

You’d THINK that would make someone say, “Hey, this person I’ve hitched my wagon to, they’re an asshole, time to move on,” but NOPE. Not me! I sit around waiting for the crumbs of acknowledgement.

So I THOUGHT it was because I was broken and also quite stupid, until I read that article I linked to above. NOT BROKEN. SCIENCE!!!

It’s apparently the “allure of unpredictable romantic partners.” That sounds nice, doesn’t it? Like a romantic comedy. Possibly starring Ewan McGregor. I’d watch that. Probably while crying.

So the sciency types did this test where they gave subjects fruit juice and water and scanned their brains while doing it. The subjects’ brains lit up like a Christmas tree with dopamine when the fruit juice/water rewards came at unexpected intervals, while the brains just kind of yawned and played another hand of solitaire when the rewards came at predictable 10-second intervals.

Apparently, our brains, going back to CAVEMAN TIMES, are programmed to signal us to pay attention when something unexpected happens. They signal us by releasing dopamine. Dopamine, in case you’re not obsessed with weird-ass shit like I am, is your pleasure chemical. Among many other things, it signals a feeling of bliss. It’s one of the chemicals your body’s stewing in when you’re all stupid-giddy in love.

So being with a partner who’s unpredictable about his/her affection is like being inconsistently given fruit juice – it fires off your dopamine like a shootout at the OK Corral. The smart, thinky part of your brain might be all “THIS IS THE WORST SUCK!” but your animal brain is all “Ahhhhh that’s the stuff! SIGNAL! SIGNAL!” and is filling your brain with DRUGS. Drugs that make you feel PLEASURE.

Your brain is a dark alley on the bad side of town filled with drug pushers. Didn’t your mom teach you to stay away from those places? Tsk.

So our smart brains say “this person is bad news!” and our drugged-up brain lolling around in an opium den is all “NO NO GIMME MORE” so you’re torn and according to science you keep going back to the person, but you don’t even KNOW you’re doing this shit, because it’s happening WAY DEEP DOWN IN YOUR PSYCHE.

This is super-distressing, science.

I totally knew I was doing this, I just didn’t know there was a reason. Other than the brokenness, of course.

This reminds me of the study with the rats and the uncertain results. Our beloved Andreas attempted mightily to find me a link to this and could not, but here, I’ll let him tell you about it, he’s better than a link anyway:

(Ignore where it looks like I’ve repeated the same thing three times, that’s just because he’s responding to my tweet three times. I promise I don’t say the same thing over and over. Well, I *do*, just not that obnoxiously. MOST of the time, anyway.)

So I remember reading about this study, probably in one of my psych classes in grad school. There were these rats. And the rats were in a cage with a lever. The lever could distribute food whenever they pressed it, or the lever could be dicked with so it gave food out at unpredictable intervals.

As Andreas said, the rats that were in the cage where they knew the outcome, they’d stop on by the lever if they wanted a nosh.

The rats in the unpredictable cage would beat their little paws bloody against that lever, hoping against hope that this time, this press, this would be the one. The one that would bring the manna down from the heavens. Because it happened once. IT COULD HAPPEN AGAIN.

(I think this is probably the same mentality that leads people to gamble until they lose their homes.)

I’m the rat. I’m the beating-my-paw-bloody-against-the-lever rat.

BUT, according to SCIENCE, we ALL are. It’s not just me! It’s ALL of us! Because of the effing DOPAMINE!

Also, being a person with a screwed-up brain (no, seriously, that’s why they put people like me on antidepressants, because our seratonin and such are all out of whack) I can only assume my dopamine is probably all weird like the rest of my brain chemistry.

SCIENCE! Why are you screwing with me? It’s not bad enough you gave me bad skin, eyes, and frazzly hair? Now you have to make me fall in love with jerks, too? (Well, happy to say, most of that is in the past. Because as an adult, I just decided I’M NOT DOING THIS ANYMORE and refuse to fall in love at ALL. That’ll teach ’em. I just removed myself from the game. WINNER!)

Well, here’s a newsflash, people who think they can just be assholes because science backs you up and therefore you can just treat people’s hearts casually: science might be drugging us up, but our smart brains eventually get fed up.

Like addicts who have had enough, we finally reach a breaking point where we’re tired of waking up on some stranger’s porch wearing poorly-chosen clothing choices with a taste in our mouth akin to used kitty litter and we say NO MORE and we start attending AA. Or we go cold turkey. Or we just say, hit the road, Jack, no more of your stupid games, I’ll find someone who actually gives a shit ALL the time, not just when they feel like it or need something or just for the fun of it all.

Also, you might be a little bit of a psychopath. Just think about that for a minute, ok? If you’re not interested in someone, TELL THEM THAT. Don’t leave them hanging. Just tell them you’re not interested and let them move on, jerko.

BUT, that being SAID, I am just so pleased science has an explanation for why I’m a rat with a bloody paw. Thanks, science. You really came through. Now let’s talk about this unruly hair thing, science. SURELY YOU HAVE A REASON FOR THIS. I am tired of looking like a rooster.


