Rejection Makes the Heart Grow Fonder, Says Science

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Research is shedding light on why that girl you blew off with a “I’m just not looking for anything serious” is now more into you than ever.

Sometimes we humans really want what we can’t have and other times, we’re content with the status quo; it all depends on whether or not we think we’ve got a shot at rejiggering the current situation. New research forthcoming in Psychological Science reports that, when we think a restriction is absolute, we find ways to rationalize it and tell ourselves it’s an OK situation. But when we think a rule is less definite, we’re more motivated than ever to oppose it.

In other words: Acting disinterested works.

Related: Women Only Want Men They Can’t Have, Says Science

Scientists tested this out by having people read a scenario about a town’s new, lower speed limits. Those who were told the new laws were definitely going into effect were like, “Yeah, that’s a good idea, lower speed limits save lives.” But those who read that there was still a small chance the law wouldn’t pass were all, “Down with the man! Low speed limits suck!”

This psychological quirk makes sense from an evolutionary perspective—it mobilizes us to fight against injustice (like a crumbling Middle Eastern regime) but prevents us from bashing our heads against the wall over things we can’t control.

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And how does this relate to dating? It explains why someone who’s playing hard to get is hotter than ever. If you still think there’s a tiny bit of chance she’ll change her mind after rejecting you (i.e., if you think the rule is still a little malleable), you’ll want her more than ever. But if you get that the N-O is totally definite (she moves away or gets a new boyfriend, say), you’ll convince yourself you didn’t really like her that much anyway.

Hot tip: Reject firmly, and when rejected, refrain from reserving too much hope.

[photo credit: flickr, Dru Bloomfield]