Obesely Speaking

The brain and obesity

4 Reasons You Are: In Love, In Lust, Or Indifferent

The sweet guy, the bad-boy, the nice guy and your hardheaded heart
Lisa Firestone, Ph.D.
This post is a response to What it Really Means to Be in Love by Lisa Firestone, Ph.D.

Compulsive overeaters do not have a food problem they have a living problem.  Relationships are among life’s fundamental currencies because we are a social species. In this post, we are going to explore an aspect of romantic attractions. When it comes to guys, there are three types: Sweet Guy, Bad Boy, or Nice Guy. 

The Sweet Guy

The sweet guy silently does things to improve your life, such as updating your computer software, spontaneously takes your car in for a tune-up.  When some floozy brazenly flirts with him in front of your face, he reaches down and takes your hand, clearly communicating to both of you where his interests lie. The sweet guy sends a random text in the middle of the workday that says, “I love you.” The sweet guy is still a guy though.  He probably does not like shopping with you and will find a way to wiggle out of it.  He might be watching an important game on his I-phone during dinner at times, and may fall asleep during your favorite movie.  He will probably leave his socks all over the house—he is a guy; most guys do things like that.  The sweet guy, however, will also leave a rose on the nightstand when he has to leave early for work. 

The Bad Boy

The bad boy blatantly makes your life worse.  Opposed to updating the software on your computer, your computer gets a virus because he was visiting sleazy Internet porn sites.   He drives your car, and leaves the tank empty. When some floozy flirts with him in public, he flirts back, then looks at you and says “What? Can I help it if chicks want this?”  If the bad boy texts you, and that is a big “if,” it is a picture of his erection. The bad boy leaves his socks all over town. Regrettably, bad boys are usually great in bed. However, the bad boy is not all bad outside of the bedroom either.  The bad boy might surprise you by bringing you flowers, and telling you to put on some dress that is a bit too tight, and a tad too short. He made dinner reservations and wants to show you off. This is seemingly wonderful until you notice a ribbon on the back seat of his car that says, “Deepest Sympathy,” and you realize he stole the flowers from a cemetery. When you bust him he says, “What?  I had to get you flowers, look how good you look, and punctuates it by touching you in the wrong way in the right place.

The Nice Guy

The nice guy will not use your computer.  The nice guy would never drive your car and leave the tank on empty, nor would he spontaneously take it in for a tune-up. If a floozy flirts with a nice guy when he is with you, the nice guy just looks away.  The nice guy does not text you during the workday for fear of disturbing you.  However, unlike the bad boy, he will respond to every text promptly.  The nice guy places your dirty socks and his in the hamper. He will send or bring you flowers, but only on the appropriate occasions. 

Your Hardheaded Heart

You will fall in love with the sweet guy, fall into bed with bad boy and try to figure out why you do not like the nice guy every time. There are several reasons:

1)    Variable reinforcement gives random rewards to specific behaviors.  It is a strong trigger for addiction and makes relationships with spontaneous people attractive. Dopamine (the brain’s happy-dance drug) encodes on the anticipation of reward. Like the compulsive gambler anticipating the big pay-off, waiting for the jackpot of bad boy or the sweet guy’s spontaneous gesture has large dopamine rewards. The unpredictability of spontaneity causes adrenaline release. Adrenaline is a stimulant. Stimulants are addictive. In terms of neuro chemicals, you can think of dopamine as straight whiskey, adrenaline as beer and the brain as a boozehound. If it had to choose, the brain would choose dopamine over adrenaline all day, every day. If given the choice though, the brain loves nothing more than a shot of dopamine with an adrenaline back. It is the synergy among availability, chance, and desire. The less available something is, the less chance you have of finding it, and thereby the more precious it becomes.  Humans are hard wired that way because we are hunters and gatherers. That is why a rare rock is a precious jewel and a common rock is just a stone. The nice guy is predictable. There is no variable reinforcement, no anticipation, no dopamine, and no reason to stick around.

2)    Sex: Sweet guys cuddle, talk, and do all of the things that cause oxytocin release in women. The sexual approach of bad guys has an evolutionary appeal, and does all of the things that release dopamine.  Strong and tough are associated with a good provider, even if the woman is not planning to mate with the guy. In addition, bad guys get away with being bad, because they are hot looking; attraction begins with a look. Nice guys are polite and pleasant.  There is no dopamine or oxytocin in that. 

3)    Creativity: Humans love art because we love creativity.  Creativity, like art inspires a reaction in us.  In the case of the sweet boy, his creative spontaneous acts of kindness cause a reaction.  The bad boy’s creative acts of mischief also cause a reaction.  Nice guys are considerate, careful, and constant. These are great qualities to find in a housekeeper but not very attractive in a mate. 

4)    Security:  You feel safe with a sweet guy because you know he considers your needs.  You feel safe with a bad boy because he probably has a concealed weapon.  You do not feel safe with a nice guy because you cannot imagine what he would do in a threatening situation.  That uncertainty is the kiss of the death.

The healthiness of your relationships reflects and affects your spiritual and emotional health.  The sweet guy and the bad guy are very similar.  The difference is, the sweetness is a climate and the badness is a weather condition in the sweet guy, and vice versa in the bad boy. Relationships are like climates, though. Some are more suitable to live in, others to visit, and some are uninhabitable, i.e. the sweet guy, the bad boy, and the nice guy respectively.

The problem occurs when compulsive overeaters decide to fix the bad guy, run away from the sweet guy because he treats you better than you treat yourself, or the worst: try to make the nice guy exciting.  One must accept this world on its own terms.  If you fall in love with a bad guy, and you are not young girl, then you have some soul searching to do.  If your relationship becomes more important than you, you have some soul searching to do. For that, I suggest the power of sitting in stillness and letting the silence speak.   Remain fabulous and phenomenal. 

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Billi Gordon, Ph.D., is  Co-Investigator in the  Ingestive Behaviors & Obesity Program, Center for the Neurobiology of Stress, David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

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