Why Your Best Friend Ditched You For His Girlfriend

How far is a person will to go in order to attract a romantic partner? It’s a question oft pondered by lonely college students and conniving heartbreakers. Some new research by Erica Slotter and Wendi Gardner finds that, at least from a psychological perspective, the answer is quite far.

The researchers asked subjects to rate themselves on a series of traits and then showed them a online profile of a moderately attractive person. Half the subjects were told the person in the profile was interested in using a pilot version of a campus dating website (“romantic context”), while half the participants were told the person was a candidate running for a student government position (“non-romantic context”). After viewing the profiles, subjects who had seen them in a romantic context said they possessed higher levels of negative traits possessed by the person whose profile they had viewed.

Individuals integrated attributes that both they, and others, considered to be normatively negative aspects of a target into their own self-concept when the target was presented as a potential romantic partner, but not when in a non-romantic context (Study 1). This effect was strengthened to the extent that individuals wanted to meet the potential partner and begin a relationship.


The current research establishes that the self-integration that occurs between romantic partners isn’t limited to positive characteristics. In addition to seeing ourselves as more artistic due a desired partner’s artistic interests, we may also see ourselves as more irritable or disorganized due to a partner’s tendencies toward these less flattering qualities, especially if the partner views these qualities with self-acceptance.

On one hand, the results aren’t all that surprising. Who hasn’t gone to a terrible concert or engaged in some uncharacteristic gyrating on a dancefloor because of a potential romantic partner? On the other hand, the desire to see ourselves positively is extremely strong. I’m not a fan of “universal theories,” but if I had to pick one to explain all of human motivation it would be something that revolved around our desire to maintain self-worth and view ourselves and our lives in a positive way. That fact that a person may be willing to explicitly take on a negative view of themselves in order to attract a partner reveals the sheer magnitude of the positivity we feel from beginning a romantic relationship. And that’s why your no-longer-single friend isn’t coming over to play Portal 2 tonight.
Slotter, E., & Gardner, W. (2012). The dangers of dating the “bad boy” (or girl): When does romantic desire encourage us to take on the negative qualities of potential partners? Journal of Experimental Social Psychology DOI: 10.1016/j.jesp.2012.05.007


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