About lucysfootball

I'm not the girl with the most cake. Someday. SOMEDAY. View all posts by lucysfootball

31 responses to “I’m not broken. It’s SCIENCE.

  • Mer

    I watched a TED talk recently about how desperately we look for patterns, even when none exist (patternicity). In a similar food/lever/animal experiment, this time with birds, the ones that didn’t have a pattern would do the last thing that resulted in food–even if that was some nonsensical thing like spinning around 3 times. I am SO that twirling bird. ;)


  • A Pope

    Jesus,this hit close to home, only my Young-self MARRIED the guy for 12 years of a little hot bliss and a lot of cold hell. A great kid keeps me from running at a brick wall over the loss of years. Taught me that there are much worse things than being alone–my Old-self would (I hope) be more discriminating.


    • lucysfootball

      As we get older, we get savvier, I think. (I hope, anyway.) I still make mistakes, but I’m quicker at realizing them as such, which is progress, I think?

      I’m glad you’re out of that. Good for you! And yay for the awesome kid!


  • Nerija S.

    :( I know this. It seems like, lately, the people I crush on aren’t interested in me (they’re not jerks about it, they’re just either with someone else or just not interested, or they’re celebrities/fictional people)… or the people who seem interested in me, I’m not really interested in them, and then I feel like a jerk because, hey, opportunity’s sitting on the doorstep all sweet-like and I’m not interested? Something must be wrong with me.

    Ugh. Sometimes I hate those stupid emotion things and wish I could just be Data.


  • 35JupiterDrive

    I know this one! B.F. Skinner! Operant Conditioning! I reference it ALOT. (That’s probably weird.)


    • 35JupiterDrive

      Also, he wrote Walden Two. Where I sort of wanted to live, but only if a crazed psychologist was NOT doing experiments on me.

      Instead, I’ve had that happen too. I’m pretty much remembering one person, no wait, two people in particular. Blegh. It was awful. I hate falling for people like that.


      • lucysfootball

        Yep. Me too. I’m trying to be better. I’m trying SO HARD. (Sometimes they sneak-attack me, though. Like, they seem normal? Until they stop being normal. I have terrible taste in potential mates.)


    • Andreas Heinakroon

      Well, yes and no. Skinner developed operant conditioning (and the operant conditioning cage), where a rat would learn to push a lever to get a reward (or avoid a punishment), but what Amy refers to here has more to do with the effect of the uncertainty of the reward rather than conditioning. If only I could remember what the study was called..


  • sj

    Yeah, science. I can accept all this, but I’m kind of tired of the bad hair, skin and eyes. <.<


  • Andreas Heinakroon

    Still feel bad about not being able to provide you with a link to the actual study. I’m quite disappointed in myself.


  • Andreas Heinakroon

    Being the eternal evolutionary biologist, I can’t help but wonder what the benefit of this behaviour could be? Why are we (and many other animals) obsessed with the unpredictable? Could it have to do with our pattern seeking tendencies? That we’re constantly trying to figure out how things work? But do that apply to all other animals? Why am I asking so many questions? Shouldn’t I write a blog post of my own instead of hijacking poor Amy’s excellent post?


    • Kris Rudin (@krisrudin)

      I think (evolutionarily speaking) we’re obsessed with the unpredictable because the unpredictable can kill us if we’re not looking (think lightning, avalanches, grizzly bears, etc). So we HAVE to notice it. Therefore we get a reward when we do. (in fact, a double reward of dopamine and “cool, I didn’t die!”) But, I’m a computer scientist, not a biologist/psychiatrist, so I may be wrong…


    • lucysfootball

      I like the idea that it’s a pattern-seeking tendency. Someday I want to write about how we’re always seeking likenesses in people. Like, you know how when we find something that’s the same in someone – something stupid, like, “hey! we both like that one obscure band!” and it’s so pleasing? Like that. I’m fascinated by that. How we can overlook so many differences and put such weight on the similarities.

      You should write one of your own. Always. But also always feel free to ask all the questions.

      Aw! “Excellent!” Thanks, Andreas, I was worried it didn’t turn out at all like I planned!


  • Samantha

    This makes complete sense. :D

    I just have a question, as far as unruly hair goes, is it just regular unruly or like, it’s curly/wavy unruly?


    • lucysfootball

      When I let it air-dry, it’s curly. Until I brush it, then it’s pretty straight. But with sticky-outy parts. And I have flyaways and static. And four – YES FOUR – cowlicks.


      • Samantha

        I was just curious, because I have been trying out what I should have been doing with my curly hair a long time ago, which is only combing it with my fingers, not shampooing it, and scrunching. It tends to get damaged from both of those. Which could make flyaways and static. :) The first day was like OMG but then it starts to calm down because of less damage. Just a thought. :D But it is sort of science-y why that stuff damages curly hair, I guess.


        • lucysfootball

          Mine’s not curly enough to do anything awesome with, sadly – just kind of wavy. And only if I don’t brush it, but if I don’t brush it somehow, it’s a tangled mess. It’s really the oddest head of hair in the world.


  • Heather

    I’ve been down this road a few times. Heh. I can’t tell you how glad I am that that part of my life is over, because WHEW! It was rough.


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